Where have I been, people keep asking. Right here, it turns out, giving birth to two books I’ve been incubating for many months. If you’re on my e-list, you received a notice yesterday that my two new books, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future and The Wave, have been published. I’m almost too excited to type!
Both books can be bought for a 20% discount from a special page, a gift to my dear readers: to buy The Wave or The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future, just click the links in this paragraph and enter the discount code 76KPUKT8 when you check out.
The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future is non-fiction. One of its two main parts features 28 short chapters (most no more than a page or two) exploring emergent knowledge from many realms including commerce, anthropology, social science, medicine, spirituality, cognitive science, art, public policy, and others. Each chapter highlights stories, research, and emerging developments that point to a specific public interest in cultivating empathy, imagination, and community through artistic and cultural creativity. The Wave is speculative fiction: not utopian, because everything in it is doable, but a glimpse of this possible world that I hope will spark other social imaginations.
I was on the tarmac in Las Vegas, gazing from my window seat at the dusty prospect below. Ten yards away, three robust men in fluorescent pink-and-green vests and orange jumpsuits crouched in the shade made by the roof of an empty luggage-wagon, resting between loads.
The youngest jumped up and walked to a spot directly opposite my window. He pointed at something on the ground. From my perspective it resembled a small tangle of straw. Talking and gesticulating, he returned to his companions. One followed him back to the spot, then knelt down for an inspection. After a few seconds, he extended his index finger carefully, the way you urge a parakeet to perch on your hand. The bit of straw jumped onto his finger: an insect! The man tiptoed back to the wagon, extending his hand to his companions. The third man placed his own finger parallel to his coworker’s, and for a short time – gently, gently – they passed the insect back and forth hand-to-hand. Then, moving in slow-motion, the rescuer swept his hand back, keeping it parallel to the ground, then swooped it through the air, top-speed. With the energy of that boost, the insect took flight. The four of us watched until we could see it no longer.
After dinner the other night, a friend who’d recounted the rather impressive incompetence of the powers-that-be at his workplace said that he tried not to think about how messed up things are in the larger world beyond his 9 to 5, because when he got in touch with all that could go wrong, it terrified him.
I see his point, of course. If the course of events on a global scale were actually determined by the blind-spots and shortsightedness of individuals who – like those running my friend’s workplace – had been promoted to their level of incompetence, I doubt a single train would run on time.
by: Arlene Goldbard on February 13th, 2013 | Comments Off
It all comes down to this: no matter how you parse it – art, politics, spirit, planet; body, mind, heart, and soul – the realms that are reckoned separate in the official version of our current reality are in truth a unity, and recognizing that is the path to wholeness. When we violate – ignore, deny, falsify – the absolute indivisibility of our lives, we pay a crushing price. Daring to live into wholeness doesn’t guarantee happiness, of course. But it does confer freedom, the kind that comes from within and radiates in all directions. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.” Our specific birthright is freedom in the service of compassion. And wholeness is our aspiration, just as the seed aspires to sprout.
I have been thinking hard about this lately, as friends share with me the work of artists whose approach is embedded with this knowledge as beads are laid into the wax and wood base of a Huichol mask. And even more as I observe political work that is simultaneously spiritual work and simultaneously art work and the three are braided so closely that it is impossible to pass a hair’s-breadth between them. For instance:
If you stick around long enough writing books and essays and giving talks, people come to you for advice. Very often, the requests I get turn on choices between alternate futures. Graduating students, youngish artists and activists, members of an older generation considering “encore” careers or avocations – sometimes, people seek me out for advice on what they should do. The presenting question tends to focus on impact: what’s most needed now? What will be most effective in terms of effort and impact?
No matter what the field – regardless of whether the seeker is an artist, activist, or falls into another category altogether – I always offer the same response. “Do what gives you pleasure,” I say. “When do you feel most aligned? When do you feel that your gifts are being used most fully? Imagine yourself as a musical instrument: when do you know you are playing the music you were created to make?”
If I had captured them with a camera, I could make a really cool little art piece out of the microexpressions this elicits: delight, puzzlement, renewed delight, skepticism, thrill, anxiety, a perpetually renewing cascade of conflicting feelings. Here’s how I read them: Really? I can be happy? Wait! That sounds selfish! But it would feel so great…just imagine! But why should my feelings matter: don’t I have to listen to those who know best? Can I really have this? I hope so! And so on.
It’s a mini-treatise on our common culture, isn’t it?
It’s been one of those times when the pace of events — both interior and exterior — accelerates almost beyond reckoning. Granted, these days I get much of my news from “The Daily Show,” but still: Inauguration! Republican vote-rigging! Somalia! Egypt! I had a birthday with all the attendant thrill and agony, met a bunch of deadlines, and – big news for me – finished my book revisions and sent manuscripts to the kind people who agreed to read them and consider blurbing. (You’ll be hearing more about these spring releases very soon.)
