Work Journal

2019-06-27 Camino log: Algerri - Tamarite de Litera

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 22 Km

In this land, pear and apple trees are guided to grow in two dimensions. Much like grape vines, the tree is trimmed small and encouraged to grow its branches along a single axis in a row. It seems this would yield less fruit per square meter, but it allows the farmer to do most of the work from his tractor.

You seldom see a farmer on foot, they are always operating machinery. The distance between olive trees is just enough so that a tractor can drive through. The width of dirt roads on wheat fields is just enough for a harvester to move on it.

Hand labour is used of course, but mostly for harvesting fruit. From the grasping capacities of robotic arms and object recognition recognition capacities in software, it’s easy to infer human labor days in farmland is counted.

Ignorant people talk trash about these farms, but if industrial production of food were to cease to exist, world wide famine would happen overnight, and a large percentage of us would need to become farmers in order to support the dietary requirements of humanity.

Organic is wonderful, permaculture is awesome, but it doesn’t supersede industrial farming. If all food were produced like this, a large percentage of the population wouldn’t be able to afford eating. Don’t diss cheap flavorless supermarket tomato, do celebrate garden hand-reared tomatoes.

Work Journal

2019-06-25 Balaguer - Algerri

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 17.4 Km

In every long walk there’s an inner journey and an outer journey. What is ideal is that they synchronize: what happens on the outer journey supports the inward journey. Once you recognize this for yourself, you may recognize it for others.

I walked three days with a French woman of around my age who spoke perfect Spanish. She was a far left vegetarian of the kind that can become tiresome because of the ideological proselytism. Fortunately, and to her full credit, she wouldn’t flinch or protest at my direct requests that “we speak about something else” when topics turned too emotional to hold a constructive dialogue.

At some point we were sitting in a park enjoying an ice cream. Because of Saint John, kids were throwing firecrackers. She said

—“When refugees from the Syrian war came to France, a festivity like this took place. Kids were throwing firecrackers and the poor refugee children suffered so much because of their PSTD. Of course, they could only associate bangs with bombs and threats to their lives”.

—“So, are you suggesting that firecrackers should be banned?”.

—“I would surely like so”.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. “you’ve never thrown a fire cracker!”. She coyly confirmed my intuition.

—“Well, then you’re like the politician who bans things he doesn’t understand. Fortunately we can solve this at this very moment”.

A child with a large bag of firecrackers was sitting next to us, and I explained that my friend had never set a firecracker, and asked him for the most simple and innocuous firecracker he had. He kindly produced one of those little bags that you throw to the floor and pop.

She hesitated and ended throwing it with the force of a little girl (for she was a little girl in the matter of fire crackers!), but it popped and I could see the excitement in her eyes. I asked the kid for a real cracker you could light up. He gave it directly to her and explained how to light it up and where to throw it away.

Again she hesitated with the lighter, but finally she found the courage to let the fuse burn and threw it away. It banged. She shrieked with glee and gave me a big hug. She was excited and happy.

The topic of banning fireworks never came up again.

Work Journal

2019-06-24 Camino log: Tárrega - Balaguer

AuthorMark MacKay

Walked: 37.3 Km

Some people don’t know how to be alone. Others don’t know how to be with people. Worse yet, others—and I put myself in this group—just don’t know how to be. When in company one desires solitude, and when in solitude, one desires company.

I once had a cat that would meow to be allowed outside. Once outside, not a minute would pass before it would meow to be allowed inside. Of course, once inside it would meow again. I once wondered how long would this indecision last. I didn’t have enough patience for the game, it seemed the cat simply wanted to be inside if it was outside, and outside if it was inside. The pattern would repeat for all of eternity.

In order to break the infinite loop a distraction was necessary. Usually a snack would do the trick, then it would forget it wanted to be outside. Human beings rely on alcohol to tolerate company, and some sort of junk information consumption to escape loneliness.

Speaking about ourselves, is there a solution to this conundrum which doesn’t involve distraction or numbing of experience? Why would the cat behave like this? Because it was stupid, indeed. But, unaware of its own motives would be more accurate.

The cat wouldn’t experience a desire to be outside, it would experience an aversion to being inside. Once outside the relief would last a couple of seconds, but there was nothing there for it, so it would experience aversion to being outside. Without a motive for being either inside or outside, it would simply wish to be where it was not.

Can’t stand people. Very well, come into solitude. Can’t stand solitude? Come back to people. Can’t stand them again! Despair! In spiritual terms, you are acting through aversion and avoidance. The direction of growth is pausing, calming the voice inside which complains all the time, and listening to the more subtle yearning of the heart.

Does the cat want to curl next to his human slave? or does it want to go outside to try catch a lizard? But listen carefully, these yearnings are often mirages. We do things not because we want to do them, we are not seeking the activity in itself, but the validation that comes with it. Should I hunt a bird and bring it to my human, he will think highly of my hunting skills.

