Thursday, March 31, 2011

Questions Concerning Technology

There have been many, many long talks about technology at the residency in Finland. About my technology and my failure to bring a proper power adapter with me from U.S. and about the role of technology in human existence. There are strongly held opinions in many different camps about the role of technology and how technology exists. Some feel it is this monolithic (<--- this is my interpretation) entity that has agency and power outside of human agency. There are those who feel that technology is leading to a desensitization to the "natural" world. There is my opinion that technology is an attempt by humans to build prosthetic devices that make our ability to sense the human experience in a more focused way and to extend the capacity of the human body beyond individual means. All seem to share a feeling that there is a destructive capacity in much technology and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan have made the dangers of the rapidity of our technological advances physically palpable and tearful for us.

Though the title of this was lifted from Heidegger, I won't speak about Heidegger right now. I awoke thinking about technology and the human impulse to refine their environment. I recall a story that my mother or my mother's father told which may have mixed with other thoughts in my brain to become an amalgam of many thoughts. I can't guarantee the accuracy of my recounting of the story but I'd like to share it anyway.

My grandfather worked for a company (or knew someone who worked for a company) after WWII that was making advances in metallurgy. They had created this very fine copper wire. As the Americans understood it, it was the finest copper wire ever created by humans on the planet. This was during the Japanese post WWII era when the standing army had been eliminated and the country of Japan was in a technological and economical revolution. Focusing on improvements in technology as a means of rebuilding. The U.S. felt very much in competition with the Japanese (and the Russians, etc.) during this Post War Era. So, the U.S. company that made the finest copper wire ever made sent some to a Japanese company to show the advances of technology being made in the U.S. The copper wire was sent back from the company with no correspondence. Just the wire. The people at the U.S. company felt they had really shown the Japanese what U.S. engineers could do! They believed the Japanese company had simply sent the wire back as a concession to U.S. greatness. However, someone at the U.S. company decided to take a closer look at the wire. They put it under a microscope and discovered a technological message in the wire. This was the finest, thinnest wire / metal strand ever produced in the U.S. When examined under a microscope, they discovered that the Japanese company had drilled holes in it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flowers Measure the Progress of Spring

Empathic person to empathic person, we laid on my bed last night and we talked about difficult things. We are both strongly affected by the emotional currents that surround us and we both affect those currents equally strongly. Throughout the day yesterday, small conversations hinted at the challenges our shared nature pose in our respective lives. "I must find a way to be so connected but without it becoming destructive". A line embedded in a brief conversation about something funny. "I want to be this person but I have to be careful, it can be too powerful for me at times," mentioned while one of us was getting a glass of water at the sink. Empathy means openness and empathy can mean that when we extend our complete emotional selves to others, it may absorb what is around us without boundary or limit. It may hit a wall with others, it may hit a nerve with others. Positive and negative flow in equally when one is truly open. To be truly empathetic it requires that you are truly open. A sense of protecting yourself can't be in the forefront of your mind, you must allow the emotion in without filter to begin to know the life and meaning of the other persons emotional place.

This morning, I woke up remembering something that we had discussed late in the night. Something beautiful and powerful and hard to discuss. We discussed the progress of spring. Off of the patio at my childhood home where my mother still lives there are small planter boxes enclosed with railroad ties. In these boxes there are flower bulbs that have been at that house since shortly after we moved in. I remember planting some of them. I remember planting Grape Hyacinths specifically. I was wondering last night, and wondering still this morning how spring is progressing at that house. How the timing of flowers is progressing.

First come the crocuses. They will bloom gladly after just 2 or 3 days of sunlight and 45 degree temperatures. They will bloom when even other places in the yard still hold snow because they are locked in shadows. They are persistent and tough. They come in waves, depending on the variety but always in the temperature range that feels, bodily, that winter is letting loose its grasp on the earth. Then come the hyacinths. They are the most delicate. They come before the daffodils, tulips and irises. They need something very specific, they need day and night to be more in balance than the crocuses do. Many springs skip past the 46 - 52 degree days with nights remaining above freezing and no frost that the hyacinths need and they may appear only very briefly. The grape hyacinths at my childhood home were planted just outside of my bedroom and bathroom windows. I know the smell of those flowers with my entire memory, my entire body and my entire being. They arrive on the first days when, though it is cold, you may open the windows to let some freshness in after so long locking yourself away from cold and in the warmth. The smell of hyacinth would come into my window when I would open it briefly to check the day. My rhythm with spring, to feel the air, to check the day, to see the subtle shifts in grasses once dormant, now pushing the yellow to the tips of their leaves and pulling green up from their roots, to open the window on a day of optimism that things. do. change. smells like hyacinth.
Then the daffodils come, the tulips and the irises. These are parts of spring I remember from my grandmother's garden, not our own. I know that there is one poppy planted in the front garden patch but I don't recall if we ever had the other flowers. Perhaps I don't recall because they don't have a smell. The azalea bush is planted near the poppy and always precedes the poppy in blooming. It has a blaze of color, though the plant has never really grown large, even a small burst is evident when you approach the house. The two lilac bushes sit at the corners of the front of the house. The first days that the windows can be open from 10:00 - 3:00p without making the furnace kick on coincide with the smell of lilac.

