Tag Archives: Creativity

How to survive a Vegan Challenge

Did you take a look at the picture? Suppose that didn’t make it easier? Hope you weren’t hungry. Otherwise, just remind yourself of how unhealthy hamburgers are. Or just go buy one. Anyhow, if you’re doing a vegan challenge or plan to do one, here’s how to survive it.

Don’t do the challenge between Carnival and Easter
Jesus did a 40 day ‘no-food or drinks challenge in the desert’, right? And that’s what Christians relive between Carnival and Easter, so there should be 40 days between Carnival and Easter, right? Wrong. It turns out that Christians can take a break from their fasting every sunday, and since there are 6 sundays between carnival and easter, doing your challenge during that period makes it a 46 day challenge. That means Christians are pussies if you compare them to, for example, Muslims. Or to me. Also: February is the most depressing month and omitting cheese and meat from your diet at that moment makes it even worse. So if you’re a diehard, do it, otherwise pick 30 or 40 days during another period of the year. Summer, for example, when you can live on light.

Eat bird food
If you don’t eat the actual birds, do make sure you eat their food, or you’ll run out of content. Chia seeds, wolfberries and hempseeds are some very good examples of bird foods that appear to be quite nutritious. The best way to eat them is in yoghurt. Not real yoghurt of course, that’s made from milk. You can buy or make soy yoghurt. Do leave some seeds for the birds, or you convert their quick and painless death into an everlasting time of agony and starvation. But you probably will, leave them some, because they’re not particularly nice. Except if you add honey. Then they taste like honey. And don’t even start on how honey is unvegan.

Soy up
I visited a vegan foodplace for the occasion. Want to know what I saw in the kitchen? Pallets full of soymilk. I swear. Okay one pallet full, but still, there was a tower of packages on it. Whether it’s the vegan hamburgers, the carrot cake or the cappuccino, everything has soy in it. So you’d better get used to soy if you’re going for the challenge. Or start a mungbean juice revolution. Seriously.

Swich to supplements
Going vegan, I ran out of fuel quite quickly, and my uncle still had one of those baskets of protein supplements made of, you guessed it, soy. That helped. Later I ran out of fuel again, and my mom happened to have some B-12 pills. That helped too. Of course I don’t know if they were placebos, but they gave me courage, and will do the same for you. So go ahead and back yourself up. Nobody said you had to hurt yourself.

Don’t go to Spain
Here’s what you’ll miss. Calamares. Fuet. Tortilla con Patatas. Jamon Iberico, Boquerones. Patatas bravas. Empanadas. Lomo saltado. Chorizo. Horchata. Paella. Any tapas. Sepia. Pannekoekens by your cousin (don’t ask). Chocolate mousse. Bacalao.

Be creative
Since I’m the type of person who wants to find out everything for himself, I wasn’t inclined to visit any blogs of foodies or the instagram pictures of yoga girls, and instead did a few inventions. I would highly advise you to do the same, because this is how you truly break your own behavioural patterns and bring some care back into the kitchen (which, I believe, is the real reason why people are vegan). If you want to ignore that advise and would rather be told what to do, here’s what you should do: 1) make a mustard based dressing and add it to your pizza and all other dishes. 2) eat sorbet. 3) steam onion to the core, and eat it on proper bread with some oil, salt and pepper. 4) deep fry tofu. 5) use indian curries, but check the E-numbers. 6) make soy yoghurt for your bird food and steamed onions. 7) did I ever mention broccoli? Eat broccoli. 8) use Saffron for bouillon in your stew.

Don’t eat mushrooms
They’re basically water in a coat. Okay, eat them for the taste or if you want to hallucinate for that matter, but don’t expect anything else back. Eat nuts instead. Or go nuts. Your choice. Oh by the way, this also applies to celery.

Look forward to the compliments
Indeed, if you present your non-meat-or-diary diet to your friends as a vegan challenge, which is recommendable because it is the decisive argument to end them from bothering you with their paradoxical morales, they will appreciate your heroïsm. They will even congratulate you with it when you’re done. And that’s what you do it for, is it not? Precizely. Live towards it.


Fear Spiders

If I dream about fear, my own fear, it is often embodied by a poisonous spider. The spider in my dream frightens me especially on moments when I cannot see it.