The yearnings of the heart come without attachment. They are whispered suggestions, never loud demands. They are experienced as being on the right path. They are things which yearn to manifest through us, as opposed to things we yearn to produce. They require no witness, and don’t ask for praise.

Work Journal

2019-06-24 Camino log: Cervera - Tárrega

AuthorMark MacKay

Distance walked: 15 Km

Last night I dreamed of a friend who is a designer. He was looking for freelance work. I happened to know the owner of a chain of pharmacies in Mexico, the businessman needed a logo refresh for his pharmacies, so I put them in touch.

Some days later I met with my friend, it looked like he hadn’t slept since I last met him. “How is the project going?” I asked. “Good” he responded dryly. I sensed that he didn’t want to be ungrateful and complain about my referral with me. “You look tired” I said.

He hesitantly begun complaining. “I feel I’m a tool for somebody ignorant in its use. He briefs me, I come back solving his brief, yet nothing seems to satisfy him. He blames me, but he’s the one clearly at fault”.

In a zen state of mind there is nothing to be solved. The world is just as it should be. Taoist wu wei and Hinduist karma yoga teach the same thing: our rational cleverness only puts us into great trouble. Just as our desire for material things can be infinite, our perception is things that need to be fixed and solved is infinite. But from the spiritual perspective, these problems are illusions. Most design problems are illusions.

The designer’s job is to deal with attachment. Under the spiritual lens a User Experience Designer would be a User attachment manager, and perhaps the solution wouldn’t be solving the problem in the product, but solving the problem in the User (through liberation). The user may come and say: I’d be much more efficient if I could see all this data in the screen at the same time. The spiritual designer would respond: “and why do you want to be more efficient? You would just get more work assigned to you if you did. Be satisfied with what you have.”

If you solve a problem for a user, the next day he will come with a new problem. Solve this problem too, and he will come again the next day again. Attachment is a thirst that is never satiated, it’s only kept in check because there’s economic constraints to it (resolving attachment has a cost).

This conundrum has no answer. Jim Carey said “I wish everyone were rich and famous, so that they would know first hand that this doesn’t make you happy”. In the same way, let us wish that everyone would have well designed and attractive products, so they may notice the problem to be solved is not without, but within.

Work Journal

2019-06-23 Work log: Cervera day 4

AuthorMark MacKay

In the end I was glad to stay today, and I’m also glad to leave tomorrow. There were local festivities at Cervera. It’s reminiscent of the fiestas of certain pueblos of Mexico, but I haven’t attended enough fiestas either in Spain or in Mexico to have an informed opinion.

I worked a bit in the morning, then went to the gym and to the pool. In the evening I met up with the Mexican acquaintances I’ve made here (wonderful people!) to enjoy the fiestas.

Work Journal

2019-06-22 Work log: Cervera Day 3

AuthorMark MacKay

After an afternoon nap I woke up in the most foul mood. The entire body was aching. I threw an inner tantrum “There is nothing here for me anymore, I will leave tomorrow”. I went out for dinner and came back to the monastery. I didn’t feel like writing my work log in this state. I meditated for a long while. The spoiled child inside me receded and I fell into peaceful sleep. I woke up this morning enthusiastic about my last day here.

It’s time to move on indeed, but tantrums are unnecessary. I’ll write down the lessons about working while on the camino, so that I can pick up things where I leave them:

  1. Bringing your usual structure of work to a different place reduces the surface of experience. Instead of seeking facilities that adapt to your ideal working conditions, seek to adapt to new working conditions.

  2. The availability of a kitchen keeps expenses in check and food healthy.

  3. The next step after courage is detaching from the results that courage brings.

  4. Walking is meditation in itself. When you stop, the mind needs to keep on walking. So sit down to meditate if you’re not walking that day.

Work Journal

2019-06-21 Work log: Cervera, day 2

AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday I had a bit of oversharing hangover and today I understand why: opening a narrative implies a responsibility to give it closure, and the development of real life narratives is often anti-climatic. I had dinner with Marta and her friends last night, really pleasant people, but Marta leaves for the weekend and the narrative ends here.

Last year I befriended a Canadian girl walking the camino. Her feet were in terrible shape, and she had a particularly gnarly blister infection which affected her gait, and over many kilometers this causes pains all over the body. On top of that, she developed a stomach viral infection, and vomited an entire night and then felt like crap for days.

She was particularly stubborn about continuing walking despite all her woes. Her body was telling her, in no uncertain terms, that she had to stop. I couldn’t understand why, until she shared her instagram: all smiles and success. “Erm, I’m not seeing any of your misery here”, I told her. “Of course it’s there, check out this post”. And she showed me a picture of herself with puppy eyes curled on a sofa. Her Instagram was 95% amazing and 5% kinda sucks, but reality for her was 5% kinda sucks and 95% misery.

