Saturday, August 3, 2013

Who We Are: Part II

Welcome back to the idintify blog. 

After a few posts, it's time to return to the core of the idintify blog and redefine its objective:

A celebration of the written word, offering an apologetic position towards the human condition. The idintify blog offers a variety of equally valid, yet conflicting, perspectives through each post in an attempt to demonstrate that everything (and nothing) is true, and encourage readers to empathize with their enemies' point of view.

Like so many writers, I started this blog with the misguided intention of proselytizing. Not necessarily with the attempt of converting others towards my point of view, just so long as it was away from their own. 

Still, I attempted to deliver my thoughts evenhandedly. Despite the inevitable bias that is apparent in anything composed by a human being, I have always intended for the heart of this blog to be not a thesis nor a sermon, but a simple request: please, everyone, stop and think for a minute. Looking back at my previous posts, imagining how they came off to strangers, I felt like the writing missed the mark. The posts came off as statements rather than questions.

So I took a few weeks off, kept my mouth shut, and thought—if I'm going to talk the talk, I'd better walk the walk. I thought about the journalist's modus operandi: to present complex and controversial issues in a way that is fair, educational and accessible. I thought about what's tearing our country apart, how long it's been happening, and whether or not it's the natural order of things. One thing is apparent: everyone is certain they are right. I decided if I want to be a change, I'd better take a resoundingly different angle.

I let my mind roam further. Two things occurred to me, and one was obvious: we consciously disagree with our enemies because they challenge our values; subconsciously we disagree because our very personalities, our life stories, cannot possibly mesh with theirs: "How could they believe such an abhorrent thing with a sound mind? Don't they live in the same world I do?" The answer, as I will demonstrate in future posts, is no, they do not. Whomever they are.

The second, less-obvious realization deals with how we have come to shape our beliefs. Many of us go for years without examining the variables within our information sources. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter encourage us to "hide" sources with which we disagree, creating what Ethan Zuckerman and others call a "filter bubble." 

Filter bubbles have existed for eons in one form or another, but the new consolidation of interaction fueled by digital feeds and pocket communication have only served to expand the problem exponentially.

The idintify blog firmly rejects this notion. How informed can we be if we are completely in control of what we are informed of?

Ethan Zuckerman: "Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection"
appearing on WFMU's Too Much Information with Benjamin Walker 

"When we go to the New York Times we have the bias of the editors—what do they think is important? When we look for information via search, we have the bias of what we are interested in—we end up finding out a lot about what we already care about. If we're looking for information through something like Facebook, we have the bias of what our friends care about, and most of us have friends who are pretty similar to ourselves. We get trapped in these bubbles of homophony, a sort of self-love, of finding people who are like ourselves. I'm interested in how we get serendipity. First, we have to consider serendipity as being more than random. Serendipity isn't just the happy accident: serendipity is the unexpected insight that helps you with something that you're already working on, that helps you push forward on a problem, or find a solution from an unexpected direction...serendipity favors the prepared mind. I think it's absolutely possible to look at something and say, "I'm beating my head against this problem...I'm going to consciously yank myself out of this space and put myself in a different space, and look at what solutions are working in that community."

What We Propose
  • Encouraging readers to reconnect with the mystery of existence
  • Reminding readers that not everyone comes from the same place
  • Providing a unique, progressive alternative to a stubborn and selfish culture

What We Reject
  • Comfort Zones: ignoring the existence of a complex and chaotic world
  • The myth that everything is as it should be
  • Sacrificing relevance for recency: thinking fast instead of thinking wisely

Living in the information era, drowning in headlines and—far worse—the bigoted comments that flow freely in response to any and all news stories, I have, to a certain extent, abandoned one of my core beliefs: that human understanding, rather than empirical existence, determines a great deal of what we call "truth." 

Bear with me:

The availability of almost all information on the planet, thanks to the internet, makes life very confusing indeed. Because in between the reader (you and I) and the information itself is the fallible middle-man: the interpreter. This interpreter, whether a journalist, an advertisement or a religious zealot, skews the data (sometimes—no, often—without knowing it) in a way that favors some preconceived mythology.

To reveal the "truth" of the matter, we have to compare the middle-man's interpretations with as many other, conflicting interpretations as possible. It's only fair. Our culture is undergoing a dangerous shift, wherein we would do good to pause briefly and consider the other side of the story. 

What exactly happened on Thursday? Well, it depends on who you ask. Literally. This is what I want the heart of the idintify blog to be.

