Beamspun 1.10: Sturgeon Blue

Beamspun is a regular newsletter about narrative, tech and magic for a better world. Published on a Sunday around the full moon, it contains thoughts and links on anything from renewable power to ritual energy.

Sturgeon and alternative Blue Moon
Local sunrise / publish time: 0458 UTC (weekly +11m)

Spine of the book 'The Glass Bead Game' by Herman Hesse


Where does bravery come from?

Not the knightly bravery of old, all wrapped up in metal armour and flowing pennants, with the courage of muscle to tear apart vicious beasts. No, that's not the bravery I'm talking about.

I'm not brave, not in the way that I'm thinking. My head is still reckless and my actions are still guided by disposable desires.

Case in point: Earlier today, after the rain had cleared from the hills and we hadn't found any four-leaf clovers, I found myself in a charity shop. I do love charity shops (or "thrift stores" in the US, I believe) and will happily spend a few hours traipsing up and down a high street perusing the books and knick-knacks.

I wasn't looking for much in particular. I have bought too many books recently. I had planned to simply look around and head out.

And then my eyes saw a book. I don't know, something about the spine and font marked it out for special attention in my mind. It was a red-backed copy of Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. I don't know much about it, except that it's been on my to-read list for ages. It was larger than I expected, and this copy was in good condition, for a measly sum.

I ummed and arred inside my brain, knowing that I didn't need it, that I'd already run out of precious bookshelf space. I went to put it back, and then ... paid the money, popped it in my bag, and dashed back out onto the street.

My will lost out. Something drove me to bring that book home: routine, muscle memory, or perhaps the voice of a ghost. Who knows? But it was a simple moment in which I could have said "no", and didn't. The easier decision won out.

Sitting here, mulling it over, I keep coming back to a sense of fear, and to a quote from issue 1 of Cunning Folk magazine. In response to the question "Are we going through a period of re-enchantment?", English Literature professor Diane Purkiss responds: "Re-enchantment is not doing its job if it doesn't come with a shiver." I love this thought, this realisation that to bring change is not an easy thing - not for any practical reason, but because a different world is a strange one. But also that it recognises that the alternative path can be one of wonder and of happiness, should we let it.

The future is made up of an infinite series of tiny moments, each one dangling in front of us and presenting a chance to do something differently. And yet the momentum of our subconscious presents itself as a fear of the unknown. We cling to patterns of familiarity like raindrops hanging beneath a leaf. We could fall at any moment, if only we wanted to.

That's the kind of bravery I'm thinking about. Not big demons or monsters, but the ongoing rush of tiny bugs and shadows. Shades so subtle that they slip through our net without notice. Pinpricks of opportunity that are there for the taking, and how much easier it is if we're comfortable with just the sheer possibility of something else.

We can re-enchant our own selves through practice, ritual, storytelling, and (my favourite) just not-taking-ourselves-so-damn-seriously in the first place. Find joy, and the battle becomes a game, a dance. Poppins was right. Find intrigue, and a challenge becomes an exploration rather than a chore. Poppins was right. We can use technology and communities to weave safety nets. We can draw on artistic endeavors to alter our mindset.

We can welcome that something else as a part of life, not just as a gift of hindsight.

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  • art: Digital minimalism and the disruption of more addictive, surveilled social systems is the subject of Ben Grosser's exhibition, Software for Less at the arebyte Gallery in London. The show "presents functional applications and media-based artworks that produce less profit, less data, and less users" in contrast to the apparent urge to "be liked". (Via Richard Veryard's coverage.)

  • rewilding: What happens if you leave an arable field alone for 60 years? Here's what happened at Monks Wood, providing a valuable insight into how a local, complex ecosystem can develop.

  • e-wilding: Remember when websites were messier, handcoded, and unique? Digital "gardens" aim to re-capture that sense of tending to content more personally. If we're to reclaim the idea of wilderness, then perhaps that mindset needs to infiltrate everything we do these days. Perhaps we can have faith in our own weirdness again.

  • relaxing: Yahoo(!) news covers a movement among people in China to "lie flat" - that is, to adopt a slower, non-materialistic lifestyle against the encouragement of the state to be "productive". It touches on how this is spun as "shameful", but thinking about labels such as "slacker", would many in the West consider such approaches similarly? The Financial Times also covers it (but paywalled). Perhaps "Turn on, tune in, drop out" can be revisited globally now.

  • mainstream?: Solarpunk finally gets some coverage on BBC news. A quick search shows this might even be the very first mention over there. I'm not sure what that means though. Is it just a hashtag trending to a certain point? Does anything "punk" lose its power when it goes mainstream? Or are we beginning to see some change, some curiosity at large?

  • zines: And Black Cat Community Press have announced a forthcoming Solarpunk Magazine, due in 2022 and taking submissions soon. I'm slightly surprised the name hasn't been taken yet, TBH.

  • water: Henry Glogau has won this year's Lexus Design Award for a simple structure that purifies water using solar energy. It can be assembled in 30 minutes, and can generate 18 litres of purified water a day using a basic condensation approach, leading to a tap.

A cross-section of Henry Glogau's water purifier, showing the various parts involved

  • furniture: Another newsletter, this time Climate Pioneers which, a couple of months ago, covered what sustainable furniture might look like. It's amazing how much research - materials, sourcing, energy usage, etc - goes into any particular item these days. Each "thing", even when mass-produced, is unique in terms of its origins. As a tangent, I'm curious how this sort of knowledge can be embedded into a community - is it feasible to bring together a local group of 'field experts' that can both produce something specific, as well as understand the complexities behind it?

  • urbanism: Wrath of Gnon's newsletter covers long term looks at sustainable, local infrastructure and is worth a look. I particularly enjoyed a description of Japanese canals, venturing into how our systems are intrisically tied to our wants, and how far ahead we consider as part of those desires. "What cannot last, will fall, and when that happens it will be too late to regret all the things we did not build, while we had the chance."

  • communities: No Tech magazine points to a paper called Remaking settlements for sustainability: the Simpler Way, by Ted Trainer. The paper looks at the possibilities for de-growth and land use in an urban space in Australia. I have't looked into it enough to comment on the political aspects of governing such a scheme, but it looks at least like a good list of all the ways in which community space can be leveraged better, such as rooftop space through to wasteland.

  • robotics: And finishing off this week with covering Delta, the good samaritan robot in Indonesia, made out of upcycled household goods. Because the future is so lilac...

A cream and purple robot made from upcycled parts passing a couple on a scooter in a paved lane

Thanks for reading

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And if you're interested, I'm also documenting my own 'everyday solarpunk adventures' over at the 6suns blog. Albeit slowly. Slow is good though.