Putting Omens on hold

On All Hallows Eve and the following morning, I wore a dyed leather eyemask of green leaves and antlers, with an accompanying outfit–the Green man of medieval art and myth. Days later just after describing my costume to a friend I encountered another pair of symbols: a remarkable leaf colored bright green and yellow, with rich crimson veins, and a sidewalk art fixture making reference to “the Green man of Portland. I felt in my bones that these three signs were some sort of portent for my life.

So I snapped pics of the fixture on my cellphone, came home and shoved the leaf in the fridge with a damp paper towel, and promptly forgot about the whole thing for almost a month.

Today I pulled out the Omens to contemplate them, and I wondered–what culture do I live in, what manner of man have I become, that I would treat such signs and wonders as bottled inspiration–a spiritual snack to be put on ice until it’s convenient to enjoy it?

I think we’ve become a society with both the means and the necessity of storing and organizing information to be processed in the cracks around our busy and rigid schedules. But paradocixally, we actually have preposterous amounts of free time, even among the working classes, but so much of that is taken up by processing an incessant and overwhelming information feed, often of trivial matters. After all, when I arrived home with those omens in hand, it was late, I had work early next morning–and I still needed to check my updates on Facebook!

Now, it sort of worked.  Using technology to preserve the imagery helped me to recall that experience weeks later, and process it with some semblance of authenticity. But would I want to make a habit of that? If the Infinite has something to say to me, do I really want to dispatch some weasely Personal Assistant to take a memo for me and present it to me at next morning’s daily briefing? I want to be–I PRESENT myself as–a person who’s in tune with the spiritual dimensions around me. Doesn’t that mean living in the holy moment, taking the time to gratefully and courteously accept that which enriches life as it comes to me?

In all likelihood I’m going to continue to check Facebook, work for the man, and multitask my mental and spiritual attention for some time to come. But I’d like to remember not to treat numinous gifts with such cavalier presumption.




9 Responses to “Putting Omens on hold”

  1. November 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Hey Joel,


    I was recently at my mom’s graduation ceremony, in Victoria. She graduated from royal roads with an MBA specializing in leadership. Pretty cool stuff. On the ferry ride back to Vancouver, one of her classmates (who I know from my early childhood) saw me and came over and talked. She talked about a fascinating spectrum of topics, mostly to do with leadership and global development, in a breakneck and scattershot fashion, which made it hard for me to participate in any other way than as a listener (which was OK given that I’m interested in those topics and didn’t mind listening). She ended with something that I was really intrigued by: “I foresee information management becoming a major field in the next ten years. Consultants who come in and work with people to figure out how to organize this abundance of information in their lives.”

    Which I think is really true. In a post-industrial, information-centered society… we are inundated with media & data, and sifting through it and determining what we want to focus on is hard. Our “free” time isn’t free, because its dedicated to prioritizing and information management and social networking and time management (as in the “how do I want to spend this Saturday afternoon” time management). Can we be intentional about this stuff, and create peace and serenity for ourselves, spaces where we can be truly peaceful and apart from all of that “information management” stuff? Yes, definitely.

    But it’s probably tricky. I don’t think its coincidence that the person (and to extrapolate, people) thinking and talking about the advent of information managers was herself scattered and all over the place. People with vision are usually not detail-oriented people. Those are two different capacities.

    Assuming that’s true (that vision and details are two different capacities, two different skill sets, w/e), then it’s my understanding that, at the point where your information management skills and metacognition end (and your organized, unified life is replaced with a laundry list of disconnected “duties”), you kind of have a choice: sacrifice the vision to the details, or vice versa.

    Does that make sense? If so, do you agree? I dunno – that’s a bit of a “here’s my theory” response, but I wanted to share it.

  2. 2 storybythethroat
    November 23, 2009 at 12:03 am

    That makes sense to me, Joe, and I think you (or your mom’s classmate) could be on to something. We are in the grip of information overload and stimulus overload, and it stands to reason that we as human beings will find some way to cope with that. Hip futurist literature generally postulates the easy prediction that future generations will simply BE info-glutted and un-grounded and like it, I’d like to think that there are other ways to adapt. Tearing it down is one way of “adapting,” or the more personal implementation of taking yourself off the grid. Barring that, can we really do anything more than cope? Can we flourish instead? Is an emergent role of “information manager” a possible solution? I don’t know, but it sounds interesting.

    I’m reminded of Douglas Adams:

    “The Electric Monk was a labor-saving device. Dishwashers washed dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.”

    See, I feel that the greatest pitfall of information overload isn’t that we’ve got a glut of input per se, but the disconnectedness that results when life is overwhelmed by information streams and social networking platforms that didn’t exist in bygone times. I grew up pre-internet, and it seems that a person’s thought life was a lot more grounded before Wikipedia was available to summarize the breadth of Buddhist philosophy for you, or Twitter and Skype appeared to give us instant low-effort communication about anything and with anyone. there’s something to be said for silence and solitude to focus your thoughts, and for the space to formulate them own your own without the world’s library as crib notes for your worldview.