To conclude: When dealing with current events and political labyrinths, the new format of the idintify blog will take the form of a conversation between three or more different people. I admit, I am fabricating a dialogue, but I assure you my intentions are good. And as always, the comment field is wide open for feedback. Stay tuned!

Post Script:

The first thought, feeling, instinct that comes to mind is false. There is more than one mind in our head, and the loudest is not always the wisest; volume and frequency have an inverse relationship with Truth and right living.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Treating Your Computer Like a Person

(or) How To Stay Natural In Your Digital Workspace

Facebook; Twitter; Tumblr; these are the new business cards for artists. Meanwhile, Adobe, Apple and Avid are our new palettes. This means that, despite our best attempts, the pendulum has swung away from "organic" experiences such as songwriter's nights, gallery openings, spacious recording studios and photography darkrooms towards sitting alone at a computer screen squeezing a mouse.

Sit tight, I'm not going to rant against the advent of technology. Yes, through its evolution, digital telecommunication has come to reflect and even embody the natural environment; but the days of the computers taking over are still a distant nightmare. I'm a firm advocate of the technosphere. There are, however, two problems that immediately come to the fore, especially for artists who have been forced to comply with the shift to computers:

  • First: the notion of blending the instant-now of the internet with the creative process itself. 
  • Second: the sedentary nature of working on digital projects. Even working in a photography studio or a printshop offers more blood circulation than sitting at a desk, but few of us have access to such luxuries.

These problems can be solved simply by reminding yourself who's boss. Everything digital is created by people. We resemble gods more than we ever have before—if we put our minds to it, we have full control over whatever we hold in our hands to the extent that it becomes a weapon, transcendent of time and space. Sure, you might spot some sorry folks letting phones and laptops run their lives, but true artists and visionaries prioritize sun, water and fresh air, bending the power of digital technology to their will.

the April 1, 2013 Episode of
Too Much Information with Benjamin Walker and Douglas Rushkoff
"If you understand the biases of the digital landscape, this thing [the internet] can be the next stage of human civilization...the possiblity of using the atemporal bias of digital technology to totally overturn the corporate hegemony; to reify the 'sustainability jones;' to promote a much more sort of 'Occupy' version of reality than the Koch's version of reality; is right at our fingertips...the way they [the younger generation] can restore their sensory processing mechanisms (the big diseases of the day are sensory processing disorders like autism and Aspergers, the inability to engage eye-to-eye) is to be able to do pattern recognition: soften your gaze and see how some things are like other things..."

Using All Five Senses to Make Your Digital Project Human

  • See: Before you begin, try to see the final product. What does it look like in your wildest dreams? Don't expect to achieve this fantasy, but know it's a great place to start.
  • Feel: Create a practice version of your piece and feel out all of its extremities—this will both inspire ideas you hadn't had before and help you avoid experimenting with your real project.
  • Hear: Always keep your ears open to what your work is "telling" you. Sometimes we urge our art to be something it cannot. When your project says, "I am never going to be able to do that," listen. 
  • Smell: When you cook, certain essences that you couldn't originally smell will emerge. What aspects of your work sneak out of nowhere and surprise you as you are building it? Keep your nose open, and if you smell some new ideas, nurture them.
  • Taste: Test it out before you serve it. If it's a photo, let your eyes get used to it in a frame for a few days in different places in your house. If it's a recording, listen to it from beginning to end on multiple sound systems. Don't let your audience be the first taste-testers.

I'm awash in projects. If I'm not in the studio recording a couple of new songs, I'm in front of Photoshop, writing a new short story or interviewing folks for a documentary. To cope, I created a detailed calendar and forced myself to stick to it: deadlines, work days, release dates: I successfully disciplined myself as my own manager. The problem emerged as I put the calendar first and my art second. I was working more efficiently, but the quality was falling short. 

In an effort to be an artist with a capital "A," I did away with my deadlines, decided to let my product tell me when it was final and began to focus strongly on the five reminders listed above—usually during an invigorating hike or a midnight swim. Remember, these reminders can only set in if you go over them during your re-charge time, not while you're working. Take the time necessary to be thorough, don't just race to meet a deadline.

"But," counters Professional Pete, "You can't work without deadlines. You'll never feel truly driven, you'll float in the conceptional phase and the project will never get finished." Pete raises a great point. It's hard for us artists to blend in with the professional world. By nature, our biggest challenge is seeing a project through to the end, let alone meeting another person's deadline. I'm arguing for a happy medium: stay true to your calling, put the standard of excellence before your due date, but keep the blood of your project flowing in such a way that it's begging you to finish it.

