March 30, 2011

T-bag Art from the Box of Reacquaintance

I'm back. As I told you in my last post I have been cleaning. As a cartoon figure I rolled up my sleeves and sighed as I surveyed the territory - my room is a sea of its own with hidden treasure chests of mostly written riches.

Cascading T-bag Art - by Little Dragon

Everywhere I turned there were piles of books, articles, magazines, newspaper cuttings, journals, scraps of paper with scribbled notes and poems, clothes, and a plethora of small, miscellaneous items that I have been given or plundered on my voyages around the world.  Every time I had to put away something without reading it, I felt like I had disowned a friend. I couldn't do it. So, I slipped those items I wanted to get together with again into The Box of Reacquaintance - for later communication.

Today's photo is something from that box - my own-designed T-bag art. I made those small tea bag mandalas a few years back, inspired by some creative ladies in South Africa who decided to make a livelihood from spent tea bags. They created a small business called The Original T-Bag Design where tea bags are collected and dried and used as canvases for small art pieces. Their motto:

A woman is like a tea bag - you only know how strong she is when she is put in hot water.

Well, personally I am vehemently opposed to putting women in boiling water, but I do recommend anybody who is looking for a little creative spark try some t-bag art. It is quite a bit more satisfying than cleaning.

March 26, 2011

On Tidiness

If you own more than three things, the things own you
                                                 -African proverb - or Lao Tse (experts disagree)

Hmm. I have been gone for a while from my communication command headquarter. I have been owned - or held captive - by my room. I was on a cleaning mission. When I was little I used to have a poster on my wall with the faces of two perky-looking bright pink yet profoundly muddy pigs in a pigsty (something similar to the picture below). The poster text was: It's my mess and I love it!

Pinky and Perky ( Emjulien Flickr)
Actually, I never felt my room to be messy. The poster was given to me by my parents. I was perfectly happy in what they thought to be a chaotic room. I used to feel that having it "tidy" everywhere was a sort of tyranny. If you have to keep every thing "tidy" all the time, you will definitely suffer, I felt. Luckily my parents respected my room as a disaster zone and let me do whatever I pleased there. I was never nagged, but there were times when my dad opened the door and just shook his head in disbelief. When that happened, I felt bad, but quickly recovered - after all he didn't have to enter my room.

Of course, the practical problem of "tidy" vs "messy" mostly begins when you share living space with other people and spread your things around. When wallets and cameras and passports start to play hide-and-seek it becomes a problem of a whole household, as others are bound to be dragged into the search party.

I am sure issues of tidiness are similar in most households. For instance, as I was growing up my mom was the primary keeper of tidiness. My dad would always be singing: "Penny, have you seen my X?" Then a rather predictable pattern of communication would enfold. My mom would sing back: "Have you looked in Y?" He would then proceed to open Y, cast a quick glance and sing: "It is not there!" My mom would sigh and let go of what she was doing and join him at Y and with great precision extract X. "How did you find that?" my dad would look sheepish and amazed at the same time, then murmur: "Anyway, it is not where it belongs. You always put things where I can't find them," and leap away before my mom could scrape him with her tigress claws.

I was very happy when I came across Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), a social scientist and cyberneticist, who wrote a metalogue (a conversation about a problematic subject) he had with his daughter on tidiness. I would like to share some excerpts of it here.

Metalogue: Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?

Daughter: Daddy, why do things get in a muddle?
Father: What do you mean? Things? Muddle?

D:   Well, people spend a lot of time tidying things, but they never seem to spend time muddling them. Things   just seem to get in a muddle by themselves. And then people have to tidy them up again.

F:  But do your things get in a muddle if you don't touch them?

D:  No - not if nobody touches them. But if you touch them - or if anybody touches them - they get in a muddle and it's a worse muddle if it isn't me.

F:  Yes - that's why I try to keep you from touching the things on my desk. Because my things get in a worse muddle if they are touched by somebody who isn't me.

D:  But do people always muddle other people's things? (...)

F:  (...) First of all, what do you mean by a muddle?

D:  I mean- so I can't find things, and so it looks all muddled up. The way it is when nothing is straight - 

F:  (...) do you think you mean the same things by "tidy" that other people would? If your mummy makes your things tidy, do you know where to find them?

