interstitial being(s): on biking

during the quiet quarantine months early in the pandemic, i accidentally found a personal trainer in my partner. he has slowly and patiently taught me how to become a cyclist in mexico city which has bloomed into a new relationship with my body and given me hundreds of hours of mental space to think as the wind moves past my skin. rather than picking up a pandy hobby like sourdough bread, airfrying, painting or whatever, i’ve traveled more than 10,000 miles by bike, mostly across the biggest megalopolis on the continent.

before i met my partner, i couldn’t imagine how to trace a path across some intersections on a bike. take for example an intersection near my apartment at the time: there are multiple parallel (lateral) streets with bike lanes, sidewalks, and medians in between, a monument in the middle of the road, dedicated public bus lanes either in the middle or edge of a multi-lane road — all crossing each other like a crumbly 10-by-10-grid of pie crust. as a pedestrian, you must be attentive to cross it slowly, so i couldn’t imagine it as a cyclist amidst the traffic, having had no desire to become a tiny fish sneaking between sharks that could pulverize me at any moment.

also: there are these things that look like traffic circles which do not behave as such. or, rather, they can look like traffic circles but are not. for a specific example, see what happens around the angel de independencia:

pay attention to the cars…

then, on top of the already complicated and always degrading physical infrastructure, add multiple layers of more chaos: people jaywalking everywhere; others pushing heavy, wheeled things in the bike lane or road because the sidewalk is too cracked; frenetic lane-splitting motorcycle delivery drivers; street vendors in moving in wide, 3-wheeled bikes; innumerable pot holes; random fallen wires which may or may not have electricity (but that i think/hope are mostly unused fiber optic cables); …and then add the giant chaos layer of drivers who have never passed a drivers test because it’s not a requirement of getting a license here (!!) – oh and the ugly but true feature of how normalized it is to drive drunk in this city – not to mention myriad forms of public transit belching black clouds of exhaust. it’s beyond easy to feel overwhelmed by a constant onslaught of heavy moving objects that could impede one’s (hypothetical) path on a bike. (not to mention that all of this is built on a slowly-sinking ex-lake-bed with pyramids and other sacred sites half-buried throughout.)

it is upon this unfathomable canvas that i’ve slowly sribbled GPS-guided lines across the map over these 3+ years.

recently, something suddenly shifted: i’ve come to see these heavy moving objects radically differently. i started to see their edges and spaces between them.

this might be because my partner was a fixed gear rider when we met. the nature of fixed gear bikes is that they don’t (usually) have breaks, so to stop, you need to slow the rotation of the rear wheel with your own weight, pushing in reverse against moving pedals. or hop up and force a skid to slow down. needless to say: it takes much longer to stop than a bike with breaks. and in a place where stopping on a dime seems like it should be a vital requirement, there are a surprising amount of fixie riders. (cue pensive head scratching and furrowed eyebrows: what the hell?)

a pattern that i’ve noticed over the years in trying to learn from and (sometimes) mimic my partner’s cycling behaviors is that, whereas i’d find myself stopping behind something – a parked car, a crossing pedestrian, a 3-wheeled bike vendor taking up 90% of a bike lane – he’d have kept going and i’d lose sight of him. it has taken me a long time to figure this out, but the way i’ve recently understood it is that he sees and focuses on the spaces in between things rather than the thing itself. whereas i still often feel a visceral onslaught of things coming at me, things i should avoid smashing into, or things i should swerve around, and the added handfuls of unknowns like a possible car door being opened or the depth of a puddle in the rain – i think he navigates by thinking about, seeing, and sensing the spaces that he could temporarily occupy.

instead of only sensing an obstacle, sense paths around it: a subtle shift, but one that’s fundamental to flow.

imagine, for example, lane-splitting between two lines of moving cars*. the embodied fraction of a second determination of whether or not the space between two rear-view mirrors is bigger or smaller than the width of your shoulders: can i fit? and knowing that this “yes” or “no” is a switch that flips on and off as the cars move in relation to each other…it’s kind of like tetris. but in 3-D. but instead of a shape of bricks, the shape is your body: with all it’s softness and exposed skin and breakable bones (and maybe your precious bike).

