Cairn at the Crossroads

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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]

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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. 🙂 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.
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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.)
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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!
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I pledge my best to go as the water flows.

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. 🙂

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,

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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. 🙂 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…).

High Summer

Summer has been at its peak, climate-wise, for the past few weeks.

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During bicycle rides, I’ve been taking in the deep smells of haying, the lighter fragrances of flowers and crops, and the occasional blast of cow manure. The temperature has begun to drop more at night, a harbinger of fall – especially in combination with some early leaf-turning.
I will miss Massachusetts this upcoming year – and who would ever have guessed I’d be saying that?! Yesterday, while floating down the Deerfield River in an inner tube with raucous friends, trying to dodge vigorous rafters and avoid skewering by overzealous kayakers, I thought, “But why not? I was conceived here.” The spark of potential consciousness embedded at that biological instant probably drew energy from these environs. (From where else could it come?)
The past month has been a blur of teaching, proposal-writing/refining, and soaking up as much socializing before the community’s inevitable dispersal. So many have already left, with so many soon to follow. My own departure approaches: probably temporary but who ever knows for sure?

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Types of fare-thee-well gatherings vary from certain kinds of overstock to full spread (delectable) meals, and gifts.
All manner of pronouncements have been made at said events, from “I will never forget!” to

“Present the new as if it was old, like Gandhi.”

Memory is short, however. 😉 And so a lot of time gets spent milling around. “We are waiting for a reason,” Hunter posed – not wanting to actually ask the question but wondering nonetheless. “Nobody knows what’s happening.” Dhara explained our group’s arduously slow process of decision-making while I mused on cultural differences. It struck me with the force of revelation that I have hardly ever waited for groups/events to happen. No wonder I’m so apt to the production of something, to doing something, of there being a thing requiring participatory action on my part! This is the (U.S.) american enculturation process – deep training beginning with preschool about time (schedules), timing (hurry up, switch now), and completion (well, we may not get a chance to come back to that so you better just get it done now).

This,” Don intoned on the edge of the Deerfield River, “is how it was at Troy.” I thought he meant hordes of strangers merging for a common purpose. No, seems he had burning the boats in mind, so there would be no possibility of retreat. That is the way life is, ain’t it? Sometimes you can backtrack but it is never the same as if you went that way the first time. “We need an airlift!” is not the same as, “Hey, can you drop us some more supplies?”

Such laughter!
. . . and the occasional reference to past and future lives.

“You’re not in Belgium yet,” Zeynep advised, as she congratulated (us both?!) on returning from our mental moments elsewhere.
This morning I began to read an analysis of Obama’s economic ideology, in which he is characterized as more left and more right than one might think, a position he describes as postpartisan. I definitely approve of this measure: “…changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality.”
We got kids coming, y’know? And there are so many already in the world, growing up under a new climate, with a different reference point for the planet than we (at least most in my generation) ever imagined. We got chances to make things better, different: more fair, more possible.
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Mr. Heller’s Wall and the Purple Dress

