i Virtù di Progettini

listening to the walls

Where does the unMonks residency coalesce :
in the cultivating of one-to-one alliances;
via the strengthening of inner group powers;
through the building of a cultural matrix
of genuine, effective exchange?

Greater and Lesser Omissions 
Monks require meditation; the sheer weight of practical considerations allowed precious little time for reflection.  (Praise be upon the hard fought choice to opt for the hand warming rituals of manual dishwashing.)  Otherwise, we coddled modern beings reflexively expanded our comfort zones as best we could.  With hardly time to raise our heads in either song or prayer, we assaulted our undernourished ‘long term goals’ as if they were hacked into the stone of the walls.

The unMo speaks of treasuring its interface.  The unMo speaks of Listening to its Walls.
The geological massive from which the unMonastery fundament has been carved resists tidy demarcations.  Walls are not just walls but fault lines of least resistance.   Carefully carved vaults have become pockmarked through centuries of seeping condensation.  The face of the cave wall is a breathing entity full of undesigned detail.  The signs of willed human interaction are not signs of impatience nor esthetic blindness, they are rather intrusions spurred by the need to survive. 

As it is with this our formal space, so is it with our conceptual space.  Our projects shall and must dissolve to redefine their arc.  Grand plans despite their magnificent lines must adapt to reality, but it would be desirable for our day to day project design to be modified by something more than the need to survive.  While befriending reality is often wise, our conscious choices are better spurred by a desire for elegance than for purely practical considerations.  Sketching an array of desirable progettino can be an illuminating strategy…

The grandiose project Mission Statement is meant to be an unObtainable wish – a navigational star placed so conveniently far from reality – that no matter how convincingly we have bashed our heads against the wall, as soon as we regain consciousness we can swiftly spot our orientation and adjust our direction.

If the guide posts for a major project exists at such a distance to defy nuanced perspective, we must often turn to our practical daily interactions in order to at all measure any forward motion.  However, if we can adjust the terms of our examination with even minor degrees of magnification, progress becomes quickly breathtaking.

To facilitate our daily, more prosaic growth it is desirable to deconstruct The Upper Case Project into component ‘progettini’.  Progettini are the positive steps, the openings opened, our daily desirables.  Focussing upon these natural by-products of a project description can inform us when we are really doing what we intend to be doing.  Identifying the refined facets of our living interface helps us evolve our true projects, we can begin to interact with reality.

Listing the component virtues of our projects may seem distasteful.  These things are meant to be discretely ingrained within all our worldly activities, to articulate the desire for them comes dangerously close to brashly claiming their presence.  Even if projects aren’t meant to be humble, their perpetrators are.

Our way out of this is to go into our circles, to distill our desirables via a collective process that masks our personal ambition and elevates the inherent vision to a function of the group.  If I were to humbly suggest tentative project virtues that might help us unMonasterians align our day to day work, a brief list might look like this:

  • participatory — leave behind the experience of doing the work; 
  • visceral — incorporate the joy of physical effort at that core of the exchange;
  • inhabit a linguistically level (or lower) playing field;  
  • elegant — in accomplishment and idea;  
  • demonstrative of the creation of surplus value.

This list of i virtù di progettini of can readily be extended through the actor’s homework tool of articulating one’s subtext.  What is it we do when we are doing our real work?  Or as Brother Siri once put it to the group: What are the experiences of WOW that made you feel that this was what being an unMonasterian was all about?  What are our daily objectives?  Expressed generally as, say,  “I will do some good” we remain general and toothless.  Broken down into component parts, we gain useful precision…

