Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Butterfly Dogbane

Certain butterflies thrive on Apocynum, aka dogbane or indian hemp (shown left), but it is poisonous to mammals, may cause humans mental distress, and sequesters environmental lead. Even so, Native Americans used its fibers to make strong cordage for bow strings, fishing lines, and sewing thread. Developers and farmers have so impacted habitats that dogbane and milkweed are disappearing, and with them butterflies, which might explain why a yard full of attractors hasn’t drawn any of these important pollinators all Summer. Bicyclists dread such unsettling facts sooner than those who spend all their time in mobile or stationary shells. Why look through a glass window when you can be there?

Dogbane resembles truth itself. Might mean death or loss to some, or totally the opposite, untold opportunities for gain. Each coin has 2 sides; rungs on a ladder climb to heightened clarity; yang and yin pervade all. To survive you must master fear, proceed with caution for the dark, and rise with reverence for the light. A level approach is a basic truth. “The great art of riding,” as Alice’s savior, the futilely novel White Knight, was saying, “is -- to keep your balance properly.” Whenever acts of ascertaining facts and discovering truths reveal paradoxes, some who think they’ve got a good grip on reality react badly, but only because you’ve temporarily displaced their fulcrum.

Naval gazing again, Bike&Chain was written to expose uncertainties in an age defined by lies, prevarication, and what the definition of “is” is... really! It was produced to examine freedom, responsibility and truth, as well as exercise memory without exocranial aids: No dictionaries, documentaries, encyclopedias, internet, libraries, newspapers, periodicals, or television. Brings up what’s significant rather than delineates sides, chooses waves to surf, so that readers can further explore and participate, just as this blog has expanded upon topic for 6 years, and unfolds at a glacial pace. Introduced its own genre with a dozen new rules to which no other literature complies, which gives it a unique voice reminiscent of the White Knight’s, “It’s my own invention.” Exploits every convention, fuses all forms from essay to memoir, narrative, poetry and prose, yet uses very little symbolic language, since it's supposed to be honest, as if any such thing exists. Truth be told, analogies and metaphors lead people to believe ludicrous ideas yet better understand facts, too. Hard to exist without.

Nonfiction runs risks, particularly popularity. But, since the 1990's, film as documentary has evolved into a bankable entertainment. B&C is unabashedly filmic. Minds operate like movies with flashbacks and foreshadowing. At full novella length, 67 pages, Chapter 15, the book’s longest, isn’t just about beholding lowdown but hearing language sonorities. Vast populations listen to internet podcasts, late night radio, or television talk just to feel connected. Content hardly matters. Indistinct prattle of a stadium crowd seems a comforting backdrop. Some call organized noise music. Middle alphabetical consonants—l, m and n—are evocative of munching mushroomy snacks, nursing from a nipple, slurping umami soup, and smacking lips. Passionate vowel sounds—ah, eee, eye, oh, ooo, uuu—coo wonderful wordless vocalise. Although angry over choices nevertheless accepted, B&C could be more about how life sounds than lies said. Narrative is unreal unless you capture exactly what’s happening, including gooey, hungry and messy cravings with too much to clean up after. Fiction engages you sensually and expects you to suspend reality. Nonfiction seldom achieves that initial love factor, just bemusement, nods of recognition, thoughtful concern, or urges to act.

Said the Cheshire Cat, “A dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad." Mad cats and dogs find no balance. They foment religions, such as the Church of the Subgenius, who worship J. R. Bob Dobbs, archetypal slacker. "'You!' said the Caterpillar contemptuously. 'Who are YOU?'" When ethics are irrelevant, whatever you get away with would be called doctrine. Anarchy appeals until basic needs aren't met. "Cried Alice, losing all her patience this time, 'You ought to have a wooden horse on wheels, that you ought!' 'Does that kind go smoothly?' the Knight asked in a tone of great interest."

