Tag Archives: Random Thoughts & Inspirations

Could be anything here – pots of gold to monsters lurking. Have fun!

Twenty-Four Hours

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more I listen to (read: dance to) Katy B’s “Louder,” the more it seeps into my day-to-day life.  The more it seeps into life, the more the underlying philosophy guides the days, weeks, and months.  Where I’ve previously described the angst of the ‘quarter-life crisis,’ it’s not the memories of my youth that I mourn, but quite the opposite: that instead it was wasted.

Listen for yourself:

(It doesn’t help that I looked like that at 16.)

It was a handful of weeks ago that I was driving to work, thinking to myself “is this what being grown-up is?”  The constant nagging feeling that I don’t really have any answers to the same questions that plagued me years ago, just a a few glimmers of insight.  I feel exactly as I did at 16, but with a few additional responsibilities and a whole lot more freedom.  I still drown out my thoughts with loud music; I still drive fast; I still escape situations where I’m awkwardly uncomfortable; I still coach (and play) soccer; I still adore the same things I did then (though the list has expanded some over the years).  And while I appreciate the present tense moments, I’ve never given in or been seduced by them, at least long-term (momentary weakness: yes; reckless addictions and compulsions: no.)  Which leads to an quirky question: did I miss out on an undefinable something called youth?  And worse yet: is that why I still feel 16?

I think this is a good thing, albeit odd.  Going through photos of friends, a handful of them have grown up – they’re married, some with kids, they have houses and mortgages, and have piled on the responsibility and sacrificed (some) freedom.  And they’re happy, happier than our parents were.  Yet it’s not about the rite of passage-style events anymore – it’s all about whether they’re still in touch, moving and shaking in some way.  It’s been made much easier to move toward and from the edge, in constant, dynamic flux with the use of social technologies.  ‘The man,’ as previous generations have declared, will get you, bogeyman-style, when you lose your cultural edge. Now, there’s no excuse.

My millennial generation has grown up in a period of unraveling and fragmentation in the cultural sphere, yet we’ve always been cared for and protected through this instability.  It’s said that we were the generation who elected Obama; it’s said that we can’t function alone, but only in teams.  We’re coming of age, not necessarily into adulthood, but into a larger role as we become the dominant power in this sphere. And given our predilection for optimism and energy, we’ll be the generation to redefine, fight, and expand our cultural power.

Certainly I’m part of that.

I’ve been working on a couple proposals for two serious – and high-minded – projects that can and will change the face of education, utilizing technology and the social space.  These projects address the continued fragmentation of education and the crisis of insurmountable debt (and the uneven impact to show for it).  I’ll be the first to say that my undergraduate education gave me the skills and abilities I needed – and the network to back it up.  My graduate education gave me the clout and discipline of responsibility.  I use none of my degrees in their narrow fields; it was never my intention to do so as none of them are vocational-level degrees.  I want to share this freedom with the world; I want the world to have the same opportunities I do and to be able to take these opportunities at any point in life.  Friedman and his disciples call this principle “flattening” – I call this necessity for a world soon (if not already) in the midst of cultural crisis.  Education isn’t a magic bullet, yet it is a stepping stone in the right direction.  The ability to think, to read, to write, to create, to analyze – these skills are priceless as the foundations of any existence.  A government is only as effective as its citizens; a culture only as pervasive as its citizens; an economic system is only as strong as its citizens.

And I have the heroic impulse (and 16 year-old indefatigable, youthful optimism) to take on the challenge.

My voice is getting louder.

A Funny Thing Happened Today at Cartier

Or at least it will be funny when the new watch I ordered comes in and is fitted to my left wrist and highly satisfying to take a hammer to the one I’m currently wearing because god help me if I’m ever that mortified again.

And in the same vein,

I love that I’m independent.  I love that I have the ability and fortitude to rectify this and any other situation.  That no matter what I can take care of myself – and do so without pretense or fabrication.  I love that I can spend Saturday running errands, then indulging in a little bit of retail therapy without buying things as a salve for a deeper emotional issue.  I love that I can come home late Saturday afternoon, strip to my skin, and throw myself a mini-spa hour (and a half) – and I love that I can then order a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, canadian bacon, meatballs, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and spinach — with extra garlic.  I love that it’s Saturday and I can stay home, curl up with a book – or I can go out and have a glass of wine alone – or I can wander the aisles at Whole Foods and come home with a odd mish-mash of really good food.  That I live by myself in an apartment I really love (even if I don’t love the management company) and that I can provide fully for myself and my family and those I love unconditionally.

Maybe it’s just been awhile since I’ve been in a good mood.

Maybe it’s just that I’m settling into a good groove and I’m optimistic about what’s coming next.