D:  Hmm...sometiems - because, you see, I know where she puts things when she tidies up -

F:  Yes, I try to keep her away from tidying my desk, too. I'm sure she and I don't mean the same thing by "tidy."

D:  Daddy, do you and I mean the same thing by "tidy?"

F:  I doubt it, my dear - I doubt it.

D: (...) if I have a special meaning for "tidy" then some of other people's "tidies" will look like muddles to me (...)

F:  That's right. Now - let's look at what you call tidy. When your paint box is put in a tidy place, where is it?

D:  Here on the end of this shelf. 

F:  Okay - now if it were anywhere else?

D:  No, that would not be tidy.

F:  What about the other end of the shelf, here? Like this?

D:  No, that's not where it belongs, and anyhow it would have to be straight, not all crooked the way you put it.

F:  Oh - in the right place and straight.

D:  Yes.

F:  Well, that means that there are only very few places which are "tidy" for your paint box - 

D: (...) very, very few places.

F:  All right, very, very few places. Now what about the teddy bear and your doll, and the Wizard of Oz and your sweater, and your shoes? It's the same for all the things, isn't it, that each thing has only a very, very few places which are "tidy" for that thing?

D:  Yes, Daddy- but the Wizard of Oz could be anywhere on that shelf. And Daddy - do you know what? I hate, hate it when my books get all mixed up with your books and Mummy's books.

F:  Yes, I know.

D:  Daddy, you didn't finish. Why do my things get the way I say isn't tidy?

F:  But I have finished - it's just because there are more ways which you call "untidy" then there are ways which you call "tidy."

D:  Oh, Daddy! Stop it!

F: No, I'm not fooling. That is the reason, and all of science is hooked up with that reason.

                                                          From Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson

I think three things would be really easy to keep track of. I need another week to think about which three things I am going to keep. So, I am sorry, but I now have to leave you and get back to my room in order to make some hard choices. Don't worry - I will be back, so please don't get rid of your computer before I have come up with my next post!

March 13, 2011

A lesson from Thompson - Life should be more like a musical

I have a very good friend from Nepal. He and I were lovingly called Thompson and Thomson by our friends - the two twin detectives in the Tintin cartoon. I think they called us that because we would constantly hang out together and investigate seemingly useless issues (such as evolution and the various shapes of noses); some times we defended the other's bizarre thoughts against STPs (shallow thinking people), other times we would engage in heated bickering.

Thompson and Thomson

One of Thompson's specialties was useless jokes and riddles. One day he came up with a puzzle:

A man is walking down a street and a huge, barking dog comes up and bites him. Instead of crying out his agony, the man starts to laugh. Why?
I couldn't for the life of me think of a fitting answer. Thompson beamed with great satisfaction and glee: Because the dog was old and toothless, so the bite produced a tickling sensation as the gums rubbed against the man's leg!

Even eating together while discussing was so satisfying that when we did not eat together we both felt like the food lacked salt. It was a delightful friendship.

My friend Thompson (with a P) loves to sing and dance. His favorite song from his student years was Muna Madan, a song adapted from the tragic story about a man, Madan, who leaves Kathmandu because he and his wife, Muna, are living in dire poverty. He travels to Lhasa (Tibet) where he knows that there are greater opportunities. However, as Madan returns home with a bag of gold he has earned in Lhasa, he finds that Muna has passed away. He is grief struck:

"Bags of gold are like the dirt of your hands
What can be done with wealth?
Better to eat only nettles and greens
With happiness in your heart."

          - Muna Madan by Laxmi Prasad Devkota

When I was in college, Thompson told me, I could sing this song so beautifully that my professor would cry. It even happened one evening that he visited me in my dorm room, asking me to sing Muna Madan to him. I was enthralled, to think of a situation where you would be visited in your dorm room by your professor who wanted to hear you sing a song of tragedy! It hardly ever happened in Norway.

I brought Thomposon to visit my grandmother, along with some other Nepali friends. He had rehearsed a few lines in Norwegian and delivered them with great perfection. My grandmother was astonished. His Norwegian is perfect, she looked at me. I am sure he must be a great singer. I was surprised; I knew he was a great singer, but how could she tell? Oh, she said, it is just like that. People who are great singers also are good with languages. Another sharp observer. She was 80 years old, but full of vigor and a house full of projects. When we came to visit she was quite satisfied with her latest accomplishment. One day as she sat in the kitchen she thought to herself that the door between the living room and the kitchen was opening the wrong way. She decided then and there to change it around. She got out her toolbox and a few hours later the door was opening the other way. Thompson almost fell down from his chair in admiration. In the car on our way back from my grandmother Thompson said: If I were older, I would really propose marriage to her.