I was finally invited to an event at The Farm.
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I went without a pen, notepaper, or business cards. What was I thinking? Conversations morphed one into another I tell you the truth I love the smartness of my friends I wish I could bottle hold embrace inject their mindfulness through my skin to the bloodstream zapping consciousness with energy and acting out through my words thoughts actions to change heal cohere a movement to . . .
Sigh. But who can fight all the time? Comfortable denial is appealing – I mean, come on – we have so much fun together! It’s gotta be balanced – I agree that the crazed pace of activist fronts perpetuate the very systems they mean to change, palliative bandaids on open wounds. From the porch we admired lightening arcing across the sky, calling to mind photographs captured by technical artists. Do you notice how often, now, conversation turns to natural disasters? These are not the idle conversations of yore about the weather….last semester a student (surfing the net, ahem, during class time) was compelled to announce, “There was just a huge earthquake in China!” Friends in Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas have thunderstorms and twisters constantly on mind, coping with floods and power outages. This is it, people! The beginning of the everyday evidence.
My plan to let blogging go was not to be. I scrounged a pen and scribbled notes throughout the evening. They are incomplete, scattered. As ever too many brilliant comments deserve notice and most have already slipped away (Laura!) – the effervescent quality of liveness when the energy of language binds us each to another in shared moments of experience. I asked former blog victims to warn the new ones. The Belgian Generals vanished instantly, but not after a stimulating conversation about solid helium and the problems of superconductors in which I tried to explain what I’ve been learning about the language of math, and was told a physics insider’s joke: “What’s a particle? An equation.”
Matt expressed mild interest. To whom and how do we invest the time to email, text, and/or call? So much communication is possible to us now – do these methods add quality or merely aggregate? What mode or type of sensory perception connects us to people – with or without talking? I value these text-based communiques so much – my most special people are, or soon will be, thousands of miles away. “Bogota, baby, Bogota!”
Confusion percolated through the danceable: minimalist reggae with some kind of elements of hip hop, dubstep, two step, grime and for one specific Muslim Gauze. AfroBeat inspired dancing ensued, a combination of aggression and ecstasy ~ how indeed do we turn what Butler discretely (once and only once) labels “the male problem” into constructive displays and nonviolent discharges? The Big Picture tips the normal (traditional, customary) mode of news from quantities of text with tiny pictures to huge photographs and minimal text; revolutionary lyrics tickle the edges of consciousness obscured by the sounds of rhythm and kinetics of motion… I talk with friends about relationships past, present, imagined my own included what have I learned from regret? The key lesson articulates itself for the first time: Feel the emotion the first time! Because if you don’t, that precise emotion will come up again later and it will be wrong, misplaced – a here-and-now interaction wrenched/distorted by the there-and-then possibly even another person replacing the one in front of you. (Perhaps, ohmaybebaby I’ve cleaned the slate dispensed with the backlog caught myself up to the present giving more/better chances to present/future dances.) [Note: someone may not wear a purple dress to any more weddings!]

Where is the photocollage of all of our eyes?

How many directions do we look? What does our collective gaze encompass? What sense do we make of what we see? Comments about a now contacted tribe in Brazil disturb: sarcasm our only antidote? The alternative is politics. Sure, hope fleets by, ungraspable never to be contained but is this not also the essential quality of life?

Gifts for June (Ripple Effects)




As a small child I learned not to make excuses. We were taught that if asked to do something it was because we could accomplish it and that someone was always there to encourage us. Many lessons were given so I will share one with you. When I was two my learning started, I was asked to do many small things such as go and bring water to the Grandmothers when they were in the cornfields. When I did this I was told how important it was and how much I had helped take care of the corn. Then I was sent out on another errand usually more difficult and/or something I hadn’t done before. I was learning to always be busy and helpful. If I tried to make an excuse, such as I didn’t know how, too tired, wanted to do something else that I already knew or just play, I was told a “story” about how excuses would make me too heavy to do anything, even things I wanted to do and then ignored until I was ready to try. Once I started there was someone to help and encourage me and when I accomplished it there were always kind words for helping, then I was reminded that everyone must help. Everyone always ready to help me showed this. We were always taught by examples.

“Every group needs someone who understands the laws of harmony.”

“Knowledge is not wisdom”


Shi’choo (Grandmother)


“try to show up somewhere”

Jose was in town for graduation. Yes, that’s Dr. Jose.
Several folk did, in fact, gather in his honor. Stories were told, memories recounted, teasing ensued, plans were postulated…
I learned of the first event by hook & by crook, via the grapevine – altering my departure date just so I could see The Man himself. (Actually, I confess, it was a relief to have the extra few days to get myself and the apartment more ready for what’s to come.) After receiving my replacement phone, I discovered that he had called, with few specific details and cryptic instructions. Is this what collaboration is going to be like?!?
Meanwhile, I’ve just finished re-reading Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler. “The twilight before sunrise” seems an apt metaphor for my lifephase.
Humanity, having destroyed earth in a nuclear holocaust, is rescued by an alien species whose life purpose is to acquire and trade genetic material – constantly and consciously morphing into new species. Humans are a fascination to the Oankali because we have “two incompatible characteristics… [Lilith asks] what are they?”

