Universality of Empathy

HazyIt is easy to assume that, because everyone’s life is different, everyone’s motivations and goals are different. But that is just not the case, we all want the same things out of life, and we all do what we think is reasonable to get there. We react to our environments as best we can given our perspective in the moment.

Imagine that you are with your significant other you have had a long day, you are hungry and tired and would like to decompress a bit. your significant other is likewise stressed because they just found out that they are making budget cuts is their department and might not have a job for much longer. so when they get home and you have not made dinner, even though is was your turn to do so and now you will have to order something, your spouse or girlfriend makes a slightly sarcastic remark like “And I suppose I’ll be paying for that?” not especially mean but you don’t appreciate her tone and it sets you off a bit, enough for you to want to retaliate. You respond by saying, “at least I have enough money to cover it” which is in part a reference to last time you order out and she couldn’t cover it, which was actually funny in that moment, but now it’s fighting words, and you just declared war. The conversation quickly escalates and while neither of you much cares if you order out for dinner, you are both now thoroughly invested in winning the argument. As the food arrives you are both still very heated and you being the one you has to pay for the food, go to the door and grab the food away from the delivery guy, slap a twenty in his hand which barely covers the cost and slam the door in his face. You don’t have time to figure in tip and your mind is still formulating the next blow you will strike in an effort to win the fight. As the delivery guys walks away he does the mental calculations and decides you are a prick and a cheapskate. As you both started to eat your mood improves and you begin to see how stupid the argument really was. Your spouse explains the situation at work and you realize that your comment about money might have struck a nerve. You both apologize make up and settling for a nice night eating delicious food and watching your favorite shows.

None of the behavior that I have described was unreasonable of hard to imagine, but take any thirty seconds of the situation and make it the core of someone impression of you and they might think you are, a bitch, an asshole, a cheapskate, a shallow person, an inconsiderate douche, an over sensitive jack ass, or any of a dozen alternatives you might think of. But the truth of the matter was you were having a moment and in the moment you were behaving just like anyone else would, you are not a monster, or some unfeeling jerk, you are a person with a life story and a reason for acting like you do. Just like everyone else.

There are no monsters in the world, just people, people trying to make their way through life as best they can. We are all the protagonist in our own life story. None of us are out to make the world suffer because we are heartless. But some of us are in a tough spot and feel like they are out of options, some of us have been taught that violence is an acceptable solution. Some people do believe that there are evil people in the world, and that peace comes at the sacrifice of those people. Even the worst of humanity acts in accordance with their own moral compass, their own ideas about what is right and wrong. The closest thing to an evil person we know of is a psychopath who has no or a lowered sense of empathy. And in most cases psychopaths don’t go on killing sprees that just go through life faking empathy, and the worst most of them do is manipulate the emotions of others, which is nothing that a normal person wouldn’t do given the opportunity. So in the end the best thing that you can do is use a different mental shorthand, instead of thinking that this person is just an asshole and going about your day, maybe you should assume that this person is just having a bad day and go about your day. The different in a specific instead is practically non-existent, you still get through the day and don’t waste an excess about of energy worried about some stranger being rude, but the net effect is much greater, you will being to see everyone in a better light and feel a greater sense of optimism about you fellow man, and in the end you will all the happier for it.

And that’s my take on the universality of empathy.

Here today painting. Sorry about missing yesterdays post.

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Apologies and Recent Events

TurtleSorry about my stark lack of post for the last ten or so days, I have been sick and am finally feeling myself again, so in addition to getting back on my diet, I will be getting back on schedule for the project and hopefully even cranking up the production schedule a bit to make up for the lost time.

I have recently started writing some longer form fiction, I’m not sure where they are going but I hesitate to post any of it until it finished and I have had a chance to do some editing, something I don’t always do when a ton of for my daily posts. I hesitate because I was given the advice that when writing anything you should keep the process private so that you don’t get in your own head about whether or not it is good. The idea is that in the first and even second drafts the most important part is whether or not it is even done, not so much whether or not it’s good. Get it done it the sentiment, if you want to show people the thing then go crazy.

This advice seems pretty sound but I’m not sure. My problem is that I have found that the only way I can manage to keep myself motivated in this, as of yet, profitless endeavor, that’s not to say fruitless only profitless, is to stick to a strict schedule. I mean even giving myself a sick day or two snow balled into almost two weeks with me making almost nothing. So this is the dilemma I am faced with, I need to stick with my schedule or the whole project will be lost to the endless list of distractions and chores, but I feel a real desire to write this fiction.