It's too easy in this techno-modern environment to put recency over relevance; Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube... it all nags you to keep feeding it, keep it fresh and active. This miraculous new marketing convenience at our fingertips compels even the most thoughtful artists (especially budding young ones) to shell out material when it's not ready. But make sure you're feeding it only the finest work. Don't resist the digital network: make it prettier. And don't forget to get some fresh air!

Post Script:
When your work is ineffective, does it a reflect your body, your mind or your soul?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Community Voices: The Farmer's Daughter

The first installment of the idintify blog's "Community Voices" features Mike Mayo and Ann Keener, a young couple in Chattanooga, TN who have been working on their own personal mission within the region's sustainable food movement for the last five years. This summer they're opening The Farmer's Daughter on the corner of Hixson Pike and Dartmouth Street as a forum for local farmers, artisans and food suppliers—including Copacetic Coffee from Velo Roaster's Andrew Gage. 

To highlight them, I produced my very first audio documentary and submitted it to the Third Coast International 2013 ShortDocs Challenge (which specified a theme of "Appetite.") The requirements included that I present the project in three "courses." Inspired by a recent article on Slate, I took our hour-and-a-half interview, waited until the very last minute and threw it all together between 8pm and midnight on the day of the deadline. I plan on releasing an extended version of the documentary to coordinate with their opening week, but for now, enjoy the short version!

"Community Voices" is a regular column brought to you by the idintify blog that aims to amplify the voices of true visionaries in the community.

Related Links
Third Coast International Audio Festival
Sequatchie Cove Farm
Gaining Ground
South Cumberland Food Hub
Velo Roasters

Post Script
When you see your comfort zone as your worst enemy, only then are you free to walk out the door and recognize your community as your shelter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How To Be Angry

I have to apologize. When I read about the bombings in Boston on April 15, 2013, my mind turned angrily to politics. I know. But the attack was so separate, so distant, it happened so far away from me I knew I couldn't do anything and assumed everyone at the scene would go above and beyond to help—and so to pass the time my internal dialogue got political. I'll spare you the details; suffice it to say, I jumped to the conclusion that this amount of human sadness would be used, exploited, by the slick-tongued rascals of American politics. And in doing so, I exploited the tragedy for my own purposes in the exact same way. And so, Boston, I'm sorry.

When the bombs went off at the tail end of the Boston Marathon on Patriot's Day, killing three and injuring almost 300, we were collectively confronted with the logic of chaos. Two and two no longer made four. Insanity (or "reason dazzled," according to Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization) splashed the face of our clean, rational community, rearing its ugly head to suggest that "civilization" is still losing the battle to nature in many different ways. The sheer nonsense of the attack made us, as a culture, feel cheated. We have come a long way to build a community that is in many ways far more peaceful than it was even fifty years ago. So rightly, we got angry!

In far less extreme examples, anger occurs on a regular basis in many forms. Forget the bombs for a moment and consider your day-to-day. We often plan for things to run smoothly, as a clock. And we value our freedom and independence above all else in a world where we have control over very little. Your car won't start; your rent is going up; it's pouring rain on your only day off; when was the last time you got angry?

  The Metropolis and Mental Life 
by Georg Simmel
[The] modern mind has become more and more calculating. The calculative exactness of practical life which the money economy has brought about corresponds to the ideal of natural science: to transform the world into an arithmetic problem, to fix every part of the world by mathematical formulas...the conditions of metropolitan life are at once cause and effect of this trait. The relationships and affairs of the typical metropolitan usually are so varied and complex that without the strictest punctuality in promises and services the whole structure would break down into an inextricable chaos...The passionate hatred of men like Ruskin and Nietzsche for the metropolis is understandable in these terms. Their natures discovered the value of life alone in the un-schematized existence which cannot be defined with precision for all alike. From the same source of this hatred of the metropolis surged their hatred of money economy and of the intellectualism of modern existence.

How To Be Angry
  • Turn off your phone
  • Words aren't going to work right now: don't even think with them. Just breathe.
  • Recall the worst thing that's ever happened to you. How does this compare? 
  • If you've started an inner dialogue, turn it off. Focus on how the anger feels. 
  • Identify the problem: was it something obvious, or something deeper? Is it even in your control? 
  • Make a decisive plan of action in the opposite direction: 
    • Has someone wronged you? Act like their opposite.
    • Is something broken or dysfunctional? Act like its opposite.
    • Is something out of your control? Focus on its opposite: what is in your control?

The hardest thing to come to terms with during times of anger is the fact that it's healthy. Anger is essentially the realization that something is off balance, something that can no longer be ignored. While it's dramatically unhealthy to act or speak while you're experiencing anger—there is an inevitable snowball effect, and the results of acting in a literal state of insanity could haunt you for a lifetime—you might have needed the wake up call. 

