Saturday, March 22, 2014

If gender is a concept, imagine what reality remains.

I played these instructions for eating meditation for my coworkers at a science museum yesterday. You can seek to 14:45 and play about 6 minutes. Kornfield uses raisins but you can use a small bite of any food.

Scientists and Buddhists equally value the practice of simple observation, noticing without preconception. For scientists this allows us to collect unbiased evidence and form realistic explanations. For example, in the meditation we see not a raisin-concept but the shapes and colors and shades that exist; feel the weight and textures that are really there. I invite you now to see that gender is a constructed concept and what exists is the richer, true world of different bodies and behaviors and experiences. This is a world of wonder to which, through years of rough practice, I have awakened.

It's been rough because there has been until recently* little  guidance available on the road to observation while the gender-concept rampantly rules society. It dictates our treatment at school, wardrobe, wages, right to vote and inherit, place in the household, place in bed, vulnerability to violence, and access to expression and affection. Society created this concept and I see that it is, unlike the raisin, 100% harmful. Nature makes a full spectrum of bodies and sexual phenotypes; humans no longer live and fuck for reproduction primarily.

Upon birth, our first instructions are a wrong concept: "it's a boy" or "it's a girl," a concept with the power to smother our inborn ability for simple observation. It catches us into a life built around false concepts and inattention to existence. Any mathematician or physicist would concur that a false assumption can block one from understanding the whole of reality.

Once we achieve simple observation, the next step is to discern between helpful and useless thoughts and actions. It's too late to stop the Nazis destroying gender-inclusive Berlin culture and medical advances or to go public with Britain's WWII computer to speed the internet's union of queer community by over ten years. We can change our language of gender conformity, include youth and others, and turn toward the reality of suffering and loss in our own communities. It's the right thing to do.

We each have a unique toolbox of community-building activities and attitudes. We just have to remind each other to wake up and use it.

*I feel confident that any Gender Studies expert would agree with the simple observation that gender is a construct rather than a natural phenomenon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Park Review: Mount Diablo State Park

Yesterday I attempted the summit of our local lone peak, Mount Diablo. An easy bike ride from Walnut Creek BART station, the southwest trailhead at Macedo Ranch is shared with cows and calves. The cow path is difficult to negotiate, especially when it's wet. This trail is signed Wall to Summit Trail, though the transition is unclear between some low shrubs and grassy hillside. Trail guides claim the loop I took was just over 6 miles, but it was much harder and I was thoroughly exhausted and sore after 6 hours.

Due to the drought the Park announced water would be shut off, but the restrooms at the trailhead were open. I carried and drank almost all of the 3 liters I carried. I was unprepared, though, for the chill and violent wind at the peak, 3,500 feet. For this you may want a spacesuit. My hands swelled and ears popped on the way down.

I watched gorgeous cloud cover pass overhead, sometimes threatening to bring distant rain close. I was delighted by the interpretive signs marking the K-T boundary, mollusk fossils, and other rock layers. There were some poppies and purple daisies as well as a flowering shrub already in bloom. The burned areas were interesting to traverse, charred on the outside and sprouting about the roots and sometimes limbs.

Nothing compares to the views. Even though the clouds covered the horizon beyond the San Bruno mountains, I saw farther than I'd expected. My technology swallowed the few photos I took.

I don't know why I'm not there every weekend! I'll be back again soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The trains between: my vacation spanning Oakland, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver

The world is rich with wonders, if only we would awaken to them. Recovered scripts from an ancient landfill quotes Jesus: "The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."

I traveled by train across the United States and Canada over the Spring Festival partly for vacation, partly to prepare my mind for silent meditation retreat later this year.

By train there's no missing reality: even in  our own region there are industrial sites in Richmond and Martinez full of wildlife displaced from residential and commercial development living on toxins. Timber lies in the midst of the most trees I've ever seen and oil rigs nods the music of our consumption across the prairie. We wait for hours for freight trains to pass single track segments; they have priority because they own and maintain these tracks with their fat profits. They carry familiar shipping containers, often with the shipping lines' names painted alongside. More often they drag great black tanks of oil and gas across farms and through mountains. Near Nebraska and West Virginia their open carts are piled high with coal. I redouble my effort to use less.

In Colorado a wildlife-watching couple joined me in the observation cart and encouraged me to search for charismatic megafauna. My sketchbook pages filled with deer, elk, hawks, and even moose.

Ontario impressed me with a full day and night of dense woodland. A resident informed me the boreal forests there compare favorably with the Amazon in carbon sequestration. They, too, are yielding to the saw.

Are there words to describe the Rockies? I struggle to imagine these colossal peaks rising still, year after year, pushed by colliding continental plates. They will continue rising and crumbling after we are long gone.