In real life, spiders only scare me if they are larger than my hand and faster than my arm. In dreams they emotionally disrupt me. They often co-occur with the collapse of my house. In a recent episode, there are giant moths involved, about 30 cm long, which have been eating the foundations of a wooden top floor. They live symbiotically with a black widow in her nest made of half composted, tar-smeared branches. The spider is hiding somewhere deep inside, behind the eating larvae which quickly evolve and fly off. I know I will encounter it when I clean up this nest. And it won’t be happy.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who, albeit below the surface, has a fear for spiders. I do wonder what causes that because honestly, they’re not that dangerous. Only a few exceptional specimens could kill you, but you’ll have plenty of time to find the antidote. It would make far more sense to dream about poisonous snakes or about an aircrash or a bulldozer falling un top of me, because those events are far more threatening. Why the spider?

A spider is generally blackish and has eight legs with which it runs rapidly and with a very light tread. More often, it sits still, hiding in a dark corner, or somewhere on its self-built sticky and artistic web. Most spiders have beautiful patterns on their back which deserve a better look. They are hunters. Top of the food chain. Prevent the blood from clotting, then suck their victims dry. To humans mostly harmless.

My mom and sister used to panic when there was a wolf spider in the house. Motioning after them, I did too. As the man of the house, I had to gradually learn that the easiest way to get a spider out of the bathtub, is to let it walk onto your arm, get outside and push it off the place of your body were it felt comfortable to stay. A spider is most scary when it runs, because we don’t know where it is going. The aspect of the unknown. I think her sudden speed also reflects the suddenness with which our fears present themselves to us.

Do spiders in my dream reflect my mothers fears from when I was a kid? The explanation is interesting in combination with the collapse of my house. The loss of control over my limited, constructed understanding of myself and reality. Is this fear culturally inherited? Is it psychologically entangled with the cognitive challenges of our childhood?

There’s another hypothesis I’d like to propose; one of more mystical nature. It’s connected to the number eight. The sacred geometry of it. In semi-dream mode I sometimes have visions of octangular, tunnel-like structures that seem to be a passageway to a certain insight or to my subconscious. The vision sometimes evolves into spider shapes, and even into highly detailed images of spiders with nice, colourful back patterns and fangs. It seems meaningful sometimes, as if these spiders have something to do with the access to my subconscious. Hiding in the dark, unknown corners of my mind.

The spider. A small, powerful entity that makes our imagination go wild. One day, she’ll trap the bug that ate from my corpse.

Off the Net

I have made writing into my duty. No. Life has made my duty of writing . That´s closer to the truth. Or is that last thought just my way to hide from myself that I am addicted to writing? I get itchy when I don´t for a while. As if I’m cheating my responsibility.

A group of friends and I have been chilling out and running through Heidiland for the last couple of days. There’s no internet. We swim, we eat, we drink, we climb and lavish on life. Meanwhile, a part of me feels the need to make an unknown contribution. It has been several weeks since I´ve taken up the pen, and now that it´s touching my notebook again, it feels as if a certain amount of built up pressure naturaly releases itself into the paper. At the time I wrote down the title, it felt as if my nervosity was linked to the fact that we’re without internet access for a week, but the stream that just opened between my belly and the paper reveals otherwise.

The more general thing is that I need to feel usefull.  Establish something. Add some value to life somehow. Being in the richest country in the world, surrounded by the ideal of succes, adds the feeling that I’m doing it wrong. And not being able to participate in my daily reality doesn´t make it easier.

I think that being usefull to the wider society is tempting because it is a morally responsible way of distracting ourselves from… well, from what actually? Our inner contradictions perhaps? Our obsession with solving them? From thoughts that emerge out of the darkness? From the actual darkness? Then again, I believe that real usefullness also confronts you with the darkness you try to run from. As a way to devour it. Digest it.

I expected I was missing my life and that internet was a way to access it. Yet what I was missing in this case was the feeling of pen on paper. My way to contemplate. What I needed to see is that I had to adjust to a different kind of balance: that of a group on holidays, where all of us have to look for our own ways to put our talents into practice, while the mountains make us feel small.

Being off the net together symbolizes that. Facing your life from a distance. Confronting the question of use. Reinventing the answer.