Much has been written about people concealing their misery on social media, but seeing it was striking. It was as if her identity was composed of two different people: herself and her avatar. The avatar was making her walk despite being sick, because it’s easier to treat the real self as a slave than it is to downgrade the social standing of the avatar (by admitting you’re having a miserable time). The whole situation was leeching off happiness, health and presence from the real self.

I write this because I try to understand how one shares personal narrative online. Matching the experience of the real self and the avatar is paramount of course. But then the real self experiences strong emotional events which don’t necessarily lead anywhere, but become difficult to wave away in public.

Hmmm… After long consideration I sense there’s nothing wrong in my approach. I am imagining you, the reader, being disappointed at my experience, and I feel like I’m not living up to your expectations. But you are not the reader. The reader is a character of my imagination who is judging my experience. Things were written to record experience, not to impress anybody (even myself). There it is: the purpose of daily writing is to register experience.

I shall meditate on this.

There is no video today. I felt I would be repeating myself because the work day was very similar. But I’m finding myself thinking: _find what is new in routine experience.

Work Journal

2019-06-19 Work log: Cervera, day 1

AuthorMark MacKay

This is the first day I’ve spent an entire day working in a city while doing the Camino, and I’ve enjoyed the experience throughly. It feels as if all the times I’ve moved within Madrid have been lessons in quick adaptation, and the training has been fruitful. In the end, when life fits in a backpack, moving to a different neighborhood is not all that different from moving to a different city.

I had a good productive day, starting with mass in the morning, then work at the library, a picnic at the pool, then back to the library. I was thinking “this is wonderful, I can repeat this routine and remain in Cervera while I’m productive. When I get bored, I’ll simply walk until the creative urge strikes again”.

Then, as usually happens in moments of certainty, somebody throws a wrench into the gears and makes your platonic ideas fizzle away: a young woman walked up to the bookshelf next to me, and started pulling out travel guides on Mexico. She seemed unsatisfied with whatever she found in the guides.

I must be frank: I was terrified. Should she be anyone with whom I held no romantic interest I wouldn’t have hesitated one second, but this was like jumping into a freezing pool. My mind was racing “I’m too nervous, I’ll seem creepy, what do I say after ‘excuse me’”. Finally I cleared my throat “excuse me… are you going to Mexico?”

She turned around and smiled excited “yes! why? are you Mexican?” and conversation just flowed naturally from there…

—“oh you’re going to Chiapas! I’ve been there, I wish I could tell you all about it but this is not a good place, how about getting a coffee?”
—“I’d love to, but I can’t now, how about tomorrow?”
—“Yeah, sounds great! How shall we do…”
—“Let me give you my number…”

I was left in a daze. It felt like I hadn’t done anything. There was neither pride nor regret. I had just been myself and she had been herself and it was natural that we should meet up afterwards.

I was left (positively) emotionally shaken, and I found no concentration to be able to continue work. So I came back to the monastery to calm my nerves by drawing. The feelings settled into serenity, and I was glad to have broken a two year stall on romantic first-steps.

Later at night, she texted me to change the plans: she had told a Mexican couple about me, and they wanted to meet me, so they proposed dinner at their house. I enthusiastically accepted, of course. My only problem is that the monastery/albergue’s doors close at 10pm. And here I am feeling like Cinderella.

Work Journal

2019-06-18 Camino log: Torá - Cervera

AuthorMark MacKay

The day was spent in leisure with Françoise. Idleness after the long walk caused a strange surge in creative restlessness. I’ll begin work tomorrow and see if the feeling is smoke or substance.

During lunch I overhead a conversation at the next table. In a town of 1,000 people in rural Spain, three women and a man were discussing if robots would put us out of jobs. Then the topic changed to overpopulation, then to environmental catastrophe, then to greedy rich people keeping us in abject misery, then to tech corporations stealing all our data.

I ground my teeth not because I differed in opinion, but because I could see the game they were playing was “let’s try to find out what sucks the most about the world we currently live in”. Offering solutions or hope is misreading the rules of the game. It would be walking into a stage and telling the actors that they are not the people they are pretending to be. If they truly believed everything they said, they would either violently revolt against the status quo, or commit suicide. Life as they paint it would not be worth living.

Why people play these games? I truly don’t understand. I’ve asked “well, that’s terrible. Something should be done about it, where should we start?”, but they wave their hands and blame politicians.

—“Ok, so nothing can be done, so is this like discussing team sports?”
—“Oh, it’s not the same, we’re dealing with much more important matters”
—“So, if it’s important, shouldn’t we take matters into our own hands?”
—“We’re powerless, and besides, we’re already fucked”
—“So, if this were the cold war, it would be like the nuclear warheads were already in the air”
—“Yes, exactly”
—“So what are we doing here chatting about the missiles in the air. Shouldn’t we be doing something meaningful with whatever time we have left?”

