Books

I really love books.

And I also love reading.

Those two loves are connected, but they really aren’t the same thing. My love of reading is about expanding my knowledge and creativity. It is a way to fill my mind with magic and science. Reading allows me to fill my intellectual quiver with new arrows as I battle my way through life. When I read a book on one subject I can usually use that knowledge for another… a book on Buddhism hints at the polyamorist idea of compersion, a business book can relate to ethics, a fantasy novel connects to religion, etc.

Books, on the other hand, serve a different purpose. In today’s world, I could easily (and more cheaply) read using a Kindle or on my computer. Technology allows me to read just about anything and glean knowledge from the works of millions of people. Books are not necessary for reading, but they are something I value.

Having a full bookshelf is not necessarily about what I plan on reading. If I’m being truly honest, I’ll probably only really read half of the books currently on my shelf, and I’ll probably buy dozens hundreds more in the future. Books are about signaling and sharing. My shelf is a signal to my guests what my interests are. It shows that I love science and mysticism, sex and economics, psychology and poetry, the classics and modern literature. The books on my shelf relay a message about the subjects that I’d rather be discussing instead of the weather or small talk. My bookshelf tells people that yes, they can ask me about my thoughts on sexual fetishes or God or anarchism. (And yes, you can borrow any book)

And I think that’s okay.

Books are not holy artifacts that should be hidden away. They shouldn’t be elevated above the very human need to communicate our interests and advertise our passion. Books allow us to connect with humans quickly and easily, to signal that we have similarities or that we are educated on some subjects. The social benefits of the bookshelf can’t be found with a Kindle or online resources.

I love having a full bookshelf and books are probably the one thing that I will continue to buy as I move around the globe. There are boxes of my books in at least three cities right now and hopefully I’ll get them back… but if I don’t get them back I hope my friends put them on their shelves, even if they don’t agree or know about the subjects, because that is a little piece of me in their life. I may not be in pictures on their wall but if there is my copy of Urban Tantra or Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? on their shelf that will make me smile.

Books are beautiful, amazing, tools that help us humans relate to each other through space and time… and so is reading.

Post Script: I also enjoy the act of reading a book over a Kindle and I find it easier to take notes and retain the information… but that doesn’t take away from the social aspect of book ownership.

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Consumption is Key

In my experience, the best way to bust through writer’s block (or any block in creativity) is to consume more and more things. Now, I don’t mean “consume” like “spend money on a bunch of stuff or buy the newest gadget”, I am a minimalist after all. What I mean is, when the brain hits a roadblock it is usually good to explore new intellectual avenues and build some new neural networks. We live in the most amazing time in human history, the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips for free would take a thousand lifetimes to even begin to peruse. That information can help push us past our limits and help us discover new answers to our questions.

Consumption leads to creation. Just like the food we eat turns into fuel for our activities, the experiences we have turn into the things we create. And, like food and exercise, the more diverse and rounded our experiences are, the healthier and stronger the things we create will become. The body needs more than just one type of food and one type of exercise to be great and art needs more than just one perspective and one tool to be great.

Personally, I have a few “go to” services when my brain is stuck. Sometimes those services make intuitive sense. For example, maybe I’ll go to the library and pick up a book about writing (“On Writing” by Stephen King is my favorite) or I’ll check out a course on creative writing at Coursera.com.

Not all of the stuff I consume is based purely on writing, but they help my writing just the same. I’m working on improving my math skills through Khan Academy, which can help with logic and problem solving. I meditate using the Headspace app, which brings me a calmer mind and helps with focus (okay, I technically pay for this app but there are free options). Or maybe I read a book about Buddhism or business or psychology or some science fiction or philosophy or astronomy or pagan rituals to give me a new perspective on the human experience and how to communicate (or take Coursera courses about these things). Also, music and tv can help encourage new mental pathways and perspectives and, of course, video games (though, I find video games and tv/movies are the most dangerous sources of motivation because I can easily form an unhealthy relationship with them). I also enjoy looking into creating things in all the arts…. painting, dancing, cooking, drawing, etc can all make you a better writer because they round you out more as a person, they give you new adventures and perspectives.

There is, as always, a danger that consuming materials will start to become the goal instead of the act of creating. That risk is present with all things, that we will use consumption as an excuse to not create… but nobody ever said thriving in life would be easy. Ease and comfort do not lead to creation.

