Tag Archives: Element

Vegan Challenge

For the coming fourty days, I will eat and drink solely plant-based foods and drinks. I will succeed, except perhaps for a few mistakes out of ignorance (though I just took screenshots of a list of vegan E-numbers, and intend to verify them). It’s not my intention to permanently switch to a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. I don’t consider that necessary, but I do think doing such a challenge is a good idea for everyone. Since it is a topic of discussion these days, let me briefly give my views on some of the arguments.

Eating vegan is the more natural thing to do
Some vegans claim that eating vegan is a natural thing to do. They support this statement by pointing out some of our physiological adaptations to green food, such as our molars to chew, our long intestines to digest greens and our not so acidic stomach. These are supposedly signs that evolution adapted us to a fully vegan diet. For now, all I’d like to contest against this doctrine is ‘Vitamin B12’. That vitamin is vital to our nervous system, but can be found solely in animal products, in some very exceptional algae and in food supplements. The fact that humans would get serious problems (such as blindness) if we don’t regularly ingest B12 pretty much settles the argument for me. And I find the ‘natural’ argument a bit scary in fact. As if ‘cultural’ would be wrong. Depending on your definition, we humans have moved far beyond the ‘natural’. I don’t see that as morally wrong as long as we stay respectful, and I do not support such doctrines.

Eating vegan is healthier
Here’s an argument I haven’t researched that much. So far, I have lived by the principle that my body knows perfectly well what is good for it and what is not. Now that I’m thirty, I do admit that this outlook may be a little naive, since I would supposedly not yet notice the potential long-term damage I did to it in my early years. Yet following my appetite, I noticed that my food choice becomes heavier in winter, containing more meat, and more vegetable-based in summer, when I need less energy and fat to keep my body heated. I consider that a good sign. Of course, I cannot be sure if that is a mental of physical thing. Probably a combination.

Essentially, health is a complex thing. What is healthy for your brain, may be unhealthy for your heart, and what is good for your kidneys may be less good for your eyes or your nervous system. Food scientists discover new impacts of foods every day. Hence, next to following my taste, I have always tried to adopt a balanced diet and eating a bit of everything.

To stay within the discourse on health and veganism, some people use the argument that vegans get sick as soon as they eat a bit of meat. I wouldn’t deny that they get sick, but would look for the explanation in the switch of diet, rather than blaming the actual meat or dairy. And many people have allergies, intolerances or other medical conditions which would fully legitimize certain diet choices. Problems I don’t have, luckily. In the end, I’d say that avoiding illness requires a broader outlook. We should stimulate our capacity to continuously heal ourselves, which in my view is about untightening.

Vegan consumption reduces animal suffering
I’m all for the decrease of animal suffering. Whether an animal suffers or not, depends on how it is treated. Not eating meat at all means turning your back on meat farmers. Buying organic meat of the kind that focusses on animal welfare, on the other hand, stimulates a better practice. It could indirectly stimulate change in the standards of animal treatment in general. Thus using market forces, buying organic meat could decrease animal suffering in a way that eating no meat can’t. Let’s not forget also, that many of the animals we’re talking about would never have existed without us. Provided they enjoy existence, breeding animals could be a good thing. I would say that this conversation should be more about respectful animal treatment than about eating or not eating them.

Killing animals is wrong
I’m not happy that we have to kill other beings to survive, but that’s the bitter truth. Vegans, vegetarians and many others make a sharp distinction between plants and animals. Now, I agree that there are differences between the groups, but there also are plenty of things about plants we do not yet understand. And if there’s one thing in which plants do not differ from animals, it’s in the meaning of death. We are talking about the difference between being held together by life, and falling apart. I don’t see how plants and animals differ under that light. I believe that feeling the life flow out of you is a deeply relaxing experience to all creatures alike.

Vegans’ environmental impacts are lower
I find this the strongest argument against eating animal products (or for the reduction of it). Every step up the food pyramid costs ten times the amount of food and drinks as the previous step did. In other words: it takes 10 kg of grass to create 1 kg of cow, and 100 kg of grass to create 1 kg of human that fed solely on cows, while it would take 10 kg of vegetables. Keeping our position in the food pyramid low will inevitably reduce our impact on the global environment.

