Friday, June 21, 2013

Is writing enough? An update on the past, present and future of this blog

I doubt anyone still reads this blog, given that, well, there’s been nothing to read for a while. But for anyone who still checks in from time to time or subscribes via email, I wanted to provide an update as to why the blog has been in hibernation and what its future might be.

Ever since I started blogging almost 2 years ago, a time which, as I've mentioned before, coincided with my own political awakening as well as the beginning of the Occupy movement, I’ve been conflicted by the question I believe is grappled with at some point by all writers choosing to concern themselves with serious matters – is writing about it enough? Writing has always been my inclination and makes up the bulk of my professional experience – in previous states of consciousness I wrote about sports, of all things. But as my writing and mind began to venture into more fertile and consequential areas, the question above naturally began posing itself more frequently.

The process of my answering this question is the reason why this blog is so seldom updated. Over the last year I plugged into nearby Occupy groups, but never got so involved as to lose myself in a frenzied foment of indignation, however righteous. The pull that I felt was not one which contained any desire to “gather up the troops” for a given protest, but rather a desire to actually manifest the new world in the only way it can be manifested – by small, humble, decentralized initiatives. Initiatives that were varied in purpose and identity, but similar in their consistency with new consciousness and inconsistency with old consciousness. I reasoned, like an increasing number of others coming out of the woodwork, that the new world could only come about by new means – not by shouting louder than the enemy, but by expunging ourselves of the tendency to shout and demonize entirely. Not by toppling one regime and replacing it with another, but by outgrowing the regime mentality altogether, whether that regime be headed by Hitler, Bush, Obama, Mickey Mouse or Ali G. OK maybe a regime headed by Ali G would be fine, but that's the only exception.

To that end, I initiated a few ventures which, at the time, were my best attempts to till the soil around me and do my small part to assist in the manifestation of the new world, but neither got very far and are not worth mentioning here. My most recent attempt, likewise, has not moved past the percolation stage, but for whatever reason it feels more appropriate to say a few words about it here.

To get right to it – my sister, knowing of my interest in new economy issues, sent me a link to a bank building that was for sale in a small town just outside Pittsburgh called Braddock. This was not just any bank. It was founded as Braddock National Bank by Andrew Carnegie of all people in 1906, and came complete with the grand columns, marble construction and sparkling manganese vault. And because it was in Braddock – an area which received national media coverage a few years back because of its dramatic fall from economic grace – it was relatively affordable.

Immediately, the idea began forming and developing in my mind. I saw it as an opportunity to do something completely off the wall. It could be a “bank,” but not a bank bank. An anti-bank. A Bank of Dreams, perhaps? That’s the working title. Essentially, the purpose of this bank would be the same as the stated purpose of any other bank – to invest in its community. The difference here would be the playful, thought-provoking and subversive way in which it would go about its work. Instead of clients, dreamers. Instead of investment consultations, dream consultations. Instead of a cash vault, a meditation vault. Instead of plain marble exterior, vibrant colors and visionary art.

Think of it like a really organized and purposeful gift circle. A bank which reflects on the nature of money, and facilitates a different kind of “development” and new notions of “growth.” A think tank which actually encourages free thought, hosting visionary thinkers and authors in the new economy and transformational culture fields. Again, because it’s in Braddock, all these potentialities would be more possible than in most other places in the country where, precisely because of its collapse at the hands of the old paradigm – a paradigm embodied by the old Braddock National Bank and contrasted by the new Bank of Dreams – plots of land can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and red tape is at a minimum.

To better illustrate the vision, the following passage describes the dream consultation process, and is taken from the makeshift business plan I wrote up prior to flying to Pittsburgh to view the building:

Aside from working directly and in collaboration with community groups and residents to achieve shared goals, the signature method Bank of Dreams (hereafter referred to as BOD) will employ to advance its work will be through “dream consultations.” In a dream consultation, clients (hereafter referred to as “dreamers”) sit down with a representative of BOD (hereafter referred to as a “dream trader”) to have a discussion and fill out a “dream objectives” questionnaire. The purpose of this discussion and questionnaire is to ascertain information on the dreamer's dreams, passions, desires, unmet needs, sources of stress and sources of happiness. In addition, the exercise will attempt to uncover the main reasons why the dreamer's dreams are not being fulfilled, and will also inquire about any special skills and talents the dreamer has that might be of benefit to others.