The Subtext of Good Works 

  1. Form Friendships - this is the easy one.  Every society has its social fault lines, the schism between those who routinely embody subconscious values, and those that actively set the same values in question.  Along this division lie human cells of curiosity that readily open for connections with our available friendship receptors.  People seek people.  People seek like minds.  Hampered by linguistic unProficiency (even as some of us daubed in Duolingo), the cultivating of human warmth becomes the currency of our exchange, fumbling forwards with grace and humility.
  2. Forming friendships remain our first five objectives.  Variations on the theme may provide us subtle re-writes such as the expand your network or
  3. Gather concerned citizens,
  4. Unearth strategic allies,
  5. Build emotional support among like minds.
    The true basis all of these constitute feeding potential friendships.
  6. Cohesion / Cultivating the We  – The inner workings of the enterprise needs must be solid.  To give each other enough space for all personal foibles is not necessarily best policy.  The Art of Self-Sacrifice may be a finicky creature to introduce and then tame, but without it we merely replicate the environments that have driven us to this impasse of supplicating ourselves in the first place.
  7. Co-consciousness – Above and beyond documentation our work needs definition.  Coincidently, creating the one can beget the other; however, the flaws of both pen on parchment and obscure blog comment is that the best laid words of many can be consigned to a ridiculously short shelf-life beneath an enormous mountain of virtual dust.
    It is proposed that all documentation be hatched in pairs. Such texts in equal parts impeded and enriched by each other have an added value of tweaking convergent vision.
  8. Emotional growth -  This goes without saying that by investing of our humanity we seek to stimulate the occupation of new territory among ourselves and our collaborators.
  9. Spawn – As project managers everywhere will happily testify, the sign of a good project is when it takes over its own steering.  It is in the nature of projects that they beget projects.  One can debate the absolute wisdom, but at certain stages of project life: the more the merrier.*  Drowning in brilliant ideas is a familiar symptom of even a healthy enterprise.  Not all shall find fertile soil, and an effective short, quick filter system for registering, recycling, shelving, allotting and decapitating schemes and dreams in favour of a clear tactical progression of actionables is a vital tool to possess.   * It has been noted that everyone who walks through the unMo doors leaves us with at least two threads of pursuable projects… 
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Occupy Real Work

The unMonastery    -    a  Social Installation
The recipe is elegant.  Skilled but critical human citizens turn their back on the inhuman marketplace to move into surplus public real estate at the outer edge of the modern experiment.  Together they recreate almost forgotten life rhythms and devise meaningful work projects. 

They are not here to thrash out miracles, but can inadvertently find themselves bestowing their blessings upon those who mirror similar values.  This installation of committed workers into a local community where hope and vision may be suffering, can act as a catalyst.  Alliances will be formed; spin-off can be anticipated…

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Filthy Habits


The question recently arose – What became of our ‘habit-forming’ workshop?  Being instantly distinguishable from the more standard tourist remains desirable – but intruding upon the cult of the individual seems dangerous territory.  The workshop with Zoe at the LOTE#3 could only scratch the surface of desirability.  Values such as stitching your own garment within the first week were applauded as wise.

But quite independent of the design issues, without a forum to create a consensus around such a practice, it would have to be left to the first convention of unMonasterians.  By the time we first sat faccia a faccia our options were limited.  More prosaic considerations commanded our attention; what we looked like was the least of our concerns – deprived of heat, sleep, internet connection we felt distinctly and proudly unMonkish.  That would suffice.

The easiest would have been to steal Ben’s habit.  I would have thrived in a rich, warm brown, Marc could have sported steel grey without fracturing his style.  Katalin could explore her options: a red, a violet, a cream?  Elf clothing an unabashed sports car green; who would wear white? sacred saffron?  What colours could would result if we boiled down the pigments of the neighbouring Murgia?*

Does this belong in the Book of Errors  - yes indeed.  Along with the ceremony of taken upon the habit of an unMoaner would be the inevitable mumbo jumbo.  Rituals to ease the transition from civilian evil habits were meant to be my territory; in practice a fear of appearing a cult has left us frightenly normal.  The inevitable phases of landing and lurching are explored inThe Vow of unSomething.