Jdahya made a rustling noise that could have been a sigh, but that did not seem to come from his mouth or throat. “You are intelligent,” he said. “That’s the newer of the two characteristics, and the one you might have to put to work to save yourselves. You are potentially one of the most intelligent species we’ve found, though your focus is different from ours. Still, you’ve a good start in the life sciences, and even in genetics.”
“What’s the second characteristic?”
“You are hierarchical. That’s the older and more entrenched characteristic. We saw it in your closest animal relatives and in your most distant ones. It’s a terrestrial characteristic. When human intelligence served it instead of guiding it, when human intelligence did not even acknowledge it as a problem, but took pride in it or did not notice it at all . . .” The rattling sounded again. “That was like ignoring cancer. I think your people did not realize what a dangerous thing they were doing.” (p. 39, Lilith’s Brood)

Book Two: Adulthood Rites
Book Three: Imago

soon to be sailing

“The space was really what this sailing thing was all about.” (p. 7)

“Everything was so quiet now. The dawn was still so early the turn of the creek in the distance was barely visible…a dawn mystery took hold…” (22)

Last year August was my maiden trip. Just a few days of real sailing but enough of a taste to know I wanted to do it again. A second, shorter outing in October did not dispel my enthusiasm.

“After awhile he heard the putt-putting of a small boat approaching. An early fisherman, probably, heading down the creek. Soon the entire cabin rocked gently and the lamp swung a little from the boat’s wake. After a while the sound passed and it became quiet again. . . .” (77)

“Now, above deck, his attention was given to sail shape and wind direction and river current, and to the chart on the deck beside him folded to correspond to landmarks and day beacons and the progression of red and green buoys showing the way to the ocean….Somehow he’d gotten the idea that a sailboat provided isolation and peace and tranquility, in which thoughts could proceed freely and calmly without outside interference. It never happened. A sailboat underway means one hazard after another with little time to think about anything but its needs.” (94-95)

“Now that he was quiet he noticed that the boat’s motion wasn’t so much a rocking as a surge, a very faint, very slow, lift and drop accompanying the waves. He wondered if that could be a surge coming in from the ocean…” (233)

Robert Pirsig

a planet in peril

Barack Obama said this last night, as others have said before and with increasing urgency as the scientific evidence becomes stronger, more clear and convincing.
But can we change the ways we talk? Can we alter the tropes of political discourse? He is trying, valiantly.
Whether he wins or loses the nomination, the consciousness accompanying his talk – that which has appealed to millions of voters across the U.S. and millions (?) more across the globe is the real prize.
Australians indicate overwhelmingly that the environment is the burning issue of our times. Al Gore has been saying this for some time, among many many others (including nearly everyone I know in the sciences at UMass). The economy matters, but the environment is the lowest common denominator. We’ve got to wrap our minds around the interrelationship between self/other & self/situation: the determinative frame being between us (people) and our context (the planet). Vectors of history propel us along paths set in motion from ambition, greed, dreams, and visions. Which of these lead to convergence (as in a mathematical series) and which to divergence are not transparent but certain measurements and predictions become increasingly possible.
As an optimist, I do not believe we are on an inevitable path to absolute (unavoidable) convergence, but the attentiveness with which we anticipate consequences to our choices is due for a radical upgrade.

living within language

I am reading Monolingualism of the Other in preparation for a talk with Chang and Lankala this Wednesday.

Derrida risks two propositions:

  1. We only ever speak one language.
  2. We never speak only one language.

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Meanwhile, I enjoyed another Equinox sunset and am delighted by the opening of my Irish Daffodils! (Birds of Paradise soon to follow…)

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“2 hours talking about poop

Pete said it, summing up the party.

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We started at the UMass Sunwheel circa 6:15 pm. The clouds cooperated, beginning to clear an hour in advance of sunset. The wind was bitter, though: fortitude was required to make it through until the moon cleared the 7 degrees of forest obscuring the horizon in the East.

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Dr. Judith Young from the Astronomy Department at UMass regaled the crowd (52 brave souls who stayed) with enlarged photos, anecdotes, history, and education. I was struck by the range of nuance embedded in the careful alignment of static stone with the motions of our solar system. In particular, I learned of the Callanish Stones for the first time. Dr. Young showed some pictures and explained the presence of an “extra” stone that – if one stands just right – creates a visual notch with the stone next to it that outlines the precise location on the horizon where the summer solstice sunrise occurs. “They found,” she said, “a way to let us know.”

