Little Sister

I am the youngest of four children. Since the beginning I was always the last to learn anything. My brothers were older and always knew a little more–or a lot more–than I did.

Always behind, always thinking everyone but me knew.

There are some advantages to this. If I didn’t know something it was only because I hadn’t caught on YET. With older brothers I had three chances to get the answer.

Of course I didn’t want to admit to my brothers I didn’t know. I would try to find out on my own.

I was so sure that I could learn the secrets to anything if I set my mind to it.

My brothers’ interests diverged from mine pretty quickly. But I never lost the certainty that my questions would be satisfied.

It’s served me well. My career was built on the many many men who took the time to take my questions seriously and help me understand what I was seeking.

So we are all grown up now. I have accumulated some knowledge and I’m finally sure that there are many things I know that they don’t understand.

We each have our areas of expertise.

I’m pretty sure I’ve always been better at asking questions.


So here’s how I like to create art: 
Exactly my way.
The last session I picked an art project (a webinar and course from my book) and started to research all about how to do it.
I got discouraged
And more discouraged
Until I was so overwhelmed I binge watched tv reruns.
I knew I was running away but I needed to not face it.
I heard Krista Tippett interview Elizabeth gilbert today. And Gilbert talked about creation being for its own sake
Side note: I am cynical about Elizabeth Gilbert because I am very envious of her success. Why her? My stuff is on par with Eat Pray Love. Why not me?
And I heard her talk about defending her art. Why create? And I remembered my tizzy about Simon Sineks “what is your Why?” And how I felt as though I’d been depantsed and my creativity was not good enough. Because I didn’t have a Why.
Gilbert gave me back my why. 
Because I can! 
I have no control over whether people will pay me for my art. That’s never stopped me before.
I know exactly how to make the course. And now that I give myself permission to do it exactly my way, it feels light again
The muse never promised me an audience. I’d like one, but I wouldn’t sacrifice future creativity for an audience for my past creations.
Creating makes me happy. That’s my why. Complicatedly, frustratingly, backbreakingly happy.
I might never find a big audience.
Which is frustrating (see previous comment)
People would be better off if they consumed what I produce.
And people often choose things that make them worse off
Nothing I can do about that
I’ll just go my art my way

Quest Phrases

Off to seek my fortune–it’s a fairy tale phrase. One of my all-time favorite movies “The Princess Bride” begins with the romantic hero Wesley goes to do that exact thing.

It still happens, I think. One way or they other, we are seeking our fortune.

I’m not sure when this quest-phrase was overtaken by “find myself.”

I know it was popular in the 1960s. Flower children ran away to San Francisco to have be-ins.

We are all looking for ourselves, it seems.

I know I lose myself often and quickly. As I immerse myself in some new environment or project I lose my borders and take on what I see the group needs as my own need.

Immerse is the right word for it. I don’t realize for quite some time how I have merged with something that is not me so completely.

I recall this experience vividly when I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It was a book. It was the story of someone else. And I found myself feeling depressed and hopeless as I read her story.

Where did my borders go?

This definitely happens with friends, family, work and other social group.

Heck, it can happen with the news.

I have found myself wrestling with a mood or a state of mind for ridiculous lengths of time before shaking myself to the realization:

It wasn’t even me.

It’s not always easy to rediscover the difference between myself and my circumstance.

It makes sense that people might need to leave their circumstances completely to “find themselves.”

One of the things I love best about fairy tales is their uncomplicated lack of psychology. Fairy tale heroes do not have inner voices. They take external action. They seek their fortune, an external pursuit.

Our new quest to find ourselves has appeared only in the last hundred or so years. It seems our fortune–meaning our wealth and our fate–is what we find inside our hearts and souls. To seek our fortune, if we are so blessed, is to find ourselves.

