reader appreciation week

It’s that thing everyone is saying:

KIDS these days!

They want a trophy for everything. Their helicopter parents hand out ribbons and awards, so they expect it. They are bursting with self-esteem.

…except they aren’t. A lot of them know that those trophies are meaningless. What are they really good at amongst all the accolades? Who are the real friends among all the likes and followers.

My Dad likes to tell the story about his college professor telling him, in the 1950s, that he and his classmates were part of a very very few who were going to college.

At the time he said it, it had ceased to be true.

The 15 minutes of fame isn’t true anymore either.

We are all nobodies in broad view.

Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white

What matters? And how can I make sure that I do?

In this highly and lightly connected world, we are like dandelion fluff, beautiful all together until the weak wind separates.

No! please don’t go!! We had something here…

Publishing a book, or a weekly column, used to be very rare. But not anymore. ISBN numbers are proliferating like weeds.

That nasty inner voice seems to be right. This thing that I am doing, that I am compelled to do because I am who I am, doesn’t matter.

I have almost 100 subscribers to the Weekly Wonder. 100! When Paris Hilton has 11 MILLION people following her tweets. I have shy of a hundred.

And most of the people subscribed do not read it.

That bums me out.

Until I see that some 30-odd people do read what I have to say. And they think it’s important, they listen and tell me that it makes them think.

Some of them read my week’s writing more than once.

That matters. That’s a connection, not a fluff passing on the wind.

Small town, tiny stage. Like It’s a wonderful life, that movie that says how one man made his mark on the world, ordinary and untraveled. He was nobody important to anybody but the people to whom his life’s actions had changed everything.

They say that kids these days want to be famous. And we forget that we all already are, to the people who love our faces and have since forever.

That’s enough. In fact, it’s quite a lot.

Where is that road headed?

Had to make a long haul drive for work today in an old company van. Because he felt sorry for me, my sweet husband burned some music CD.

“Nothing that makes me think,” I said. “I have to drive for four hours starting at 5 AM. “

I started with the Isley Brothers, which was some good funk. On to Van Halen (because I might as well Jump), and through Shirley Brown.

No man should give his lady a Shirley Brown album. I was loving how good she was, and grateful that Chris had introduced me to her, but men do not come out looking good after she’s done singing.

It was a long stretch of highway. Let me tell you.

Now, the next one. “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.” At Folsom prison in 1968.

I know two things about the next week or so. I will be listening to this music wherever I drive and I will not be wearing mascara.

You could fly around the world on a jet plan in 1968. But Johnny Cash was playing the guitar like a railroad train. A train. And everything about it made sense. It still does as I am driving the interstate.

Who made this interstate? Some high school dropout making Davis Bacon?  As the white lines flick past me making a trip for a boss I don’t like to fix a machine that nobody uses and somebody broke on purpose—the story of John Henry is making me cry.

John Henry killed himself to prove a point nobody believed, but everyone hoped could be made.

Everyone.

Trains take you places. Maybe it was your idea. But once you are on it, it’s not a choice anymore.

Chugga chugga Chugga chugga

The highway, now, that’s freedom! On the Road! Great Gatsby

aaOOOgah

Once you are on it, though, maybe it’s not a choice. Keep up with the flow of traffic, stop and go or break your neck.

This automobile that we don’t even know how to fix anymore without calling in a specialist, that we pay and clean and park and house—we think it’s independence.

At least a train would let you ride for free if you were fast enough to catch it.

I’m not saying that we should go back to trains—as if we could! That train left the station even before Johnny Cash and the other country and blues artists made it a symbol.

In 1968 Johnny Cash was singing to the rhythm of the train tracks. The same radios were playing songs that led to protests and “damn the man!” and “Fight the power!” and teaching people to resist the establishment.

That’s not what’s on the radio now.