Work Journal

2019-06-18 Camino log: Cervera - Torá

AuthorMark MacKay

Threw away: Nothing
Added: Nothing
Walked: Nothing (not pilgrimage walking)

To explain this I’ll have to backtrack to the day I began walking, four days ago. I left Madrid and went to Barcelona for a design hand-off with my backpack prepared for walking. After the meeting and grabbed the first train to Montserrat, to begin the Catalán Way.

After checking-in to the albergue in Montserrat I went for dinner, still in business clothes, and was seated with Françoise, a pilgrim. We struggled to communicate, given that we didn’t have any language in common, but it was fun.

We’ve walked together these last few days, and over time I’ve been putting together her story from bits and pieces I can understand. She worked as a waitress for most of her life, she lost her husband to cancer some years ago, and she found great relief walking.

She also revealed that she wanted to visit a small town some 30Km off the camino called Torá, where her mother had lived before she emigrated to France because of the Civil War. I offered to come with her and she was delighted, my Spanish would be handy. I would collect the information and then use Google Translate to let her know what we had figured out.

I did not capture any video, my reasoning was that this was a private quest, but in the end I saw Françoise more than willing to tell her story, so I share it here sans imagery.

Early in the morning I dressed up in my business clothes, I knew it would make no difference, but I was carrying them so I might as well make good use of them. I had spoken to the nun in charge at the albergue about our plight, and she let me know a fellow well connected to Torá would have breakfast at the albergue, and that we could speak with him to see if we could obtain any useful information. It turned out to be a dead lead, only letting us know the name of the priest in Torá.

The taxi picked us up at 10am, the driver was a fellow of extraordinary cheerfulness and great devotion, taking a detour of Cervera to show us all the important churches from the comfort of his spatious van. He spoke at length about numerous miracles he had experienced first-hand, sometimes as instrument and other as a witness. From his stories it was evident he considered his true calling to do good in the name of the lord, so at the end of the ride I asked him to bless us in our quest. I liked his reply: “It’s obvious you’re already blessed and will be successful, I have nothing to add to your blessings”.

When we checked in to the hotel I explained that Françoise’s mother was born here, and we were visiting to figure out more about her. The owner of the hotel took interest, and Françoise produced a letter sent by her aunt in which she replied to some inquiries that her mother had made in the year 1966.

In the letter she consoled her about her sickness (cancer, she would pass away shortly after she received the letter), and then went at length about a property they had in Torá. Apparently, in rural Catalonia houses have names, and this particular namesake was Cal Senadó (Senadó House).

The owner told us he had some friends who were very knowledgeable in local history who would know where this was, and he walked us to a park where there were some old folks sitting on a bench. After a lengthy discussion amongst them they came to the conclusion that since she belonged to the Trillá family (her mother’s last name was Trillá) that a building in the city center with her namesake (Cal Trillá) belonged to her family.

We went to see the Cal Trillá, it was an eclectic building of evidently wealthy means, but I sensed Françoise skepticism. There was no mention of Cal Trillá in the letter, if her mother were indeed related to the building she would have asked about it.

The owner of the hotel then walked us to the City Hall, where he introduced us to the mayor. We went into a small office where a lady produced her mother’s birth certificate. We connected some dots and figured out her mother and her siblings had been the first generation living in Torá, going to her grandparents would take us to a different town.

The mayor called an acquaintance who was in charge of the historical heritage of the city. He was an old school geek who knew all the houses and also had a good eye for detail. We showed him the letter and he immediately grasped Cal Trilla was not related in any way. He knew where Cal Senado was. Furthermore, he knew a Trilla who had once rented him a plot of land and was probably related, though he’d have to confirm it in his own personal papers.

The man took us to see the house: it was a humble home at the shore of the river. It made sense: the profession of her grandparents was listed as “payés” (farmer), her grandfather worked at the olive mill. Françoise was glad to see the house standing in very good condition. A man from Barcelona had bought the house and restored well beyond its original state to spend the weekends there. The renovated condition erased information from us, but it was evidently well cared land. Numerous healthy fruit trees made company to the house, and a particularly large and prosperous chestnut tree, likely planted by her ancestors, decorated the front. It had a pleasant vibe and the day was beautiful.

I sensed Françoise had her sense of closure here, and everything else was extra. We had lunch, explored the city, followed some more leads unsuccessfully (locals endearingly enthusiastic if you tell them your plight, but will tell you the most impossible things without a hint of doubt).

We’re staying here overnight, and I didn’t bring my charger (or my backpack), so I’ll leave it here. Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to Françoise, she keeps on walking and I’ll remain a couple of days to work in Cervera.