A light in dark places
Though it may relate to proofreading, this is a spot for my thoughts. They will be, like my interests, wandering and eclectic. Also: probably not pleasant some of the time. These are, after all, dark times.
This is a new day. They are all new days. I am feeling inspired for the first time in a long, long time. Don’t get me wrong; I am not despairing. I love my daughter, my husband, the place I live and the opportunities I am afforded. However, I am afflicted by the internet. I have time, a fast connection, and a tendency toward wide-ranging deep-dive research. It is also easy to grab my attention. I am therefore vulnerable. I look for connection and a sense of what is going on in the wider world from the internet. I am vulnerable to manipulation and outrage. I catch myself responding to anti-vaxxer posts on social media. I suffer the collective frustration, alienation and loneliness that is endemic to those caught in the interwebs. The things that make me happy -—being with my family, gardening, knitting— are those that do not involve yet more information competing for space on my screen. And yet, again and again, whether for emails that need responding to, job contracts that need to be sought out, weather to check, I find myself down the rabbit hole again and again as I lose hours and days to this illusion of productivity.
The bolt of inspiration came this morning from a dawning sense that these indeed are dark times, and that there have been many dark times throughout history. That the unbelievable excesses of the corporate and political elites at present is a recurring stage of pre-collapse. Granted, the scale is unprecedented. Could this colossal imbalance have occurred without the world wide web? It is doubtful. The ability to connect to individuals has never before been so far-reaching. And while selling the illusion of empowerment, it is exploitive, manipulative, and downright greedy. Dark forces.
Of course there are shining examples of collective support and response, but I am at the moment attentive to the dark energies at work in the world. I have hidden from them, covering my social media tracks, so to speak, using Firefox and private browsers predominantly, avoiding links and commenting as little as possible, but today I change tack.
I am writing my thoughts here. I claim space on this platform, in this outdated format. I do this not to rage against the dying of the light, but to bring my whole self to this activity of joining the thought-o-sphere. It may cost me clients (this is, after all, my business blog), but it will I think nourish something more important: integrated attention in whatever I do. I remember (barely) my pre-internet mind. How focused, powerful attention had been once what fed me and enriched my days. Instead of grasping at tatters and wisps of it in the few moments of attention, I turn now to integrate my online presence into the over-arching sense of being completely here.
How many abandoned blogs have started out in exactly this way? Is this sustainable? We shall see.
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Today is a sunny snowy day… a great day to think about windows.
We are designing a house. A simple, passive house. It is a lot of work, and we are not even the ones building it! We have contracted a local builder who is great to deal with, and the company has a draftswoman who has put in many many hours patiently redrawing my changes.
A Passive house is built to be so insulated and air-tight that it needs very little in the way of heating or cooling. In this region, north of Ottawa Canada, heating needs are significant. At the moment we have an inefficient oil furnace that costs several thousand dollars a winter to keep us from freezing. Notice I did not say warm!
But, I digress. Windows. Windows are a significant expense for well-made, insulated, often-imported, holes in a wall. Choosing which ones to go with has weighed heavily on my mind. So I have been thinking a lot about windows.
It could be argued that if walls are the assumptions we make about the world and others in it, windows are the way we let light in, the moments we see outside ourselves. A window is when we are able to really perceive the world as it is, and not as we assume —or would like it— to be. These moments can be fleeting, like a sudden breeze, or an unexpected smile, or they can be cultivated, with mindfulness practice, or meditation, or just time outdoors. In our house we have been inside, taking shelter from the cold of a Canadian winter, with our view obscured by frost and heavy plastic. One could also say that I have been staying in, taking shelter from interacting with others, reading online news articles and other content, making my worldview more informed and yet more insular. At what point do windows become walls in the house of the mind? It strikes me that the screen that I spend so much time looking at, really is a screen. It is blocking out direct, firsthand communication (communion) with the world, and the people, objects and countless living beings within it.
Passive house windows require an investment in two ways; their thermally-broken frames and insulating triple-paned glass are darned expensive, and they take months to be made. The other way that they require sacrifice is in the snugness of a house. Even the best windows only hit an R-8 (or R-11 for quad glass) in a wall that has been painstakingly built to reach R-50. Our windows enable us to see out, to learn and grow and become richer human beings, but it comes at the cost of our comfort. I once read that an allegory for the schizoid response to trauma was like a mind made of rooms with doors but no windows. The movement from an outdated worldview to a new is traumatic, and is avoided with endless information and connections made, further and further down a rabbit hole. Sometimes closing the computer feels like a literal coming up for air. It is not like this every time. It does serve, however, as notice that my metaphorical windows need cleaning with some real-world experiences.
Ironically, a large part of my internet focus has been looking at beautifully designed houses with enormous windows. Corner windows that deny the physics of a building. Window walls, floor to ceiling glass with nary a curtain in sight. As if we live in the wilderness and there are no others to look in. House design is a booming internet trend; perhaps we flee an increasingly unstable world, and hunker down into our screens to dream of wide and airy houses, where we can imagine connection with nature without actually touching (or being touched by) it.
If our windows are functioning clearly, cleanly, we do not stay snug in our worldview, protected by the belief that things are what we assumed or learned them to be in the past. We might see a glimpse into moving, changing, relational, transforming, nature. We may see ourselves and our families as different than what we thought we were. These uncomfortable moments are to be celebrated, as they are what move the plot forward, are what enable new, lighter relationships with the world around us.
It is also what we practice when proofreading. I do not mean that it is a religion, but it is a kind of perceptual practice. It is literally seeing what is in front of us on the page or screen. The squiggly multi-coloured lines help draw our attention, and there are some great writing tools that we can use. In order to proofread, however, we have to make the decision to see what is truly there. Like many things, it is disarmingly simple, and requires attention. It is just that, however, that can be the challenge. In order to pay attention, we must imagine that we forget what the writing is saying, what we want it to express, to see the bare words on the page. It is why going backwards word by word through a paper is so helpful. The extreme and powerful attention required is its own kind of practice. While it is a skill that may be honed, it still requires that basic commitment: deciding to see what is there.
It is a reminder that no matter how good, how clear, how solid our windows are, they still need cleaning. Over and over again.