Flexible but stable – impossible but possible

Our bodies are a puzzling kind of thing: we can be flexible, but we can also be stable. We can’t be at both extreme ends of these opposites at the same time, though. We can be stable enough to push a  heavy door open in one moment, and then be flexible enough to bend down to tie our shoe-laces, in the next moment.

This can be, for example, explained in terms of soft matter physics, or in terms of Bio-Tensegrity.

But still, we are not too far from hard matter physics either: momentum, torque, distance, trajectory, rotational inertia, acceleration, displacement, weight, pressure, counter-weight, resistance, friction, … we can think in these terms too. They can help us to some degree, while learning, sensing, moving and improving.

To get me into thinking: two questions.

As physical beings we are not indestructible: material fatigue, structural damage, stress intensity, fracture toughness, yield strength, sheer stress, dislocations, overloading, … these terms apply to us just as well. And we can think in these terms too. They can help us to some degree, while learning, sensing, moving and improving.

The two questions:

How long can we safely remain in any of the two opposites: how long can we safely remain stable, how long can we safely remain flexible?

How fast can we safely transition between the two opposites, or in other words: how and how long should a transition between these two opposites be?

The lament and its critics

„Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” – George Carlin

This might be one of mankind’s biggest mysteries: Why do one’s own farts smell like roses while everyone else is leaping for their FFP3 air filter-masks?

Similarly: even though for oneself it smells like roses to speak out those feelings of grief, suffering, resentment, or criticism, hardly anyone enjoys listening to other people’s endless laments.

Except! Except when they are presented in a funny and concise manner. Then we can relate. And have a laugh, together. And maybe some healing.

Books, life chances, and where to get them

“The evidence shows that the difference between children who get bedtime stories and those who don’t, the difference in their life chances, is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.” – from the book The Enchanted Hour, by Meghan Cox Gurdon.

I need to quote this finding time and time again. This scientific revelation has one message: Our schooling system is to some degree obsolete. Everyone can improve their life chances significantly, even without entering elite schools: all it takes is to read more books. And according to Stephen Krashen, for children to do so, it takes only 10 minutes of reading every day.

Stephen Krashen made it his life’s mission to investigate into the very process of language acquisition and how humans learn to read. In his lecture „The Power of Reading”, at UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education, Professor Krashen states that there are two main factors that get children (and people in general) into reading books:

  1. One successful reading experience with a self chosen book
  2. The availability of books

With the second factor being the far more important one. There need to be books – in order for people to be able to read books.

Now. Books are expensive. In the same way music records used to be expensive.

If you – just like me – were born a handful of decades ago, then you can remember that owning music records was a sort of a luxury. There used to be only a few people around who could afford an extensive music record collection. Or they were individuals who dedicated their lives to music. They invested every penny they had into music.

Then, in the year 1999, along came Napster.

This changed everything. Napster liberated music, and it liberated people. People could finally listen to any song they liked, at any time. No longer were they dependent on the playlist of the local radio, or on a friend who bought a music record, or on their own financial dedication – in combination with their local record store actually being able to order that record. Napster changed the world.

Of course the music industry had to react to that. But after a decade of them brawling, we can now have more or less any song at any time in our ears, for a $10 monthly music subscription with one of the many services like Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube Music, Amazon Prime Music etc.

Now. Books.

Books are still expensive, and unaffordable for the majority of the world population. But reading is trending. If reading is trending, and the availability of books is the one main factor for getting people into reading… How can that be?

In the year 2020, along came Z-Library.

This project, just like Napster, is changing the world from its grounds up. This illegal pirate website, just like the now defunct Napster for music, puts (almost) any book at the fingertips of every child – no matter rich or poor. Provided the kids have access to the Internet, it provides everyone with the same chances for growth and personal development.

The message of Z-Library is clear and absolute: Pick a book you like. Start to read.

It will be interesting to watch how the book industry and compulsory schooling system will react to this challenge. If people read again, to the extend they watch TV-Series (which do nothing for a child’s brain, according to science) there might be an interest by the entertainment industry to provide books to people.

If Apple can afford to spend $6 billion upwards on a row of TV Series, they would surely be able to spend a few billions on book licenses too, and advertise that library accordingly.

I read that librarians the world over are very quiet about Z-Library. Maybe they know that such a service is necessary to set the stage, to create momentum, to get a critical mass of people back into reading books.

I myself I’m lucky enough to be able to purchase books. Plus there’s Project Gutenberg with over 60,000 classic titles (the Top 10 books of all time are usually all classics), available legally and for free. However, I’m very much looking forward to a $10 monthly subscription from Apple Books, unlimited Kindle Unlimited, or Barnes&Nobles, Spotify for Books, or whomever, that will put any book at my own fingertips, with no lending limit.

Getting more and more into reading from screens

I added Marvin 3 to my set of ebook readers, which so far were: Kindle Reader, Apple Books, and Apple Preview.

I do much of my reading out loud on my TV screen. I use „Screen Mirroring” from my iPhone to my TV, via my Apple TV 4K Set-Top box. In this way I can stand, or walk, or sit, or lean against my living room doorframe. I can use my arms, my whole self actually, to help me pronounce, articulate, and do all the fun things that come with reading out loud.