There is something unfair about this calculation, however, that I do want to stress. Grass can become new fertilizer. None of the ingested substances truly disappears. All of it will be given back to the atmosphere, the water and the land. The power of the global ecosystem has always been to keep the cycle intact. But: we humans have disrupted the balance, to a point where ecosystems are incapable of dealing with all of our waste. We could, theoretically, compensate for that ourselves and create new cycles that are more adapted to our taste for meat. However, we are far from having created such new cycles at the moment, and many of the valuable nutrients for our food are disappearing into the oceans. Hence it would be better for now to decrease our meat ingestion. Yet in this discussion, we should not forget that many plant products such as coffee, chocolate and plant-based oils have similar impacts on the global nutrient cycles as meat does.

Still taking the challenge
So, if I’m not against consumption of animal products per se, why still take this challenge? Well, first of all, not being anti doesn’t make you pro. I like meat, and not being discriminatory against it is by far the easiest way to go. Reducing my consumption of it is nonetheless still a good idea. Besides, I am not fond of habits that have taken control over me. I take yearly month-long brakes from coffee and alcohol, and I decided to do that with animal-based products as well at least this year. By doing so, I force myself to explore different behavioural patterns, and I expect that my outlook on food will expand. I suppose I’ll have a bigger palette of habits and dishes at my disposal after this period, which will decrease my animal-based consumption without me noticing.

I’m by far not the first of my friends to do something like this. Many have gone before, and I suppose that seeing them do it triggered it in me as well. But this is my choice, and I’m quite sure I will face some small conflicts with myself and society. For a short while, I will look into the faces of the pro-meat camp with the eyes of an anti. That may well turn out to be an interesting experience in itself. I do think I come equipped to disarm potential opponents.

Advertisements

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.

Pointain

Because it (still) is World Animal Day today, I’d like to tell you a story about a meeting with a cat. It really happened.

Paris, halfway August, 2009,

This must be the third metro I’ve seen go away, from my seat at the metro station Bonne Nouvelle. It’s interesting to see them come and go, they remind me of my thoughts. Yesterday night, I did the same thing with tourists in Montmartre. Observing lives pass by, as if they were never lived.

I was at home two days ago. My friends were gone, and I had little to do, so I hitch hiked to Paris in an impulse. Beautiful drivers, crazy drivers and boring drivers. Same old freedom, still fresh. Ended up on a couch at a juggler’s festival. Went on in the morning, and arrived in the early afternoon. I love Paris.

As I see another metro go, I write in my diary that I’ll take the next one. I keep putting down words, but within a few minutes, I hear the next one come. I stand up and see it slow down as the compartments pass in front of me. It almost stands still. Inside, in front of the door in the back, stands a darkish girl with thick black dread locks, not entirely unattractive, but not extremely well taken care of either. She is surrounded by a great deal of backpack-like luggage. Yet what strikes me most, is the black and white baby cat standing on her shoulder. I follow her compartment for another ten meters, then it halts. I get in and sit down in the hallway, a bodylength away from her and her little companion.

The metro accelerates. Everybody else seems to know quite well where they’re going to. I look at the cute little creature. It’s completely relaxed, looking around, then it looks at me. The girl picks it of her shoulder and holds it in front of her. It miauws. She starts shaking it in the air, and tells it how cute it is. It miauws harder, and lifts a paw in her direction as if it wants to scratch her, but she is several armlengths away. The scene breaks my heart.

“You should not treat a cat like that.” I tell her. She looks at me, then does it again. It pisses me off.
“Give it to me.” I say.
She does not react.

The metro moves on, stations come and go, surprised passengers half ignore the situation, while I get more and more pissed off. The cat looks at me sometimes as if it wants to come towards me. I’d swear it even reaches out to me with its paw.
“Give it to me.” I repeat in the exact same tone. My own calm determination surprises me. “I’ll take it to cat paradise.”
No response. More people start to be annoyed about her behaviour.