Following the consultation, the dream trader will enter the information gathered into BOD’s database (hereafter referred to as the “dream bank”) to “trade dreams.” This will involve checking to see if any of the skills of dreamers already in the dream bank could prove useful in fulfilling the dreams of the new dreamer, while also checking to see if the new dreamer’s skills could help fulfill any of the dreams already in the dream bank. After this introductory analysis, the dream trader will write up a “dream prospectus,” which will be given to the dreamer by another representative of BOD called a “fortune teller.” This short meeting will go over the dream prospectus, outlining the newly formed relationship between the dreamer and BOD, touching on future prospects and suggested next steps for both sides. Over time, BOD hopes to build an extensive inventory of skills and resources to enable it to fulfill the dreams of everyone in the dream bank, and ultimately, increase the resiliency of the entire community of Braddock. In this way, the dream bank shares many of the same characteristics as time banks and could even foster the manifestation of what’s commonly referred to as a “gift economy,” along with the creation of “jobs” based solely on the needs of the local community.

While the dream prospectus is not binding in any way, and dreamers are in no way obligated to meet any future request BOD might have on behalf of other dreamers in the dream bank, the dream consultation itself is the by-product of the understanding owned by both parties concerning the interdependent nature of their relationship. By seeking BOD's assistance, the dreamer is acknowledging their inability to fulfill their dreams on their own, while BOD is at the same time acknowledging its inability to fulfill any dreams without other dreamers, thus rendering the fulfillment of dreams of any one dreamer dependent on the fulfilled dreams of others. As both BOD and the dreamer are voluntarily entering into a mutually beneficial relationship that has as its goal the fulfilled dreams of everyone in the dream bank, a dreamer taking no interest in the dreams of others would simply be forfeiting his or her investment before realizing any gains i.e. realizing their dreams.

Of course, transforming an entire city, even a tiny one, into a gift economy in the United States may seem a touch overzealous, but that’s just the most far-reaching eventuality I could dream up out of a number of other, more immediately achievable dreams that could come out of this. There’s much more to say about this initiative, such as how I planned to raise funds, etc. But given that I've decided to put it on the backburner for the time being, I’ve already said more than enough. I ended up going to Pittsburgh, meeting with the local nonprofit that currently owns the bank, and touring the building, which was every bit as grand as I had hoped. I also started to get the word out at an event called “Free School,” a happening driven by much of the same inspiration and level of consciousness as Bank of Dreams. I met lots of cool people who expressed interest and made some good contacts, but it’s not like anyone was ready to quit their day job and invest the significant time and energy needed for a venture of this scope. Thus, I came to the temporary conclusion that the undertaking was too much for me to take on at this time.

Hence, my current motivation is something much more up my alley, as I’ve decided to write the book that’s been nagging at me more and more these days. I’ve enjoyed having this blog, but a post is simply not an adequate vehicle to express all that's bubbling to the surface, and since the kind of posts I write tend to be fairly draining and time consuming, I'm not able to post as regularly as I should. A book, on the other hand, will allow me to gather all my notes and inspirations – now topping 112 pages of single-spaced 8-point font – into one cohesive package. This will be a considerable challenge for me. It will take a long time, at least a year, and I’m certain that completing it will require not just mental and physical tenacity, but spiritual growth, trust in the universe and a commitment to living the ideals I’ll be writing about. But there’s a distinct sense of assuredness that comes from knowing you’re doing what you’re called to do, which, in this moment, I feel I am.

I have some leads on publishers that have syndicated some of my work in the past, but of course, as a first-time author, the book must be written first. The working title for the book is “A New Story,” which is a jump-off from the title of new economy author Charles Eisenstein’s piece, “2013: The Space Between Stories.” I’ve already begun writing it in fits and starts, but the real intensive effort will commence soon, after I button up some personal matters. At that time, I will be looking for some kind of creative living arrangement to allow me to focus on this work full-time. Everything is on the table, with the only requirement being that nature will need to be my friend in the endeavor. I plan to apply to writer’s residencies, as well as look into renting cheap accommodations or even going the cheap land/tiny house route – something which has proved difficult because of substantial government fees and restrictive building codes, symptoms which are themselves reflections of the deeper disease this work intends to address. If anyone out there who has enjoyed this blog over the past few years has leads in any of these areas, by all means let me know.

