Zen, quality and labels

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was first published in 1974 and is one of my all-time favourite books. It follows a couple of motorcyclists as they tour around the United States. Whilst on this trip the orator ponders the concept of Quality. Calling this discussion a Chautauqua, he begins with, “Quality…you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is.”  The geyser at Yellowstone National Park is used as one example of this, saying that by putting a sign on the natural wonder of the geyser, labeling it, the quality of the spectacle in diminished.  I agree with this notion. It reminds you that someone else has seen this before your own discovery. And not only that, but they have named it, described it, and labeled it. This robs you of some essential and unique experience. It places in your mind smaller notions of the possibility of the natural wonder that it is.


We could apply this to all natural wonders. Pristine environments retain the ability to inspire and fill us with humility. Put a sign on it, a fence around it, and describe it and the awe is gone. Our own sense of personal discovery and adventure is stolen by small minds.


This argument applies to people too. Do we all fall into the false habit of labeling people, if not out loud, then certainly in our minds? This person is a baby-boomer. That person is old. That one is young. And the labels go on. This diminishes the person and impedes the labeler’s potential for an authentic interaction with the person they label. It detracts from the Quality of the relationship and fails to allow for a deeper experience to the detriment of everyone in our community.


Librarians are labelers; if not by nature then certainly by vocation. It serves as a way to find stuff and that is the crux of the job. It can be a pitfall though if it becomes habitual and when applied outside of the realm of information and artifacts.


Pirsig later states, through his character Phaedrus; “Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a nonthinking process. Because definitions are a product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined.” To me that states that quality and labeling are mutually exclusive. Is this correct? Food for thought.


I’d like to see an end to this trend of putting people into small inaccurate categories. The reality is that we are all here now in this time and space experiencing this world together as humans! The similarities of that experience are far greater that the differences, and the complexities and ever-changing variants that reside inside each individual cannot be neatly tied up with one meager label.


I was interested to know if this discussion about quality had continued since Pirsig’s novel in 1974 and so I did a bit of web-searching. I was thrilled to find the Metaphysics of Quality website and this provides a very detailed and academic discussion.


I am taking an ebreak to explore this beautiful physical Earth of ours. Au revoir. A bientot!

Eastlink Cycle

Picture by Jon Hargest for heraldsun.com.auIt was still dark as we donned our cycling gear at the shopping centre car park early on Sunday morning. The chill morning air froze our faces as we cycled along the new blemish-free tollway surface to the event start point.

A crowd of keen cyclists grew rapidly and soon a tangle of bright coloured Lycra and aluminium frames surrounded us and stretched as far as we could see. We stood shivering under an overpass waiting for the starters signal. I was anxious amongst the group worried I’d struggle to hold my space amongst the forward jostling.

The signal sounded and it began, slow at first as the crowds shuffled forward, then the cleats clicked into place and we were off. The downward run towards Frankston was unexpectedly well-spaced and smooth allowing me to enjoy the building momentum as we all gathered speed and settled into our varying comfort zones. Groups formed and reformed. A spill of bikes and riders caused us all to slow as the cry of “stopping” rippled back through the palaton.

This event promoted the completion of the Eastlink Tollway. Reports varied from 40,000 to 100,000 people who turned up to either cycle, walk, run or roller-skate this new expanse of bitumen. Six friends from our regular Saturday morning cycle group enjoyed the challenge of the 65 kilometre looped course. My time was 2 hours and 11 minutes averaging about 30km/hr, which is pretty good for me. It was a rare chance for cyclists to ride on good roads with plenty of space and no cars to be concerned about.

Echoes of the early tides

Australian surgeon and author Tony Moore, has written two books that explore the healing process eloquently. Cry of the Damaged Man tells of his near-fatal car accident and how this changed his attitude to patients, whilst trying to heal his own physical injuries. Echoes of the Early Tides is the sequel that goes on to explore the healing of his spirit.


The descriptions in Echoes of the Early Tides are often abstract as he describes the uncertainty of navigating around the dark pit of grief that often threatens to overwhelm him, or those that find themselves in similar territory. It is all at once heart-breaking, depressing, hopeful, and eloquent. He states, “There is no sound more agonising than the breaking of a human spirit, and there is no sound sweeter than the pulse of its recovery.” His daily walks along the beach frame this exploration of the traumatised psyche, using the changing moods of the sea as metaphors for understanding.


A walk along the beach or sitting in the sand dunes amongst the spiky tussocks soothes my soul when I feel overwhelmed by life’s complications. With the big wild sky above and the sea so large and alive stretching out beyond the horizon whilst simultaneously falling at my feet, it is impossible to dwell on the trivialities of daily gripes.


Tony Moore begins, “I will need to be brave.”

Making movies

Have you seen the movie Cloverfield? I watched it on the weekend and loved it mainly because of the way it is presented. One character uses a hand-held camera to document events as they unfold. Of course the events quickly take an unexpected and awful turn for the worse, but the characters don’t know that at the beginning of the movie. It is not a cheap production by any means and the continuity of the events as they unfold makes you wonder exactly how they created the scenes and edited the content.


I think we will see more and more of these types of movies due to the availability of hand-held digital cameras and their ease of use. The school library where I work has dozens of cameras that we regularly loan out to the students and teachers for school projects and events. Because of this I have learnt how to use them and then how to capture the video and edit the movies using the software on the pc’s. It is all so easy and the results can be fantastic. The students work is often outstanding as these digital natives have such an inherent ability to handle these tools in a fresh and creative way.


YouTube offers instant publication to a global audience. So some kind of success can be measured by the number of views that accumulate, as well as network spread.


My own humble attempts have been to use MovieMaker as photo stories as each of my three “children” turned 21. Adding music, using slide transitions, and combining still photos with video clips makes for a dynamic and interesting result that can be kept as a digital scrapbook. I plan to document my upcoming trip to Europe in this way. It is a heap of fun.