A few more stops go by, then she turns to me.
I hate her.
“Do you want a cat?”
“If it’s that cat, yes.”
“I’m going on a long trip.” she says. “so I can’t take care of it. Here it is.”
She hands it over. The little fella steps on my hand and instantly starts licking it. The metro slows down. The girl picks up her many bags and walks to the door. The metro stops.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Félix des Trois Points.” (Felix of three dots).
“Ah… Félix du Pointain…”

She steps outside. Without looking back at me, she walks off and exclaims a long high pitched yell. Sounds like release. The cat is calm, still licking my hands. I lift its tale. It’s a boy. Okay, now what? For one thing, I won’t get out of the metro here. I call my housemates and ask if they mind if we have another cat. They’re surprised, but they don’t mind. Good. I send a message to a friend to ask if she minds if I stay over with a cat. Stations keep coming and going until we reach the final one. Well I won’t get out here either, so I just keep carressing this little cutie. The metro goes back. Stations go by.

Looking back, I still wonder how he knew. At some stop, I couldn’t tell you which one, Pointain – that’s how I call him from now on – gets very restless, as if he wants to leave me. All I can do leave the metro with him in my arms and walk up the stairs together. Maybe he wants to go somewhere in particular.
We meet a middle aged lady on the street.
“Awww… that’s such a cutie, why do you have it here?”
I explain the story.
“Ow, that’s very good of you,” she lets me know. “I always find abandoned cats in Paris and take them into my house. I’d welcome this one, but I have nine already. What are you going to do with it?”
I explain that because the friend doesn’t respond to the SMS, I’d hitch hike back, but with a cat that could be troublesome because I might not make it before sunset and it could walk away while I’m sleeping. Instead, we will probably go pay a visit to my mom in Luxembourg, that’s not very far. We could look for the closest railwaystation.
The lady answers that I should wait here, goes into the nearest shop and comes back with a bagfull of baby cat food. She gives me fifty euros for the train.

Wow.

On day one back in the Netherlands, Pointain explores the entire house.
On day two, he climbs a tree, but doesn’t dare to get out, so I pick him.
On day three, he climbs the tree again. This time I wait with picking and he clims out himself. Step by step, face down, from three meters height (Cats usually descend tale down because their claws piont inwards. It’s a control thing).
On day four, he drinks French wine from the ground. I notice he has three dots on one side. Aha.
On day five, he learns to climb a ladder, the steps of which are as far away as he can reach. He never falls.
On day six, he still jumps on the face of our other cat Willem, even though he has many significant bashes by now and will again.
On day seven, he walks on a 2,5 meters high ridge, looks me into the eyes, wondering, I say “try it”, and he jumps down. A one time stunt I’ll never forget.

I’ve lived with Pointain for a year. People ask me why I didn’t take him with me when I left. I think he belongs to the place. He steals food from the neighbours, goes on strides in the region, takes on the local dogs… He gets love from the students around him. It’s rural there. I couldn’t bring him back to the city and see him locked in a house or poisoned by a neighbour for his unstoppable attitude. He is not my property, he’s my friend.

I saw him again last week. It was same old. Carressed him a little, he climbed on my shoulder, we had a nice chat about our lives. Then he left to play in the garden. He’s fierce sometimes, but very sensitive to those he loves. Great tiny being. Today, my love goes out to him.

 

The Mysterious Bird Shit

Take a good look at this picture. What do you think the artist tried to show with it?

Four years ago on a nice summer day, I entered my room and found a little house sparrow flying against the inside window. I opened the window, guided the bird to the hole, and it was gone. It took a few days before I noticed the white stain it had left on my black booklet. It struck me that even if the booklet was only about 5 x 10 cm, not a single bit had dropped next to it. I liked the pattern somehow, so I chose not to wash it yet.

Some months later I interviewed a remarkable man about his spiritual experiences in city parks. He was all about synchronicities. One day, he was biking through Amsterdam when the thought occurred to him that he should adopt a White Buffalo. They are very sacred animals according to people from the Lakota tribes in North America. The instant this seemingly crazy thought popped in his head, bird shit fell onto his knee. It triggered him to crowdsource a trip to the wild west. When after five days he stood at a ranch of white buffalos with the stain still on his knee, the caretaker pointed out that it looked like a portrait the one he just adopted.