Why handcuff yourself? Why ride a bicycle? Why allow yourself to be so vulnerable? It’s a challenge, as is living, which can grow too comfortable. Thus you occasionally see a strange wanderer upon the lonely moor. Everything you do or say can’t earn congratulations and hugs. The weak call inconvenience and tangible agony banes of existence. Incompetence and mediocrity plague those you mollycoddle. How else can you gain independence and improve without insults, isolation and pain? “Beyond offended,” you moan? Admit you’re soft; only then will you begin to grow. If you want to sound original and stay healthy, you must restrain yourself, not greedily devour cake or take whatever you see, though the Grateful Dead sarcastically quipped, “Too much of everything is just enough.” Otherwise, don’t groan when things go wrong. Constraints you choose to endure make all the difference. Artistic geniuses produce from sparse palettes. Everything may be interconnected, but unless you set boundaries, they get muddled. Some call it discipline, which gets a bad rap for being someone else's rules. Self imposed limitations inform, inspire, and make for innovative manuscripts. Better advice might be to do whatever you can or desire, exercise your free will, but exercise, not give up or submit to tyranny. “Surely the questions decide us... not the tail that wags the dog.”—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (pub. 1871, dawn for bicycling)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cyclists Voters Ordain

Presidents are surprising advocates of cycling considering they must always be surrounded by secret service agents. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” Can’t imagine crippled dealer FDR or purple heart recipient JFK ever pedaling. Eisenhower, Johnson and Truman may have, but haven’t seen any proof. However, Eisenhower Park in Hempstead, NY has a 5-mile road biking loop. Eisenhower State Park in Denison, TX has a mountain biking track. Eisenhower himself spurred a huge expanse of pavement, particularly interstate highways, that got his name on parks and roads and, yay, separated cyclists from speeding motorists. Harry S Truman Lake in Warsaw, MO features a mountain bike park with 20 miles of trails. There’s a Hoover Trail in West Branch, IA, the Depression President’s home town. They put in a parking protected bikeway next to JFK Drive at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA, but not without controversy.

Before Lincoln's term (1850’s), bicycles weren’t available; could imagine rail splitting Lincoln or rough riding Roosevelt giving bicycles a try, but not arrogant Grant, frail Hayes, nor stout Cleveland. From assassinated Abe to murdered McKinley, unpaved roads hardly permitted horse drawn carriages, never mind honest bikes and horseless buggies. Presiding over the first bike boom in 1918 was Harding, whose nieces and nephews remember kindly as Uncle Warren who taught them to ride, not the scandalous lothario posterity depicts. Way more historical details are presented in Michael Wagner's blog.

Pictured, in order of their presidencies, are the 37th to the 44th (years in office and comments) enjoying bicycles at some time in their lives: Richard Milhous Nixon (1969-1974, family outing in D.C.), Gerald Rudolph Ford (1974-1977, as a child), James Earl Carter, Jr. (1977-1981), Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981-1989, tandem actor), George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993, while visiting Beijing), William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001, receiving a bike from Lance Armstrong), George Walker Bush (2001-2009, mountain biking during countless Texas vacations), Barack Hussein Obama (2009-present, during a recent vacation on Martha’s Vineyard). [All images repeated from internet sources; click to enlarge.]

Enough about political leaders. How about the late Soichiro Honda, founder and president of Honda Motor Company? To Labann’s knowledge, he’s the only modern automotive CEO to establish a career by working on bicycles in his father’s shop. Honda, shown with a bike upon which he slapped a motor, was also the first Japanese maker to assemble cars in the United States. Ford built where he sold, too, successfully. This year, the most popular vehicle in America of any type is the fuel efficient Honda Accord LX sedan. Can identify with Honda’s curious policy of waigaya, loosely translated as “blah blah blah” or "brainstorming", which solicits commentary from everyone involved so as to explore all possibilities for quality improvements. It’s precisely the invitation to dialog that Bike&Chain was built upon.

