This year I’m very pleased to accept the post of Media Coordinator for Antithesis Journal. Antithesis is an arts and humanities journal edited by graduate students at the University of Melbourne and published annually in association with the School of Culture and Communication. Submissions are currently open for content for our new blog. Anyone with something to say about their experiences with writing, editing, and researching is welcome to submit and have their work professionally edited. See below for more information, and thanks, as ever, for reading!
In an effort to be more organised, I have created a Twitter account. On it I will be posting all the interesting links, images and thoughts for which there was not enough room in my blog entries. Also just interesting things that have caught my eye. Such as this mattress, which, among other things, can remind us that life must sometimes be approached at an even pace, and that some problems must be dwelt upon overnight if we are to avoid too eagerly embracing an outlook more apathetic than is probably good for us.
To follow, click here and as always, thank you for reading.
Spring arrived recently, and as such I have been trying to grow an avocado tree.
After watching numerous videos on Youtube that suggest that the process is actually a relatively straightforward and simple one, I assembled my three pronged, alien-countenanced avocado pip on my windowsill. And then just in case it didn’t work I assembled four more, to better my chances that one will produce fruit.
The idea is to suspend the avocado seed half-in and half-out of a cup of water using toothpicks to hold it in place. The seed is then supposed to split in half and grow roots from the bottom, and a stem from the top as can be seen here:
However, when yesterday passed the two month mark and still only one of my avocado seeds had split, I began to narrow my eyes at the jars on the windowsill.
Where is the stem?!
This pip is making a fool of me, I thought gloomily to myself. The instructions online had trees growing in less than two weeks! And I even named mine! I gave it a name and it won’t even grow! What kind of insolence is this?!
The avocado tree is a tricky creature. From what I have heard it can take anywhere between three to twelve years to produce fruit, and some apparently never do. It is also said that trying to grow an avocado from seed will produce fruit of a lesser quality than the parent, and when they do grow they are said to reach around 60 ft. Not really something that will fit in my backyard. So with all this in mind it seems foolish to attempt the challenge, and far wiser to leave it to the experts.
However, just as I was contemplating throwing out my stubborn plants and clearing the windowsill of jars I was seized by a suspicion. For a long time now I have entertained the theory that there is wisdom to be extracted from everything, even the most unassuming objects – and as such it occurred to me that perhaps this uncooperative tree was trying to teach me something.
In an interesting article about different cultural conceptions of time Richard Lewis highlights the differences between the general understanding of time in Eastern and Western cultures.
In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious, even scarce, commodity. It flows fast, like a mountain river in the spring, and if you want to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans are people of action; they cannot bear to be idle.
He also includes a diagram which illustrates his point: that time in the popular Western conception is something that moves quickly forward and that therefore must be consumed carefully:
Conversely, Lewis writes about ‘multi-active time’, and ascribes it to mostly Mediterranean cultures such as those of Italy and Spain. This view questions the linear understanding of time as something that shoots forward in a straightforward manner, as something that can be organised and plotted in a predictable fashion.
“I have to rush,” says the American, “my time is up.” The Spaniard or Arab, scornful of this submissive attitude to schedules, would only use this expression if death were imminent.
My favourite conception of time in Lewis’ article however, is the idea of cyclic time. Wise use of time in this conception involves making space in one’s timetable for reflection as well as action. Lewis ascribes this view of time to predominantly Buddhist cultures in which time is viewed as a cycle: of day following night, life following death, and rejuvenation following deterioration. He describes it as a ‘pool one could gradually walk around’ while one considers all the options within.
Similarly, in Issue 41 of The Idler, edited by the gentlemen from Q.I., there appears an article entitled ‘The Truth About Time’. In this article Brian Dean address the same idea as Lewis:
The view of time as a precious commodity seems to have roots in the Protestant beliefs which drove the Industrial Revolution. American business culture was the first to have workers compete against the clock to finish tasks in ever-shorter times. It was the birthplace of time-and-motion studies and Fordist assemble lines – an obsession with measuring production by stopwatch.
As Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars point out in their book The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, this obsession comes from the Puritan cultural heritage: “The Puritans were not, like those of other religious persuasions, awaiting the afterlife in quiet contemplation. They had God’s earthly kingdom to build and, given seventeenth and eighteenth-century life expectancies, a perilously short time in which to build it […] Time is the Puritan’s Great Disciplinarian and Cost Accountant.
Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars identified two predominant culture conceptions of time. they surveyed 15,000 managers from around the world and found that in the US, UK, Sweden and the Netherlands time is largely viewed sequentially, as a “race”, whereas in Japan, Germany and France, it’s viewed as a synchronised “dance”.
