October 26, 2014

Wiki "Friday": "Desiderata"

Small note: I am starting a regular job in two weeks. I will have better awareness of what day it is and Wiki Fridays may well come on Fridays.

Today, Sunday, we discuss a particular set of aphorisms.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. 
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. 
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. 
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. 
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. 
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. 
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. 
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

This prose poem was written by Max Ehrmann in 1927.

I first saw it in New Zealand, on the wall of my cousin Blair's house. I assumed it was much older.

There has been widespread confusion about the origin date, actually, all because a reverend in Maryland included the poem in a package of devotional materials that mentioned the church's foundation date of 1692.

Wikipedia says that Pierre Trudeau, when the Liberal Party lost its majority in the 1972 federal election, quoted the poem by reassuring the nation that, "the universe is unfolding as it should."


What about Max Ehrmann, you ask. The internet proffers little on him. He was a lawyer and later worked in his family's meatpacking business and in the manufacture of overalls.

At 40 he devoted himself to writing, and apparently worked at that each day, which I like a lot.

Other poems can be found, mostly spiritual. I find some dense, but some delightful, like this one, about enduring rainy days, endeavouring to be gentle, and, bizarrely, shooting at the archery range.

"Desiderata" came back into my life via Hisao, a Japanese Canadian man who lives in my neighbourhood and grows his own strawberries, grapes, and daikon. He spends very little money. Until last week, he collected sweet chestnuts from the back lane and roasted them for breakfast. His kitchen wall is covered with aphorisms for inspiring kindness in himself and others, including the complete "Desiderata."

The title in Latin means desired things, a phrase that inevitably reminds me of Jordan Karnes, my friend who is a poet.

October 22, 2014

Wiki "Friday": wasp / chestnut / Skills for Jobs Blueprint

This week we are talking about trees. And sex and death and education.

Fig wasp

70-90 million years ago, fig trees and certain wasps started needing each other to reproduce.

Dinosaurs were alive at that time.

Most fig trees still rely on wasps for pollination.

Here is how it works for at least one kind of fig wasp:

The baby insects are born inside a fig. "The males' only tasks are to mate with the females while still within the fig syconium and to chew a hole for the females to escape."

Later, when the females are ready to deposit their own eggs, they wriggle into a new fig, incidentally pollinating it, and scraping off their wings and most of their antennae. They lay their eggs in the internal flowers of the fig and die.

"Female fig wasps can reach the ovaries of short female flowers with their ovipositors, but not long female flowers. Thus, the short flowers grow wasps, whereas the long flowers become seeds."

The short flowers grow wasps

(The poetry of Wikipedia)

Finally, "In figs of this sort, the crunchy bits in the fruit contain both seeds and wasps."

Yep. I'm still unclear about whether these wasps that we eat are dead adults or dead babies. Meh. I love figs regardless. Let's talk about another tree.

American chestnut

Maciej told me that American chestnut trees used to cover massive swathes of eastern North America and grew to be a hundred feet tall.

Wikipedia confirms this.

100 feet fall. 10 feet in diameter. From Ontario to Mississippi. From the Atlantic to the Ohio Valley. As Maciej said, "they rained chestnuts."

Around 1900, some Asian chestnut trees were imported, containing a bark fungus.

"The airborne bark fungus spread 50 mi (80 km) a year and in a few decades girdled and killed up to three billion American chestnut trees."

Now there are fewer than 100 large survivors in the original range.

The American chestnut, "may have ultimately become vulnerable to disease because of a near-monoculture in some locations."

Diversity. Diversity. Diversity. Or eventual death.

On that note, let's take a quick look at Christy Clark's new plan for post-secondary education in this province.

"B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint"

Released in April, this document explains how the provincial government will "re-engineer" B.C.'s colleges and universities to favour the LNG sector. Yes, seriously.

LNG is mentioned in 25 of the 40 pages.

LNG is actually the bright blue heading for pages 24-40.

Maybe you saw the news about VCC laying off 150 of its 190 ESL teachers. That's connected.

I can't stop thinking of the clichéd phrase, putting all your eggs in one basket.

Let's do a little math.


That's how many jobs might be created by the LNG sector, says the provincial government newsroom. ("58,700 direct and indirect construction jobs, 23,800 permanent direct and indirect jobs for operations, and thousands more of induced jobs as a result of households having more income." So that's a hopeful number.)


That's about how many people are in the labour market in B.C., according to Statistics Canada.

100,000 divided by 2,500,000 = .04


That seems like a small percentage of potential jobs.

The metaphor I am kind of going for with the trees: we need diversity in our education, so that we have different types of thinkers and skilled people, for adapting to different environments.

Over and out.

(image one source / image two source)

Correction 10/26/2014: I did some more reading this last week, and the layoffs at VCC are not directly related to "B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint." They are there result of a federal funding cut. Same zeitgeist, different levels of government.

October 11, 2014

Wiki Friday: Carmen / Apples / Synesthesia

Today’s themes are interconnectedness and the unimagined later lives of experiences and ideas.


I saw my first opera last Saturday. It was four acts and set in Seville around 1820. The French composer Bizet had never visited Spain.

The character Carmen, perhaps “a realization of the composer’s own unconscious longing for a freedom denied to him by his stifling marriage,” has reappeared in cultural productions ever since her birth on stage in 1875.

I suspect the reincarnation you will appreciate most is this one featuring BeyoncĂ©–

I know.

Bizet never saw great success in his lifetime. I doubt he envisioned his work being brought to life in 2001 by Wyclef Jean. If you haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet, by the way, go do so now.


Sustain me with flagons, refresh me with apples: for I am sick with love.

“Feed me apples, for I am sick with love,” is what I thought the line was. I thought it had been written by Walt Whitman or Robert Frost. Swing and a miss.

The line is from the Song of Solomon. Who knows how I heard it first.

The Song of Solomon, also known as The Song of Songs (swoon), is a section of the Bible with no mention of law, covenant, Yahweh, or wisdom. Instead, “it celebrates sexual love.” 

Some translations of the Bible, including one for young adults, talk of raisins or raisin cakes, but I prefer “flagons.” Weak with love? Open the wine. Biblical translation is suddenly very engaging.

Anyway, there is a poem about apples by Robert Frost, specifically about picking them. It is a fitting poem for the season. My housemate Delayne collected the last of our apple’s trees this week.

I gave five to Leah yesterday, at the same meeting in which she told me about visiting a First Nations community in Nimmo Bay and hearing that a traditional way of understanding wealth is not to tabulate the amount amassed but rather the amount given away.

Oh, it’s good.


This is when one sensory experience cues a different sensory experience.

The condition is not in the DSM, be cause psychological conditions in the DSM have to interfere with life, and this is more like a bonus pleasure on top of life.

The most studied example seems to be people thinking of letters and numbers as associated with certain colours. As usual, academic researchers have found one minuscule thing to obsess about.

My own primary experience of synesthesia, in which touch cues visions, was not even mentioned. 

The coloured numbers and letters example may actually be understood better as ideasthesia–a cognitive input cueing a sensory experience. After all, letters and numbers are concepts more than experiences. Which leads us to something fun:

Researchers suggest that synesthesia/ideasthesia can be a cognitive tool or a coping mechanism for dealing with abstract concepts, including time. In Morocco, Alaina and I “mapped time” on hand-drawn calendars; certain weeks or months demanded to be yellow or green.

In the spring I lost my job, time was a white sheet gathered in folds to my chin, spread smooth toward the horizon.

That is from my friend Jordan’s newly published book, in an essay titled “The Ballad of John and Jon”. Later in the essay Jordan describes John Lennon’s “honeymoon Bed-Ins”,

when he and Yoko stayed in bed in various cities across Europe and even Canada. Sitting upright in long pyjamas, white sheets to their waists, they called press conferences and talked very calmly about their love and everything, eventually recording “Give Peace a Chance” on a four-track in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

It was the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver where I saw Carmen on Saturday. I wonder if Jordan’s idea of time as a white sheet came from seeing John and Yoko in bed years earlier.