The Myth of Sisyphus

So, according to Camus, Sisyphus was happy with his predicament.

Huh. Hadn’t seen that one coming, but kinda makes sense.

“Finally, he is clear on the fact that the purpose of life isn’t to live as good and comfortable as possible, but it’s to live as much as possible. It’s to have a zest and a passion for reality no matter what it brings you, and this isn’t at all dependent on the world but on each of us.”

Capitalist-Consumerist Ethics

As someone who is by no means innocent with regard to the following tendencies, yet has been working to be more self-reflective and step out of the cycle, this passage from a book I am reading struck me last night and though long and slightly out of context, I thought merited transcribing. It’s relevance to this time of year is oddly coincidental (Fortuitous? Prophetic?) as well.

“Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology (‘Just do it!’) to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression.

It has succeeded. We are all good consumers. We buy countless products that we don’t really need, and that until yesterday we didn’t know existed. Manufacturers deliberately design short-term goods and invent new and unnecessary models of perfectly satisfactory products that we must purchase in order to stay ‘in’. Shopping has become a favorite pastime, and consumer goods have become essential mediators in relationships between family members, spouses and friends. Religious holidays such as Christmas have become shopping festivals. In the United States, even Memorial Day – originally a solemn day for remembering fallen soldiers – is now an occasion for special sales. Most people mark this day by going shopping, perhaps to prove that the defenders of freedom did not die in vain.

The flowering of the consumerist ethic is manifested most clearly in the food market. Traditional agricultural society lived in the awful shade of starvation. In the affluent world of today one of the leading health problems is obesity, which strikes the poor (who stuff themselves with hamburgers and pizzas) even more severely than the rich (who eat organic salads and fruit smoothies). Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over.

How can we square the consumerist ethic with the capitalist ethic of the business person, according to which profits should not be wasted, and should instead be reinvested in production? it’s simple. As in previous eras, there is today a division of labour between the elite and the masses. In medieval Europe, aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries, whereas peasants lived frugally, minding every penny. Today, the tables have turned. The rich take great care in managing their assets and investments, while the less well heels go into debt buying cars and televisions they don’t really need. The capitalist and consumers ethics are two sides of the same coin, a merger of two commandments. The supreme commandment of the rich is ‘Invest!’ The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ‘Buy!’

The capitalist-consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect. Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty rough deal. They were promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideas that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum.

In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist-consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, though, do we know that we’ll really get paradise in return? We’ve seen it on television.”

-From Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

The Perceived Power of Places

The photo above is of my family on a beach near a house that my wife and I lived in before we were married and for a while briefly after.  I spent hours on this beach walking my dog, running, just, sitting. Hours. It has always held a special place in my geographic heart. It was a very different time. We had no children yet, radically different jobs.

Recently when we visited and I took this picture I was struck with how powerful my attachment to the place was and how the photo itself seemed to say so much. Pretty much everything that has happened since living there could be considered encapsulated in it.

I then started thinking about why it is that places manifest such feelings and emotions in our memories and brains. They are after all just places. In this case water, rocks, sand. Impermanent. To another person, it would just be a beach, and not necessarily a very inviting one, yet whenever I’m in town, I make an effort to go back and visit, and just sit and absorb some sort of power I feel from the place.

I don’t think it’s the place that is generating the power though, it’s merely a milestone or a reminder of a place in time. I have friends, a couple, that I often debate music with. We talk about songs that used to hold such power over us and yet when we hear them now, they just don’t seem really, well, all that good.  We laugh and wonder, was our taste in music really that bad? The songs still touch a certain nerve in our memories and we can’t easily dismiss them.

“Place and time,” they like to say to me, “place and time.” Meaning that the song isn’t necessarily what is so great, but the memories that it evoke are. The song was great at the time, and hearing it again resurrects that, often quite vividly.

When I visit this beach, or indeed, the small town nearby, or the subdivision we lived in I certainly feel that, but I’m realizing that the place is in most ways immaterial, and what holds the power is the feelings and memories that it conjures.

The Escape Machine

Today when lunch rolled around and I’d had my fill of corporate buzzwords, ‘make the logo bigger/bluer’ and flipping through 1,038 internet channels of everyone riding bikes across Estonia other than me, I did what I often do: I had a minor internal freakout, asked myself how I got here and what the hell I’m going to do to get out, and realized the only real answer was to go for a bike ride with no purpose or destination.

I find myself doing this far more frequently these days and thankfully, some years back I assembled a bike for just this purpose that lives in the basement of my building of employment. When the voices in my head build to a roar and my internal Captain sets a course straight for ‘fuck this shit’, I jump quickly to a firepole and descend 3 floors to where my steed awaits. Well, I don’t actually have a firepole, I have to use the stairs, but that firepole idea and imagery is just FANTASTIC.