It’s unfinished logic was supposed to draw readers own comments, rather than simply disengage. Different shards of reason wind up in individuals. The collective unconscious requires billions of viewpoints to exist and sustain itself. It's akin to biodiversity, where all pieces of an ecosystem are necessary as long as they stay in balance. How they know, what they feel, why feeling surpasses knowing for most humans are all intrinsic to the B&C experience. Was intended to be participatory, reaching out singly to stimulate responding publicly, and set up so readers could access at any point and still become immersed, with arc but no causality, unlike most linear narratives. Might be confrontational when an author eager for conversation suggests reading a big damn experimental book. Although many influences shape progress, only your own position and what you made of it matters in the end. Only then will anybody realize it has the smallest merit, if only an ancient signpost stuck at an intersection pointing to a destination that no longer exists.

Commitment goads action. Indecision yields mediocrity. Does perpetually conflicted negate advancement? No. All action occurs before results can be evaluated. Struggles writhe around indeterminate possibilities. Inaction can impact just as much as action. History determines results and provokes change, not participants or presidents whose job is only to choose and do. You prevent through planning, though proactive planners seldom consider all contingencies. Only artists concern themselves with rare imagination and remote chances. Heads of state just inherit situations and suggest directions. Blame ambitious demagogues in Congress for unintended consequences of badly written laws.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Inklings You’ll Retain

Instead of entertaining through devices and plots, Bike&Chain tracks those random insights everyone has but few are motivated to record. Motivation: What a concept! Living requires challenges that work provides; once done in a perfunctory way, what drives bodies and souls to excel? Managers struggle with this, try ruses and scams, use competitions to squeeze last drops of effort out of those reluctant. This mostly results in passive aggression and resentment. Ambition serves only one master, ego. Stubborn mules who are comfortable with themselves can’t be easily prodded. Most fear and hate strangers. More than half of relationships go bad. Life's a beach ebbing and flowing, flotsam and jetsam adrift or cast overboard.

In a technical forum had discussed madness and psychosis. Generalized terms, you must consider diagnostic symptoms. The best definition of madness is that in Old French from which it was derived: Unbalanced. If you fail to achieve stability, repeat self destructive behaviors, and won’t assume responsibility for yourself, you probably have some form of mental or personality disorder. Of course, insane readers don’t recognize these flaws in themselves or may rationalize them away. They prefer analogies and metaphors to facts and truths. Awareness doesn't always predate cure, although those who've been and survived become superior intellects. To whom are you writing, then? Who’d benefit from this homily? Demented devaluation of information explains why B&C avoids symbolism and seldom delves very deep into topics other than bicycles, chains, failures, impediments, freedom, responsibilities, and successes.

Key symptoms include anxiety (worry with no specific stimuli, for example phobias), ASD (Aspergers, autism, possibly fetal alcohol syndrome), bipolar disorder (extreme highs & lows, manic depression), dementia (anything from Alzheimer to senility), depression (acute or chronic anhedonia, all too common despair, also postpartum), mania (hyperactive at nothing useful), narcissism (care only for self, do anything to succeed), OCD (body dysmorphic, compulsion, or obsession over trivialities, hair pulling, hoarding, skin picking), PTSD (victims of traumatic events, like wars), schizophrenia (delusions, hallucinations, totally out of touch with reality), and sociopathy (violent interaction typical of serial criminals and killers). Personality disorders are discussed in clusters: A - paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal; B - antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic; and C - avoidant, dependent, obsessive compulsive (similar but not same as OCD).

Mental defectives do cause problems, but how society reacts isn’t proportionately rational. Eccentric disrupters, those who run around naked blurting obscenities, elicit severest penalties, while heinous bastards get a pass. Americans execute petty thieves and grant amnesty to the biggest criminals in history. Is this because they so fear power of sociopathy? Or do officials hope to herd more sheep through fear? Anyone who wants to be in charge must be insane. Masses of people doing harmless things pose no threat. Criminals do. Do you let victims suffer, or should society force perps to partake in self remedies?

