Ties, Bonds, Grips

Justin Pickard

Things to cling onto.

Title after Finnish anthropologist Marja-Liisa Honksalo

Yang is male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating. Yin is female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing. Yang is control, Yin acceptance. (…) Is a yin utopia a contradiction in terms, since all the familiar utopias rely on control to make them work, and yin does not control? Yet it is a great power. How does it work?

Ursula Le Guin

Living with chronic, acute, persistent uncertainty. A sharp onrush, it leaves you gasping, breathless. This is uncertainty experienced bodily, viscerally, at the surface of the skin. And yet. You come to a provisional accommodation. The promise of coexistence. Tentative and underdetermined, requiring adjustments, tacking, iteration.

Some find refuge in the craft of improvisation. Tuning into the problem, probing thresholds, gauging resistance, making changes, then moving on. Offering choice when recourse is scarce, and other options unforthcoming. Beyond a smoothness without seams, questing, seeking handholds. Chalked palms closing on Millstone Grit.

Improvisation involves hazardous action, joining with the world and launching forth. Many have been negotiating adversity by navigating the city and improvising with what was at hand or venturing with different speeds, gestures, lines of drift, loops, and knots.
Magdalena Buchczyk

You crave firm footing, things to hang on to. Straps hanging on a packed bus or metro train. Things that you can rely on, that you can relax into; ground/s to soften your coral-brittle edges. The underlying foundation, substrata. That which you know will always (always) be there. Steady footing, ridged soles; always preferable to a pratfall into the void.

Who endures, and what recurs? Pattern and repetition, part and parcel. Everyday regularities give form to the froth. Invitations, standing appointments. A brunch date, a birthday cake, bright candles in a dark room, thick icing and torn paper. Refuge can be a folding chair at a knot-whorled table. An extension and opening. Familiar faces meeting your gaze, their warm, soft eyes glittering in recognition. No battlements, no final redoubt.

Rhythms and ruptures. The fixity of the seasons weakens and frays, sliding, greased, if not yet lost to static and noise. Between flexibility and crisis, the possibility of transformation without a clean break, sufficient continuity (for here, for now), even as the outcomes remain unclear.

We respond by laying grids atop chaos and churn. The calendar, the spreadsheet, the photo feed. Things to hang on to, while navigating the in-between. Fixing an image with silver, a moment holding firm twixt finger and thumb.

All lives have volatile elements.

Franz Krause and Thomas Hylland Eriksen

{{smallquote_r: Volatility, in this wider perspective, can be understood as the refusal of the world to be fixed.
Franz Krause and Thomas Hylland Eriksen

The fix is in.” A grimace cuts her honeyed consonants. Fixtures and fastenings. Joining, connecting, lashing together. Connection as support, support as connection. A narrow bridge over a Welsh river, secured with cable ties.

Web, net, fabric. A hank of twine. Support as a stitching of gathered cloth, a giving form. A flexible scaffold, structural support for cells attaching, growing, migrating.

How do you endure when under assault, opposed by others, eroded by forces and factors beyond your control? How and to what do you secure yourself? Who can you lean on? What will it take for you to persevere?

How can you fix, steer, or contain, without sowing seeds of future destruction? Another’s, or your own. Structures and strictures tighten. Yesterday’s protective shell restricts further growth, with little space to flex or pivot beneath a heavy hand.

We seek minor repertoires of care and repair. Minimal action, interventions improvised to maintain the fragile stability of the situation, holding things together long enough for a second attempt. Natural remedies and informal support. A foundation of sorts, they say, feeling it, clay-soft, beneath their feet. More of a precedent, really, a proof of concept, a gift from that which does not easily scale.

How does technology foster or hinder these connections? When are digital tools support systems, and when do they become barriers to sustained interpersonal commitment?

A foundational element of local resilience, minor repertoires can help the interrupted return from adversity, shock, system failure. Sneakernet, letterpress, telemoot, mule-borne mimeograph, CB radio. The telemoot does not (yet) exist; but on mules and guerilla publishing, see geographer Jacob Shell’s Transportation and Revolt. These and similar such networked apparatuses can hold and sustain channels, opening apertures between distant others.

There will always be a place for those capable of meeting indeterminacy, volatility, and mobility half-way. Those who do not flinch. Those who seek self-mastery over fixing the form of their social or ecological worlds. Ejected from the cockpit, they, like us, have no choice but to endure, to weather and adapt amid uncertainty’s raging onslaught.

Being with


Further reading & references