Tao of the Zentropist

September 12, 2013

Rivers, Lakes and What Lies Between

A fundamental rule is that life as we know it cannot exist where there is no water. Particularly human life. Perhaps as a result of having origins which lie in some primordial soup, as conventional science would have it, or the undeniable fact that the majority of our body is composed of water, there appears to be a natural craving for water which somehow transcends mere biological necessity and speaks to some impulse embedded in the human subconscious.

As important as fresh, potable water is to survival, even the presence of seas, oceans and other saline bodies of water invariably draw human settlement and exploration. We understand instinctively that water is a life-giving force, yet also has the potential to unleash terrible destruction, to inflict suffering, and to transform geography and topography given sufficient time and/or force.

And still we are drawn to water, and the very things at once concealed and revealed where it flows in abundance.

THE NATURE OF WATER

Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine by Winslow Homer

“Incoming Tide, Scarboro, Maine” by Winslow Homer. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Water is famously comprised of two hydrogen molecules bonded to an oxygen molecule. At a chemical composition level, a deceptively simple concept. Of course, water may contain far more particulate matter; depending on locale, various minerals, salt and sad to say, contamination in the form of man-made pollutants are all possible. When water is heated sufficiently, it transforms from a liquid to a gas, vaporizing as steam which can produce electrical power, be used for cleaning and sterilization, or even to remove wrinkles from clothing. If captured and cooled, the gas condenses once again and returns to the liquid state.

When chilled to the point of freezing, water transmutes to a solid that we know as ice, useful for refrigeration, or to reduce swelling, or to chill drinks on a hot day. The very versatility and adaptability of water is spoken of by sages, as is the flowing nature evidenced in its liquid and even gaseous form.

There’s much to be admired about water, and at times, some to be feared. Such is the nature of water.

RIVERINE DREAMS

Rivers often provide means of navigation and transit for animals of all kinds, humans included. They often provide sources of irrigation for agriculture, allowing not only human habitation but the development of cultures and civilization. The biblical Garden of Eden, whether a fanciful story, amalgamation of ancient memories, or very real place was said to lie at the confluence of four rivers. Many great civilizations and cultures have been able to materialize, at least in part, due to the presence of a significant river, particularly those of freshwater nature.

I often view rivers as being in partnership with the mountains, since so many carry rainfall and even snow melt from these lofty elevations which reach towards the infinite vault above us, and even connect these timeless titans of the land form to the mysterious seas and oceans. To travel a river is to be enmeshed in a rhythm which exists of its own accord, even if shaped or altered by deliberate or inadvertent human intercession. Ask any who have heard the siren’s call of a river, much less its cousin the sea, and you will come to better understand. Over time, rivers invariably alter the landscape, particularly the terrain upon which they flow, carving away features and smoothing and polishing the rock and banks which contain it. There’s a magic to rivers, if one is only willing to accept this, perhaps not in some metaphysical sense but at the very least in the sense of the wonder and even awe which may be invoked in those sensitive to such things.

Rivers provide a sense of direction, and even a sense of purpose to everyday life. A river has purpose, and that purpose is to flow, whether using brute force to overcome obstacles and obstructions through sheer volume, or more often than not, finding another path offering less resistance to bypass that which stands in the way. This naturally does not suggest sentience in a manner in which the word is used with living things; the river simply is. And in being so, that is enough.

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF LAKES

"Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)" by Winslow Homer. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

“Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” by Winslow Homer. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

If rivers are to be viewed as dynamic forces, lakes might be described as repositories of potential, as many feed mighty rivers, are fed by them, or provide the necessary resources to enable life in many forms to make its living above, around, on the surface of, or submerged beneath the captive waters. There are lakes so large and mysterious as to provide the same kinds of challenges to mariners as the largest and most treacherous of oceans. Some exist at high elevation, lending beauty as well as life nurturing sustenance to alpine redoubts. Others may be found far closer to sea level or more modest elevation, collecting and dispensing waters which may have traveled significant distances before arrival. Lakes have many facets, not all of which are immediately obvious, and this warrants active exploration and quiet contemplation for those so inclined.

In the stillness of waters, there is something quite profound.

In the gentle flow of waters, there are many voices which speak, not in any tongue spoken by man, yet in a voice which the human heart and soul can interpret if given the opportunity.

In the raging torrent of waters, energy is most clearly manifested, indifferent to that which seeks to impede its progress, yet neither deterred nor readily swayed. It acts as it must, not with malicious or malevolent intent, but because this is the order of things and that order is ultimately inviolate.

COMING FULL CIRCLE

True understanding may only come upon acknowledgement that there is much that we do not know, and our acceptance of this reality. As surely as we are shaped by past actions, we are influenced by environment and our response to outside agencies. What we cannot control, we may seek to redirect and even release. The currents upon which we travel, seen and unseen, give shape to our journey and our understanding thereof. Rivers provide passage both inward and outward, and the very pulse of life in the world around us is mirrored in the ebb and flow of life within us, vis-à-vis our circulatory system.

What one finds is often predicated upon what one is looking for. Nothing is perhaps as blind as the person entranced by what is being sought and consequently unable to see that which otherwise may be revealed in stark relief when viewed through a different prism or unclouded eyes.

Rivers and lakes are worthy in their own right of our time and attention, but it is what lies between in the hidden confluence which ought to demand one’s focus and consideration.

