Mind of Howard Rhiengold
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DR: Howard, with telecommunting becoming more
possible every year, many people are working more from home offices.
You had worked in your home for many years before building an office
as an annex to your house. What advice could you give to telecommuters
concerning work practices, discipline and organization? The idea
of working from home is, I'm sure, attractive to many people -but
making the time and space in which to work effectively may be a
hurdle for some. Could you help us out here with any insights?
HR: You really need to be a peculiar kind of
person to really enjoy working at home ALL the time, although I
can see how beneficial it might be if, for example, one commuter
out of ten worked at home one day a week. Discipline for me was
easy: if I didn't sell enough writing, I couldn't pay the rent,
and would have to take a temp job. So I got my daily writing and
communicating done. My mind jumps all over the place, so I tend
to keep my office files, desktop, bookshelves pretty orderly. Externalizing
order so you can see at a glance what remains to be done and where
your materials and references are is a great help. And do get away
from your computer once every hour or so and do some stretching
[ Howard has been away for a few days on a rafting trip. Rumor
has it that he has returned and is in the area. ]
DR: Folks, it appears that Mr. Rheingold is in
the area. When we last heard, he was reported to be conducting salutations
in a corn field. We're hoping he'll join us shortly. Until then,
we take you now live to our remote crew who is at this very moment
standing by in the corn field.
Howard, if you can hear us, how are you? I've heard you mention
that "corn is your spiritual teacher". Can you comment
on this rather unique relationship, and perhaps share a morsel of
the corn's wisdom with us?
AM: Howard, in what order would you recommend
reading your books?
HR: I certainly don't have any answers to the
big questions, but lately I've been enthralled and enriched by the
writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, who does seem to have some extraordinarily
simple answers: Breathe. Smile. Be patient and compassionate with
others. The two books of his that have had the greatest impact are
The Miracle of Mindfulness and The Heart of the Buddha's
Teachings. I do believe that many to many communication has
the potential for improving the level of citizen to citizen discourse,
but that won't happen automatically, simply because the technology
exists. In terms of my books, I'd start with Tools
for Thought. Unless interested, you could skip Virtual
Reality and go directly to The
Virtual Community. Higher
Creativity is still in print and They Have a Word for
It will be reissued soon. Excursions to the Far Side of the
Mind is out of print.
Nine years ago, I started a topic on the WELL
about corn as a spiritual teacher. Here are some excerpts:
I grew up in Phoenix, a place I found devoid of any spiritual
values. But I had known about the Hopi since I was a kid, and as
soon as I could start finding out about them, I learned that their
religion had something to do with corn. For some reason, this made
a lot more visceral connection than all the stuff about wrathful
deities or suffering deities. And I knew they did rituals with corn
When I finally got to see a Hopi corn plot I was struck by how
improbable it was. It's downright amazing that anything grows in
the Arizona heat.
The other thing I always remembered about corn was Squanto. Remember
Squanto? When the Pilgrims had that first Thanksgiving, part of
the bounty was due to the generosity of their indigenous friend,
Squanto, who told them to bury a dead fish under each corn plant.
Little did he suspect. My present corn bed is on the site of an
old Miwok shell mound. I found a serpentine arrowhead out there
last year. It's hard not to be mindful, digging in the corn bed.
I started growing corn because I had always been in love with
the legend of "fresh corn" -- where you have to boil the
water before you pick it. I had always wondered, eating corn, whether
it was true and I was missing out on something by not having a corn
Part of corn's spiritual force, as far as I'm concerned, is the
feeling of direct connection with some incredible technologist who
made the stuff possible.
As I now see it both modern corn and annual teosinte are descended
from the mybridization of perennial teosinte with a primitive pod-popcorn.
Indeed, it was the hybridization with perennial teosinte, probably
some 4,000 years ago, that triggered corns's explosive evolution
as a cultivated plant.
Corn was the most important crop in the Americas even before then,
as it still is today. Moreover, there can no longer be any doubt
that it is American in origin. The best evidence is archaeological.
More than any other plant, corn documents its own history, because
its hard cobs are well designed for preservation under a variety
of conditions. The remains of prehistoric corn, including some 25,000
cobs, have been found in numerous sites from Arizona to Guatemala;
in contrast, not a single cob dating unmistakeably from before 1492
has been found in any part of the Old World. It was Columbus who
discovered corn in Cuba and brought it back to Spain.
Whether the most ancient archaeological cobs are wild corn or
early cultivated corn, it seems safe to say, as Mac Neish does,
that "corn was domesticated well before 4000 B.C." The
oldest corn specimens date from about 5000 B.C.
DR: Howard, with January 1, 2000 just around
the corner, do you have any plans -and are you making any preparations?
Any parting Rheingoldian words you may have for us?
HR: Traditionally, we have a New Year's Eve party,
and this year will be no different. We have a color theme every
year. People wear white or red or black or gold and bring food and
drink in the theme color. This year, I want it to be camo and Judy
and Mame want it to be pink, but they have agreed that guests should
be required to bring some batteries. I will do some elementary Y2K
prep -- a week's worth of food, $1000 cash, batteries, water purifier.
My main y2k preparation is to provide my neighbors on all four
sides, including the fire department across the street, with abundant
produce for my garden, along with a neighborly note. ;-)
Don't worry, be happy!