To pass eleven days and nine nights speeding by rail, I listened to little music, no more than 90 minutes, and watched no video. I read only after darkness, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. Music gently rippled through my consciousness in the final days of the journey. Yet I felt a vast relief from any pressure of production, any image of what a composer ought to do and be. Indeed, I felt freer than ever from any definition of being other than present in the moment as I took in the sensory beauty of the surroundings and turned my kind wishes to every being around me, human, animal, rock; old, fleeting, growing.

Indeed, it's a paradise, if only we dare to recognize our place in it, to engage it here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

DIY chest stand from a wine box

I picked up a nice wine box from the curb a year ago and used it as a floor laptop desk and printer stand for a while. Lately I've rearranged my room so I find myself removing the printer every time I use it, so it's time for a change. I originally wanted to make another two-level shelf, but couldn't decide on the dimensions and crossbeam structure. Why make it harder than necessary? I can always make another shelf when I decide what I want.

The wine box was a perfect project to add height and floor space. Since I don't usually saw precisely, I cut and filed the long legs and finally mixed glue and sawdust on a short leg. Each one is attached by a single screw through the thin side of the box. Predrilling was a bit tricky but makes the screwing smoother.

No cuts or splinters this time! Got a diy project to share? Please post in the comments.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Park review: actually a bike route review

I was going to schlep up to an Oakland park today but my legs are still quite sore from a recent bike ride. I'll review that route instead, and plan better next month.

The Macarthur Boulevard bike route connecting Mills College and east Oakland with downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt results from an ongoing bike advocacy effort. It's well signed in the eastbound direction, but tricky to follow on the return trip. An unsigned route continues in the direction of westbound Macarthur Blvd to Chatham Rd, which reconnects to Macarthur via Park Blvd.

Google Maps recommends jouncing six times to avoid a one-way segment of Macarthur Boulevard from Ardley Ave near 14th St. One who miraculously follows the jounces would approach Lake Merritt from Trestle Glen, a pleasant, upscale residential neighborhood. There's also a bike route sign pointing south on 14th St but leaves a cyclist to find their own way, perhaps to Park Blvd.

Westbound, I chose to ride on the sidewalk for about a mile to stick to the direct eastbound route. Still, where the Macarthur bike lane becomes available again at Park Ave, there was no legal crossing from the eastbound side sidewalk. I watched the lights and made a dash for it. You must have a good headlight at night for the following short segment: it's elevated and unlit.

This route also requires vigilance for street safety, especially after dark. It seemed abandoned at 9pm on a Saturday and I was the sole cyclist for miles. It alternates bike lanes with shared lanes.

Its hills provide a light to moderate workout without sharp bends. I dropped my chain once, as they call for frequent gear shifts, but on a weekend night traffic was light and there was a shoulder to work in.

An irresistible bonus for this route is the Mills College campus, which has multiple entrances, the most recognizable one an arching gate on Seminary Ave. From my first visit here for an excellent contemporary music concert the stillness of the gardens and fountain resonated with fond memories of my alma mater. Spend some time walking around here once you overcome the hairy route.

Happy new year and safe riding!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More NSFW fanart on Etsy

I added to OpenSlash some humor for fellow fans.
Wolverine the Pooh, 2013
I'm looking to bring in other heroes from the X-men, so send me your suggestions. I want the original image to be charged, whether with mystery or passion, as above. Recall that my venture into fanart began as an attempt to address the shallowness of Hollywood culture which mangles canonical characters and plotlines. An image should have potential to overturn or ridicule that culture. The climactic scene in The Last Stand with Jean and Logan alone comes to mind.

On the ground, I'm surprised how trying the logistics of scanning and printing oversize prints are turning out to be. How do young visual artists handle it? I suppose it's similar to engraving, printing, and binding scores: backbreaking tedium interrupted by infuriating technical glitches. Share your printer-scanner stories here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NSFW Etsy store featuring my first drawing in 10+ years

I'm selling prints of a large charcoal drawing of Wolverine from X-men nude, for the price of production only. I'm happy to send readers the original scan for free.

I was struck by how engaged and almost feverish I felt while working on it. I had no appetite and took only one short break. I really hadn't drawn in such detail since high school. And though 15 might have been an age to obsess about a movie star, I would not have noticed a daddy like Hugh Jackman before my transition. I didn't intend to feed this obsession, but I read about his off-stage life and he seems like an exceptionally virtuous and inspiring celebrity.

From the listing:
The image was inspired by a still from the unreleased Days of Future Past starring Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine. He is seated on a couch, recovering from a fight, his chest riddled with bulletholes. One hand curls around the neck of a bottle, the other rests lightly on what could be a Japanese sword across his lap.

It reminds me of the resilience and indomitable spirit of people who suffer oppression, especially transgenders, queers, and people of color.  
Anyone else take the X-men as a metaphor for our struggle? C'mon, Hollywood, bring it.