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November 28, 2009

The Zentropist Now Appearing on Inqbation

Filed under: General Business,networking,Uncategorized,writing — zentropist @ 7:50 pm
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While we’re long overdue for some updates to the Tao of the Zentropist (which will be remedied soon), the first in my series of planned regular contributions to Blake Newman’s inQbation blog have been recently published. Feel free to check out the postings below:

“Learning from Failure”

“The Power of Imagination”

“How and When to Hire a Consultant”

As always, your comments are welcome…

May 17, 2009

Writers Facing the Double-Edged Blade of Technology

It’s hardly an original observation to acknowledge that technology is a double-edged blade, capable of delivering enormous benefits to users when properly employed, yet also facilitating the destruction of careers, professions, cultures and even economies as either an intended or unintended consequence of its utilization. Certainly, the “flattening” of the world which Thomas Friedman has persuasively written about for several years now could not have happened without the build-out of technological infrastructure during the 1990’s, which has in turn facilitated the off-shoring (a sub-set of traditional “outsourcing” to freelancers) of many jobs which were once performed domestically.

This off-shoring trend has been great for low-cost nations such as India and China and parts of Eastern and Central Europe, but not so great for developed nations such as the United States, where for better or worse, many of us have grown accustomed to a certain standard of living. Some might call it opulent, some might call it irresponsible (and in hindsight, clearly unsustainable), and arguments about carbon footprints aside, many Americans, irrespective of educational levels or actual skills, have come to feel entitled to a rather free-wheeling approach to spending money and accumulating material goods and comforts.

Like many others, I’m a member of the business social network LinkedIn, and belong to a number of “special interest” groups. While the global recession is hurting a lot of people in a lot of nations, there’s a lot of bewilderment and pain evident among white-collar professionals, many of them well-educated, suddenly realizing that somewhere offshore, there is a counterpart willing to do the same work for less money. Sometimes for far less money. This has impacted the professional writing and communications/media community (i.e. journalists, copywriters, marketers, consultants, authors of fiction and non-fiction alike) especially hard from what I can see. For anyone dealing primarily in intellectual property or work that does not depend upon a physical component necessitating locality (such as one form or another of manual labor or public/private service), the Internet is at once both a channel and tool to cultivate new opportunities once ignored due to distance, yet also increases competition exponentially.

Understand that capital, like energy, follows the path of least resistance. Those who grew comfortable pulling in solidly middle class, if not upper tier incomes, and more often than not assumed debt loads to finance these lifestyles, have been completely sand-bagged upon learning that they are indeed replaceable. Such knowledge ranks right up there with the realization of one’s mortality and seems to carry the same intensity of emotional baggage.

Writing has always been a profession that many people devalue and largely dismiss, since after all, anyone that has any degree of literacy “can write,” so those that earn a living doing this are not typically viewed as performing a service which is magical or mysterious. Brain surgery is mysterious. Building a bridge or building is mysterious. Even composing a symphony is mysterious. Writing a script or novel? Hah. Swing a dead cat in Los Angeles or New York and you’ll take out an aspiring screenwriter and/or novelist without doubt.

Blogging and “Internet journalism” are rapidly displacing traditional media in terms of audience reach and relevancy, and with the apparent decline in journalistic standards and integrity, the line between professional and amateur journalist is increasingly blurred.  Journalists and other writers accustomed to being paid by the word for print publication are now horrified to discover that rates that in some instances could formerly exceed $1.00 per word for a particular piece of work are now dropping to mere pennies per word, since in a universe where one’s work is now simply “content” and SEO (search engine optimization) is more important than a clever turn of phrase or providing the reader with insightful analysis or thought-provoking ideas, most publishers don’t correlate high quality output with traffic. Rather than pursue or encourage excellence (and pay rates in accord with this outcome), there’s a marked tendency to settle for “good enough,” which is a rather low-lying bar these days.

Writers that wish to “fight back” face an uphill battle, but not one which is unwinnable. Creating and marketing the writer “as a brand” is an absolute necessity, and using digital media to find and connect with an audience is vital to the successful prosecution of this strategy. The plethora of digital channels for delivery of one’s work has lowered the barriers to entry, and is likely going to make many traditional publishers largely irrelevant in the coming years. To be sure, there is still prestige associated with having one’s work published in print by a major name (be it a newspaper, book publisher, etc.), but as more consumers turn to digital channels to consume “content,” I suspect the distinction will fade. Portents of this are already appearing. For example, Amazon’s popular Kindle book-reader will allow bloggers to post their work directly to the unit, which in turn gives equal weight (in terms of presentation) to an undiscovered writer working in obscurity as it does to a best-selling author with a major publishing deal. The difference between them (which is clearly not insignificant) is audience reach, and the willingness of readers to pay for the enjoyment of accessing that writer’s work.

If this global recession teaches us anything, the lesson that we can take nothing for granted must be first and foremost. For those that use the written word to connect with others, whether through articles or columns appearing in traditional print media, advertising, film and television, or digital media, we must be cognizant that if we wish to earn a living from our work, we had better deliver a meaningful or otherwise valuable experience to the end user/consumer, or we will quickly be rendered irrelevant.  After all, plenty of others are more than willing to take up the mantle, and far too many will happily do so for free…

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