Maybe I’ve let go of the hidden worry and fear that I won’t be loved again – because I will.

And I’ll even tell you why: because there was a moment yesterday afternoon when I (finally) saw how important it is to love myself, if only because I’ve made others suffer because I haven’t.  I’m not the enemy of myself, though I’ve sure as hell waged a damn good twenty-something year battle of self v. self.

Cliff’s Notes version: I’m the problem.

And because I’m the problem, I’m the only person who can change it or fix it or do something about it, whether it’s straight up abatement or temporary injunction or imperfect compromise.

Which brings me to a related issue:

I’m a creative person who likes – no, needs – to be immersed in collaborative work.  Simply, I need to work with smart, creative people.  Who are not like me — who are more than me.  More visionary.  More creative.  Smarter.  Faster.  More more more to combat the collective weaknesses (my own included) and enhance the collective strengths (my own included) and achieve the common goal.  This isn’t a lofty abstract desire; this is a need.

The problem with collaboration is that it requires true commitment.  Discipline.  Passion.  Attention.  Even habit.  And the emotional, personal connection with collaboration is crucial – you gotta be a believer or it all falls apart.  You take make anyone play on a team, but if a single member’s heart isn’t in it, the whole collaborative process is a sham, a ruse, a shell of false idolatry.  Add in an inability to effectively communicate (ahem, honestly and openly), add in a layer of politics, and add in a disaffected attitude, and welcome to disaster.

Also known as my personal hell.  The wide-eyed promise of collaboration for an amazingly awesome goal torn apart because the discipline, attention, and passion of one single team member rings hollow.  To see the house this team has built is a case study for the gods – yet this house will be bulldozed because we didn’t choose the perfect wallpaper in the living room and there’s a leaky faucet in the bathroom, that…it destroys me.  It disrupts the collaborative process – that discipline, that habit, that passion – and for what?  Something trivial.

Maybe it should be seen from another perspective – that I allow the destruction of this one house to distract me from the neighborhood of houses previously constructed.  That I’m the disruption on the team rather than the guy sitting in the ‘dozer.

Problem is, the guy sitting in the ‘dozer doesn’t know how to operate heavy equipment…and probably doesn’t realize what’s going on or what he’s about to do.  Yet another sign something is in rotten in Denmark, another indication of poor communication and inadequate leadership.

And here we come to another rampant weakness of mine: reason and precision.  Always tell me why.  If only because it’s the only thing that will convince me that at minimum you understand what it is you’re doing and see the scope of things as something slightly larger (at minimum) than yourself.  Or you don’t, but are still okay with things not being larger than yourself.

And another weakness: trust.  I’ll trust you until you give me reason not to.  You can earn trust back after that point, but not without a considerable amount of effort and energy, at least to partially compensate for the time, effort, energy I expended in cleaning up the mess I trusted you not to make.  (An honest “I’m sorry” typically does the trick.)

Despite the weaknesses, I don’t know what to do about the breakdown of collaboration.  Smear a layer of frustration and disappointment on as well; it brings out the troubling flavor from the overmasticated texture.  Some say go to the mattresses; others say mercy; still others wonder if there’s a trusted resource able to do anything.  I fear the die has been cast and only now are the implications of betting everything peaking through the veil of a hasty, backed-in-a-corner decision.

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because

then,

right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

The Game

I’ve had my mind on the piano for the last few months, mostly thinking about sitting down and playing again.  I wasn’t ever a virtuoso by any stretch; the recording below has me fat-fingering a Rachmaninoff piece (and enhanced applause at the end – I was in front of maybe 10-15 people at the time it was recorded back around the time electricity was invented) and I never gave it the dedication needed to hit decency.  Though it is evidence that yes, I can play more than Chopsticks or Heart & Soul.

Prelude in G minor

It’s the spectrum of dedication, passion, and obsession that I’ve pondered in the few quiet moments, often when driving or when sitting and waiting for the next thing to happen.  I fully recognize I’m a mediocre fiction writer; I’m not particularly creative or inventive, but have just enough ability and talent to squeeze by.  And (to some extent) I’m okay with this – I recognize I won’t write the ‘great American novel’ or anything of the sort.  I likely won’t ever sign a book deal as forcing myself into a commitment day after day isn’t my idea of security.  It’s my idea of prison.

To some extent I feel fraudulent – as though I’m giving up – when instead it’s that I’m shifting my focus.

[To what, you ask.]

To which I reply “A career.”

My safety net is a small neighborhood cafe and bakery, the type of place I find myself aching over each and everyday.  It’s evolved through the grandiose visions (known then as Cauldron) and the quirky hole-in-the-wall existence (known then as Baked).  Some girls grow up dreaming of their wedding; I’ve seen this dream through twenty-something years.  But similar to fiction writing, I can’t do just that.  Never have I ever just done one thing; I lack the ability to accept only what I have in front of me and not think/dream/work toward something bigger and brighter, a characteristic known simply as ambition.