I’m not even sure how long it will end up being, it may just be a few pages, in which case I feel perfectly fine posting as I go since I probably won’t get too much interfering advice and feedback before the story is finished, but if I get on a role and the thing ends up being a full novel then not only will it be awkwardly long for the blog post format but it will mean that I will start questioning the direction of the work before its even whole. Perhaps the best solution is a sort of hybrid of the two. I think that maybe for this story what I will do is keep writing my short form daily posts I can talk about the research I am doing and what the process is like and then I will post the chapters as I finish them on a separate page.

Okay well I think that will do for now, I can always adjust the plan later. Alright, that’s all for today.

Here is a link for today’s Painting, previewed in the banner above.

Integrated Learning

IntegratedLearningIn my attempts to get myself up to snuff as far making concept art goes I have been brushing up on various painting techniques. In the past I have had some experience with watercolors and acrylics. I dabbled in oil painting but was never really trained in it, but as I have started reading about some of the theory behind oil painting techniques I find myself getting more out of the lessons due to my lack of experience with oil paints. Let me explain. When you get a tutorial in some technique of another you may learn a trick as you follow the instructions, but when you are forced to take the advice and insights for one discipline and apply it to another, I think that you get more from it. You have to find what is important about the lesson, find what is most useful about what they are saying and apply it to a foreign practice.

I think that there is something there. As I move forward in my self education I plan to do this with more purpose. I want to find texts talking about photography and film, music and dance, and extract what I feel is relevant. To draw parallels between disparate fields of creativity to find common traits. One of the best ways to learn is to explore the very edge of your experience. Your go out to the limits of what you know, and take one more step, simple but powerful. Its the same way we conduct scientific discovery. We find a field of study the has a knowledge base, go out to the edge of our understanding of it and take a look, when you do this you are guaranteed to discover something in short order.

For example, I have been reading a book about using color in oil paints. The book cover everything from the basic color theory like what I discussed last week, to the more advanced methods of manipulating color. One of these techniques is using a continuity color to create harmony in your color palette. The way it works is by adding a little bit of the color in question to every color you mix as you paint, this ensures that the whole painting is harmonious and that none of the color clash. This technique is essentially replaced in the color balance feature in Photoshop, which finds the average color and brings all of the colors closer to that, creating greater harmony in the picture.

And that’s my take on integrated learning.

PS

I will be trying a shorter format, and going back to posting every day. So from now on the posts will be about half as long, but accompanied by a new painting every other day.

Two Months In

TwoMonthsWriting so frequently for these past two months has been a real saving point in my life. for about a year before this I had been getting progressively more depressed. Now this was nothing compared to the year I spent unemployed, but it was nonetheless a tough year. I have  beautiful fiancée, and a job I like, but they can only afford to give me eighteen hours a week. this would be fine if it didn’t mean that my fiancée has to work forty to fifty hours a week to make up the difference. in the past seven years we have been together and especially the last five since we have left school, she has been a solid rock for me, and I’d like to think I have been one for her in return.

I cook, I clean, I do the laundry, and help her relax when she gets home. It’s a fine situation for now but when we start a family it just won’t due. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. I want to know what I can do. what can I put on my resume that will convey my intelligence, and work ethic? What can I say in a cover letter that will tell a potential employer that they would be saying my life if they only gave me a chance? How do you convince someone that when you say “I will at the very least, do this job better than anyone else you’ve interviewed, and at most I might just give you a run for your money in a year’s time” without seeming cocky or rude? And this is the sticking point for me, really, I feel like there is no position that would yield itself to me if I were only give the opportunity. I know I am not some perfect genius, but I also know that I am capable of learning anything, and if someone could give me a guarantee, I would have no trouble devoting all of my resources behind it.

As it is I can’t help but feel that the chance has passed me by and that in ten years time I will be no closer to my goals and that I will have worked myself into a debt that I can’t see because I have build a wall of delusion around myself and don’t want to see the truth. I have been told that you can make your own luck, and when I hear it it seem to make sense, but once I sit down and think about how to make my own… I am left without an answer. I have no friends with influence, that I know of, I have little influence myself and see no way of breaking into any industry this late in my life. I find myself chasing every job listing in my mind seeing the future at the company and how it will change my life, only to be crushed once again in a week or two when I hear that they have “gone in another direction”.

On top of all this I always worry about how it will affect my fiancée. Will she be able to cut down on her hours? Will she be able to quite? Will we have to move? How far would she really move? Would the new job take up too much of my time? And none of the answers ever make the decision easier. How high should my standards be? Do I go for anything that I can find, or make an earnest effort to establish a career?

