Have we all gone mad?

Healthy choice general tso chicken steamerBefore every revolution there is a tipping point, a fine line in the sand that heralds the inevitability of a cultural paradigm shift. Fanatics are rebranded as leaders, and past leaders as fools. Today that line was crossed, not tiptoed over, but jumped across with both feet landing solid on the other side, no turning back.

‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ – The name of today’s lunch provided more of a mouthful than the paltry 300 calorie, sodium loaded, mockery of sustenance contained inside. Now, I’m a woman habituated to a culinary culture that has us all walking around with salt-licks hanging around our necks. And I’ve been desensitized to the inhumanity of chemistry lab ingredient lists. I can overlook the fact that out of the 73 words appearing in this “Healthy Choice” ingredient list, 35 of those words – including all available forms of parentheses ([{}]) – are dedicated exclusively to “cooked seasoned chicken chunks.” Whatever.

As we become further removed from the growing and processing of food, we are also being increasingly separated by physical barriers. More layers to tear through and discard in the form of packaging. This is more than poetic metaphor – this is f*&^ing ridiculous!! The packaging on ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ has crossed over into the kind of cultural exaggeration on par with Marie Antoinette’s sky high wigs and WWE wrestling. Has the whole world gone mad! One use, 300 calories – cardboard box, thick plastic bowl, inner plastic steamer tray, plastic sealed top… is nobody else seeing the insanity here???

general tsoThe average human would have to eat a whopping 7 of these ‘Gourmet Steamers’ to meet their daily calorie requirements. Which, beyond cost and nearly doubling our daily sodium needs, would create a mountain of trash big enough to completely bury poor General Tso and stop him from ever objecting to this appalling (on so many levels) bastardization of his namesake.

Our wastefulness has officially crossed over into the obscene. We jack ourselves up on caffeine with single serving cups/lids/stirrers/sugars/creamers. And bottled water!! Buy a f*&%ing filter people!! Convenience, once a glamour, has become an insatiable. We guzzle energy with a gluttony that would make Caligula blush for shame. I live in Calgary, Canada’s pick-up truck capital, and am constantly dodging out of the path of these behemoths. They harness the power of hundreds of horses and thousands of pounds of metal/rubber/glass, but the only load I ever see them hauling is a few inches of penis and a couple of fleshy nuggets riding shotgun below. There certainly can’t be any brains on board!

I am no fanatic, but maybe I’m fool enough to believe that we can all be heralds to this cause. The madness has to stop. I pledge to forward this post to ConAgra Foods, the makers of ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’, one week from today (Aug. 7th) along with the total number of Likes and Comments received on this blog post (and the same post on Blank Canvas Living’s Facebook page or Twitter). Let’s join hands and jump over that line together, and into the bright new paradigm beyond!

UPDATE (Aug. 7th): As promised, I’ve forwarded this post on to ConAgra Foods and will keep you posted as to their response. Thank you for all your likes and comments!

UPDATE (Aug. 15th): I’ve posted ConAgra’s response in the comment section below. In rebuttal: If the only available solution to a problem is one that has destructive consequences, in this case to the environment, I think we really need to ask ourselves if we have defined a problem worth solving. In this case the ‘problem’ was choosing a material for a one-use microwave safe steamer tray. Do we, as a society, really ‘need’ a one-use microwave safe steamer tray? And if we, as a society, decide that the answer is “yes,” then maybe the root problem lies within the very nature of that society. Which I believe, is the definition of a problem worth solving!

Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.

10 things I learned about being human watching Jurassic Park 3D with my 10 year old self

jurassic park t rex
1) Twenty years ago, I entered Jurassic Park with a child’s imagination. There was no separation between theater and jungle world. It looked real. It felt real. Two decades of memory and dreams recorded the story as a fully dimensioned sensory and emotional immersion. As an adult watching Steven Spielberg’s 3D redux, there is no flattening, no muting of the experience. This is time travel. This is magic, because I’m watching my favourite movie again for the very first time.

2) John Williams’ musical score sends me soaring with an emotional rise heightened by layers of memory… It’s 7:30AM at an Ottawa high school band practice, and I’m playing the flute part of the score. With sudden joy, I realize I’m learning to take myself, with my own hands, to the same peaks of pleasure I’d thought only others could carry me.