Think of anger as an instantly jarring transition out of a comfort zone. Once you've calmed down and found perspective, you are a new person. Now see if you can help the situation; and if you can't, hopefully you will find peace in that realization.

"But," says Belligerent Bill, "This is so wishy washy. If I'm really angry it's for a good reason, and I'm going to let it be known. The idea of 'turning off' thoughts and just sitting there is for pacifists and hippies."

You're right, Bill, anger is often for a good reason, and decisiveness is a form of strength. It's a crazy world where ugly things happen everyday, and we need as many fixers as we can get. But today's article is dedicated to those of us who have acted thoughtlessly out of anger in the past and regret the effects of the tantrum. Plus, it never hurts to remind ourselves that there are certain things we simply cannot control.

So are you experiencing righteous anger, or are you just pouting? I like to think of righteous anger in terms of the just war theory. In City of God, St. Augustine wrote that "The wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars." So the anger you're feeling is probably the need for some sort of change: let it flow. But let it flow in solitude—do not act until it has settled and put you in a new, enlightened place.

Post Script:
Learn to distinguish between pain that leads to more pain, and pain that leads to no pain. Do you feel worse than you felt three hours ago?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Who We Are

Welcome to the "identify" blog (working title? We'll see). 

Before the regular posts start, introductions are in order: 

A celebration of the written word, offering a human perspective towards an inhuman environment. The "identity" blog rejects the mythology of instantaneous fact inherent in Facebook and Twitter, urging consideration, depth and balance through each post. 

We are everywhere. We shop at your favorite stores, drive on the highway with you during rush hour, and work with you at your job. Sometimes you can spot us a mile away and sometimes we're hidden very carefully. Sometimes even we don't know who we are.

We are the true spiritual visionaries. The artists, activists and prophets who challenge the American Dream with our manifesto: "not so fast: everything is not as it seems." We're suspicious of common knowledge. We dissect "truth." We know there's 2.348 million sides to every story. It's time to build a less-common perspective. 

We feel out of place in mainstream culture because we are human, not commodities. We believe education is about learning to listen and work is about building a progressive community; and yet from a young age we are taught how to follow orders and raised into careers that revolve around arranging somebody else's numbers. What now?

Archetypes of Dissent 
by Daniel Merriweather
Double Agents conceal their dual identities. Their being isn’t “either/or” but “both/and.” In practice, this makes for a strange, schizoid practice, a deeper political idealism lurking behind a socially conventional pragmatism, a person in society who is rebelling against society. The stuff of the 99% doubtless consists of many double agents: they earn a living to equip themselves to overthrow what earning a living really means.

What We Propose
  • Encouraging readers to reconnect with their human core
  • Reminding readers that nothing is exactly as it seems
  • Providing a unique progressive community in a disconnected and selfish culture

What We Reject
  • Comfort Zones: Trading our right to an open and healthy spirit for financial security
  • The myth that everything is as it should be
  • Sacrificing relevance for recency: living fast instead of living wisely

"But," Corporate Cathy may argue, "everything about my life can be described as 'mainstream' and yet I am perfectly happy and healthy. I have worked hard to achieve what I have. This blog's rejection of my lifestyle stems from some stubborn unhappiness on the authors' part."

The "identify" blog believes that everyone in the world has their own unique skill set. Cathy, if you are honest with yourself in following the true call of your heart, we support you in that. If you are troubled, angry or insulated from your community, we don't. We are suspicious of the corporate consumer movement, but well aware that it is comprised of living, breathing human beings. 
We mean no offense, and we encourage your further communication in the future. Let's collaborate!

As for our mission, we feel our calling is to dig beneath the surface of everything and investigate what might not be immediately apparent, for the good of the human race, because we are journalists. 

To conclude:

We know that the beauty of life is so powerful that it often pops up even in the most corrupt of institutions. Humans can gain as much enlightenment from a shopping mall as from the forest. Life cannot be corrupted so much that it does not move our souls whenever, wherever we encounter it. We can look at a sermon, a presidential speech, or a magazine ad and stop ourselves before proclaiming "That's a lie!" Not so fast. We say it's the Truth, but manipulated. Exploited. So what can we learn from it?

And so with that in mind, the "identify" blog welcomes you to join us in stopping and taking a deep breath. Listen. Let go.

Post Script:

The first thought, feeling, instinct that comes to mind is false. There is more than one mind in our head, and the loudest is not always the wisest; volume and frequency have an inverse relationship with Truth and right living.