That night I looked at my spot again and started noticing shapes. First, there was the skull with big black eyes and a strange short trunk, out of which it shot two little orbs. Then, a shooting star propelled out of the upper jaw as a tooth after sudden pressure. Its tentacles then turned the whole creature into a medusa swimming through a big void with shiny stars in its surroundings. It was only when I took its portrait that I realised that between its gaping eyes, on a spot that had dodged my attention thus far, shone a massive flaming third eye.

In some eastern and esoteric traditions, the third eye is an energetic point in our forehead that functions as a place for overview beyond physical thought. To me, it is a place out of which you can let your fantasy flow between the shores of knowledge and overflow them if you want. You can splash them violently, erode them gently, reaching out for new perspectives on things that have been observed forever.

Ever since I’ve redefined the bird shit stain this way, it reminds me of my relationship with it. Think about it yourself for a while. Where did this picture come from? Out of the air? Out of the berries that our flying fellah ate? The further you let your imagination reach into it, the more meanings you’ll find until, ultimately, you’ll know that somewere in a distant galaxy void, a lonely medusa skull hovers around and finally has the chance to look at you.

What does it see?

Spirals

I have to slow down to blow my nose. The napkin bill is going through the roof. It’s the time of the year. I’m on a two-hour drive to the sea-shore because I had to get out. The house is too small sometimes, the city too loud. My mind clogs together with the decor of my days.

The roads are narrow and curvy. Red and grey rocks lay spread over the landscape. Some edgy pinnacles rise out of the surface, giving testimony of more violent times. All that grows here are lichens and dry shrubs, stuck close to the ground to seek protection from whatever dangers threaten them. Plains are alternated by enormous rock formations as far as the eye can see.

As I drive, my mind wanders off, back home, where my habits and shield me from the fact that nothing is for certain. I am suddenly aware of the dusty corners of the house and visualise cleaning them. It presses on me now, but there is nothing I can do. The relationship with Isabella has taken over five years. The past week hasn’t been good. Strange fights over the least important things. Where the Indian cuisine originates from for example. Or whether we should or shouldn’t exchange the forks with the spoons. I saw a side of her I did not know so far. Childish, irrational, as if some force has come out that had been locked in there for years. It’s a new burden.

A tree, lonely in the barren landscape. It grows sideways, as if pushed down by an invisible hand, punished for its continuous urge to take more space from the vast and endless nothingness, which it mocks by its presence alone. Its print on my mind’s eye keeps ridiculing this whole site in the same way as the appearance of Isabella’s new face mocks her infinite beauty. How did this tree get here? Were did the seed come from? Was it blown from the outside? Has it always lingered, awaiting the moment where the rocks were softened enough by the rain? Perhaps there was a forest here before.

Shots of thought rush through the space in my head. The fights were disproportionate. They opened up paths to some long forgotten sides of who we are, pulling the rug from underneath our feet. We fell. The extent of it is still as unclear as are the consequences. The red stones around are merely observers of these whirling motions in my mind. They don’t know what’s going on, let alone do they take part in it. They’re old. Lay there, serving lichens and shrubs that eat them away in steady, painful perseverance. I wish they grew upon my mind, undoing it from all the random crap I don’t need. Perhaps they do. Maybe I should just water them.

Meandering, the road carries me further and further away from the inhabited world, nearer and nearer to the place where the land meets the sea. I turn on the radio, but all I hear is a distant and distorted version of the Ride of the Valkyries. I turn it off again. A pull on the wheel makes me hold it stronger. The fight goes on for a while, until after a few more bends, a fire tower stands out on the horizon. It has diagonal red-white stripes painted over it. It says: “here I am! Do watch me!” At its foot stands a little stone house with broken windows. Its brown wooden door is rattling. Some of the roof tiles have disappeared, revealing light wooden grid-like structure that once held them up. I park on an uneven rocky spot along the ending of the road. I grab my coat and my hat, and open the door which instantly gets pulled away, and I’m standing outside in the storm. It takes an effort to close the door. My coat flies out of my hands and gets stuck behind a rock, 33 meters ahead. I run to get it. Pulling the sleeves over my arms turns out to be no less of a hassle, but I finally succeed. I grab the keys out of a bush and walk back to lock the doors. I wonder why, but do it anyway. I don’t let go of my hat.