We are products of our times. Shall we admire the jail cell with GPS that we spend the teaspoons of our life on–maintaining and paying for? Yes we shall. Yes, I do. I do not always recognize that Automobile and that interstate and that parking space as the non-choice it is.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m so sorry for all the John Henrys. But I do not want the guitar music of the train tracks, as my car bumps over the potholes and jagged asphalt to be lost on me, even if I don’t know what exactly to do about it. Even if I can’t make as many choices as I’d like right now.

John Stuart Mill, I have to drag you into it again,

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”

I am not asking for a revolution. I can’t do a revolution right now. But I don’t want to forget the other sides of the question.

what do you do with the bad guys when you want to be a good guy?

My lawyer friend came over today. We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. The last time I saw her she had just barely started practicing law. and I mean barely.

I’ve known her for a very long time. One of the amazing thing she did was take a break between high school and college to go work with underprivileged Mexicans. In Mexico. For a year.

That’s not what people do. People run off to college as soon as possible to start being a grown up and having fun. But she put her own pleasure second to help other people.

And then after college, she started working on some social-worky kinda stuff. Being basically a genius, she was bored. She figured out that the real power to effect change was with the lawyers.

She became a lawyer. Because, remember, she is a genius.

And now she’s in criminal law. This is the opposite of how I imagine ‘making the world a better place’ works. Aren’t we supposed to fight against the bad guys and win for truth justice and the American way?

I asked her, “how do you do it? How do you defend bad guys?”

Earlier this week, I had watched an episode of a TV show about a small town that lost all reason when it was suspected that the tax auditors were visiting. Every one of them had something to hide by the end.

“Everyone deserves to be heard. Everyone deserves a defense, no matter what they’ve done.” She told me how she’d spent some time in a prison, speaking with inmates who were jailed for murder.  And she saw their humanity.

But I had to ask, “What if you know that the person you are defending is guilty? Aren’t you afraid they will go free?”

“That is incredibly unlikely. Even in the case of someone like O.J. Simpson, when the supposedly guilty person got off, the laws were immediately adjusted to keep that sort of thing from happening again.And,” she went on, “afterwards, he was under so much scrutiny that he is in prison now.”

She believes in the system, and knows how very harsh it is.There are a lot of criminals. And most of them do not have much money to get good legal counsel. Add that up, and that means there are not a lot of criminal defense lawyers and law firms.

One has to look hard to find a place to do the kind of work she’s chosen to do.  I am humbled and impressed by her compassion for the people who society would condemn, and her work on their behalf.

I think I’m gonna go try to clear out my closet of the judgey-pants I usually put on. After all, everyone of us has something we are ashamed of. Love and compassion ought to be closer at hand.

 

the internet is killing computers

So I was thinking…I have my computer open all the time and I go check it a million times a day.

But what am I really checking? What work am I doing?

It seems that all I do is throw away spam mail, re read the stuff my friends sent me, and follow intriguing links on the margins of my email homepage.

I pride myself on not spending time on reality tv, but I’m just as much a consumer of mental cotton fluff as any national enquirer reader.

I am a consumer of content father than a creator of content. I think it’s time to step away from the internet. I shoudl not be wired.

Having a computer in front of me, and NOT having it connected is almost as antiquated as a fountain pen.

But what is this coming to?

Computers, and the people who love them, should not need the internet. Have we forgotten how powerful this device is all on it’s very own?

I have. I think I need to shut it off. Unplug and go play with some SOFTWARE for a while.

Strategy

The lieutenants were conferring, and it didn’t sound good.

“The plan is scrapped! There is no way this mission can succeed!”

“The General will not be pleased. How did we let it get this far? Our plans were so clear and perfect!”

“Surely we have missed something. Surely it can’t be that far off course. Didn’t we think of everything?”

No, they hadn’t. Everything had been considered. And no, there was nothing they’d missed. They were far off course and nothing would save their mission’s success.

Fail. Failure. Failed.

The General called them in. Quiet voices and heads hanging low, the situation was explained. The General sat the whole time, not responding only asking questions. Is this verified? Is there any question left unanswered?

Yes. No. It is solid and unmovable.