    On the other hand, I find the opportunity to drink from so many wells of wisdom, insight and beauty irresistible, which is why I’m here surfing at midnight when I have a wife and baby asleep in the next room and work early next morning. So I don’t know how grounding happens in an era when even my most hippie counterculture friends are appearing on Facebook. Strikes me that tools for focusing attention are vital–and maybe your friend’s “Information Manager” idea is a road toward that.


  3. 3 Julian Michels
    November 23, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I ask myself whether my soul masters and uses the massive information availability, or whether that sea of information masters and overloads my soul.

  4. November 24, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Hey Joel,

    To answer the questions in your first paragraph (in your response), here’s what I think is up with the world:

    The more disparate a set of elements is, the harder they become to assess, understand and work with. By “harder”, I mean that it takes more energy, yields less satisfaction, or is possible by fewer people.

    To see an ecosystem threatened and think “I must be a steward”, this is a daunting task, but you can envision it, and you can dedicate yourself to it, and progress is visible and rewarding.

    To see an ecosystem threatened and think “I must clear up the garbage here, and clear the fallen branches from the hiking trails, and maybe build a deer fence near the highway, and figure out how to reduce carbon emissions, and educate hikers on how to preserve their ecosystem, and spend time hiking myself, and meditate in the thicket, and watch the sun rise through the trees”… well, that’s all much more daunting, much harder to envision success with, and success will probably feel less invigorating.

    Similarly, understanding how data/information/media/this modern age fits together and forms a complete whole is important, because otherwise we have a thousand fronts upon which disparate pieces of information bombard us, and that is stressful, draining and ultimately absorbing.

    In my understanding, management is seeing and coordinating the bigger picture, and fitting the otherwise disparate elements into them. Effective management shares this vision with everyone involved, so that everyone feels rewarding by the pieces that they are working on. Ineffective management withholds this information for itself,leaving those involved feeling the drain of a thousand fronts.

    Sense? Thoughts?

  5. November 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm


    To be 100% clear on my intent with that last comment – I’m sharing a story, a story about my perspective and how I understand the world. There is no demand that you adopt my story, just a hope that you’ll appreciate it.

    My questions “[Make] Sense? Thoughts?” are there to invite your questions and your stories, and to say “I’m okay with you stepping on the toes of this story and breaking it down, if that helps to explore it.”

    Which is a bit of a strained use of “tell a story, ask a question”, but I’m hoping you’ll “interpret generously”. :P

  6. 6 storybythethroat
    November 26, 2009 at 11:54 am

    We’re good Joe. The “tell a story” guidelines aren’t about literally saying NOTHING unaccompanied by personal anecdote. It’s more like a good faith commitment to speak from your experience in general and to accept others’ experience as valid. Which you’re WELL within the bounds of.

    Oh and sharing knowledge and research is TOTALLY telling your story, so long as it’s not used as a club.

    So, more energy, less satisfaction, etc: this totally accords with my own experience. On the creative level I’ve always got this massive mental list of aspirations: write a novel, write a roleplaying game, draw comics, write music, perform music, be a storyteller, be a poet. . .and on and on and on. And I’ve never been able to muster the gumption to really go gonzo on ANY of those, because my energy is so diffused. My wife understands this better than I do, which is why she’s been reluctant to enter into creative ventures with me, preferring to do things she can devote her whole energy to.

    (gosh I’m dangling a lot of prepositions today!)

    On a more practical level, I’ve noticed this principle in action with all kinds of mundanities like paying bills, cleaning the living room, doing dishes, and so forth. My wife will see a big tangled mess and start feeling overwhelmed and stressed and drive herself nuts working on it. I, on the other hand, see the big mess and write it off as insurmountable and ignore it until disastrous consequences loom. That combination is NOT fun for a marriage, let me tell you!

    The times when it works is where we partner up to manage things, and even then we tackle them in simple steps, focusing on one problem at a time. Come to think of it, this is a lot like that “information manager” idea in action, since Annie has a strength for organizing, planning and processing information, which works great WHEN I support and help her. Similarly, I’m working on a web discussion community project with Willem and Gilbert, which has been working precisely because we all have different expertise to bring to bear, where any one of us would just throw up our hands and say “fuck it, it’s a great idea but I don’t know how to make it happen!”

    So maybe partnerships are the answer? Small clusters of creative and working relationships that bolster strengths and fill in the gaps of individual weaknesses?

    Hey, that sounds like community. I love community!

  7. 7 buriedwithoutceremony
    November 27, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Sounds like the right track!

    “this massive mental list of aspirations: write a novel, write a roleplaying game, draw comics, write music, perform music, be a storyteller, be a poet.”

    So, to pursue this information management idea further…
    What’s the hierarchy, in terms of priority and skill and investment, between these things?
    What knowledges and skills are useful for several or all of these?
    How can you cluster these?
    How can you transfer these skills into other aspects of your life?
    How can you transfer other aspects of your life into these projects?

    How does X benefit Y?
    How is X Y?
    How can you go from saying “I care about A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” to saying “I care about the alphabet”.

  8. 8 storybythethroat
    November 27, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Ooh, I like that! Finding the commonalities between different interests, so you can develop skills that bolster them all? Brilliant.

    Sounds like answering all those questions could be a life’s work. But that’s good. Creative life is a work that’s perpetually renewed, and perpetually rewarding. If you can overcome inertia.

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