It’s hard to tell if it is stormiest inside or out of the run-down house. There is a broken furnace here and a gas bottle with a hole in it. A ray lights a closet. A bush grows through its bottom plank. Its branches eagerly try to reach out for some more sun in the room. Its roots hold on to the splinters of the broken pots lying around. The memory. Sudden flapping wings make me jump, and I see an owl fly off through the hole in the roof. “Odd. Its daytime” I hear myself think and a cloud casts a shadow over us.

I too go outside. The hair blowing in my face stings me a little. I try to get to the tower, but blasts of air hold me back with irregular force. Breathing is hard when the storm squalls into my throat, or when it suddenly pulls the pressure away from me. When, after battling the elements, I finally reach the towers door, I feel victorious and exhausted. Stairs spiral up, and I follow them to the lantern room.

“You always make me feel like shit” pierces her voice through my head. I see spit shoot out of her mouth. Disgusting. That issue wasn’t even worth mentioning either. Some conversation about the medicinal use of Melissa. What followed was increasing tension with accusation after accusation, reaching a scale that I couldn’t oversee. I tried to search for truth inside her words, but was blinded by the anger they conjured. Despair about her, about us maybe, and myself. The thought has taken hold of me. I cannot release the dark look on her face, as if she deliberately wanted to break the trust we’d built in all these years.

Near the top, a new gust surprises me, taking me back into the struggle of this place. The sea stretches further than I can see, though I have to close my eyes against the stingy air. I scream from the top of my lungs, but a new blast pushes my voice back into my throat. “You cannot get me!” I scream once more. For a second, I look the elemental force straight into the eye. Then, the fence I lean on gives way, and I am on the fastest track back to the rocks. My fall leaves me no time to think of any plan, and I would crush if it were not for the twister that captures me right out of the air, pulling me back up in direction of the sea. While my limbs whirl and twist, I am not sure if this unexpected salvation is fortunate or not. I try to pull myself together and move along smoothly, but the storm keeps shaking the confusion into me.

I can reorient when I reach the top of the twister. I am now well above the tower, very hard to tell how far. The grey red endless landscape looks less meaningful on the majestic blue background of the sky. I have no time to ponder that because I’m interrupted by a changing pressure, launching me further away from the land. In a glimpse I see that my car is lying on its side. That worries me. My face gets wet and cold in the moist I’m pulled through. I don’t understand why I don’t fall. It seems as if I’m going up instead.  Whatever I try, there’s no chance that I can steer. I’m subjected to the will of the storms. So I fly.

The doors of my house are open. Windows too. The furniture moves through the living room. Papers fly all around and so does the laundry. Plants in pots are either ripped or they have scattered on the floor. The cat has disappeared. The scene disrupts me. That mess was mine to clean. Then again, who am I to speak, I’m up in the air. A snap. I spread my arms. It dawns on me that I have never been this high in the air on my own. It may be cold and unnerving, but the view is beautiful. I feel a wave of respect for the thunderclouds that roll in my direction. Isabella’s insecurity feels easy now. Cute, even. There are no other pressures than the movements of the tides. I am weightless as a feather, dancing through the wind. A shoe spins through the air. It used to be mine. Just like that coat over there, with the napkins. Is that my hair circling around my head? One moment, the sun is up, the next, there’s sea above me. And then she’s down again. I can’t keep track. Different parts of me each take their own direction, whirling along with the motions that carry it. Words, feelings, body parts, sensations and thoughts fly by. None of them attached to one another. It tingles.

The lack of radio signal on the Actarius II caused some trouble on the open sea. It took a few hours before someone was bright enough to inspect the antenna on deck. A complete outfit covered it, the owner of which was never found. The clothes were taken to a farm, where they still serve as a scarecrow.