*Should we indeed retain our customary names?  Traditionally they were surrendered at the gate along with all worldly possessions and the hair on your head.  A simple swap might suffice; I’ve always coveted the name Arthur.

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The unWhoop


Some traditions adhere more solidly than others. Rumour has it that it was key members of the unMo beta that brought it about. Apparently the floor plans as supplied by the ancient local ‘Mimers’ support this theory. The first unMoaners lived their life on two levels. The sleeping floor: airier, first-heated, presumably better lit was perched above the more cavernous lower floor where distinct recollections of the eating process in the form of memories of Open Dinner arrangements are reported by several sources…

UnMoaners everywhere mark the beginning of their famous food feasts with an inevitable uvular whooping sound that heralds their sacred mealtimes. It is speculated that this ‘call to plate’ was implemented to permeate the thick rock of their earliest dwellings. Bouncing off the adjacent wall of Tony’s neighbouring Bed & Breakfast to rattle the window glass of the unMembers who hadn’t yet joined in on the dining room Dance of the Circling Vultures.

Little is left of their precise dining practice, searching their midden heap provides remarkable few signs of life and surprisingly little waste for an operation of their purported proportion. It has been therefore hypothesised that a zero waste policy was rigorously enacted already from the first settlement. However, one contradictory piece of evidence to this theory are the heavy finds of seemingly contemporary glass shards on the adjacent stone veranda. This could also indicate that exercising demonstrative fury was not foreign to the unMonasterian mealtime celebrations. It may therefore be worth speculating on what might bring such a conceptually gentle social organ to suffer routine inharmonious mealtimes. The literature supplies no record of a liturgical contribution. Some preserved lists indicate that even with a reduced population of as low as six residents, two people were proscribed the task of cooking pranza and cena in an apparently random arrangement of paired names. Signs of injudicious distribution of duties and of what seem spontaneous task-swapping arrangements make it harder to trace the culture of their Art of Dining. It should however be taken for granted that dine they did.

An alternative theory that at least partially supports the disharmony interpretation of the fine glass chips littered across the terrace has it that the unMo pioneers had a difficult and hypocritical attitude to their own consumption of alcohol. Paradoxical snippets of ‘unRules’ indicate that while hospitality was considered a key virtue and a cornerstone of interface strategies, it was also noted that many itinerant souls brought with them nasty degrees of chemical dependency; thus, the high degree of glass finds may indicate an attempt to hide an early-stage unDignified consumption of bottled beverages.* The tradition of high volume whooping may have somehow been used to mask the sound of exploding wine bottles.
* Into this debate may be factored the obscure possibility that an infamous discotheque could have easily been situated in an adjoining building complex sharing the same terrace, and that nothing would materially hinder local youth from engaging in unRuly practices of their own design in the same territory.

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The Vow of unSomething

Landing, Lurching, Launching
The Matera Prototipo behaved as unMonasteries everywhere.  The initial landing phase that involved locating any available source of hot water and becoming intimate with the fuse box gently eased into a period of apparent paralysis.

Buoyed only by their residual unFaith and the collective commitment to make the most of our culinary skills, the unMonks seemingly cowled in their cowls.  The accompanying phase of Culture Shock became reinforced as we absorbed the realities of our concentric Vows of Deprivation.  To emerge again as a cohesive, coherent band of devotees would indeed be a tall order.

Inevitable Invasion of the Holy Spaces
The Matera unMo followed the pattern of organic growth in unknown surroundings.  To remove the fear of faltering the first iteration repeatedly reminded itself that this was a prototipo.  Those unused to the cultivation of the ensemble could thus be automatically conscious that their’s was a life of firsts.  However, such was the pace of developments that our community of self-governing, floundering novices had yet to acknowledge the few concrete indications of the invisible, unarticulated spiritual depth of our voyage together, before their novice status was placed under question.  Forced by circumstance to welcome the unMonastery’s first substantial wave of new arrivals; it was beyond our adroitness to spontaneously promote ourselves into de facto initiates.