I haven’t used the Kindle Reader lately, because it has a lousy dictionary integration for Chinese characters. Contrariwise, Apple Books is really enjoyable, plus, more importantly, it can blow the Chinese characters up to a size of 3 big characters filling the entire screen. That’s the size I need for now.

For my reading of novels in English and German language, Marvin 3 has this especially convenient feature of auto-scrolling. Now I can read my novels without having to flick the pages on my iPhone manually. Plus it gives me a steady pace, much like a metronome does in music. It’s marvellous.

Regrets: a doorway into trauma and disability

I first encountered the term „life regrets” in American cinema. Some super hero (or master villain) was blurting out something along the lines of „I regret nothing. I will do everything exactly the same again.” These seem to be the vital components of the Hollywood hero mindset:

  • Saving the world (aka life having meaning/purpose),
  • smoking or at least alcoholism (being flawed despite all greatness),
  • and having no regrets.

Contrariwise, outside of the screenplay, some actors might beg to differ: „I have many regrets, and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret. And if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.”

Nicely twisted antimetabole there, Katherine Hepburn.

What makes a regret a proper regret? What did a person have to do (or not to do), and how would it have had to be done, to have created an incurable nag, something permanent that continues to suck the life force out of the heart, so strong, that it emotionally cripples, and makes that person unable to live life to the fullest?

Do you have proper regrets in your life? Regrets that stopped you, and continue to stop you, from living your life… from living your life…  in which way?

And, is a really proper regret something bound to time? Does it have to be in the past? Or could it be in the future just as well? Can it be something, that we know we will do (or will not do), that stop us from living our lives now? Stop us from finding meaning, purpose, and act on it?

The Social Dilemma

I need to protect myself. It’s my responsibility as an adult. I need to steer clear of things that damage me, or cause me to have feelings of despair, or anxiety. I cannot go to those dark places anymore. No matter my situation, I just can’t allow myself to go there.

Therefore, I committed myself to not check Facebook. To ignore the Recommended, Trending, and Related sections on Youtube. To not open any News website. Or at least limit my exposure to once a week. News reading on Sunday mornings only. Or something like that.

Instead. There needs to be an „instead”. We don’t rip voids into our habitual fabric. We replace with options. We replace with better.

I put my smartphone aside. I get up from my couch and walk across the room. That’s 2 1/2 steps. I arrive at two of my three houseplants. The one on the right is a Chlorophytum comosum, also called ribbon plant. I run my hands, one by one, over some of its leaves. They are thin, almost like blades of grass. I stop, and hold one of the bigger blades softly, gently between my thumb and my index finger. The older leaves are a bit longer and wider than the newer ones. And their outside edges grew a white border, as of lately. The expression of their genetics. They grow. They develop. They express who they are. I squat down and bring my face closer to the grass-like houseplant. The uppermost layer of soil is dry, but right underneath I can see it’s still moist from yesterdays’ watering. There’s a whole bunch of new leaves. And some of the older ones already became dry and brittle, and changed from green colour to brown, hanging wrinkled and loosely over the rim of the small pot. The plant seems to like its new pot. My eyes are engulfed in this beautiful medley of light green, dark green, mild white and light brown colours.

I feel peaceful and content from checking on my plants. To see whats new. And I feel good about being able to keep these three plants alive. 

Now, finally, after a big detour down the terrors of social media, I understand what my grandma loved so much about her morning routine of catering to her plants.

Flush it, press it, wait for it

22 days ago I committed myself to daily blogging. I went through three phases, which I just now named „flush it”, „press it”, and „wait for it”. It reminds me of something I read recently, something about the process of learning:

„The biological prerequisite for the process of seeing is the readiness to receive the light, the willingness to acknowledge fluctuations in brightness, and not actively looking at the objects and trying hard to analyse them.” – Heinrich Jacoby, Beyond gifted and untalented.

Flush it. The beginning was the easiest part. I hadn’t blogged for over a decade, and the first couple of posts where just like opening a valve. The thoughts came pouring out, as soon as I let them.

Press it. After the first 15 or so posts (one every day) the pressure was gone, and thoughts began to drip rather than to flow. I had to search for something relevant enough for me to write about. And for the next 5 days I felt pressure by my own commitment to myself. Every day a bit more.

Wait for it. Then something changed. The pressure of having to write something every day annoyed me, and I said to myself, „Well, I’m not getting paid for this anyways. And since I didn’t install any tracking software, I don’t even know if anyone is reading this. So I could just as well stop.”

I’m in this third phase now (if it is a phase). And this mindset feels oddly liberating. I do not squint. I do not pressure my self. I’m merely receptive for thoughts to appear. And I do enjoy the process of writing something down.

Writing a blog is a funny sort of thing. There’s no „sleep over it”, no „Day 2” to correct and improve the post. There’s no „re-read it a week later and see what survives”. I work on a post, re-read it on the spot, and when it’s posted it’s posted.