I would like to know how spring is progressing at my childhood home. I would like to know if anyone is noticing it as it unfolds and passes. I would like to assure the place that, while I am not there to notice, I am extending all of my feeling to that place, completely open without boundaries in an effort to feel the time of the crocus, the hyacinth, the azalea and the lilac. I am stretching myself toward home without reservation and feeling an acute sense of the progress of spring internal, distance from memories of spring and the subtle movements that I witnessed and took into my body as cues to teach me and to remind me that things. do. change.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tentative steps

I'll get back to Helsinki story soon but today I noticed something that made me laugh and feel a little sad. I haven't felt much like laughing for a few days, long enough that maybe I was startled by the chuckle turned giggle coming from my mouth. We had lived under the threat of imminent death from falling ice and snow that was packed on the roof and flowing glacially toward the walking path below. A person at the residency shoveled out a new path that would be clear of the death from above that was a 3' snowpack preparing to fall. The path was pushed as far from the building as possible which meant it was near the boulders that form the hill a few yards from the building. Because of its placement, it had a few small trees with whippy little branches that protruded into the walking path and would catch on your coat and poke you in the eye when you walked.

I had a serious internal struggle with what to do about the trees. First, I wanted to live and let live. It was not an ideal situation but I wasn't about to cut anyone's tree down. However, I noticed that I was mentioning the inconvenience of being smacked on the face by tree limbs the 10 - 20 times / day I would make the walk from my apartment to the main residency building. I began to devise plans that would tie the limbs back without hurting the tree. I even brought twine to my room and tested a couple of ways of tying off the limbs. The slippery surface of the limbs prevented the synthetic twine from catching on well enough to be able to tie them back securely enough to withstand a strong wind. So I took my experiment back inside. I thought of wrapping the trees with twine or fabric in an effort to bind them, just until the snowy path melted enough that we wouldn't need to walk through the branches any longer.

This morning, I awoke, after only about 3.5 hours of sleep, and decided to get to work. I went off to the woodshop to cut wood. I walked the path 5 or 6 times without noticing, or perhaps before the event actually occurred, before I realized someone had ripped the trees apart. This made me laugh for 3 reasons: 1. Either someone experienced the tree whipping for the first time and thought they didn't have to put up with that and took charge of the situation or 2. Someone was attempting to make those of us who walk this path regularly more comfortable, but mostly 3. I didn't notice until I'd walked the path several times. Number 3 is important to me because of the noticing and not noticing that occurred. Today is the first day in many days that I've noticed something funny. Today, an external event brought me to laughter. I feel sad that the trees were mangled in the process but grateful to whoever added that small bit of comfort, or more accurately, removed that small discomfort from my path.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Helsinki part 2.

We're gaining 6 minutes of light each day now. The vernal equinox is upon us and the supermoon or super-full-moon pulls unwanted currents from my emotional stream right now. Ah the balance of imbalance and presence on the earth.

I'm sitting in my bed at Arteles reflecting on the trip to Helsinki. I'm pressed flat by the weight of the heavy comforter that shields me from the silence and the cold which are interrupted only by the hissing of the radiator and now in the morning, the clambering of birds in the nearby forest. I'm looking out on a field covered in snow that I can see roll away from my window. This morning, the field is blurry and the distant clouds mix with the snowy trees and the mist in the valley to make everything shades of formless landscapes. I wonder what is causing this mist. I hope it is the temperature. I hope that the temperature is rising and this is evidence of evaporation. Perhaps the snow is finally letting loose its lock-fisted grasp on the ground and is trying to lift itself to the clouds that are approaching. It's beautiful.