3) Malcolm’s musings, mere gibberish to my 10 year old self, now echo my own hard-won philosophical conclusions. Shit, taking him at his word could have saved me 20 years! But no, I’ve worked even harder to preserve (and integrate) Grant’s knee-weakening wonderment at seeing the brachiosaurus. Malcolm and his pessimism can stay in the Jeep. True wisdom can only be found off-road, when you follow your imagination into the fresh cool grass beyond.

4) Watching Nedry’s embryo shaving cream bottle buried in the preserving mud, my 10 year old self was ecstatic. The story wouldn’t end with the movie! Here was a way to more, and more, always more! And there was more, but like The Matrix, the two sequels blasphemed the original. I know now that life is a moment, one breath, one bag of popcorn – by the bottom you’re parched and your lips are chapped, and you wish wish wish you had savoured every kernel with the same exaltation of the first buttery bliss.

5) Muldoon and his knee socks will ever and always be one sexy beast.

6) Nestled in the theatre – like Grant, Lex, and Tim in their tree – with my own younger brother and hero father, I felt the same comfortable confidence in the safety of our eternity. I feel a pang of grief for my 10 year old self. She had find out that Lex was right, that sometimes our heroes leave us and fly to head new stories. And we must learn to rescue our own. Because, ultimately, ‘happily ever after’ is a dynamic state of being.

7) After watching Jurassic Park countless times and reading Michael Chrichton’s (masterpiece) book twice, enough time has gone by to corrupt source memory and the 3D version is a 3-dimensional conglamorate of present experience and two mixed/matched histories. The archtypal characters critizied in the first movie suddenly become fully fleshed internally/eternally contradicting human beings. Male/female (Lex/Tim) complexities and layers of interwoven alternate plot points transform the experience into a dream-like back and forth between conflicting realities. Like Malcolm, Carl Jung was a fool. Categories are butterflies pinned under a frame. “Life finds a way”, but only as undulating change through time.

8) I feel a certain envy for my 10 year old self. Her child’s brain easily gestalted over any breaks in continuity and plot/character inconsistencies. My adult brain, so trained and practiced in picking through patterns, finds suspended disbelief harder and harder, especially being a writer. I can’t help missing my ability to commit to flowing through a story purely by faith.

9) To my 10 year old self, Laura Dern’s Ellie was the epitamy of womanhood: intelligent, beautiful, funny, and kind. As I fell in love with my husband 10 years later, to Laura Dern’s husband Ben Harper’s song “When She Believes”, it was a reawakening of eternities. When my ideal woman’s love story fell apart with Harper, I was forced to give up another grasp at idealist innocence. But watching this movie reminded me of all I’ve gained. I may not have Dern’s legs, but I live, then and now, by Dr. Satler’s optimistic curiousity. I own the power to create my own stories and sustain them through time. I will never stop believing, in my loves, in my heroes, and in myself.

10) Ritual, by definition, strengthens through time. A movie theater, a bag of popcorn, my escape into another world for a full (if quantized) lifetime, gives as much pleasure to my 30 year self as it did when I was 10 years old. Though the intellectual experience has evolved, the emotions are as rich and savoury as ever. So get yourself a center seat, turn off your cellphone, and keep close your own most precious rituals. And don’t ever be afraid to give yourself over fully to their magic. Your inner child will thank you!

jurassic park colouring book pic

How to survive life as an artist – Inspired by the ages and stages of Robin Gibb

Robin Gibb, 1/3 of the legendary Bee Gees, cheated on his first wife with (by his estimation) over 100 women. They divorced and he spent two years in bed with a bottle, so depressed he feared he was going mad. This is the same man who so recently fought with everything he had to stay alive for just one more day. What had changed?

We all live in different worlds. One person’s reality may look, taste, and smell quite similar to another’s, but our brains wire meaning and importance with incredible variation. Where/when our realities overlap, we feel safe, accepted, secure. Surrounded by like-minded brains, the world makes sense – cause and effect, social etiquette, cultural norms. But there is only one place where we meet, all of us, on the same plane… emotion.