The purpose-built bike waiting I have painstakingly cobbled in an effort to create the most simple bicycle I possibly could. It’s a beater frame, rescued from a dumpster and draped with all manner of parts-bin finds. If it had a gruppo it would be called DERELICTE. It has no gears, no brakes in the traditional sense, and absolutely no sex appeal, thus enabling me to leave it practically anywhere with minimal risk of theft. Any common street hood who jumped on it and make a speedy getaway would probably be immediately bucked to the pavement by the fixed gear drivetrain. It requires little-to-no maintenance, operates in any weather on any type of surface and requires zero special equipment or shoes to ride it. It doesn’t make a single sound when you ride it. It’s like the concept of motion manifest in an assemblage of steel, aluminum and rubber.

But so much more than an inanimate object, by animating it, I am freed from the bonds of work, office space, expectations, bills, email, recycled air, screen glare and incessant machine humming. I know there are studies and science that support and/or attempt to explain this phenomenon, but really, I don’t care why it happens, only that it does happen. Over the years I’ve tried various substances, meditation, inversion boots (well not really inversion boots, but I needed something else to make this list seem more extensive), witchcraft (again, embellishing) and even jazz (for real) and found nothing that soothes my inner-savage beast like a bike ride. For awhile I was hung up with requirements I placed on the distance or effort of these rides, but I’ve now realized that these metrics aren’t important. A 15minute destinationless, wandering loop at sightseeing speed can have the same effect as a 100km multi-hour epic. It is hard to remember that though, until you’re out, but once you’re out there’s no denying it. I’m sure the scientists will say it’s endorphins or pheromones or pherdorphins or whatever, I still just call it plain ol’ MOJO.

It’s so easy for us to get frustrated with our lives, jobs, people, karma, people who put long comma-separated lists in blog posts, the Universe. The Escape Machine humbles. The Escape Machine abides. As much as my job has lately been pushing my buttons and leaving me feeling less than inspired, I have to remind myself that at least I have the luxury of getting out, and the Magical Mojo Machine in the basement to escape with.

Poets of Instagram

I’ve really grown to love Instagram as a social media platform, it’s become one of my favourite places to visit online. It’s currently the only social media app I have on my phone.

I enjoy the nature of it – the fact that it’s primarily visual. I’m pretty selective with who I follow and for me, it’s a visual hit of inspiration whenever I check in. In some cases, folks have gone one further and are using their Instagram accounts as more of a blog, including lengthy, well-composed posts as the captions to their photos. Indeed some of them have an Instagram account as their sole online presence, nothing else, not even a personal website.

That said, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites – people I feel are really doing something different, unique and inspiring with the app.

Captain Winter

Eric Larsen (@elexplore) is a polar explorer. That’s a pretty cool job title. I don’t know the all the details of exactly what that entails, but I think the general gist pretty obvious. He’s a guy that digs the cold and winter. He’s on a one-man-mission to try and get you to as well. His Instagram feed is full of fun and inspirational photos and commentary about trips to the coldest, whitest areas of the planet.  He throws around some great stay-warm tips as well. As a fellow fan of winter, I know how much fun it can be. I also have discovered lately, that the more I get out in winter, the more I enjoy and embrace it. Conversely, when I’m not able to get out due to the to-do list or schedule, it’s a lot harder to tolerate winter and morale suffers. When the calendar is crunched and I can’t fit in a snowshoe, sometimes a choice post from Eric will suffice and keep the winter mojo going to the next outing.

The Bicycle Craftsman

To anyone who’s been around in bikes for a long time, Richard Sachs (@therichardsachs)will probably need no introduction. The guy has been hand-building bike frames since before it was the new artisanal thing to do. In the world of bicycle as art, he’s an Old Master. Although he’s been building some of the best bikes in the world for almost 40 years, he recently ‘reinvented’ himself, for lack of a better word. He built a new, solitary shop and returned to building bikes the way he’d started, one at a time, by hand, with hand tools. In the process he has been sharing his reflections on the industry, life, his craft and topics like passion and drive, all via his Instagram feed, often accompanied by some great photos of both bikes and process. You don’t have to be a fan of bikes to appreciate his posts on inspiration, drive, and why we do what we do.

Honourable Mentions

A few other cats also holding it down on the ‘gram and continually turning out inspiring content:

  • @slimwonder – Repping the Dads and bikes set, with bebop flava. #sockgame always on point.
  • @allhailtheblackmarket – Punk rock, discontent, skating, bikes and art. Through the disgruntled lens of middle-age.
  • @coldbike – Another winter nut. Bikes, Dad skills, kids, adventure.
  • @outsideisfred – Shenanigans.
  • @hotsaucecycling – Elite World Cup Cross Racing. Shoestring budget. Canadian, eh?
  • @targetsalad – Good espresso pulls. Mule Deer. Dad life. The World’s Most Interesting Bike Club.