Programmed soul

I recently had a conversation with a webdesigner about The Grid. The Grid is a website builder that uses ‘Artificial Intelligence’ to design websites according to the demands of the user and makes it look attractive. It will launch soon, and I’m considering to try it out. My conversation partner told me he believed human minds will always be necessary for this kind of thing. I replied that I wasn’t sure. One of the most striking films I recently saw on this topic was Her. In it, a program and a human become friends. I don’t want to spoil too much, but at some point the AI composes a jolly song. It’s fiction of course, but the story is self-explanatory and makes it credible. I bet it’s not the first time you hear that Artificial Intelligence is rising and taking over our jobs or even our lives, but have you ever really believed it? I’m starting to. If you would have asked a person before the war if a computer would ever be able to beat a human in chess, the answer would have been “No!”. Today, computers beat all champions. You could argue that chess is limited to the board and the predictable movements of the pieces, and therefore easy to calculate. Then, you could say that thoughts and words are unlimited, and that their sounds and meanings are too subtle for a computer to get, let alone to create with it. My answer would be: maybe. It might depend on how you program the AI. Let me take writing as an example. I’m not a grandmaster, but I’ve been doing it for a while now. A big part of it is technical: you attract attention with a title, build a structure of intro, middle and end, and try to choose your words such that they mean something. Build in some contrasts, break some grammatical rules. I don’t think people would disagree that the technical part is easy to learn for Artificial Intelligence. It’s the lived aspect that is harder. The part where emotions come in. Where meaning comes in. Where the sounds of the words dance around in your head. Where senses are triggered. The rhythm. Knowing what works and what doesn’t. Re-reading. Disagreeing with yourself. Making impossible choices. Creating symbols and metaphors. And yet when the text is done, there was only so much that a writer could do: the rest is what the reader creates for herself. If google can learn to recognize voices, can’t there also be a recognition of emotions in the tone of the voice? It’s all sounds, no? If facial recognition is possible, aren’t facial expressions the next step? With the increasing sensorial finesse of AI based systems, it could well be a matter of time before AI can discern a good wine from a bad one. Or a good story from a bad one. Give it control over the story, and it might improve it. I think another crucial thing to program is hunger. The insaturable need to take up information. To learn. The program should have limits, which force it to create. Digest, get stuff out. And it should be able to grow, but with a limited speed. Those are probably the hardest things to program, yet they have been attained with bacteria. Peristalsis, perhaps? I’m not an expert. Finally, to increase its status as a creator, the AI should have a drive to be acknowledged. If nowadays you can measure much of your societal recognition by the amount of views and likes of your webpage, then a ‘like = good – no like = bad’ algorithm should do the trick. Of course, you could further improve it with video information of people reading the words. Add up the factors and computers could become better at creating art, marketing themselves and being loved than humans ever have been.

Psychoindustry – II

This is a school.

More precisely, it is a secondary Montessori school, which is one of the freer kinds of Dutch schools, where children are supposed to follow their own curiosity and where the role of the teacher is to facilitate that. This school hosts about 4000 people, who spend the majority of their adolescence here. It’s where their minds take shape.

In 1973, Edward Relph wrote his dissertation on ‘Place and Placelessness’. In it he worked out a theory on how the place we find ourselves in shapes our feelings, our beliefs and behavioural patterns. We identify with our places, and partially become them. The theory is used by some architects, and proof for it is accumulating in psychological studies.

Take a look at the school again. Straight, squared lines, regular shapes. The rooms enable just distribution of space, equal for all students. The place is fair, overseeable, easy to cope with, efficient and justifiable to whichever authority paid it. An efficient school to efficiently educate kids into efficient members of society. It does look a bit like an industrial grid, doesn’t it?

Without looking at important factors such as the educational rules and programs of this school, or the structure of society in general, I think this building has huge impact on the development of the personalities of the younger generations. To speculate: it may increase a person’s preference for a predictable life where he or she feels in control. It may subconsciously decrease creativity, openness to the unknown and innovative thinking, but strengthen skills such as the capacity to structure data, perceiving people as numbers and following rules. I believe that school buildings such as this one stimulate more machine-like, cold and lifeless attitudes than, for example, a school composed of little huts in a forest. More industrial minds, capable of more industrial decisions. In that sense, the building fits the age.

Below a river

The Ebro Delta. We just had a delicious comida in a restaurant on poles in the sea. My aunt is driving her car, exited because with its far-stretching flatness, this landscape looks like her country of origin. With its palm trees, great egrets and temperatures of 30ºC and above, it looks a lot like Spain to me. Exactly as I want it to.

I consider taking a picture, but I don´t.  The inclination triggers a thought. Every person is a unique being with a unique path and unique experiences. I am now sitting here in the back of a car, perceiving a landscape in which people have grown up, raised their children and found their way back into the earth. By taking a picture, would I have overlooked them? Capturing this landscape would be a visual reference to my own passing through it, far less meaningful than theirs. Do I even have the right to claim this land and take it home?