That fresh faces clearly need a de-tox period to negotiate their own landing should be unQuestionable.  However, with a more than full program and the absence of a blood transfusion ritual, integration was taken for granted.  

Feelings of sacredness are not immediately contagious; they require active transference.
The works of Societa Raffaello Sanzio offers a convincing pathway.  In their work X km up the coast in Cesena they also opened their work space to invaders.  Instead of flinging the doors wide open to let loose the romping urges of the young – access to each square meter was to be won.  Darkness, mystery and creative effort initiated the unveiling of each new room.  Resistance was honoured; ghosts were to be respected.  

The parallel excavation process in the unMonastery was afforded to the pioneer participants by the gradual unfolding of our operations as the heating system kicked in over a prolonged, four week period.  By the time of the second coming, the space as a whole had acquired a warming allure; it was impossible to ascertain where the newly dismantled barriers that so numbed the veterans once stood — the miracle of the unMo could be taken for granted.

De-tox Period
Sacred duty is not communicable by osmosis.  Early experience indicates that it takes at least two weeks of dedicated re-wiring before an urbanite in exile can emerge with patches of purity.  Until chemical imbalances and industrialised day rhythms have become adjusted, expecting them to hit the beach running is not the best strategy.  Ideally their acclimatisation period would include ritual baths and daily anointment with oil of self-gathered herbs.  They would be chanted upon and gently rocked into renewal, if not rebirth.  Their first act of raising a piece of cutlery towards their lips would become the subject of wise commentary disguised as any ancient joke. 

An observable external sign exhibited by our fresh arrivals has been a marked decline in coffee consumption (this despite the delectables available on the local market.)  Similarly, non-daily consummation of alcohol is a novelty for many.  The unMo practice has been simple – alcohol does not feature in our collective purchasing agreements; however, should a bottle of short-distance wine appear on the table it is consumed with both gusto and gratitude.  Our collection of empty bottles signifies this gratitude, but also our infringements upon this unwritten rule.  Again the statistically slight experience of the initial unMo populous indicates that it is not beyond the possible that, with maturity, also this chemical self-prescription of spiritual fodder is subject to creeping refinement.

Other pleasures of the flesh require other negotiations.  The Joy of Cursing seems indicative of hidden cycles of frustration that follow us from afar and which leave the unMo grace of spirit to exist in an easily disturbable pool of serenity.  The War of the Veganites has at time escalated with the identical ferocity that is ascribed the omnivores to which it is directed — biting back is a pleasure of its own…

Purity of Purpose
As the fear of unAccomplishment struck the less faithful, moments of our daily ritual became abbreviated into a perhaps illegible shorthand; degrees of holiness fading into degrees of unHoliness.  The veterans were restless, even while the uncomprehending newcomers had a legitimate need to be taken in hand.  This when it is postulated that such hand-holding is in itself not immediately reconcilable with the self-image of refugees from civilisation for whom hitting the beach running may be the only conceivable scenario.

Everyone needs follow their own version of the Landing/Lurching/Launching cycle.  The unMo must evolve the appropriate Human Rites to ease the Process.

Rituals of Aspiring
One symptom of our unArticulated measurable steps is the hastily embraced Friday evening public appraisal session.  Not only did the form mimic the much despised unidirectional TED talking with all the dryness of a cactus forest, in its prototype event it tamed the Wild Elf.  Instead of a vibrant, populated interface that in itself ferments the work it at best produced a most obedient feedback loop devoid of spiritual resonance.

Producing dead documentation as an artifact of our good intentions is to drastically underestimate our potential; it replicated the use of media at its most pacifying form far from any perceivable cutting edge.  Despite a fool-hardy attempt to give the proceedings the proverbial swift kick in the arse, the product became some highly forgetable vimeo stuff of interest to few beyond obsessed archivists.  It says what it says, but it is unBelievably bad theatre*.  Even resolute young Elf, who in the interests of getting his efforts indelibly documented bravely went first, employed a most embarrassing maneuver obviously learned in the arms of a bureaucrat to completely disregard his own time limit.