So is writing enough? It is if it’s who you are. Lately, this quote from Howard Thurman has been a mantra of sorts:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive! And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are truly alive.”

It took me a while, I suppose it took me my whole life up to now, to realize I'm a writer and philosopher, not a businessperson or organizer. Sorry if that sounds pretentious. It’s not that I fancy myself any kind of “good” writer or philosopher, only that it’s what I’m inclined to do. I’ve noticed that, along with all the other mostly good things that have come to pass in the information age, there is a widespread undercurrent of cynicism most people have towards anything that doesn't fall neatly within their own established parameters of normalcy and credibility. If someone asks you what you do, and you tell them you’re a philosopher rather than the title of whatever activity pays for your physical necessities, the vast majority of them will wrinkle their foreheads in some befuddled expression bordering on pity. “You're a philosopher? A writer? Who isn't?” There is usually no opportunity to expand on the answer and explain to them that my identity as a philosopher is far more central to my being than my identity as the performer of the task which pays my rent and, given my assumption that their question implied a desire to know more about me, I was simply giving the best answer I could. Before I can get this far, the conversation is cut short and they are off to their next pre-planned engagement, more eagerly and with a greater sense of relief than they would have had, had they not been subjected to the unfortunate coincidence of bumping into me.

So I'm at peace with my decision to write a book, because yes, what the world needs more than anything right now is people truly alive or “following their bliss” as Joseph Campbell would say. It does not need a specific prescription to be followed – for everyone to fall in line and do the same thing and follow the same path, however virtuous that path is. That’s really the problem – every enclave of Oz being mentally, physically and psychically governed by the Emerald City. The new world will respect diversity and will be open source, which means it will need people truly recognizing and being who they are. For some, that will mean writing, making films or preaching. For others, it will involve organizing, entrepreneurship or boots-on-the-ground activism. For others still, it will simply mean being more conscious in their personal lives. It all has its place and is all needed.

Obviously, for most people, being who they are takes a back seat to the identity they assume in order to make a living, often leading to their entanglement to the point where it no longer even occurs to the person that they may in fact have a more fundamental identity beneath the one expected by the world. In my case, I’m fortunate to be in a position now where I can take some “time off” and fully commit to a lifestyle that is in keeping with my current understanding of who I am, and create a work that I hope will have the ability to open Rumi's rose – to uncover an awareness in its readers of who they are and how they can play their own unique part in the unfolding of the new world, which is no grand concoction of my own and is nothing more than a world full of truly authentic, free thinking individuals.

As for this blog, I plan on keeping it, but won't be posting regularly, not that I ever did. It’s important for me to have a home base on the web where I can post something if the spirit moves me and this site will do for now. Perhaps the complexion of posts will change – I might just post links to worthwhile articles, or quotes from books I'm reading. When my own book starts taking shape, I might post excerpts, updates on my progress, or pictures of my writing quarters.

And by the way, if anyone out there is in the Pittsburgh area and intrigued by the Bank of Dreams idea, or knows someone who might be, please get in touch as well. I could potentially be coaxed into giving it another go, I would just need to be a backseat driver. The building, linked here, is still available either for purchase or office space rental for as low as 100 dollars per month. If you're serious about it and possess some relevant skills, I can expand on the vision and email you the business plan.

That's it for now. My apologies to the few readers out there for the dormant state of this blog, and also for the “me, me, me” tenor of this post. I simply could not find a way around giving an update on my current situation without sounding, I now realize, a tad self-obsessed. I'll sign off with a few quotes from Thoreau, whose wonderful Walden I just read for the first time. That's another thing I've been doing lately – reading voraciously in an effort to make up for all my wasted college years, since it never occurred to me back then that I was actually there to learn. Oh well, late is certainly better than never.

When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.

Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts “All aboard!” when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over — and it will be called, and will be, “A melancholy accident.” No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time. This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once.

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