It’s funny, how much your perspective can shift. Just two years ago I was overjoyed just to get the job at the library, it made everything better. We were able to start paying off our debt again, we bought a car. It feels like we’ve come a long way, and yet here I am bemoaning my current state. Will there ever be a time when I am fine, where I can stop scrambling just to be content? If what I have learned for my various readings and podcast listening holds any water, then the answer might be no. I hope that’s not true. And even if it were true, what am I to do? Give up now? move in with my parents? Stop trying?

No, that not an answer either, I’ll still have to go on living my life, you have to hang in there, keep applying to job offers, keep educating yourself, just keep going. Yeah that the only option really. It’ about this time in my mental argument that I remember that I am an optimist. I shouldn’t be so down because, things tend to work out. I may have had a rough five years or so, but what will that matter when I’m old and grey and happy, I’ look back on these days as the time when I floundered around; when I found my self. Yeah, that’s right. Anyways if I give up now, what will I do to occupy myself? No, I think I’ll keep up with this little project of mine, hope that something comes of it.

And that’s my take on… I dunno… Life.

Finding Flow

FlowThere is a wonderful ability that human beings possess that I think some, sadly never truly appreciate. It is the ability to go in oneself and find a rhythm in a task at hand and achieve a sort of flow. A transcendent state of awareness where the only thing that is present is the thing itself and all other distraction fall away. I have had the pleasure of experiencing this task with any number of activities which to my knowledge is quite a rare thing. I have this relationship with sculpting ceramics, welding steel, writing a story, or making a painting. I don’t know if this state of mind is inherent to the creative process, but it would certainly make sense to me if it were. The act of making something where there was once nothing is a taxing and deeply personal one.

I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of creating and most of what I have read seem to indicate that most people only have one or two activities in which they can lose themselves. And that’s what it is really, a way of getting lost in your own mind and the page, canvas or lump of clay. Heck, I have even felt this, ‘flow’ while coding a web page. The medium, in my case, does not seem to matter much. I have no way to account for this, I can only say that the way it feels reminds me of when you first sit down to play a new video game. Maybe you are familiar with the type of game it is, and so you know that you will do well eventually, but you have never played this game before and so you are uncomfortable at first. You don’t know the controls and this is awkward for you, but as you get through the first couple hours of game play your mind adjusts and you can function as comfortably as riding a bike.

That I think is the best way to describe the way in which I approach a new tool or medium, like learning to ride a bike for the first time, but this time I know I can learn, and so the process is all the easier. I know that the day will come when the flow will be felt, and the bike will stay out and then I am off. Of to play with my new toy, to test the limits of it creative potential, to find my comfort zone in the medium and just… make. And the key is just the same as riding a bike, you have to keep moving. If you hesitate; if you doubt yourself, you wobble, and you fall.

I said earlier that I have felt this way in the act of creating, but as I think on it, there are many only tasks in which you can lose yourself. I have found flow, in playing hacky sack, knitting, running, swimming even shelf reading at the library. there seems you be a switch somewhere in my mind that I can flip and the whole world is shut out the only there is, is the task in front of me. You go until it done, and you know the task can be done because, you’ve done it before. even if you haven’t you can be fairly certain that someone had, if they could, why not you?

Again I am reminded of another occasion where I found flow. It was a hiking trip, with Outward Bound, and the first week had been canoeing, and the second was backpacking along the Appalachian Trail. It was several day in to the hiking portion, and we were all exhausted and beat up from the past week and a half, and we know had to summit yet another mountain. I fell into myself again then, in fact I had been able to go to this place while hiking in the past, but this time it was deeper. It had to be I suppose, because I wanted to quit, I wanted to stop and sleep and hike no longer. But that option was not available to me and the only way home at this point was to hike on and I knew it, so I dug deeper. I found the pure rhythm of my breath and heart and put one foot in front of the other, I wiped all other things from my mind including the pain and exhaustion and just walked.

As I said I don’t know if everyone can do this, I mean obviously people can find flow. Its been written about and expressed in art and film, and poetry. What I am less certain of is whether or not others see the connection, between the flow, of writing and the flow of running. The flow of reading, and the flow of swimming. They’re all the same , they live in the same place in your mind and if you can be patient while you find it you can achieve flow in any activity.