The unMo has promised to use all its savvy to do better.  I would suggest that the shortfall lies in the thinness of our ritual.  It was remarkable that to my recollection that despite a brief explosion of dancing at our inaugural open appraisal session, it didn’t feel organic to include our visitors in a closing circle.

*It is rumoured that the third public appraisal session occurred with an audience of only house residents.

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Strasbourg Frustration Management Bipolar Collective Workshop

( Il Livro dell’ Errori III )


Linguistic poverty is humiliating – steps must be made to bridge ones own helplessness without forcing others into theirs.  Occasionally the protracted pace of non-simultaneous translation can be turned to one’s advantage.  At the Inaugural unMo Party, I had Rita. 
In the Good People of Matera, I also had a hungry audience.  Patience can be a limited commodity, talk of the unMonastery had circulated for weeks, but did we really do anything?  It was certainly time to open our doors.  The population were summonsed: they would hear from us, they would also hear from one another.  We set up an open platform where groups and individuals could explain to the community the dynamics of their activities.  Some of those speaking would be well known; others could be a surprise…

There was a slot to fill.  The aforementioned good people deserved insight into what we thought we were doing.  I chose to go back to one day preceding the invention of the unMonastery idea at the first Living on the Edge gathering in Strasbourg.  I brought along two especially prepared, tall empty boxes with convenient handholds.

That historic day in Strasbourg, brother Rysiek had been concerned that his organisations tended to go down in flames.  Negative energy accumulated and found no constructive outlet.  Groups lost their edge.  He postulated a lightning rod – a negativity grounder – a totem pole that acknowledged the delicate nature of ‘Working on the Edge’ and that would protect us from a bashing when times got intricate. 

I presented my boxes as Exhibit A.  But only after having dragged dear Rita into the world of a man bent upon ‘revealing a scandal and abandoning all sense of diplomacy’.  Even if it was pointed out that since half the audience were more than likely electronic engineers everyone instinctively understood that it was impossible to create a pole of negativity without reaping the benefit of the positive fountain of inspiration, the audience were thus primed for a dangerous voyage…

The scandal bit was predicable: according to me the entire set-up of the non-Monastario was based upon false premises.  The original forty-three challenges extracted from the Materani almost exactly a year ago, were unfortunately never properly recorded.  Instead, the best our historians could produce was a limp fragment from a web artifact allegedly fed in shorthand to an Englishman!  When this document forgery had been discovered, it was already too late.  Able hands attempted a delicate restoration, but the damage had been done; the best they could manage was a good-tempered summary – a renovated, more palatable Greatest Hits now routinely presented as the twelve desirable desires and circulated to the international curious.

As the good citizens absorbed my concern; a strong urge arose that said that this misrepresentation of history shouldn’t go unexamined.  Quick to respond, I announced that I would here and now reveal the missing 31 challenges in all their nakedness.  Zipping by a slide of my intriguing ‘Culture First’ work model, I resurrected the original flimsy fragment of suppressed truths.  In a quick series of slides, I flashed the forbidden 43 Challenges in all their glory, highlighting the fact that each of them was based around a perceivable element of negativity: ( 21 examples of the word “No”, supplemented by 5  “Nots”) . Three slides later, I had deftly extracted the incendiary red words and boiled them down to a moderately poetic litany suitable for chanting with great bravata.  But, I was not there to teach Materani English – aware that my time running out, I broke off the promising howls of the masses in mid-stream.  And switched to the penultimate slide brought to us by my faithful friend Google… 

The Italian version of their litany was even juicier; moderate percussive conducting on my part was all that was necessary for the assembled multitudes to roar out their accumulated despair in convincing unison. 

No, No.
No, No.