“Sequential time”, they argue, is seen as a threat, as it’s running out fast. The resulting anxieties lead to a preference for short-term profit-making, with paper entrepreneurs favouring creative accounting and tax avoidance over longer-term processes such as manufacturing.
“Synchronised time”, on the other hand, is seen as a friend. The past and future are but our memories and anticipation synchronised as ideas in the present – an eternal “dance” of possibilities recurring in the moment. Thus Japanese culture (which leans towards a synchronised view of time) tends to be the most long-term in its outlook.
(Brian Dean, 2008, ‘The Truth About Time’ in The Idler, issue 41, p. 32.)
Obviously both articles speak in extremely general terms, and of course there are good and bad things about both views. A disregard for the past as something that is simply over is never a good thing, but neither is it always wise to have too much faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, bringing with it more time to complete everything we have left unfinished. Ideally we can incorporate elements of both into our day to day lives to avoid an imbalance in either direction.
And this, to return to my woefully slow-growing avocado tree, is precisely the wisdom that I suspect it is harbouring in its stemless seed. The jar on the windowsill reminds me almost mockingly that time is not something I can command. As much as we might like to order the days around, and as useful as graphs can be in arranging important tasks into manageable segments, it is important also to remember occasionally that that time cannot bullied by our timetables and wishes, and that action as well as reflection are important in any life if an imbalance towards either inaction or frenzy is to be avoided.
After all, an understanding of time as something marketable and strictly controllable contributes to questionable phenomena such as advertising how many words one can type per minute on one’s resume, self-punishment when all the tasks on the to-do list remain unfinished at day’s end, and a mass of overworked and undervalued employees whose time has been quantified into somebody else’s schedule of productivity. An example that springs to mind is that of Foxconn’s Chengdu factory in China, where employees are allegedly made to sign ‘no suicide’ contracts stating that in the event of their suicide their families will not seek more than minimum damages or take any ‘drastic actions that would damage the company’s reputation or cause trouble that would hurt normal operations.‘ Environments and attitudes that quantify time into a controllable commodity can do an awful lot of damage.
So. The avocado tree won’t be pushed. It will not grow according to mine or the weather’s or anyone else’s schedule. And in this there is something that can be learnt from it, especially if one is inclined to measure its productivity in narrow terms – if one defines it as valuable only for whether or not it makes fruit. On can spend years cultivating and caring for an avocado tree and it might grow to be 50ft high with magnificent purple leaves, and still it might never produce fruit. But does this have to mean that one’s efforts and the enjoyment came from the task were wasted? It doesn’t.
So if it grows I will keep it. If it lives for four years and then makes horrid fruit I should still like to keep it. Even if I labour away at it for ten years and never produces any fruit I will keep it. It will make a valuable reminder in the garden to reconsider my understanding of time every now and then, when I find myself in a hurry, with one too many assignments to finish, or a few too many errands to run. For although there may be no avocados, there is wisdom in the avocado tree.
Brilliantly written and wickedly funny, I highly recommend this post to anyone who needs a laugh about how strange life can sometimes be: Open Letter to the Doctor Who Saved My Father’s Life – http://wp.me/p1PVfg-jQ
It’s fairly rare that the written word moves us to actual tears, but we’ve shed a few reading the very moving letter that Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaugherhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, wrote to the Vietnam Draft Board about his son’s registration as a conscientious objector in 1967. Demonstrating the meaning of fatherly love, it details the reasons Vonnegut is proud of his son for making the choice to refuse to fight.
November 28, 1967
TO DRAFT BOARD #1, SELECTIVE SERVICE,
My son Mark Vonnegut is registered with you. He is now in the process of requesting classification as a conscientious objector. I thoroughly approve of what he is doing. It is in keeping with the way I have raised him. All his life he has learned hatred for killing from me.
I was a volunteer in the Second World War. I was an infantry scout, saw…
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To anyone at all interested in Mexico or the Day of the Dead, I highly recommend this blog, it’s a great starting point for further research and very well written!
Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead): History – Part I – http://wp.me/p3CS7j-qM
“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae – http://wp.me/p1cJc2-ta
dying is fine)but Death
by e. e. cummings
dying is fine)but Death
Death if Death
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it,dying
cause dying is
it mildly lively(but
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death
The structure of this poem took a lot for me to get past. I appreciate the unique approach, but my mind needed a few readings to really comprehend the message. And the message is an incredible one.
Dying is easy to understand. Dying is something we all must do; it’s something we face all of our lives. Dying is natural. Death, however, is another story. Death is cold and empty. Death is the stony exterior you show at a funeral. Dying can be felt…
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‘You can’t even see the stars here,’ Fino shouted frantically, running one hand through his hair, the other shaking as the ring tried to catch his eye.