My blog philosophy is to wait till I have something to say rather than adhering to a preset schedule. Usually I have something to say once a week or so, but I couldn’t rouse myself to add to the tidal wave of words engulfing the blogosphere this month. Mostly my reasons have been personal. I’ve been at that familiar stage for a writer: the writing is done. I think it’s good (and response from early readers suggests that I could be right). But that doesn’t mean everyone else will think so. Once again, I find myself putting forward ideas that are sure to gore someone’s sacred ox. Once again, I have granted myself the freedom to mix categories, cross boundaries, suggest possibilities that not everyone may welcome. I took some heart from Nassim Taleb’s point in Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder that writers can be antifragile to criticism: “[I]f you really want people to read a book, tell them it is ‘overrated,’” he writes, “with a sense of outrage.” Of course, I hope everyone loves my new work, but whatever may come, I’m almost ready to say, “Bring it on.”
All this hope, anticipation, and effort is a little decentering, though. As always, my antidote is music. The last few weeks I’ve been listening obsessively to Roy Buchanan, infusing my system with Vitamin G (that’s for guitar), drinking in music’s magical powers to activate body, mind, heart, and soul. So if you’re a little glad to see me back in the blogosphere, thank Roy. I do.
I had a conversation last week with someone who gave up making films to start a business he hopes will earn enough money to finance major social-change organizing projects. He condemned progressives for their illusions, saying they that think if they’ve watched a hard-hitting film, they’ve done something, but really, “they’ve done nada. The most under-appreciated art and the one most needed and that makes the most difference is the art of organizing.” He explained that he meant Alinsky-style community organizing, with protests – rallies, marches, pickets – focusing on a succession of concrete steps in the hope they will aggregate into meaningful change.
I find this insistence on one form of activism fatiguing. It reminds me of the old alchemical idea: that if you perform the same action over and over again, it will eventually yield a transformative result. At this point, I think most old-style forms of organizing alone have about as much chance of succeeding in addressing our crises as ancient alchemical experiments had of finding the philosopher’s stone and transmuting base metal into gold. Real transformation has to engage the whole person: body, emotions, intellect, and spirit. But you can’t make anyone see what he or she is not ready to perceive, no matter how plainly it is inscribed in reality.
One feature of the history of ideas is a persistent belief in progress that isn’t disrupted by learning that trendy ideas often turn out to be as flawed as the silliest old ones.Part of the problem has got to be a deficit of reality-testing: how often do you go back to reality-check your expectations, evaluating whether your investment (whether in time, money, belief, or any other currency) in a bright idea turned out to be worth it? How often do we publicly reality-check the advice of blue-ribbon experts?
Earlier this year, I wrote about one such debunking,Daniel Kahneman’s examination of Jim Collins’ business blockbusterBuilt to Last(Collins’ 2004 book is still high in Amazon’s top 50 business books, so go figure):
[T]he companies chosen as exemplars in Jim Collins’ mega-bestsellerBuilt to Last, a book that contrasts more and less successful companies’ performance, then attempts to explain how to emulate the winners. Only, if you fast-forward a few years after the the time-period covered in Collins’ book, even the winners don’t win. “On average,” Kahneman writes, “the gap in corporate profitability and stock returns between the outstanding firms and the less successful firms studied in Built to Last shrank to almost nothing in the period following the study … the average gap must shrink because the original gap was due in good part to luck, which contributed both to the success of top firms and to the lagging performance of the rest.” All these works that praise winners and purport to reveal their secrets are actually snapshots of a temporary condition, masquerading as a treasure-maps.
So here’s my advice to arts and other nonprofit organizations that are being pressured to invest in blueprint-style long-range plans: don’t do it.
When packing for online dating world, be sure to bring along plenty of compassion.
Having chronicled my adventures in online dating in my blog series, I’ve become an object of curiosity to certain readers. They are waiting for my positive orientation toward this curious enterprise to cool off. “Are you still enjoying it?” they ask, and I can see that they don’t entirely believe it when I answer “Yes.”
I have taken a poll of my friends, and the results are in: no one who actually knows me finds me intimidating. In fact, it seems I have a reputation for putting people at ease in conversation.
I felt the need to conduct this research this because I have been getting some strange results in online dating world. I wanted a reality-check. I wrote back in January that I’d changed my online profile to be less about likes and dislikes — the usual stuff — and much more a straightforward statement of what I was seeking. In January, I wrote about the first of five qualities I listed there, “Vitality and Chemistry.” Here are the other four (which share profile space with sections on work, music, and so on: