Posted on 27 January 2017 | No responses
I know you are scared and I know you are angry.
I get scared and angry too.
We are all terrified of what the future holds.
We feel so small.
And do all we can to feel big.
We try to push and force and control each other,
Because those feel like answers.
And when we don’t succeed using such blunt instruments,
We howl for punishment.
Someone’s real or metaphorical blood must be spilled.
I understand all these things.
No peace will be found on that path.
I can see the light you hold within humanity:
All of you.
It is real and it is strong.
However, it needs your attention.
Respect what light you find in yourself and in others.
Nurture it, help it to grow.
Feel the rich calmness of a mature love
That wishes nothing but well for all living beings.
You will find a future worth living in that way.
Take care of yourself humanity.
Posted on 14 January 2017 | No responses
Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader—so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang my bells. Not just mine, in fact—read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.
Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media—federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow—and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.
These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.
- Welcome to the era of bullshit.
Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).
But your colleagues are there to help you, right? After all, you’re all in this together?
- Don’t expect any camaraderie
These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says. Whoever is lucky to ask a question and be the first to transmit the answer to the outside world wins. Don’t expect any solidarity or support from them. If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don’t expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf. It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention. It’s getting especially absurd because some—increasingly many—reporters will now come with large, bright placards aimed at attracting the president’s attention to names of their regions or specific issues. This is what it looks like:
Also, some people in the room aren’t really there to ask questions.
- Expect a lot of sycophancy and soft balls from your “colleagues”
A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions. Which also happen to be Putin’s favorites. Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who you will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favorite food? “Questions” of this sort, sure to melt Putin’s heart, typically come from women working for small regional publications. A subtype of this is also statements-as-questions, but from people who really love the man on the stage and will bob their head and look at the stage adoringly and say something to the tune of “Mr President, do you agree that a lot of media are treating you unfairly?”
Another type of softball questions is hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with. Mr President, our road is full of potholes and local authorities aren’t doing anything about it. Mr President, our tap is leaking. Mr President, how about a chess club in our village. This is a real opportunity for him to shine. He will scold the local authorities and order to have a new road built. All of this, of course, has been choreographed well in advance.
Also, some of these people really love him and will meet his every answer with enthusiastic applause. There will be people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies. But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a “sharp” question, only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (“See? I respect the media and free speech”).
- You’re always losing
This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t—in Putin’s case—campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking—while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.
I could go on and on, but I think at this point you see where this is heading. See if any of this rings any bells if you covered Trump’s presser or watched it online.
P.S. You’re welcome to repost/reblog/republish this if you like.
My name is Alexey Kovalev, I’m a Russian journalist and I’m writing about propaganda, fake news and Russian state media on noodleremover.news. It’s all in Russian, but here’s an example of what I’m doing in English. You can contact me at email@example.com. I tweet as @Alexey__Kovalev.
Images from Vladimir Putin press conference at the World Trade Center 19 December 2013. Source: www.kremlin.ru
Posted on 9 January 2017 | No responses
The question asked was, “What mistakes do new writers often make in their writing?” The answers given to the young writer almost universally had to do with spelling and grammar. I have to admit, I was appalled. What a small-minded approach to art. Were those answering this question nurturing the talents of a young writer or simply teaching them to become literary accountants?
It’s certainly important to gain skills with our tools. However if we get too wound up in the tools and not the art, then we are going to become afraid of making mistakes. That sort of inhibition squelches creativity and innovation. In the ambition to do things “correctly” we lose sight of the beauty to be found in the sounds and rhythms of life. We may not dig into the wisdom of adaptation, variation, and diversification such as that which has been developed in creoles.
Take for example the below:
“April 6—Today, I learned, the comma, this is, a, comma (,) a period, with, a tail, Miss Kinnian, says its, importent, because, it makes writing, better, she said, somebody, could lose, a lot, of money, if a comma, isnt in, the right, place, I got, some money, that I, saved from, my job, and what, the foundation, pays me, but not, much and, I dont see how, a comma, keeps, you from, losing it,
But, she says, everybody, uses commas, so Ill, use them, too,,,,”
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
“Anyone Living in a Pretty How Town” by E. E. Cummings
In the Flowers for Algernon quote we see the world from the character Charlie’s viewpoint. Both the novel and short story versions are written this way. And even though the character goes through personal changes where he can write with greater then lesser grammatical skill, being that up close to Charlie is emotionally affecting. In fact because of the poor English our hearts break for Charlie, due to the empathetic bond the author has created through pages and pages of this sort of writing.
In the poem “Anyone Living in a Pretty How Town” E. E. Cummings is also tossing out grammatical rules in order to get at a more richly emotional palette. Readers have to set aside a rulebound mindset. Instead they are meant to ride a wave of imaginative meaning with better access to sensual feelings.
Nevertheless, both authors are in full command of their communication skills. Words are carefully selected and placed. Even punctuation and lack of punctuation has the polish of deep consideration. That takes time and practice. Why discourage a new writer with dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s when what they need is the inspiration to desire full flight. Wanting to feel the wind beneath their wings will do more for an artist than teaching them aerodynamics. The other will come as their joy gives them the strength to take on more knowledge.
So what do new writers need? This was my answer:
Faith in themselves and their personal creative vision.
Many new writers try to be like someone else, either because they want the status of another author or they have a deep love of that author and wish to emulate them. Emulation is actually a good place to start. It will teach you many things. Just broaden your base of authors you are emulating, so that you can eventually find yourself. Your vision is just as worthy as anyone else’s.
Access to their own feelings and experiences.
This is where the advice “write what you know” comes into effect. You may not know what it is like to fly on the back of a winged unicorn. However, you may remember how thrilling it was the first time you were on the back of a horse. You will remember the sense of elation, the smell of the horse’s body, the sense of so much power beneath your legs as the horse’s chest moves in and out with each breath. That experience is enough to give you believable and engaging details you can mine for creating a similar experience with your unicorn. You will bring reality to each scene you write if you are willing to explore these senses and practice empathy for others.
Committment to being truthful.
Clichés happen when you are relying on other people’s experiences and vision of the world rather than speaking from your own truth. We all know what our culture perceives as a “good family”. Nevertheless, if you are truthful about your family, they will often deviate widely from that expectation. If you are completely honest with yourself, you will recognise that your family has good bits and bad bits, and neither of these may line up with cultural expectations. Truth is complex: it’s not an easy black and white matter. The more you delve into that the more interesting your writing will become.
Humility and patience.
Your first version of a story is unlikely to be great. Your first novel is unlikely to be great. To be honest your third, fourth, and fifth versions may not be great either. You must be willing to set aside your ego, listen, and make the changes that are needed to tell a good story well. This may mean it will take you a lifetime to finally get it right, and you need to be okay with that. Harper Lee really only had To Kill a Mockingbird to her name for most of her life, but was that novel a corker!
Solid motives for becoming a writer.
Do you want to become a writer in order to become rich, famous, or to validate your importance? Then very likely you are going to be miserable. None of us can know when lightning will strike and a work of ours will propel us to fame: it could happen early in our career, late in our career, after our death, or not at all. Do you write because it nurtures you, because you love creating something new and of depth or beauty? Do you have something you feel compelled to say?
I have been a writer, an editor, and a literary judge. Honestly, the grammar issues can be dealt with: those aren’t going to make or break you. What you need is a heart full of story and the will to serve the needs of that full heart. THIS is what will create compelling writing people want to read.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 8 January 2017 | No responses
The first question you have to ask yourself is, are you profound? You are only going to achieve profundity if you are a deep and insightful person to begin with.
If you want to become profound then you have to be willing to do a lot of hard personal work.
Be willing to take a good hard look at yourself warts and all. This is not about tearing yourself to pieces, just understanding. Recognise your genuine strengths, admit to your weaknesses. With compassion and a will to do better consider those times you failed yourself and failed others. This is where writing insight begins.
Experience empathy for others
Recognise the humanity of others. Realise they have reasons for why they do things that feel right to them, whether you agree with these actions or not. We all feel fear, and fear is a powerful motivator. To reach a profound level of empathy you have to be willing to feel your own emotions, even when they are painful. I know of people who have run away from the funeral of someone close, because they were afraid of feeling overwhelming grief. And yet that grief represents a lot of love. When you feel that grief, you can write about it honestly.
If you walk your talk, your writing will resonate with people. Author JK Rowling worked for Amnesty International before writing the Harry Potter series. She knocked herself off the Forbes Billionaires list due to all her charity giving. Author Malala Yousafzai risked her life working to ensure girls had access to education. People respect that sort of consistency and are more inclined to believe you know what you are talking about when you are writing about profound subjects.
Now is an important time for people to think and to care more deeply. It’s admirable that you would want to write in such a way. Just start doing it and see where it takes you. You may find the insight, empathy, and care you need in the process.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 1 January 2017 | No responses
2017 is opening with many challenges already in place.
I wish you the strength to find courage and to engage with events in order to create a world better than you found it.
I wish you the wisdom to be self-reflective and compassionate. Take the time to do what is thoughtful and kind.
I wish you to find greatness of heart, so that you exercise the capacity to include all humanity in your respect and goodwill.
I wish you an empathy that embraces all living beings, so that you work for their well-being as if they are the most treasured of family, because they are.
I wish you to be surrounded by a nurturing love that you give to yourself, so that you easily become the person you need to be in order to bring light to our times.
Love and kindness,
Posted on 1 January 2017 | No responses
Groups and power
Groups are important. We do not live on this planet alone. We cannot survive on our own. A group is more powerful than one person—of course. The larger the group, the larger the potential power. To quote Voltaire and Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Positions of power attract people whose sole interest are positions of power. Such people may support your cause, and are likely to do so effectively, but they are more dedicated to power and therefore will not always represent your best interests.
Even on the small scale we all seek validation. We can become entangled in our own pet desires and side track ourselves from our own highest calling.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
For any group seeking a peaceable world you will have to remain vigilant of your own behaviour to ensure you are a nexus of compassion. You will have to withstand bullying that can come from within as well as without. Fear and paranoia are not the answer. Wisdom and discernment are called for. Patience and strength are a must. Seek to treat one another fairly and with kindness. Do what you can to face contention. Find the skills to create genuine peace founded on integrity.
For group members you may also have to recognise when things are too toxic and too tangled to go forward, and simply walk away. Understand that you did the best you knew how, forgive yourself, learn what you can, do not give up hope, release the group’s emotional hold on you through forgiveness and a confidence that you are capable of keeping yourself safe. The work to create a better world still needs to be done. You are now free to find a healthier group with which to share in this work.
Below is a list of potentially problematic behaviours. Remember each of us can be and probably has been guilty of all of them. This is an exercise in awareness, since many of these behaviours have both a light and a dark side and are found in most groups.
Too many generals (not enough soldiers)
We do need considered opinions. We do need the voice of experience. We don’t need people who tell the toilet cleaners how to do their job when they aren’t willing and haven’t cleaned those toilets themselves. Those who do the work need to make the rules about how the work is done.
Entourage vs cheer leaders
We need cheer leaders who are good at bringing in new members. Go team!
We do not need people who bring in the numbers (their entourage) just to use them as a way to gain personal power.
Working their way to the top
Some people are very good workers and we need that. Some people take on jobs and take on jobs, until their presence is indispensable. They may then hold the group hostage to their desires.
Peacemakers are important. Those who are good at bringing people together to collaborate and cooperate are a valuable commodity. Watch out when this is done through manipulation. Even more concerning is when a canny peacemaker becomes the only person everyone can talk to, this gives them tremendous power. It seems like you collectively have more power with all the extra numbers, but in actuality you could be under the canny peacemaker’s thumb.
Poor pity me
We do need to be there to the best of our abilities when someone is in trouble. We need to recognise when people regularly create trouble or rely on trouble as a way to function on an ongoing basis. These people need professional and government help. We need to recognise when this is used by people to be treated in a privileged manner.
Late comers and early leavers
Life is messy and we are all late comers and early leavers upon occasion. We need to be aware when this is being used as a form of passive resistance. Why do some people feel the need to protest in this manner? Is it indicative of a problem the group needs to address? Is it a power play?
We need people who deeply care and have the strength to stand on the side of love. We need to be careful of people with dominating personalities who silence others and take over agendas.
Is someone simply being difficult or are they symptomatic of a larger problem? Dysfunctional families classically point to the member who is struggling to free themselves from dysfunction as “the problem”. However, sometimes a person does have a problem with anti-social behaviour. We need systems in place to ensure they are treated justly, but are not allowed to disrupt the group.
Participating in as well as managing a group of people is hard work. Make sure you respect yourself as well as other members in your groups. Even in the best groups people will need to take breaks from one another upon occasion. Let me assure you when things are going well with a collection of people, the sort of change you create can be thrilling and your relations can be deeply fulfilling. The pay off far out weighs the annoyance! Just be sure to stay focused on one step at a time with realistic goals that can withstand a long-term effort. What you are doing is important!
Peace and kindness,
(revised version of an article written in 2013)
Posted on 31 December 2016 | No responses
Here are the issues:
- We have a world obsessed with status.
- We have limited resources.
- In the search for status we are depleting those resources.
- The act of depleting those resources is damaging our biosphere.
- The system of status is causing a greater divide between the haves and have nots, with a steep increase in have-nots.
- The have-nots are equally critical to the effort of rescuing ourselves and our planet.
- We should include in the have-not category all living beings that are being subjugated, used, abused, and wiped out in massive acts of genocide.
- These circumstances are creating incredible suffering in the world that no one can escape, and the suffering is only going to increase as things stand.
Here are some conclusions:
- We have to take bold and deliberate actions fast.
- Panicking, taking desperate measures, running with half-baked solutions are all likely to cause more damage and/or slow the process of change down.
- Palliative action alone isn’t going to cut it. We have to get at the root of our problems. For example giving the poor a little bread rather than eliminating poverty keeps a broken system in place.
- No change is going to work without the participation of all peoples. Otherwise that change is going to be resisted until it disappears. Also, we don’t know where vital solutions may appear and would be foolish to dismiss solutions that come from unexpected quarters.
- Avoiding change will eventually bring change in its most disastrous form.
- Change when it is easy, not when you have lost all means to determine its shape and have no way to lessen the suffering.
- Change not just the forms but the culture, values, and priorities that are needed to support those forms. Otherwise, we are swimming upstream and eventually the current will wash us back down our previous direction.
Here are some solutions:
- We have to let go of status-seeking.
- We have to learn how to cooperate.
- We have to learn how to share.
- We have to renew our capacity to listen to and care about others both human and non-human.
- We have to learn how to do with less. This is not the same as doing with nothing or living in poverty. Several houses sharing a high-quality lawnmover is an example of doing with less.
- We have to find the courage to change.
- We have to teach people how to be pro-active rather than complacent, and how to be interdependent rather than codependent.
- We must separate work from a living. Everyone is provided a living.
- We must de-emphasize the value of work, and re-emphasize service. If work is ennobling, is it noble when someone takes up a job as a hitman? When a woman freely nurtures a baby, that’s service and that’s invaluable and should be supported and held in high esteem.
- We must rely less on leaders and rely more on a nurtured collective wisdom.
- We must walk our talk: action expresses priorities.
- We must broaden our focus and honor the diversity of wisdom in the world that can come from many different types of peoples in many different endeavours, and from many different sorts of living beings.
- It’s critcal we include as much of life as possible in our solutions. All life is key to our survival and is deserving of our consideration and respect.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 29 December 2016 | No responses
Very much like the three little pigs, this is a story about houses. Well, metaphorical houses on a metaphorical island. Because like the three little pigs, this is a fable with a metaphorical point to be made.
On this island was a group of people who came to enjoy a vacation among its lush palms and warm sandy beaches. They had expected clement weather and brought only light sleeping bags in which to fall asleep each night while gazing at bright stars winking in the sky.
Not long into their vacation they were contacted by radio with a warning. A fearsome storm was heading their direction and it would arrive at their island at the same time as a high tide. They had no way to safely outrun the storm in their tiny boats. So, they started discussing what was to be done.
Some of the people felt nothing should be done. A little rain is natural and getting wet isn’t the end of the world. Surely, the weather report was an exaggeration, because why would a disaster befall their island and their vacation? Some people felt these people were fools. In fact worse than that, they felt everyone (besides themselves) was a fool and utterly unprepared to do anything of value to forestall disaster. Both of these groups chose to do nothing, because in their estimation there was no reason to do something.
