Author Archives for Ellen
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude – but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete …
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real – you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues”. This is not a matter of virtue – it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home – you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job – and so now, after work, you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: you have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your cheque or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etc, etc.
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people.
Or if I’m in a more socially conscious form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just 20 stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks …
If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do – except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible car accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a much bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am – it is actually I who am in his way.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat-out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line – maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible – it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important – if you want to operate on your default setting – then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: the only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”
Source: The Guardian – David Foster Wallace ‘Plain old untrendy troubles and emotions’
I still have Infinite Jest lying in my bookcase, for the most part unread. I made posts about the book here, on this blog. But it is hard. For me right now. I want some lighter reading.
But i will read it, someday!
This commencement speech is very well thought out. It is almost hurtful to hear the audience laughing at certain passages. Maybe because they recognize something? Something they do experience in their own life?
I don’t know.
I only know myself. The past two and a half years i’ve been working hard on myself. The work is never done. There are failings – times i don’t want to bother – times i’m occupied with myself. Any excuse. Really. But yes, working hard. Smiling at people i walk by on the street. Helping people as much as possible.
Helping a lady at the check-out counter in the supermarket, to get her groceries on the band. And when she is finished helping her to get her stuff in her rollator.
Helping a woman to get a parcel in her bag. I saw her standing at the side of the pavement struggling with it. I simply asked her. Do you need any help?
Talking to a man shouting in the city center, about how people hate him. Walking up to him and telling him: I don’t hate you. What you say doesn’t count for me.
Simple things. Not things i am proud of. Because i see so many more things. So many more people asking for help, and not getting anything.
This world is cruel.
I still need to learn so many things.
This is water.
This is water.
When i started to make things for showing online, i did have some friends who i met on the internet. Erika, her name then – it has changed now – was one of them. She maintained a website called the Archeology of the Frivolous. Even though she did stop maintaining it, the website is still online, i’m happy to say.
I remember when i started out and wrote to her about it, she wrote back giving me the url superbad.com. I immediately fell in love with that work, the moment i saw it. Ben Benjamin made the website in 1997. I’m really happy to see the website is still online right now.
Lotus, trunk, ape, muscle, puppet, reel, accident, green, bingo. Among other things.
Our current monitors are a bit too wide really for this website. I intentionally made the window smaller. A 1064 x 866. I did look for a window resizer, in which i could type the usual size of that time, a 1024 x 768. I didn’t find it, sorry to say. I had no intention for installing an addon for it.
Looking back at it, i see the influence this website had on my work. Especially homebase. Not the content, that is all mine. But the way of navigating through it is all influenced by superbad. I admit, this is the first time i can see it this clearly. It feels like this is so obvious. I almost feel embarrassed about this now.
All i can say now, please go through superbad.com. This is the work of someone so creative, so playful with the material he has. In looks, in code, in titles, in naming. I love it. Still.
I do hope this site will be online for a very long time.
Today was a gardening day. I started a bit earlier than usual. I was on the garden around a quarter past one. I got some thistle out around the garden, put the parasol in the table. It was warm. *ish
It was a good day. Talking quite a lot with all the people working. Also talked about my personal situation. Something i hardly do. I enjoy keeping the garden as this free space. In which i learn so many new things, meet so many lovely people, have such a wonderful time.
I was back home around half past seven. Tired. So tired.
I still feel tired. I did make a salad for dinner. Some spring onions, radishes, lettuce from the garden, a bit of cottage cheese. Simple food. Also watched a bit of television. The mind of the universe. I did not agree with everything. But some things shown are special.
I knew i would throw the I Ching for tomorrow’s post. So.
26. The Abysmal, Water, with many changing lines.
Then The Taming Power of the Great. Hmm. Seems pretty good.
But really, i feel too tired to think about it thoroughly. Good night. Or rather, when you read it, have a good day.
I started this post with looking through all the images i uploaded to see if i could find a good one. I ended up with a text drawing i made while i was at work, my old work.
Hey I’m Ellen
Sometimes i’m on Top of the World
Other times i’m Down the Dumps
This Time i’m gonna Save The World!!!
A completely different tone than i had in mind when i started to think about writing this post, earlier today. A good one.
The title of this post, An empty life, feels a bit more resigned. It is the reality of my life. Over the past thirty years, since i’m living on my own, emptiness is what i experienced. Not in a terribly unhappy way. I wasn’t crying all the time, no. But i was looking for friends. Looking for someone special. Many times i thought i had found this person. But no. Still not. Friends came and went. Sometimes i left, other times my friends left. Now i’m alone.
My silent period, 2006 – 2014, is the time i had given up. I stopped trying to make it all work. I left everybody. Or everybody left me. There was no argument, no fight. There was hurt. But i don’t think anybody noticed that. There was one moment with a friend. She got angry. I left it at that. I talked about it before. Such a small thing, looking back at it.
I played World of Warcraft. I do need some form of human contact. Some of them are still on my friends list in facebook. One is even the only subscriber to my newsletter. Yay!