I set out after lunch to find the ferry. I followed the brief instructions I was given by our server at the restaurant. Go around that building then go straight. Got it. I left the restaurant and walked around what I believed to be "that building" and didn't know which way was straight anymore. I saw what was clearly a transportation hub a couple of blocks straight down a road to my left and decided that was straight. I went there. As I approached, I saw that it was a bus terminal and I saw no sign of water or ferries. I asked two women, probably in their 40's or older, if they knew how to get to the ferry. I knew this was a dicey proposition because, though I've been assured that people in Finland speak english - even many older people in the cities - people above a certain age can be shy to speak it and both gave me looks that were a mix of startled recognition and uncertainty about how to proceed. They both told me they don't know where to find the ferry. I didn't believe them. I guessed they weren't keen on speaking english... that's cool. I altered my search parameters and sought people who looked 30 or younger. An extraordinarily tall man told me how to get to the ferry. I stepped quickly along his suggested route as the Japanese / Finnish guide book said I had less than an hour to get to the Zoo and if a boat ride was also in store I was really pushing it.

I only knew it was the harbor because of the boats. Sounds silly reading that statement but it has to do with spending time in the Finnish countryside for these past few weeks. After consulting many maps and travel websites, I see that Finland is in competition with Minnesota for the largest number of lakes. However, the country is also filled with agricultural spaces, fields cleared for grazing and growing. All of these are currently buried under 3 feet of snow. Only recently have I learned to tell the difference in tree lines and that a prolonged flatness in the snow with no trees is likely a lake. Fields gently roll.

So, when I arrived at the harbor and saw many boats seemingly planted in a very flat field of snow, I knew I had found the Baltic Sea. "The ferry doesn't go in winter". "You'll have to take a bus". He was young and blonde and beautiful as so many Finns are but I wanted to shout things that would register with clarity in every language that my meager hopes had been dashed. I became frustrated that the very tall man who gave me directions to the ferry didn't find it necessary to inform me that the ferry doesn't run in winter and that I should just go to the bus station - since I was already AT the bus station - to get the bus to the Zoo. But maybe he's not concerned with Zoo's and ferries to Zoo's. Perhaps he thought any number of things... Maybe I just wanted to photograph the exotic beast that is the Zoo Ferry of Helsinki.

I took several photographs of the ferries looking quite exotic locked in the frozen harbor and set off toward the bus station. I arrived at the station, I found the Zoo bus (number 11 line) and stood under the shelter waiting for the next bus. 45 minutes passed. There were no more Zoo buses that day.

To be continued.

Helsinki, you failed my expectations and exceded my unexpected possibilities

The night before taking an international city by storm is probably not the best time to try to share a bottle of vodka with 2 other people. It's certainly a questionable idea to stay up sharing that bottle until just 1.5 hours before leaving. It affects the storm. The storm that could have been energetic and strong hit a stronger frontal boundary and the result - rather than an electrostatic discharge of pent up energy built from hovering over the snow in the countryside fizzled. There was no lightning, no thunder, just an overwhelming need for sleep.

I slept in the car. Though I had a great curiosity about the shifts that might occur in the landscape between Tampere and Helsinki, I had to at least rest my eyes. I don't know if I slept, it didn't feel like I slept but I kept my eyes closed. At one point, I opened my eyes and looked at the two other passengers sharing the back seat with me and they had collapsed on one another, one pressed firmly against the window and the other sprawled across her, her fur coat making it look like an unusual twin with one Japanese head and one French head had wrapped themselves in the skin of an animal for warmth. This is my only concrete memory from the drive.

We arrived in Helsinki. As I awoke, the people in the front seats debated how best to drive around the massive Olympic stadium to find our Hostel. They consulted maps but only after consulting one another about the logical placement of roads and the inaccuracy of the construction of the stadium. "The Hostel should be right here". They consulted the map, they made a plan to follow a truck that seemed to find a route that had a secret entrance. We found the Hostel.

Do we have a reservation? yes. Can we check in? yes. Check in, fill out forms, show ID, go to room, make bed, drop off stuff we don't want to carry, back onto the icy platform that served in winter as a parking lot to regroup and take the city by storm. Everyone speaks English. No problem.

We walked to the Tram and decided to make our first move - we would take this tram and not the one that had been recommended. We were going rogue! Our carefully laid plans (actually, I had not made plans... I had just come equipped with desires of experiences for the city) but the plans of our group began to unravel here and now and the city began to do what the city would persist in doing for the next 24 hours. The thread had been pulled loose from the fabric and it would unravel now, slowly and consistently until we left the place and plotted course to new destinations.