Now the General stood. Slowly and with gravity.

We are soldiers. You have all done good work on this mission. Yes, it will fail. That is always a possibility on the field of battle. But failure is never an excuse to do poor work. And you have not.

The cost of battle is high. Bravery is needed. Right now we are called upon to endure failure. But that failure is not the end. The war is still before us.

Learn from this. If nothing else, learn that failure won’t kill you. Be proud. Don’t give up. We are soldiers, the failure has not erased that.

This is the time to move forward. Let us sit and plan for a new strategy. Failure will not be our end. We shall not let it be.

Creative impulses and bloody knuckles


AUTHOR NOTE:

This is an email I wrote to my brother Bryan. But the ideas were broad enough to share.

Godin on the lizard brain
Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

So Bryan…if we are exchanging inspirational media from the internet, here’s some  more.

Let me give the context here too.

You told me you were interested in writing, and you wished you would write more. I said you don’t have the bug to write, you don’t HAVE to write on your blog like I do. But you said you did, that you thought about it all the time and had ideas but didn’t get them down.

But Bryan, you DO program. You cannot STOP programming. I cannot program, though I often wish I could. You make money programming, and I envy that you have a creative outlet that you can monetize. I have never made money on my writing. I’ve gotten a couple free meals and a tank top once. But that’s it.

You however, pay your mortgage with your creativity. I admire that a lot. Don’t roll your eyes! Don’t denigrate what you do. it is, I firmly believe, a necessary thing for the world to become a better place. You do your small part.

Godin mentions that at the end of his lecture. What you do with your programming is art. And you should congratulate yourself, give yourself credit for it. The world NEEDS you.

The world may need what I write, but very very very few people appreciate it yet. I need to find a way to package it so that it can be digested and used by the human race.

But like Godin says, it’s not the creativity that is the problem, it’s the shipping. Getting the creative idea from birth to delivery is the rare thing.

The part about this creative endeavor that’s so confusing is that the arrival of the idea is so different than the implementation–the shipping–of it. The idea arrives like an angel on the tips of our fingers. The implementation is bloody knuckles.

How on earth does one person capture the ethereal and then turn around to sweat and bleed over the physical reality of it? And yet we are a hybrid race, spirit and flesh.

I talked to my friend Jay about this. He’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, tenured Stanford professor of Health Economics. Isn’t that exactly exactly what our country and THE WORLD needs right now? Someone who understands this mess of health and money on the level of the whole population? Every time I see him I tell him that he’s got what we need. I say the world needs his throbby brain.

Not because it’s a brain that is so superior to everyone else’s. It might be, but that’s not the point. He took the time, read all the books. He got his medical degree and then went on to learn economics. There are very very very few people on the planet who took that time. Stanford let him in and entrusted him with this training and education, and made this supergenius to come out and save the world.

or at least save our healthcare system.

Thing is, Jay mastered the art of packing his brain full of the knowledge. He got his doctorate after all. But the art of unpacking his brain is different. Going in front of the press and Congress (they could use his throbby brain) to let them know what’s really going on is way different than staying up late in the library.

The first part is very different from the second. Just like with all vital creative production.  I don’t mean to trash Jay, he’s doing a good job and striving to do better. He just did a thing for Huffpost on the Health care Meeting. He’s also working on a book about what health care can do for obesity, very timely. He’s not phoning it in after he got tenure, no way.

But my point is that it’s HARD. It takes more than one hand to get from start to delivery. The thing is being open to change and dedicated to completion. It takes willingness to face failure and move beyond it.

And to get back to the bloody knuckle part. It takes sitting down and doing it. Even if you are tired and think you deserve to relax after all the other work you just did.

To bring it around to your desire to write. I encourage you to start. Leave some deposits on your blog. They will probably stink and not be what you want them to be at first, but if you want to get better you have to start. Your coding used to stink, but now it is sweet-smelling. Feed the part of you that wants to do this creative thing, and the effort will bear fruit. Not only in the product but in your character too.