No, No, No. 

No, no, no.
Scarso. No.
Sprecato. No.

Retrogrado, scarso. No.
No, difficile, no.
No, No, sporco.

Scarso. No.
La gente si lamenta molto.
No. No.
Lamentarsi interna senza fine. Troppo. non
Spaccatura. non
Pochi / dividere /sottovalutare.
No, niente.
Non- stare non-.

Starting with its crescendo of “No”s, the list peaked with Lamentarsi interna senza fine” ( Endless internal lamenting) before rounding off with a resounding, elongated. “Troppo” (Too much).  The resonance was palpable.

Rita, my loyal translator had used her unilingual quiet time to advantage; quick enough to grasp where I was heading, she was having none of it.  My negativity was not going to win the day.  I however had one more slide up my sleeve…

I quickly brought back the Culture First logo now augmented for the occasion with the desirable straight-forward linguistic adjustments.  Locating the unMonastery at the crux of a cultural environment that was easily clouded by chronic negativity – I mobilised sufficient body language to convey the effort necessary to get into a position to negotiate appreciable leverage.  It was demonstrably formidable.  People got my point.

And so it was back to my Negative and Positive Polarities of Project Management.  Despite my considerable defensive capabilities, Rita was well on her way to give me a good bashing with her Made in Italy positive energy box, when I was saved by the gong…



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The Healing Arts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey lived their life in circles,
A clustered round the warmth.

The limits of unMonastic life are legitimate.  We do indeed choose to suffer perceivable deprivation.  So much is this the case that we as palpably human beings are forced to turn to the pleasures and potential pleasures of communal living in order to renew our zeal.  Although occasions of bacchanalia are mentioned in our literature, at the moment of writing we have not yet succumbed to rites of sexual abandon.  And since neither appreciable amounts of the dance nor audible song have entered our repertoire,
our renewal mechanisms are reduced to bad jokes, genuine caring and pure human warmth as shared in our two daily ritual circles and the universal sacrament of mealtimes.

The inherent conflict between our existence as a willing service institution and the more central experiment as a lifestyle choice is now under trial.  Repulsed by our insularity some seek refuge in the fleeting pleasures of fieldwork; while others, perhaps feeling dissatisfied with the superficiality of their field presence, retreat to the confines of the manageable chores within the unMo walls.  By-passing one another has now become a routine occurrence.  The unMonastery has sprung a leak…

The clearest manifestation of leakage is in our legendary morning practice.  Despite the impressive documentary footage shot by a radio-steered helicopter on the morning of our Grande Opening Feast, we have only once celebrated full attendance.  The assembled non-multitudes do the best they can, and almost routinely lift their somewhat comatose morning spirits to levels of minor euphoria.  However, we have yet to articulate the value of this activity in integrating and consolidating the collective.  Instead of something one meets keen, prepared and eager, it has been reduced to serving as an optional augmentation to the wake-up call.  Few have proven willing to see beyond their own precious selves in this equation — not reckoning that their negative presence inevitably subtracts from the positive and that those who do choose to re-invent our fellowship in concentric flights of visceral fancy, do so in the shadow of those who succumb to temptation of another 20 minutes under the warm sheets.  It is noted that the absentee rate from breakfast is appreciably lower.

That this heartbreaking dis-integration is not subject to alarm is in itself alarming.  The investment in the ensemble is the duty of every unMonasterian.   It is certainly something worth getting out of bed for.  In the pre-unMo literature this challenge was designated as “Creating the We”.  For the ego-bred urbanite such an investment in our own ‘intergratity’ seems not to be second nature.  Can a certain fevour be renewed without resorting to inorganic strategies?  Fortunately, we can turn to the wonderful world of paradoxical therapy that suggests us that for the chronically tired, one trick is to awaken earlier.

This may not be the only diagnostic window on the health of our order; it is however ridiculously easy to count the attendant heads.

Video clip 1:11 min  

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