(*my partner calls this “ratoneando” – being a rat – by the way. something like “scurrying” might be a decent translation.)

if you want a preview, here’s an internationally known fixie rider and race-winner from CDMX, with an excerpt of her ride on calzada tlalpan:

so: the interstitial – the space between – is constantly shifting, not fixed, structured, or contained. this is because it is based on the relationship between two or more things which are also in movement.

this realization immediately felt metaphorical to me. though deeply physical in the case of biking, i know that it relates to systems transformation, next economies, network structures, repairing our relationships, maybe even internal family systems and shadow work

(most of) white/western/scientific thinking tends to focus on an object of study, or maybe a dichotomy of object and subject. however, what i’ve always found fascinating about network science is that it also includes the links between the two things, paying attention to relationships. same with ecology.

focusing on interstitiality is different than that though: it’s noticing what’s not there – the space, the emptiness – between or outside things. this is a necessary absense in the same way that the spaces (called “rests”) between notes are necessary for music. in the same way pauses after questions create invitations and invoke creation.

this space or emptiness is a point of origin: from nothing emerges new.

it is also a point of termination, like how the edges of a thing bleed into, degrade into, and return to the nothing.

the interstitial includes this liminality and edge-ness, and it includes what/where those things fade out into.

passing through the spaces between creative blocks

one application of the metaphor i’ve been running into lately is around what i’ve been taught to call creative blocks. it’s a deeply frustrating feeling to repeatedly run into the same block. the guiding principle says i need to “overcome” the block, or perhaps somehow “go through it” or maybe “disarm” or “dismantle” it. (similar vocab exists in relationship to oppressive systems, too.) all of this thinking continues to focus on the block itself, ignoring the rest: infinite space around it that i could potentially move through: alternate paths.

there’s a freedom that comes with seeing** the spaces instead of seeing the obstacle. you’re not impeded, rather, you have choice. it feels powerful. that you get to decide how this is going to play out. that there are so many more ways than one of going about this.

(**i realize i am very visually-dependent in describing my ways of sensing, but other senses are surely implicated: feeling and hearing come up for me, too. smell and taste don’t feel that relevant at this moment.)

who or how do i have to be to exist in that space?

i believe that developing this wider way of sensing and being is necessary for the next phase of humanity. and as soon as we can develop, practice, and share it, it becomes immediately easy to know that transformation/transition is well under way. you begin to see the edges of structures of capitalism crumbling. you see the germinating seeds of what’s next. you see elders and those who have maintained connection folding time, pulling indigenous tradition through colonial contexts. you see experiments and less solid formations which may or may not persist.

i suppose i always end with questions…so some questions on my mind are: how do we start to see what artists call “negative space” in a physical and social sense? where are the negative spaces around us, and how do we inhabit them? what do we notice about our being when we’re in that space – do we have to shift somehow to be able to fit in there, or do the expand once we’re there? how do we develop shared vocabulary or ways of collective sense-making about being in these ways?

what is the way from here to there?

sometimes i record myself reading blog posts – use this to listen instead of read

i just got off a call with two people who are starting up a program for strategic planning for non-profits. they had heard about my work on The Light Ahead podcast and wanted to chat with me about next economies and NGO networks.

on the call, one of them used the metaphor of “blowing things up” a few times. in that they had created a plan for their work, but blew it up last week (which was both frustrating and good). or that non-profit sector employees are in a different place than many board members and funders, and those relationships need to change (or “blow up”) for real transformation to be possible.

i wondered, asking that if we’re trying to get from here to there (or if we’re just trying to get out of the “here” we identify as undesirable), what is that process like?

what do we call it? change? transformation? culture shift?

what metaphors do we use for it?

and are these metaphors violent? scary? doom-and-gloomy? apocalyptic?

do we perceive this as a painful, difficult experience? (does your body even react viscerally because of this question, because it can already imagine the answer?)

do we assume there will be some kind of revolution? and, given our limited understandings of revolution, do we imagine it as hard, bloody, with much sacrifice and death?

it’s important to consider the metaphors we use in how we understand and talk about what’s next.

it’s also important to be clear about whether we are in the camp that is a) making incremental shifts so that there is less harm done within current systems, or b) working from a totally different set of assumptions, values, and ways of being. (or c) some mix of the two.)

to be explicit, i’m pretty sure i’m in B. i tried camp A for a while but the kind of energy required to say “NO” so strongly and so repeatedly always turned into a kind of self-incendiary anger that my body just couldn’t sustain. (check out block, build, be as a framework for figuring out where you might be if you’re not sure – their model supports being in multiple categories.)

in my very non-scientific way (sorry, entomologists), i’ve been using the metaphor of a butterfly chrysalis to describe the process, as such:

an intact caterpillar decides one day to create a cocoon for itself. then, magically, they break down into liquid form while maintaining the imaginal discs they had been carrying since birth. (tangent: imaginal discs are actually magic, by the way, and they are the genetic codes that create new body parts: caterpillars go around carrying the seeds for wings before they know they’ll be able to fly. (this is real.)) then, somehow they reconfigure themselves and emerge as a being capable of flight, light enough to float on air and to travel with millions of their peers to other worlds thousands of miles away.

