Friday, 14 July 2017

Quora—A Web of Thought

I had avoided getting on Quora, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc., keeping my social media presence to a dull roar at Twitter and Facebook. I was pleased with this success. I know how easily I can fall down the rabbit hole and I had a big enough warren as it was.

My nephew, however, is very active on Quora, and he knows me well and from time to time would come across things he thought I'd find interesting, and send them to me. Sooner or later something came up that I really wanted to respond to, and that was it. I signed up, I was hooked.

What is Quora?

According to their website,
Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. Its publisher, Quora, Inc., is based in Mountain View, California. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.More at Wikipedia

Fair enough. So why do I bring it up here?

I do so because it is, in a way, all about writing in its deepest senseat least, for me. There are endless categories of questions and ways to find specific people or categories of people to answer them, or you just let your question swim out into the waters and see who (if anyone) responds. I'm not much of an asker of questions. Not many pop to mind when I am at the site. But I am very often drawn in to answering.

The first and most satisfying question experience I had was when a spider half-drowned in my shower and when it recovered several hours later, it began performing odd movements. I asked the question,

Why would Pholcus phalangiodes do deep knee bends (see my comment below)?

Then I used the search field that allows you to find specific people to request a response from. I put "arachnologist" in the field, found several, asked them, and got some interesting ideas, though no definitive answer. Quora pointed me to a related question, which had received no answers, so again I requested the help of arachnologists. Between the two questions and the folk who responded I learned a ton about my spider neighbours, connected with some lovely people, really enjoyed myself, and found a satisfactory answer to the question (which turned out to be what I had hypothesized in the first place, so that was cool). The key thing is that the behaviour I was interested in is not mentioned in writeups about this beast, yet within a couple of hours I had contacted people who knew the species well and were able to help me think it through. Citizen science lives!

A second satisfying question I asked was,

How are Irish people reacting to Leo Varadkar's politicals goals?

This was excellent because to be honest I hadn't even heard through Canadian media (though perhaps it was said) that Enda Kenny had stepped down as Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, whose job Varadkar now has), and the little I found on the internet about Varadkar was pretty cheery and meatless. So it was great to get on the ground responses to his presence in a political scene I can't easily espy from where I live.

Mostly, though, my time on Quora is spent answering questions. Sometimes my answers are off the cuff and meant to be amusing, as well as giving some genuine response. Sometimes I am drawn to think very deeply, take risks in exposing my own vulnerabilities, and work to find the best way I can to transmit my thinking, perhaps to someone who is in a position of fear or depression. That's what I mean about "writing in its deepest sense". I find myself challenged brainwise, heartwise, couragewise, and of course, stylewise. The wrong writing style will kill your message, but the right might carry it home.

I have no idea if any of my answers mean much to anyone, but I think that Quora is helping me to broaden my appreciation of the struggles people are facing, and their hopes and perspectives. I get to talk to people I would normally never encounter. And I get to dig into my foggy brain and do my best for someone, one Quora comment at a time.

Here are a few of my comments, fyi. They aren't perfect, but I think they are slowly improving.

Sara Ralph
Sara Ralph upvoted this
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

I love spiders! My job as a little kid was to be summoned to every closet where my mother saw a spider, rescue the critter and take it outside for release. I felt awfully proud of myself because everyone else on earth, as far as I could tell, was either afraid of them or hated them, and spiders were in grave danger when those people were around. In fact, I was proud of my mother, too, who cared enough about both me and spiders that she didn’t let them get killed, which she knew would upset me, but let me help them out instead.

I have never kept a spider as a pet, but I am always happy when I meet one in the wild (my house or outside). I once rescued (without permission) a half dead Australian redback spider that was being left to die in a jar. I don’t know if it survived, but it had a fighting chance. Because these spiders are poisonous people are even more inclined to kill them, and although I wouldn’t do it myself, I understand this fear. But what this woman was doing, letting it slowly starve because she wanted it dead and was too squeamish to kill it, horrified me.
I think that when we allow ourselves to notice and appreciate beings as little and loathed as spiders it opens the world up to us in many wonderful ways. We see things we would have missed, learn about lives so unlike our own; we are less alone because we don’t dismiss the small creatures all around us, and we learn thoughtfulness (you have to be alert if you want to protect delicate little spiders from your own big feet), and compassion.
Win, win, win, win, win. Enjoy your spidery world!
Sara Ralph
Isi Arnott-Campbell
Sara Ralph and Isi Arnott-Campbell upvoted this
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

I pity the government that tries to recruit cats as its spy-assassins. Not because cats couldn’t do it. Cats can do anything. But because no self-respecting cat could give a rat’s arse what any government wants done.
One of my favourite things about cats is that everything must be negotiated. If you want them to do something, you are the one who needs to scratch your head. They will blithely do whatever they feel like doing unless you can make it worth their while, so what ends up happening is you start to realize that life is compromise, not rule, and you figure out how to negotiate with them and what to let go, and you are happier than in your pre-cat existence. (All hail Bast and Sekhmet!)
HOWEVER. Should a cat want to do it, many people would die. I refer you back to Sekhmet. Gods of Ancient Egypt: Sekhmet It is important to get the cat drunk if you want the carnage to end.
What is far more likely, though, is that a cat would set up a system of houses where it could be fed and doted on, and leave trails of fur and dander to its heart’s content.

Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

Ooh, tricky. First, you can’t actually make anyone more conscious about anything. All you can do is invite them to look at something, and if it sticks, great, and if it doesn’t, well, then you will need to deal with how that feels for you.
I spent a lot of my young life trying to get people to be more aware, and I felt very invested in it. It was very upsetting because in general their reaction was, “Feck off, it’s none of your business.” What I needed to learn was that if they really didn’t want to change, or if they simply were not in a place where they were able to look at things, and especially if their behaviour was harmful to them or me, I had to decide whether I needed to take some distance from them, and either find another way to support them or simply remove myself from the situation.
If you do decide it makes sense to have a conversation with your Dad about this, I would steer away from broad generalizations like “Dad, have you considered being more conscious about your life?” (Obviously you weren’t planning on saying that, but you get the picture.) Instead, if there is a particular issue that is worrying you, find a way to tell him, take responsibility for the feelings it is bringing up in you, and then leave it to him to decide whether and how to deal with it. For instance, “Dad, I find myself getting scared when I see how little rest you seem to be getting. I’m worried you might get sick.” Something specific like that.
Good luck!

I had to hand in a sheet of paper to excuse my brother. He was taking AP testing an would be gone for the day. I forgot it at home but still went to the office at school to tell them my brother would be testing. I didn't tell my parents about forgetting the sheet and then they flipped their shit.
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

This sounds like the sort of situation where all you can do is genuinely apologize and then let them get over it.

John Rambo after coming home from the Vietnam War decides to pass through Mayberry, he encounters Andy but also Barney who can be a dick at times and Goober, Floyd the Barber offers him a shave and haircut.
What would happen? Violence?
Sara Ralph
Sara Ralph upvoted this
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

Wow, I feel like I’m time travelling in free fall.
If John goes to Mayberry as soon as he gets back from the Vietnam War, he is going to be in for a surprise, surprise, surprise! The Vietnam War? they will ask. What Vietnam War?
Beginning to question both his own sanity and their connection to the outside world, John is on edge, but he is also lulled by the gosh darn goodness of it all. Even Barney is just annoying; he has a goofy nonthreatening likeability that reminds John of one of the guys he knew in ‘Nam.
John ends up spending a lot of time with Opie, fly-fishing and staring at the clouds, and finds a whole new life where his red, angry scars have some kind of chance to heal. Especially since the whole thing never happened, anyway.

Why is death such a big deal?

After a few months of depression, all of a sudden some questions started popping in my head and have been troubling me a lot. I am wondering why is death such a big deal and why is everyone so afraid of death. No matter how much I try I am not able to convince myself. Please help me understand.

In one way, I’m not afraid of death. Having come close to it I know how easy it is to slip from breathing to not breathing. It is not a terrible thing. BUT.
I am afraid of not living, of not grasping the fullness of being alive because of thoughts and feelings that get in the way and shut me down, because of how my life has gone, because of the world and how I receive it, because of choices I make, and even because of ways my body is.
I know (you can know differently, but this is what know) that once I die that’s it. Every chance I will ever have to love my life can only happen while I am alive. I get innumerable chances while living, with every moment I find myself in. But once the gig is up, it is up. And I hate to waste my life and all the joy available to me.
I don’t mean the joy of some fantasized union with another person, or some career or other action that will prove my value to myself and the world. I am talking about the joy of really feeling how much I love you when I look into your eyes, and being with you instead of with my suffering, and even being with my suffering instead of being with my running away. I know how alive I can be. I know it has nothing to do with what I have or what I may have or who I am with or what I have done. But the scars of life are deep and I have to fight my way to that place sometimes. I don’t want to give up the struggle with my own despair, but when I am tired or depressed as you are, the urge to shut off can be very strong. I give in more than I wish, which is terribly distressing.
Death is not the problem here. It is missing out on life because of what I regret and what I fear. That is what saddens and frightens me.

Image: Pholcus phalangioides by R.A. Ellis, Im Spinnenland, (1913). Uploaded by User Valérie75 on fr.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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