Another group were more pro-active about what was to come. They felt panicked and frightened. They sensed something needed to be done and straight away. In fact they felt the urgency was so great, they decided anything that looked like a solution needed to be done by any means as fast as possible. Building a shelter seemed the best way to go. The fastest way to put up that shelter was to use the wood in their boats to build a frame, then cover the frame with dry palm fronds. Since speed was of the essence they decided to erect this hut where it would be nearest to the materials used to construct it, which meant near the edge of the beach.
One final group understood the urgency, but also understood the scale of their problem. They couldn’t afford to underestimate their danger and needed clear thinking to ensure no mistakes were made. Instead of immediately running around taking action, they spent some time planning. The cynical scolded them for wasting the last moments of their lives in endless and pointless deliberating. These people understood it was possible to get lost at the point of problem-solving, but they were committed to what they were doing, set aside their egos, cooperated with one another, and came up with a stratagem in no time flat.
They too felt a shelter was the best solution. However, under the circumstances that shelter would need to be high up where the tide could not wash it away nor storm winds batter it to pieces.. They decided to hike up the leeward side of an extinct volcano at the centre of the island. Once there they found a shallow cave they could use as the beginning of their refuge. They checked to make sure the floor would provide a solid foundation. Together they reinforced the ceiling and the walls. And last, but not least, they built a rock shed over the door to ensure rockfall of any sort could neither trap nor harm them.
Of course it’s clear at this point that there will be no wolves. However, we can throw in a few sharks that eat the people who did nothing and ended up swept out to sea almost immediately when the storm hit. All we can say is that they did their bit for the preservation of a useful oceanic species.
The pro-active group fared a little better at first. Nevertheless, before long their flimsy hut dissolved under force of the elements. Being pro-active some of them did think to run to the mountain where the planners were safely ensconced. Though, some of the planners were unhappy about helping people who not only did not contribute to building their shelter, but had also destroyed their means to get off the island. However, the planners were also clever enough to realise that after the storm they would need all the hands they could get to survive until help arrived. And besides, they had thought to bring the two-way radio with them. Forgiveness seemed the better part of valor.
In the end we must remember the humanity of each member of this hapless band of vacationeers. All of them could have chosen to do nothing , any of them could have been lost to panic, and they were all perfectly capable of careful planning. Those who suffered and died were either raised to see the world in a way that led to their downfall and/or were not challenged to reconsider faulty thinking. How much better would the story have been if everyone had the chance to learn and everyone had a chance to be rescued?
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 20 December 2016 | No responses
In Western democracy we are rightfully proud that we are able to execute peaceful power changes via public election. This is far preferable to endless scheming and wars to determine who will run a country. We hand power over to each successive government with the faith that we have sufficient checks and balances in place that no one government will ever be able to act too far outside of the well-being of its people. What happens when this is no longer true?
What happens when it is completely clear that a government is being handed over to a madman and his scheming buddies? What happens when it is clear that the checks and balances will not be functioning as they should and that the well-being of the people is in danger?
These are hard questions because people who are individually unhappy may claim these are the circumstances well before any real concern needs to be registered. However, do we let our fear that we may appear to be yet another crank keep us from taking action against an overtly real threat?
Under Nuremberg Principle IV we cannot claim Superior Orders (“I was just following my superior’s orders”) when executing instructions that are crimes against International Law. Each person is individually responsible for their actions and must conscientiously object to cruel and inhuman treatment of other human beings.
How many people right now should be conscientiously objecting to such things as giving Donald Trump access to the Gold Codes for the launch of nuclear weapons? How many other actions should we already be conscientiously objecting to?
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 12 August 2016 | No responses
You won’t be seeing much of me here for a little while. My show Heard of Elephants is in the Melbourne Fringe Festival and will be opening in one month’s time! Woohoo!
The tickets have become available this week and today is WORLD ELEPHANT DAY! So, I have two suggestions: Be sure to check out the World Elephant Day website and sign the pledge to protect elephants AND buy a couple tickets to see my show about what it’s like to be an elephant! You can make your purchase on the Melbourne Fringe Festival website or call 03 9660 9666. If you want a little more information before you buy, you can always check out the Heard of Elephants website.
This song might inspire you.
This poster might inspire you as well!
Peace, kindness, and trumpety noises!