(brief pause for the several questions i have for these beings that i’m just going to leave here: does this hurt? what happens in how you understand the world and your surroundings? as a butterfly, do you remember what being a caterpillar was like?)

on the other hand, the metaphors i have been given from mainstream media are more in the direction of fear-based, apocalyptic, individualistic, and escapist. this is evidenced by the fact that it’s way easier for me to imagine the gritty details of specific apocalyptic scenarios: zombies, natural disasters, wars, escapist so-called “cottagecore,” nuclear bunker canned food storage, etc. there are so many movies about this and the mainstream/corporate news broadcasts every night look very similar to this. my social media feed has so many millennials glamorizing the process of redoing old vans and then living in national parks with their cats who have been trained to walk on leashes so as to not get eaten by bears. (ok, maybe that’s because i often share these stories because they’re so ridiculous, but hey, don’t judge me by my algorithm.)

there are other metaphors, other ways of understanding what is possible. a lot of “what if…” questions come to mind:

what if the shift was easy, or at least easeful?

what if it was like how Tricia Hersey imagines it in her work with The Nap Ministry? (or the #softlife trend that’s emerging as the antithesis to #grindculture?)

what if, instead of it being punitive, returning to community felt like a warm embrace? (see: the book we will not cancel us, circle practice, transformative justice)

what if relinquishing stolen land and resources made us feel whole instead of empty? and helped us start to repair relationships with land and communities? (see: the land back movement, though not everyone is non-violent, and with good reason.)

or look at all these amazing “what if” questions created by intelligent mischief, asking us to consider:

i asked before about going from here to there, or at least just getting out of the “here.” i don’t know that we have to know where we’re going. i think it’s ok that we don’t, and maybe even good. (though certainly some of us know more details about the next place(s) than others.)

In the book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote: “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.‘ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”

the other thing is, is that if we’re still deeply in the “here,” (or even just in the mentality of the “here”), our ideas about the “there” will be really similar to what we can currently understand, embody, feel, or imagine. so in the meantime, i propose that we focus more on the breaking down, on the cocooning and going back to imaginal discs (one of which is definitely about justice and reparations, and we have ideas about others), and, importantly, becoming less attached to the “there” as the goal. for now the outcome is the process: the process of slowing down, and as norma wong says, the process of creating the conditions to become aware of what else is emerging.

additionally, if we’re so caught up in an anxiety about where we’re going, we won’t be able to be present with the process (and, therefore less likely to be able to support others in it), and we won’t know how we got to the next place either. this anxiety limits our possibilities, too.

so…how do you imagine the work of our time, the work to move ourselves outside of extractive, imperialistic, racist capitalism? is it a violent, rough, scary thing? or is it an easeful return into the embrace of true community and wholeness?

Spider’s webs are their brains

Western science recently figured out that spider’s webs are kind of like extended, out-of-body brains.

Spiders tighten and loosen specific parts of their webs to become more attuned to vibrations, and they can tell the difference between, say, a fly moving around or the wind or other creatures buzzing. This makes sense, as arachnids have been evolving these webs for who knows how many millions of years.

Seeing the spider and web as one and inseparable challenges the ideas we’ve learned about separateness: that there is a spider that is separate from their web. But without a web, the spider couldn’t survive. The spider can’t exist as a disconnected individual.

While this is magical in and of itself, it is also a metaphor for something I’ve been wondering about in networks for a while: how do we embed sensitivity in networks? Rather than thinking about it in a more narrow and mainstream idea of “communications,” how can we think about our activities in networks as sensing? This would have to go hand-in-hand with our work to distribute and decentralize networks – we don’t want to repeat the hierarchical structures of organizations, where only the hubs “hear” about what’s going on – we want to increase access to this hearing/sensing.

We could metaphorically peer into one thread within the network, listen in on what’s happening there. Then put one of our eight arms on another thread and see what’s going on over there. Doing so we are better informed and able to act more strategically – in alignment and harmony – with what is happening elsewhere in the network.