Do books, films and theater that explore frightening or negative topics instigate more of the same, or do such art forms help others work through issues? You have to face facts to heal. Internalizing them, letting issues under your skin, causes harm. Therefore, you should devote time to experiencing art. Meanwhile, just try to get a computer to do anything without frustrating you into babbling lunacy. Working for a living is counterintuitively stressful and cumulatively debilitating leading directly to antisocial eccentricity.

Unresolved issues have a way of expanding in scope. By analogy, if you don't maintain your car, you eventually wind up stuck on the roadside at 3:00 AM in some bad neighborhood calling for help or risking your life. Likewise, childhood traumas dog your career and taint every relationship you must establish to thrive. You’re on a one-way street to tragedy. Before drugs, psychotherapy was tried. It worked sometimes. All sorts of therapies exist, each with specific purposes: Anger management, aversion, body wrapping, cognitive, counseling, detoxification (alcohol, drug), diet (niacin improves brain chemistry in chronic alcoholics), educative, immersion, musical, root cause analysis, sex, stimuli reduction, talking. Vacationing helps a lot of supposedly normal people cope for months on end. Sometimes you simply have to exit a toxic alliance, environment or situation. Psychiatric medicine has become nothing more than pill pushing. Hospitals don't seek cures, just write scripts and toss sufferers out to fend for themselves. Artistic pursuits and avid bicycling work in some cases.

Caretakers have it worse than patients they care for. They teach therapists to detach themselves, not get involved. They consider a patient an interesting problem, not a human crying out. Many who go into psychiatry already have some disorder themselves. Suicide is more prevalent among them than any other group, and not just because they experience insanity up close and personal.

Lately been considering Montenegrin performance artist Marina Abramović, all of whose work involve absorbing abuse by being both publicly accessible and situationally poised nonstop for long durations in galleries and museums. She speaks to a multitude of servants throughout bureaucracies and businesses who listen attentively and stifle emotions every day while needy confess their unrealized cravings. Naked, spread eagle on a bicycle seat, she resembles planet’s billion bicyclists who don’t compete, take whatever pavement lies ahead in wide-eyed attention, test limits of what human bodies can handle, wear little, and wind up misunderstood for their nonviolent, self-imposed hardship by consumers hoping to escape such painful inconveniences. Differences include mobile versus static levels of danger. Bicycling can also be seen as a performance art form, but one that only participants appreciate. For an age where spirituality has returned to the individual, this mimics habits of monks who for millennia gave up physical delights for an imagined good, which arguably did succeed. Freedom to choose will always entail restraint; separation defines objects, space and time, which explains why roads are more deserted than jammed.

In previously mentioned film Requiem (dir. Hans Christian Schmidt, 2006), Sandra Hüller plays an epileptic girl who gradually becomes convinced she is possessed by demons. Has the look of an underfunded epic that ends just before anything is resolved. In fact, bicycling protagonist eventually dies according to a preemptive placard. It's painfully obvious that her mother smothered her with contempt and repression. Mother should have been under therapy with an undiagnosed control fetish, someone instigating trouble but refusing consequences, while those surrounding have to cope and deal, sometimes break down from constant pressure. In contrast, also viewed autobiographical trilogy An Angel at My Table (dir. Jane Campion, 1990) in which celebrated New Zealand author Janet Frame suffers following a false schizophrenia diagnosis but survives to flourish. The only scenes in which she seems carefree are when she bikes about, like her 12-year-old character from her first novel, Owls Do Cry, Francie Withers commuting happily to the drudgery of woolen mills, even imagining bicycle parts shown on cover as a magical incantation she recites with her sister; otherwise, Janet totes around a burdensome typewriter bewildered by incessant inhumanity while she inks inspired inklings which persists as a testament to psychiatric absurdity.