“What is the point of anything if you can’t even see the stars?’
Obviously I’m not the first person to note this, but I hear myself say it all the time: Time is an incredibly frustrating thing.
This year, due to a series of enrollment errors and other relatively boring administrative stuff, I found myself confronting a gap in my uni course: I had to take a year off, because the end date of my last course overlapped with the start date of the course I was to do this year. ‘That’s ok’ I said to myself, the optimistic side of my brain piping up. I saw an open horizon, a chance to do so much that I’d put on the backburner. ‘You can learn a language! Read all those books that are sitting sad and neglected around your room! Get another job and save up for something epic!’
And so I went with it, welcoming the new year and the chance to catch up on all those projects that had been shoved to the side when my uni routine had become too demanding. I started a language, practicing letters at work on little bits of receipt paper when no one was around. I got two more jobs and cleaned my room like I’d been meaning to all that time ago….
‘But it’s already the end of April’, a sad little voice keeps saying to me. I wish it would shut up. My sister (who is very wise) tells me often, ‘it’s never too late!’ and ‘Einstein’s career didn’t take off until his forties’ and other such spirit-mustering stuff. And I agree with her – time can be something we can get obsessive about when we become too aware of it as yet another force to which our lives are glued (like Fortune and Chaos). But then again…seeing time as a restriction is perhaps not the best aproach.
In a search for some sort of consolation or something…I went on the google and found these images, which got me thinking:
This one jumped out at me first. I think it’s what I’d been trying to say when I’d attempted to reason with that nagging little voice: I’m not saying time isn’t out there in the world – things age, decay, die, and we see that everyday. But the frustrating concept of time is perhaps something that exists most in the human conception of it. We feel it chasing us because we keep it so firmly within our sight. Yes, that cliché of not being able to just ‘live in the moment’. John Green mentions this in a vlog here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUnQ-wOPGUE) where he talks about sociologist Peter Berger. Berger wrote that unlike humans – who sometimes don’t know how to fit into their own skin – ‘dogs know how to be dogs’….(Check it out, he’s a great vlogger…also note…I bring him up all the time in real life so expect to see the names JOHN and HANK GREEN plastered over this page from time to time.)
The next one that jumped out at me was this one:
The Weight of Time by Julie De Waroquier
This one I love especially because it reminds me of Albert Camus and Sisyphus; time can be a heavy burden that we’re constantly aware of, and when we obsess over it, it can feel like we’re carrying a terrible weight around. But maybe she should just run out that door. Leave that giant clock to roll around in the room alone.
And then lastly I found this one – which is probably my favourite:
In this one I found the consolation I was looking for when I started typing into the google (*4). It’s like a modern-day ‘memento mori’, to remind us that what we can’t escape the fact that what we have is temporary. And that maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Perfection and eternity needn’t be connected. British journalist Bryan Appleyard points this out in his book ‘How to Live Forever or Die Trying’ in which he writes about the social implications of cryonics and life-extension technology. I read it once and never forgot it.
So anyway…I’m not really sure how this post turned from a post about the frustrations built into the human understanding of time into a memento mori…But it seems memento mori was exactly the point I was trying to make. Impermanence, things ending, time ticking away needn’t be something to mourn over. It can remind us to think carefully about how we use what time we have.
References, footnotes, video recommendations;
1) So I found this image here: http://merapoetics.com/2013/04/16/time-willows-away/#comments but unfortunately this blogger was also unable to trace the original source. If this is yours please let me know, it’s beautiful, and I want to reference it properly. …Anticipated title of next entry ‘Internet referencing is a Frustrating Thing’…jokes…No but seriously it is. John Green knows it too: Watch ‘Places I’ve Never Been’ here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVN9nenCGwM
2) The Weight of Time by Julie De Waroquier. Found it here: http://www.artlimited.net/image/en/330827
3) Chrono-Shredder by Susannah Hetrich. Found it here: http://dornob.com/time-killing-chrono-shredder-is-a-day-dicing-wall-calender/ The article accompanying it is worth a read…if you have the time ;P
4) Is it just me or is my friend the google becoming some kind of modern stand in for a guru or a make-do oracle of some kind? Something like a digitalised source of guidance, like a hologram-Jesus or a pocket Ghandi??….according to Alain De Botton the 12th most common question typed into the google is ‘what shall I do with my life’ (Watch ‘The Dangers of the Internet’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uquRzrcwA18)…what do you think of this?! What are the social implications for such a phenomenon?