The artists we remember have the ability, through their work, to draw us into an emotion and keep us there until we feel it is our own. Emotion and intellect is a back and forth evolution of consciousness. Art, whether through colour, words, or music, allows us to engage in this evolution outside of ourselves, protecting our delicate identities and egos. An emotional reaction triggers an opening in our thinking. Suddenly, we have internal permission to change our perceptions of reality, bringing them either more in line with the artist’s vision, or reinforcing an opposing viewpoint.

But what about the artist?

“The real world was just too real – and we didn’t want to be part of normal life. We wanted to create a magical world for the three of us, and the only way we could do that was to lock ourselves away and be creative.” – Robin Gibb

We must not underestimate the emotional intensity and sensitivity needed to create an outside expression of a universal emotional reality. Among those few born with this gift (some might say curse), along with the talents to communicate it, there are fewer still who can touch us independent of their time. We call them ‘the greats’ – our ‘geniuses’.

But when a mind can only justify itself by creating its own external reflection, participation in a communal, comfortable reality is an impossibility. To add to the artist’s burden, the energy costs of this constant self-reflection make peace of mind an active, rather than a passive, state of being. The artist requires a certain level of selfishness to preserve these energies and not get sucked into the bottomless emotional demands of a world, which to them, is forever on fire. Those who deny this in-born protection, and claim an artificial selflessness, risk their minds following ‘the rules’, if not their very lives.

Robin Gibb got out of bed and began living more honestly. When an artist accepts himself/herself as an artist and begins to live authentically in their ‘village role’, they are able to surround themselves with people who will support (if not necessarily share) their unique vision of reality. Under these circumstances, the artist can finally give back more than he/she takes. Robin Gibb found Dwina, a liberal-minded woman who gave him the space and freedom to live in a way that fueled his creativity instead of draining it. Even so, Gibb pushed his luck by fathering a child with their maid. Because after all, artist or not, guess we’re all stuck being human.

Michelle Harper and the illusion of universal individual style

Michelle Violy Harper is a delight. Her quirky, oftentimes whimsical personal style is a celebration of…. yada yada – the articles have been written, Vogue, Style.com, etc. The tributes are effusive and entirely deserved. She’s spectacular (period).

We are inspired, millions of us, but to do what? Theoretically, we’re supposed to dig into our own psyches, moods, and fave cultural/fashion references to root out an individual style that best expresses who we are and/or how we wish to be perceived. Pretty straight forward, right?

Individual style is an illusion. For every time, for every trend, there are those who lead through exaggeration: Grace Kelly’s 1950s elegance, Kurt Cobain’s layered grunge jeans, Louis XIV’s Sun King ornamentation. Costuming these characters differently is unthinkable because their style is so closely linked to their psychologies. Their brains demand an outward expression of their eccentricities – they have no choice. To dress differently would be a betrayal of self, cause chaffing personal conflict, and render them invisible within their time.

Culture is pulled ahead by powerful personalities and powerful innovations. Fashion’s game changers are innately sensitive to the evolving culture around them and engage in a (often unconscious) back and forth influencing that, when successful, aligns them perfectly with the moment, even as they effectively pull it forward – making them inspirational touchstones to the public. Such sensitivity, combined with an exaggerated, ambitious personality, is a rare and sometimes dangerous mix (eg: Cobain, Leigh Bowery). The personal costs are high; it’s not often worth being envious beyond the clothes.

A brief stint working at Michaels Arts & Craft Superstore made something very clear: there are those who innovate, those who adapt ideas, and those who simply emulate. At Michaels, the innovators bought loose beads, those who needed inspiration bought kits, and the emulators preferred kits with full patterns/instructions. The same follows for fashion, and there is nothing wrong with it! This is the world! But this trend (and yes, it IS a trend) for universal personal, individual style is a philosophical fallacy.

Michelle Harper, born with a driving need to explore and experiment with her physicality, should be held aloft as inspiration. Because she, out of dozens of street style stars, is one of the very few able to transcend the trends hidden in plain view within the individuality movement (as patterned over time on sites like TheSartorialist.com – eg: fedoras, cameos). She is our latest, brightest touchstone – leather paillettes for all! ~wink