The Souls of Black Folk

Today, I finished “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois.  2016 is a year in which I am trying to broaden my horizons a bit and read books by authors who are very different than me. February was Black History Month and in honor of that I started with Du Bois.

This book, written at the beginning of the 20th Century, still rings important today. There are lives and institutions discussed during the reconstruction era that could have been written today about race relations in the United States. In a sense, the country is still reconstructing from the Civil War. Much of what was discussed was very new to me, in part because my education on this subject was woefully inadequate. It was barely discussed at my high school in the Pacific Northwest, and even my American history course in college in South Carolina it was passed over quickly.

There were times while listening to this audiobook that I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation that wasn’t meant for me. As a white man a century removed from Du Bois I felt like the personal stories and criticisms he directed at the black community were not mine to hear. But I kept listening, and because of that I am able to understand the black community just a little better. It is a small step, but one in the correct direction.

As is often the case with primary sources from other eras I had a hard time following a lot of the book. My mind began to wander as Du Bois detailed houses and families in regions unfamiliar to me, and I will likely need to revisit this work from time to time so that I can gain more wisdom from it. The real benefit to me was the way it started to chip away at the barrier (or “veil” as Du Bois called it) between myself and people different than me. I hope this will broaden my mind and make me more empathetic to others. It is so easy in this day and age to trap ourselves in a bubble, to feel loyalty to a tribe and view everyone else as an outsider.

The struggle I will face (as many people do) is to continue my education on this subject beyond one book, and really beyond books in general. Taking classes and reading books can certainly create a greater understanding, but moving beyond the books is what I need to do to transform my life. It is fitting that as I write this I am on the Texas/Louisiana border and am only days away from entering the deep south. Over the next two months I will be biking through the rural counties and cities of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. As I enter this world that is very different from the one I grew up in I hope Du Bois words stay with me and I can appreciate the culture and history that took place here. I’m not sure what to explore next in this area, maybe something during the Civil Rights era.

Perv Part 1 – “We’re All Perverts”

After a little break from any type of serious reading or writing I decided to pick up “Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us” by Jesse Bering. I am only through the first chapter but I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. Instead of only diving into the quirky physical nature of humans Bering wants us to both be more comfortable with the sexual deviant in each of us, and more understanding of others. He wants a world where people are judged for their actions, and not their thoughts.

Bering sees a problem with a world where we hide our fetishes. When we hide what we feel and crave we are putting on a mask, the same mask as everyone else, but we are pretending the masks are real. Our realities become a lie, a lie that we have all tacitly agreed to honor even though underneath the masks we are suffering. To ignore what you feel, to pretend it isn’t there, to act “normal” all the time bears a significant cost on your mind and can be harmful. And we go to great lengths to keep this sexual facade up, to the point where we work to dehumanize anyone with sexual perversions, we compare them to animals when they are very human.

Bering points out that all too often we fall into the “naturalistic fallacy” when discussing sexual norms. I know that I’m guilty of this in my defense of polyamory. We turn to nature and point out that other animals have open sex, homosexual activities, and multi-partner relationships, therefore it is not unnatural for humans to do this. Unfortunately this puts us in the same category as fundamentalist religious people who make the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” comments… basically they say sex is naturally for reproduction therefore if the act doesn’t lead to reproduction then it is unnatural. They are wrong when they resort to nature, and so have I been in the past. It may have strong rhetorical value but, as Bering says, “invokes a moral judgement against those whose sexual orientations are not found in other animals. Furthermore, even if we were indeed the lone queer species in an infinite universe of potentially habitable planets, it’s unclear to me how that would make marriage between two gay adults in love with each other less okay.” When we resort to the nature we spend so much time trying to defend it from an evolutionary point of view and stop asking the important question: is it harmful?

Sexual desires themselves to not cause any harm. They are firing neurons, a mental movie theater, an internal thought. Treating someone poorly or differently based on thoughts and urges that are beyond their control is a gross form of discrimination. We can’t help what we are attracted to. We should only pass judgement when someone acts on urges that cause harm to others, and maybe we should even congratulate the “perverts” who are open about their desires but don’t act on them if they are harmful.

We are all sexual beings. The lady at the grocery store, the old man on the park bench, your parents, grandparents, and siblings… they have all likely pleasured other people into orgasmic bliss. There is a serious danger when you criminalize thoughts or criminalize acts that do not have any proof of harm. Allowing governments to use force as an agent of morality means that someday those moral police may be turned on anyone if public opinion shifts.