The past two and a half years i did feel happier than ever before. Working again! Yay! And yes, i did get back in contact with my old friends once again. But it was different. Eight years of silence works inside of you. I don’t think i can call them friends. I like them, sure. When we meet we talk. It is pleasant. Nice. Sometimes even more. But that is it.
Some kindred spirits become friends in the fullest sense — people with whom we are willing to share, not without embarrassment but without fear of judgment, our gravest imperfections and the most anguishing instances of falling short of our own ideals and values. The concentrating and consecrating force that transmutes a kinship of spirit into a friendship is emotional and psychological intimacy. A friend is a person before whom we can strip our ideal self in order to reveal the real self, vulnerable and imperfect, and yet trust that it wouldn’t diminish the friend’s admiration and sincere affection for the whole self, comprising both the ideal and the real.
A talk in the garden, two or three months ago. I said it there. I have no friends. A surprised look. Of course. But i insisted. Not anyone to reveal my real self to, vulnerable and imperfect.
Well, apart from this place.
I know, there are not that many visitors. I sometimes feel like i’m talking into a deep darkness. Nothing comes back. But i keep going on. Because i do feel there is still a need inside me. There are still stories to be told. There are still stories to be discovered. In me. Out there.
I have many wishes. Like my wants list i published last week. That list is not even complete. But i do want to achieve most of those wants. My life is nowhere near complete. Nowhere near done.
And yes, money. Sigh. Next week my bank account will be frozen because i’m in the red for too long. I’m still not sure what i will do then. I still don’t know where my life will be at that time.
My biggest wish. To continue working here. Making five posts a week. Some of them long prepared. Some thought of that day. In a glimpse of inspiration. I’d love to keep on working here. That is my biggest wish. Or want.
My life is empty. I have some things i do. Going to the garden. Talk with the people there. Smile. Make jokes. Make photos. Learn new things.
But yes, on the whole, empty. Not barren, no. Not infertile.
An empty life, ready to be filled up. Some things will stay, other things will fade away. Hopefully i will meet people i can call friends. Another wish. Want.
But in my empty life i am.
Whispering. Talking. Smiling. Looking.
Today it was the first day of working at the fruit garden at the old Station Hofplein. Going to the market earlier than usual, around 10.30 this morning. I only needed vegetables for a new soup, milk for my oatmeal porridge, butter and cottage cheese.
First, it was warm. It still is. Tomorrow it’ll be even warmer. Not sure how i will cope with that.
It was also busy. People who read about the opening in the newspaper came by, people from a municipal area commission were present, a photographer, someone making a GoPro time-lapse movie. There was lentil soup, a vegan herbal butter, a normal herbal butter, turkish bread. Coffee, tea, water and syrup. Cookies!
I did some thistle pulling. I worked on the herbal butters. I wandered around a bit. Sat beneath Wijnand who was singing songs in the middle of the garden and danced along. Talked with Ronald while we were having the lentil soup. Put my shoes off, walking with bare feet. Filled watering-cans with water for Daniël and Jeroen planting grapes at the fence. Made photos. Sat below the roof of the old station, in the shade. It was warm. Helped at the end getting all the stuff together and bring it back to the Peace Garden, at the other side of the train rails.
I did talk. About this website. About my money situation. Talking about my dreams, about the stuff in my mind is the most important thing for me, right now.
To save the world. For people to notice me. Even though that is really hard to achieve. Because the noise of all the people talking and showing and being in the world is deafening. And i’m not a good shouter. So i’m still not sure. I can see it though. Across. I can feel it. In my bones.
I’m simple me. Lonely. Yes. There is a thought, a dream inside of me, which is pressing on me. Pushing me. Which i cannot let go of.
This world. It is painful to watch. Sometimes. Politics, science, business. All people talking and chatting and mumbling and shouting, watching each other, eyeing each other, making money, living their lives. Kissing and loving and hating and fighting and killing.
This dream. Of me meeting someone else, in public. Falling in love. In public. Getting known. Becoming famous. Living my life on, each day a new day. Changing the world. As we live on. Changing how people feel. About this world. About themselves. Fighting. To make this world a better place. As some of us already do, right now.
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I have no idea if there is anything true in what i feel. It is like completely dark around me. A place to feel my way forward.
And yes, sometimes it scares me. But not all the time. Because in the end, i feel, i should live my life courageously.
Not going the expected route.
Living my life for myself. Dangerously. What i want to do.
So yes, it was a full day. Warm. Good.
Making this video was on my mind for the past few weeks. I’m happy i made it. Twice. The first one failed, it was longer and my iPhone blocked. This one is a bit shorter. Muis the cat comes by too.
I do remember the experience of sitting there. Listening to all the little sounds. Outside. The clock ticking. Bird whistles. The darkness, while my eyes are closed. The light when i open my eyes. The memory to the first time i sat there, only a few minutes before. Not being able to repeat what i did then. Lifting up my hands. Touching my face. The weightlessness of my arms.
Different each time.