Lunch, was weird. That's kind of all I can say about it. We entered a building that apparently had 3 or 4 restaurants in it, though it appeared they had 2 restaurants. We switched tables no less than 3 times until I finally decided I would go to the place where I could order my food. All sandwiches in europe come with mayonnaise on them. You have to know the word for mayonnaise in every possible language and to reiterate your disgust for / fear that some mayonnaise may contain a vinegar to which I'm allergic repeatedly to increase the odds that you'll get a sandwich with no mayonnaise. During my stay here, these efforts to make plain that I think mayonnaise is the excrement of Satan have produced the following results: 4 sandwiches blessedly mayonnaise free and 3 sandwiches with surprise mayonnaise filling. Anyway... I couldn't order a prepackaged sandwich. All sandwiches have mayonnaise on them in Europe, especially if they are prepackaged, so I had to go to the restaurant where I could order food ingredient by ingredient. Lunch was a struggle. It was not just the throbbing that had begun shortly after we arrived in the city (probably from the vodka), nor the fact that I was famished and we'd just done an inelegant dance trying to locate the table that would prove we were in the restaurant where we wanted to be and would result in receiving food but it was a question of desire and purpose that made it a struggle. Plans, no plans, wants and wishes conflicted based on the strength of the personality asserting theirs at the table. I had to relinquish control of my own questions to a guidebook printed only in Japanese and Finnish that was translated by a dear and sweet person who I am not always certain understands what I've said. I think I was speaking lowly. I think I was being too casual in my language and not paying attention to our language barriers. During lunch, I took the entire burden of the intensity on myself. I doubt anyone else felt the weight I did. I was probably projecting anyway, so in that way, the blame did belong to me. But blame... maybe a bad word to describe it. Responsibility? dunno.

I wanted to go to the zoo. It was my biggest desire for the city, to go to the zoo. The Japanese / Finnish guide book said I could go, it was open and there was a ferry. I announced that I was going to make the effort to go to the zoo. I headed out on my own to find the ferry.

to be continued.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


"Newscasters, previously dutifully reading the official notices, have begun to question the accuracy of previous reports." - Sky news.

"They've been telling us that the radiation levels aren't high enough to worry but there remains the question of whether or not they're telling us the truth. I am very worried." english translation of a street interview of citizen of Tokyo.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


In Haukijarvi, Finland, I'm not able to use my phone. I could use my phone but it would be costly and I'm not here that long. At first it was entirely decided by the cost but the longer I go without looking at my iPhone to get email, twitter feeds and calls, the more I forget that I have a phone. The technology that drew my attention to it 40+ times / day because of its multi-functionality in the US has become an ipod and a place where I use my music generator apps much more than I think about the possibility of receiving anything from this device from the outside world. It has become a private device. I am quickly, and gladly forgetting what I perceived to be my "need" to be connected.

I realized this was my growing feeling about constant contact when I got the news, several hours late, about the earthquake in Japan. A friend at the residency was very worried because of her lack of contact with a wider world. Contact with family and friends who live in Tokyo. Remembering 9/11 and the flood of phone calls into and out of New York, power failures and other disruptions to the constant communication infrastructure that day left people in and out of the city worried and confused about the safety of their loved ones. We looked, that day, at our cell phones cursing the fact that they can't actually do everything that we want, they aren't magic and life is bigger than the place they hold in it. Within 7 hours, my friend was able to contact her family and they are all safe. It was a relief.

It's been a long time since I've waited so long to get information about something big. There are times and reasons that people may withhold information from me for days or even weeks but that is a different kind of relationship than the democratic access that I've come to believe is embedded in my phone (right under the sim card I guess). It was an emotional and exhausting day. It left me without words and wanting to be very private and disconnected from the technologies that might give me the immediacy of information and facts that I had craved those many hours that I couldn't make that connection.

I've been following the problems with the Japanese nuclear reactors since the following morning and have great fears and concerns for the impact these dangerous devices may cause for so many in the world. I began this post thinking I would talk about the hypocrisy of the people in Washington DC who have been promoting nuclear as a "clean fuel" option. I guess I did just talk about that but somehow the 7 hours of disconnect, emotion and fear for the family of my friend feel larger in my heart than the criticism of others at this moment.