Write on!

concrete tall and wide

Once, when visiting Manhattan, I stood on the roof of the Empire State building. It was dusk, and I could see in all directions. Wherever there wasn’t water, there were buildings. Incredible! With the tiny little fully encased exception of Central Park, everything was paved and built-over as far as the eye could see. And the eye could see for miles. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.

Driving from Pasadena to Irvine (Orange County) yesterday, I had to drive slowly. It was raining,  so the traffic was backed up and I had to drive very very slow. I passed through neighborhood after neighborhood after commercial strip mall. Overpasses and exits and miles and miles of freeway. It occurred to me that the Los Angeles area is very populated and built up. It made me think of the view from the Empire State building. I wondered if L.A. had a tall building that could give a similar view. I thought of the Library tower, famous for being the first to get blown up by the Aliens in Independence Day.

Then I realized that the view of the L.A. basin is best seen from the mountains. I’d taken the Angeles Crest highway. and seen the whole thing.

But seeing the man made from a tall mountain is a totally different experience. The Empire State building is a man-made structure. Seeing all the man-made things from a man-made things takes your breath away. You realize how very much man can subdue nature.

But seeing man-made things from a mountain makes man-made things look small. The mountain will outlast us. Nature has patience with us, because we are not so very important in the big scheme of things.

current state is desired state: writing and reading

One of my bosses past said to me, as I was trying to push for a needed change, “The current state is the desired state”

At the time it blew my mind; how could someone say that? It sounded so smugly self-satisfied. Captain Kirk would not agree, we as humans are supposed to be reaching and exploring. Certainly that had been how I lived my life.

NEVER NEVER satisfied with what was in front of me. When we first met, Chris gave me a quote to impress me “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” He got it right. That was me. Push for higher achievement, deeper understanding and broader experience. I figured that all I could ever hold on to in this world was myself so I had better be the best I could possibly be. I had to be big enough to beat down whatever came my way.

So this year I had a baby.

ahem

Higher, deeper, and broader narrowed to a one-dimensional pixel. The three-dimensionality of my life was POOF. It was all the one thing, and all my largeness had rendered down to nothing. That nothing of a dot that my life had become was bigger than me. If I was all I had, and I had lost myself. I was lost.

Vaporized

So I waited. Perhaps I would solidify again. Time would pass, the mists would clear and I would find me again.

Or maybe it was the universe I was looking for. I read books–of course I read books–on this new universe of babies and parenthood. I called and talked to people. These things kept my faith that the universe and myself in it would align into a recognizable shape.

Every day would bottom out. I would stagger, and then recover to keep going. Every time I recovered I thought “Oh, that’s it. I’m going to be okay now.” And then the next day I would hit bottom again. And it was not okay.

Was this normal? I couldn’t believe that it was normal. Then again, I couldn’t believe that the human race came into being by exiting a woman’s vagina. Belief had nothing to do with it. Perhaps this was the way things were.

I’d been reading a mommy blog and the author talked about her first childbirth and struggle with post-partum depression. She took those blog entries and made a book of it. Well! that’s a book to buy in hardback, not only ’cause it’s about my exact problem but because blogger chicks should have their books bought.

I started it, but it was too much. Prior to reading the book my crying and anxiety needle-pegging took less than 25% of my day, which was real progress. But the book was like a homeopathic medicine that I wasn’t strong enough to take. I needed a little more health before I could get health from her story.

So here’s the thing. Time has passed. Crying and anxiety have been taking less than 1% of my day now for weeks steady. I got from there to okay. So I decided to try to read the book again. It’s a very good book.

But I’m not going to talk about what’s in the book. I’m going to talk about achieving ‘okay’hood. Because the weird thing is I feel more okay than maybe I ever have. My drive is more of an idle now. Higher? Deeper? Broader? I’ll get around to that. Eventually.