Hmmm, a way to know – what? If there is a message in these stone circles, what might it be? Was there an active intent to leave a sign that would invite us to wonder? What would people from four or five millennia ago want to convey to us, their descendants in a future as dim to them as their present is removed in a distant past? I considered these questions: they want us to know there is another mode of perception. They want us to remember that scientific measurement with all its technical specificity is not the only way to apprehend life. (My conviction was profound in the moment. Some hours later, I imagine that the possibilities of their intended meanings range beyond imagination, yet in this time – our time, now – this meaningfulness jumped into consciousness.)

I missed parts of the lecture walking around taking photographs and whispering with friends, still – the qualities of the equinox that I did learn struck me as propitious. Were there four? Equal lengths of night and day, sun (and moon?) rising and setting due east and west, sun directly above the equator, and . . . well. At the moment I heard the list I thought, this is exactly how I need to go about my upcoming research. (When I told Anne the good news she described it as “impossibly cool!“I know!” I hollered.)
Just-in-Time and I spoke about the need for evenness in one’s emotional life as we drove from the Sunwheel to the apartment for soup. Suppose 80% of your emotional experience is “okay,” 10% is elation, and 10% is all the other stuff? That 80% takes in a lot, eh? It’s good! Is such a spread worth the highs of the high and the lows of the low? “Hey, maybe I’ve already done my ten percent? Five years or so of the lows….finished! It’s out of my system! Been there, done that!” 🙂

Option A: Tissue + Plastic Wrap/Newspaper
Option B: Clean, Dry Container

The Béguine Cream Soup was a hit. (Yah!) I confess I doctored it a bit. (Who, me?) Check out this description from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups:

“This recipe is a version of a soup from Flanders in northern Belgium. Its name suggests it originated among the Béguines. Béguinage was a medieval institution that allowed pious laywomen to lead a form of religious life in common, without becoming actual nuns. It was one of the few alternatives to either marriage or the cloister…In general, they were a progressive group of women who wished to assert, as much as the times allowed, their independence from men. They were women of great culture, and some of them became renowned mystics.”

“Open flap of Collection Card”

The recipe calls for chervil, which I could not locate. Having received an email from one of my teachers about the Apache New Year (which, like many other cultures, recognizes the spring equinox as the beginning of the year), sage seemed an ideal replacement. We were cold coming in from our hour in the wind; it took a few minutes to settle in and get the soup warming. Soon enough, the Wanokip put on The Doors and the party started. 🙂 Pete and Sinead got me going on my research question, so much so that I had to take notes! They gave me an absolutely crucial framing, later clarified even further by The Ever-Smiling Evil Indian and Ambarish, who asked, “Isn’t it obvious [why certain people use or don’t use the interpreters]?” Aha! The fact that they are making a choice is obvious, but the reasons for the choice are not! I have no idea what their reasons are, and (to be honest, gulp) I’m not sure (?) they have thought (?) very much (?) about it themselves. This is what I need to find out!

“Collect a pea-size sample with provided Applicator Stick.”

Searching human behavior for patterns is not so far removed from searching the stars for meaning, is it? I mean, come on, Renee found her way to the event by approximating a time in memory and correlating that temporal position with its internal references to other times (if she received the invitation two days ago and the event was specified as “tomorrow” then that meant “tonight” not Friday). A skill she has improved, apparently, after reading Longitude by Dava Sobel. (What role does the chronometer now play as “control” in a cybernetic civilization?!) Then there was the long convo with Anuj about inattention blindness and the basic fact that our brain must select – and therefore also de-select – where to aim one’s focus. (We also conjured the amazingly cool idea of eye tracking deaf people as they watch sign language.)

“Apply sample to top half of window.”

Obviously, with so much goin’ on in this puny brain, I had to take notes and remind everyone about the blog. “Is this informed consent?” I was challenged. I responded with the options. “Shut the F*** Up” has been duly noted.

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“Reuse Applicator Stick… spread samples over entire window…”