And those who would see my picture stand even further from the place than I do. To them, It would likely just be another image that drifts by, along with an ever-increasing amount of others. It would instantly erase itself from their tiny memories and remain hidden in a dark corner of an enormous database of forgotten stuff. With what purpose?

Some people believe that humans are on earth to experience. Some say that these experiences are stored somewhere in a collective field of knowledge. The idea would explain our tendency to so carefully document the things we see and hear and think. You hear objections to that behaviour nowadays, but I don´t think it´s fundamentally bad.

And yet there is something tragic about it. However well we try to put the moments we experience in forms and works, there always are essential aspects that slip away. We can photograph, paint and write what we want, but the intangible besieges our existence, approaching us continuously from angles we instantly forget. On the plus side, perhaps this feeling helps us live with the fact that similarly to the pictures, words and ways we once so passionately held on to, one day we too will disappear.

A plea for the space in the smiley


Which one looks better? Number two, right? Then why does everyone write smileys like the first one? If anything, that one looks as if it’s being squeezed.

Here’s a hypothesis: it’s because of a false sense of rush. People feel the need to hurry, and can’t afford to tap the spacebar between the colon and the bracket. They believe it is acceptable to write a smiley as a frog’s face. Everybody does it, after all. If this is true, they are caught in a system of neglect. For vague reasons, they renounce the use of details, character and happiness. Watch the pictures once more if you are not sure.

Maybe it’s because when you type it without space, some programs replace your signs for a little smiley image. This explanation is even worse. It means that people place their creativity in the hands of some machine, coded for commercial reasons. They believe that industrial outputs are better than their own, and therefore let their acts be controlled by it, even when they are not working with that program. Very sad.

Or perhaps people feel that the bigger the smile, the happier the face. Those people I’d like to ask to stand up, walk to the mirror and try it out for themselves.

Putting the space within the smiley is an act of resistance. With this space, one shows that he does not succumb to the degradation of the creative mind. One shows control over the own agenda and willingness to offer a tiny bit of extra time to the reader, just for the sake of his joy. The user of this space tells the world that he cannot be pushed in the direction where our surroundings or inventive marketers try to get us.

Don’t you agree that society is saturated with colours, smells and yells? Using this space shows that you too believe in a world where absence of information is appreciated. It symbolizes faith in a more easy, gentle and comprehensible society, where things can happen at their pace. Isn’t it wonderful that this can be demonstrated with something simple as a smile?

: )

The Legend of the Lost Driver

“Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately we can find no driver for the train. We are currently asking permission to drive the train ourselves.” You see, this is why the Dutch people look upon the Belgians as “not that bright”. They just have odd ways. Our difference can be explained logically by the fact that back in the 16th century, the Belgians hunted the free thinkers and the rebels away towards the Netherlands.  “He who’s without sin throw the first stone”, I hear some close friends call out. You’re right, but let’s focus on the Belgians for now.

We happen to have a Belgian fellow traveller, Manuel, so I dare not mention the day we saw a car with a red and white licence plate drive in reverse over the highway’s emergency lane, to get the exit he missed. Manuel is a long haired fellow with a very tidy beard which reminds me of Edoras, the king of Rohan. He is a free lance theatre builder, enjoying his job because he gets to see the best moments of his clients. Strange though it may seem he is making his way from Amsterdam to London for a weekend trip. Good for us, because he is nice company. But I don’t mention the fact that he’d use the word “bag” to say “mug”.

“I’ve never driven a train before” says Manolo. “I am going to see if I can drive it maybe.” Like us he is slightly agitated because the delay is 30 minutes already, and it appears to become a big one. He has to catch his train to London in Brussels. “This is my chance to drive one”, he says while he walks through the door towards the driver’s wagon. I find the situation charming. It is an answer to my annoyances of late, about society’s obsessive demand for qualified experts in everything. Such demand kills creativity. Besides, how hard can it be to drive a train? The thought touches a pain in me, but that doesn’t hurt. The train starts driving. My sister and I are convinced that it’s him behind the wheel. When he comes back, mentioning he stayed away for a while because he hoped we’d believe that he was driving the train, the conversation flows. I keep my mouth shut about the life threatening highway near Verviers, for which they advertise near the road by putting up signs with the amount of lethal accidents that happened there last year. My sister congratulates Manuel with the world record Belgium recently set in ”longest parliament formation duration”. 541 days.

All of us are a little sad when we finally reach Brussels with different destinations.