This is an effect that comes with this flow. It follows shortly after it, just like after a long run, or after finally finishing a tough puzzle. It is a warm and soothing feeling, endorphins I believe, “the feel good juice” as my dad would probably call it “the good stuff”. What you are doing when you reach flow makes you happy, the act itself becomes the reward, and if you can find that in anything you are off to a good start, but what could the possibilities be if you can find it in anything? So for, at least that I have found, is s whole lot of happiness, but not much success. I wonder why that is? I would think that if finding flow in writing is what let Stephen King get to where he is and let Chris Hardwick build his career. Then finding flow in anything you want to  ought to make you doubly successful. Perhaps it is the lack of focus, on just one task that is so crippling? I’m not sure, but I think that if I can manage to find the right balance of interests at just the right time I could really make a go of it, and keep an eye on me then. Because I am taking off like a rocket on that day.

Maybe I any not that unique, and for the sake of the human race, I hope that I am not. I hope that by sharing this insight with you, that maybe you can see the connections that I spoke of earlier, and find you flow in every area of your life.

And that’s my take on finding flow.

The Bottled ‘Ocean’

WaterI began to write this post to tell you about a theory I had thought of a few years back, that bottled water might be having an effect on our global climate. The basic Idea was that if you think about how much water is bottled for individual sale it must add up to an incredible amount. And while that amount of water does eventually find its way back out to the water cycle, we are constantly bottling more to sell, and so there is a whole chunk of water that is perpetually out of the water cycle and in its own bottling cycle. I was convinced that, while not the primary cause, this ‘bottled ocean’ as I came to think of it must be having some effect on the environment.

But then I did some research, I wanted to have some comparisons for you so that you could the potential problems this absence of water might be having. Here are some of the results.

There is approximately 1.5×1018 short tons of water on the planet earth, which is a lot, it covers about ⅔ of the earth’s surface, so yeah pretty huge. As a comparison the entire human race weighs about 9.3×1011 lb, which is roughly 1/9 the weight of the “hydrosphere” as some are apt to call it. So how does this measure up to the world bottled water? Well I gathered some rough statistics  of the estimated amount of water sold each year, and assuming that the bottling companies are gathering water at least as fast as they are selling the water, than that is roughly the amount that stays bottled on an annual basis. So I took that amount multiplied in the number of bottles per case, and the amount of water per bottle and got and pretty rough estimate for the worlds “bottlesphere”. Ready? …4.68×107 metric tons…

Now at a glance this seems to be a pretty large amount of water, but let’s gain some perspective shall we? Well the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake is 78,200,000,000,000 m3 and the worlds ‘bottlesphere’, when converted to similar units is … not so big. Okay so maybe not, the Biggest lake it the world, but surely bigger than some lakes. One of the worlds smaller lakes, number thirty-five by volume is Lake Nicaragua which is 108,000,000,000 m3, still about two-thousand times bigger.

So maybe this massive amount of bottled water will fare better in the realm of ponds, surely it can hold its own there. Well to begin with the world’s largest pond is in main, and is aptly named Great Pond, which weighs in at around 240,651,000 m3 or five times the 46,800,000 m3 that the world’s supply of bottled water comes in at. Now I am sure that there are ponds a great deal smaller than the world’s largest and that the ’bottlesphere’ probably does outranks a good number of them, but find statistics on them is tedious and time consuming and most would not leave much of an impression. So in an attempt to create so amount of sensationalism around my now clearly not so significant gleaming. I when a peg lower and looked up the world largest swimming pool. Ready? The world record holding swimming pool is located at the San Alfonso del Mar is a private resort in Algarrobo, Chile, about 100 km west of the capital Santiago, ranks at 250,000 m3 which is 180 times smaller than the amount of Bottled Water in the world! Ta-dah! Hooray!….

Well I guess its not so impressive really, and I have to be honest, this was a pet theory of mine for many years and I was actually very shocked to find out he sadly underwhelming facts behind in. I almost didn’t write this post after finding out, and was so dejected over it that it has taken about three weeks for me to get around to it. But you know this is the power of science, while the theory was cool sounding, and many of my friend s agreed “there was something to it”, in the end it was just a clever story the only sounded right. I had no facts, just a sense that there must be a lot of water out there in the store across the globe. Now, I know, I know that while there certainly is a lot of water in bottles sitting outside the water cycle, that it not even enough to fill a decent sized pond. While it does dwarf our other uses for water, like swimming pools, that is about what I’d expect, since we actually needs to drink water to survive and don’t really need to swim in it.

Anyways the point I am trying to make here is that, before you go hanging you hopes or expectations on some pet theory of  your own creation, maybe you ought to do some research on the subject first, I was able to gather all of this information, including crunching the numbers and making the appropriate conversions over the course of just a few hours, and now not only do I know I was way off track, but I learned quite a bit about the worlds masses of water.

And that’s my take on the bottled “ocean”.