Mechanical learning

One of the aspects of my 8-5 job is that I get to have headphones on my head. Most of the time.
Not every job lets you do that.
It kind of means that there is noise distractions in my environment. It also means that my job is mostly not that challenging. I can put some of my attention elsewhere as I plow through emails and databases.
I don’t always listen to music. A whole lot of the time I am listening to someone talk. I like to learn interesting things I didn’t know.
It’s a special balance, listening to something that is interesting but not so engrossing that I can’t have part of my brain chugging away on answering emails and data fields.
This week I have found something that fits the bill perfectly:
A recorded college class on classical mythology.
On iTunes U, there is a video recording of a class that was taught in the University of Ohio more than a decade ago. It is exactly like being in a college class. Which means that it is not at all engrossing. It is barely interesting enough that it required a threat of failure to keep the students paying attention.
That threat doesn’t work on me. I hear the professor threatening with weary humor his audience with what may or may not be on the test.
He repeats himself so often, that even though the subject matter is fascinating to me, it’s dreary.
I’ve talked before about Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I fully believe that teaching is an art, and learning is an art. This Ohio class is not high art. I am sure that the professor is far better at teaching than this snapshot would showcase.
His teaching was captured, and it’s pretty sad. It could be so much better.
Khan Academy flips teaching on its head. The subject matter can be consumed in a form that the student likes best-video, written, audio, you pick. Then a teacher can come in and interact.
Watching the dumpy teacher slowly slowly working through his subject is like cave drawings.
Teaching and learning can be so much better than that. It already is.
This class is about classical Greek mythology. At least the part that I’ve listened to so far.
Those Greeks made quite an impression you know. One quasi mythological man springs to mind when I think about this topic—the art of teaching and learning.
Socrates had a famous style he used. They named it after him, the Socratic Method. Here is how Wikipedia explains it:
a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.
That’s what I’m talking about. My Ohio lecturer really tried to get his students to ask questions. And they were not having it.
The system as is currently stands does not reward questions.
Learning for learning’s sake is nowhere in the curriculum.
It didn’t disappear though. It just went outside the system. I bet my Ohio lecturer whose name I don’t remember would be delighted to hear that I was listening to his recorded class.
I’m not the only one. Not his class, but all the ways that knowledge is being consumed.
I bet you that the other headphone-wearing cube dwellers

Trust the Harmony

I got to see Garrison Keillor perform his Prairie Home Companion Show at the Hollywood Bowl last Friday.
Keillor has been doing his show since I was a child, on National Public Radio. There were three radio stations I was permitted to listen to as a kid: the two Christian radio stations and NPR.
The one Christian radio station was very very old fashioned and heinous. The other Christian radio station would play Amy Grant and her ilk, and was therefore close to acceptable.
NPR has mostly heinous, but sometimes it was ok. Prairie Home Companion was ok. He told stories and was silly.
In the media desert that was my teenage years, Garrison Keillor was worth listening to on Saturday and Sunday. He talked about the people in his fictional town of Lake Wobegon, I saw a real humanness that was completely missing from my church. Forgiveness, sadness, soft delight, all the feelings that ordinary people feel in ordinary life.
He was a staple. I still enjoyed listening to him as an adult, although I was not such a loyal listener as I had been.
I live here now, close to Hollywood. I’ve been to the Hollywood Bowl. As a teenager, it was inconceivably sophisticated (literally inconceivable. I had never heard of the Hollywood bowl, and would have thought it was a football stadium that could house a super bowl).
I understand how Garrison Keillor would chose to have his show at the Hollywood bowl. It’s lovely, with an amazing history of entertainment.
Just like him. Prairie Home Companion is so authentically Keillor that’s it’s inconceivable to imagine someone else taking.
Just as inconceivable to imagine it ending.
So I sat and watched (WATCHED!) this radio show. And I realized he’d made it, and he’d kept making it. Just the way he wanted to, like nobody else, for more than 40 years.
I thought, Hey! I am like him. I have made my blog just the way I wanted to, like nobody else, for years and years. I haven’t stopped doing it! We are alike. I’m 14 years in, not 40. But give me time.
I watched him up there, with his team. And I realized he does something I do not do.
He showcases other people. He invites musicians and artists to participate in his creation.
At one point, he was talking with one of his singers. She said “You are singing lead. I know you like to sing harmony, but you are the lead on this one.”
He did like to sing harmony. Even when he was SUPPOSED to be the lead, he fell into harmony.
Perhaps because of the upbringing that demanded self-denial to the extreme, I am afraid to harmonize.
In this Hollywood area I live in, “acts” abound. I am friends with directors who do great work, and I am amazed at their ability to lead a team of people to realize their vision.
I don’t trust the team. I have a vision of what I want to create.
Even this blog post, I know what I want it to be, and I don’t want anybody else tainting it.
I also know that it’s possible
Just possible
That contributors could add to the outcome. Collaboration can mean the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
It’s just
It’s just that collaboration has meant that I have to cut pieces of myself off and leave them behind to fit the mold.
It’s too high of a cost.
Watching Garrison Keillor work with his team, I was so struck at his longevity. He did it.
He showed up and did it for years until decades until it is his legacy. He said this was his last performance but I don’t believe it.
He loves to harmonize.
I would love to find some collaborators. I have to crack open my tight doors and see if I could find some trust to extend.
It’s so powerful to be generously creative. Probably the greatest power there is.