When I was visiting Thompson during his MSc fieldwork in the mountains of Nepal a decade ago, he would frequently gather with the local people in tea shops and around fire places to exchange stories; usually the exchanging of stories would break into a song and some times a dance sequence. These sessions would just erupt spontaneously, making most gatherings very lively. His data collection method was highly unorthodox. I devoured it with all my heart. These things hardly ever happen in Norway. Life felt so wide and interesting in a place where discussions could break into song, dance, and happy faces.

Yet, Thompson was divided on the issue of song and dance. He would sigh when confronted with Bollywood movies. I tell you, he threw his index finger around in the air, our area of the world will not develop until they stop singing and dancing in movies! I was nonplussed. Thompson had created his own indicator for development.

Thompson eventually obtained his PhD in the United States. During his studies, we were still in communication from time to time. One day he sighed Thomson, this PhD makes my head full of thoughts! I answered, Thompson, of course - PhD stands for Permanent Head Damage! Oh, he whimpered - not even singing is the same anymore. I know I will probably sing when I go back to the mountains again, but the problem is that now I think while I'm singing!! It is terrible!!

Now, my friends - I think Som has taught me a good lesson. Thinking should be balanced by a healthy amount of singing and dancing. I have another friend, Benjamin, here in Norway. Some times when I call him he is catching his breath. Did you run to catch the phone, I ask him. No, no, he says - I was only dancing. Benjamin's favorite movie is Chicago (he saw it at least five times) and Annie (he tries to see it annually). He is a musical fan. I remember when we walked out from the cinema hall after seeing Moulin Rouge, his first words were: That is what I've always said - Life should be like a musical.

One of my most exciting musical memories is watching Sound of Music with my father in a large cinema in Oslo as a kid. I was absorbed with the Maria character, and my favorite song was How do you solve a problem like Maria? I was the wandering catastrophe of the family, always getting into trouble and accidents and doing inappropriate things.  I didn't plan for mischief, it just always seemed to happen to me. I so identified with Maria that I felt some hope that even my miserable story could have a happy ending.
       So, from my favorite musical, here comes the video of the day, sent by one of my readers. A flashmob erupts into dancing Do Re Mi in a train station in Antwerpen. Unbeknownst to the onlookers this was planned and choreographed. As one of the commenters said below the video, in the spirit of Benjamin: Things like this should happen all the time!
     As to Thompson and his theory of movies and development, after his PhD diet of information and analysis, I wonder if he has changed his mind. I think I can promise to come back to you with more news from Thompson in some later entries here on this blog.

PS. As I was googling musicals, I found that there actually is a Facebook group called Life Should Be a Musical. There are only 12 members as I looked last. Unfortunately yours truly is not on Facebook, so those of you with a Facebook account and who are tired of your PhDs (Permanently Damaged Heads due to excessive thinking) should sign up. Let the dancing and singing begin, quite spontaneously!

March 8, 2011

March 8

The old man said
Women are the givers of life
Men are the protectors

Well, I say
It's about time
To abandon
Malfunctional roles
Because LIFE is under siege

Women must strap on their super hero suits
          (the planet needs more creative ways of life!)
Men must tie their aprons on
           (so many super hero skills waiting to be learned at home!)

Because a new mythology is waiting to be born
One that gives nutrition to fading dreams
                                                          Showing us all
                                                          It's finally time
                                                          To joyfully and creatively
                                                          Grow up
                                                                                             ITF, 2008

March 6, 2011

Approach Life As If It Were a Banquet

Epictetus (55-135 CE)

Approach Life As If It Were a Banquet

     Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would behave graciously. When dishes are passed to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or if the dish hasn't been passed to you yet, patiently wait your turn.
     Carry over this same attitude of polite restraint and gratitude to your children, spouse, career, and finances. There is no need to yearn, envy, and grab. You will get your rightful portion when it is your time.
                                                    Epictetus - Manual for Living