I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. But I feel like I’m still capable of all the things I could do before. But this time I don’t need to rush or stress or push. I can trust that it will happen.

which is so weird

Here’s what I’m picturing: a machine, maybe with pistons, moving and pulling and MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. But that machine is not anchored, and it jolts and rattles around. It can’t do its job very well and in fact it’s damaging itself with trying.

Then this powerful active machine gets locked in place. It’s a very different machine now, not moving around. And it feels so weird. But now it can run smoothly, and with so much less effort do what it was designed to do. Painless.

My daughter takes up all the extra room. NOT, in fact, all the oxygen like I was afraid she might, but all the extra room. Now that I’m getting used to it, maybe that was room I was a lot better without.

Limitations – Will, Time, Strength, Skill

My condition has me bumping up against limitations a lot. No, I cannot walk the dog today. I will not be walking the dog for the rest of the year, even though I really want to. I really want to, but I haven’t got the strength.

I am going to be staying home from work after the 19th of the month, on disability leave. I don’t like to think of myself as disabled, but the fact is that I am not as able as I usually am.

At first, during this pregnancy, I was taking it easy on myself because I should take it easy. Yes, I was tired and I couldn’t go as fast. But I had some strength and some stamina and I felt like I could get done what needed doing, it would just take more time.

Now, my body is bent around my middle and there is a lot of pain. I’ve learned to mentally factor in pain as part of strength. I am not often in a lot of pain, but when it happens, strength is not something you can count on. To say a person is in pain is the same as saying they are not strong. And that’s a more pleasing equivocation. If people ask me how I’m doing, i don’t want to say, “I hurt!” because they will feel bad for me and not be able to do anything to help. That’s not a nice position to put well-meaning people into.  It’s better to say “I’m weak” or “Going slow.” Then they will smile sympathetically and say “Soon!”

So, no strength means I have to rely on other people. And that smacks me up against other people’s limitations.

I hate needing help. I hate asking for help. I hate it. A combination of impatience and prefectionism is part of the problem. I want to thing done right. I also want it done. I can ask for help and then I have to wait for it.

And wait.

And wait.

How indeed did women manage to get through life by waiting for men to open doors for them? I cannot believe that all men were there to leap up and open a door right when Lady wished to walk through it. How did they get anywhere? I don’t see how this system worked at all.

If I want to go through a door, I walk through it. I don’t object to having a door opened for me, but gentleman better be quick about it or I gotta get going.

And that is true of any task that I need to do. I would like to have help, but the time it takes to get the help is torture. I have asked, I have waited. I have asked again, I have waited again.

I cherish the people who will get things done with one asking a majority of the time. They are SO rare.

Why are they so rare?

If I have limitations–and I am forced to reluctantly admit right now that I DO–then perhaps other people have limitations too. I can less reluctantly admit other’s limitations. But what allowances can I make for these?

The fact is, almost anything we want to do is possible. All you need is the will to do it, the time to get it done, the strength, and the ability or skill.

With the possible exception of Time, all these things are elastic commodities. We can increase our strength and hone a skill. Mostly, we can find extra time and firm our resolve or desire to accomplish the thing.

At least, for the most thing, I believe I can do that. But others maybe…well…what’s the difference between can’t and won’t?

It’s not fair to ask someone to do something they can’t. It’s not fair to ask me to move a 200lb television (a task that needed doing at work last week). I can’t. Not at this time anyway.

The limitations of the quadrad- Will, Time, Strength and Skill–are something I need to ponder.  There is more there to learn.

Art

The artist made this work just because she could.

But the powers that be were not amused. It was thought that the work was destroying the order of our civilization. It must be stopped and further, all signs of the first work had to be destroyed, covered up as if it never was

The artist was unmoved. She did it again, regardless of the fate of her first work. It was her joy, and gave the hours of her life meaning. For what other purpose was she made, but for this very thing?

She did not resent the powers, and she gave them no mind.

I saw her work, and was impressed by the layers. The artful strokes showing an admirable strength, and the mix of medium were unusual.

Perhaps this work was destructive. But I was moved none the less.

IMG_8065

and a portrait of the artist
IMG_8068