And what a waste of ambition to throw away on sweet and savory baked goods, day in and day out.  (Never mind the hundred other skills, abilities, and desires I’ve cultivated over the years.  If I never practice law, I’ll be a happy camper.  If I never own my own business, I’ll consider this life a waste.)  Paired with a larger vision and a plethora of things to accomplish – and the right team – I can give all myself to a project.  All the dedication, all the passion, all the obsession simmering below the surface.

Contrast this with my current situation: I’m working for a company who’s singular goal is to bring educational opportunities those those who couldn’t afford it, couldn’t make time for it, couldn’t achieve it, not because they weren’t smart enough or capable enough, but simply because life got in the way.  I’ve never worked for anyone or any type of organization with not only a crystalline goal but a crystalline goal I very strongly (and very deeply) believe in.  I’m thrilled to go to work almost every morning because it’s my job to help convince a person that yes, they can/should/will do this.  I find myself slipping into obsession, not out of dedication, but out of passion for this goal – I am inspired by those I work for.  I find myself uniquely frustrated by those who can’t or don’t hold this goal as close as I do; to many others it’s just a job, the same job that can be accomplished anywhere else.  And I’ve finally dug out of that mindset – after years of careers that dried up passion and dedication, jobs that shattered closely held ideals and left syrupy residues of nasty ethical compromises, I’ve found my swansong.

But am I ready for where it could take me?  Am I ready to put aside the small-town dream of a bakery, the mid-town dream of owning and managing commercial real estate?  The American dream of owning my own business and putting my ideas to work be damned for someone else’s great idea?

A few days ago, I saw my ending with this company.  It’s a political suicide, not shrouded in loyalty or pride, but in self-respect.  The metaphor I’ve used to describe it to others: imagine you’re twenty pages into a book and you already know exactly how it ends.  It doesn’t matter how long the book is, it doesn’t matter how the plot twists or turns – the ultimate destination has already been cast, the pieces are moving, and now I’m playing the game.

The question isn’t why I’m playing – that answer should be pretty obvious.  The question is who am i: the ‘go get shit done’ piece or the pawn who ‘gets capped quick’?  Do I play the game with agility or finesse?  Who is working against me, seeking nothing other than to trap me?  It appears that no matter my passion, my dedication, or my obsession my fate is written.  For some, this bleak post-modern outlook is persuasive.  It justifies the conspicuous spending and paranoid hoarding of resources.  It allows the ego to take on mythical qualities.  It reduces us to a caste despite the ravenous clawing for power in each interaction.

It’s an one-sided outlook of the game.  A philosophy I don’t subscribe to.

But it does give me pause to consider whether what I believe – no matter a fleeting state of passion or perpetual state of dedication – is true.  And whether knowing the ending should influence my decision(s) in the game.

Giving Thanks

This morning I crawled out of bed, my eyes still crusty with sleep but my heart aflame.  Said goodbye and safe travels to a guy whose role in my life is to be determined as you’ll see below.  We’d fallen asleep last night next to one another recognizing our blessings and thanksgivings, a squeamish activity for me primarily in the outward sharing with someone who, yes, I’m thankful for, but who has little context with which to pair my words and sincerity.  Still, we slept soundly.

And yet it was this morning, while making coffee and eating pieces of baguette with creamy cheeses and grapes, while lighting a cozy fire in my living room, while scrolling through an ipod for the music to fit my time, place, and manner, while sitting on my couch with a fantastic book that this particular realization sprouted: this is exactly what I’ve always dreamed of, wanted, desired, and worked for.  Today, this morning.  Cozy solitude, the perfect morning for me to glide through the rest of the day.  The ideal morning to open up my mind and body and spirit.  What I want every morning to be.  What I’ve wanted every morning to be since I was six years old: warm, halfway between absorbed and reflective, quiet but for the sounds of typing, a melancholy saxophone, hissing fire, and the slight puff of a chilling draft from the windows. Dressed in an oversized gingham pearl snap shirt.  Comfortable in my otherwise bare skin.  Wrapped together in nothing less than appreciation and true gratitude for the path I’ve taken to get here and for the moment of stark, blossoming epiphany.

Come what may for the rest of the day – I am content this morning.

And thankful for it as this peace has been too long in coming.

I didn’t think it possible.  My eye steals away to the other end of the couch where I keep expecting to see him with each stolen glance, worn flannel pajama pants, a navy Smith College t-shirt, absorbed into the Times or a book of similar weight and magnitude, enjoying the quiet solitude with me.  This is what he always wanted from me: quiet, steady comfort, yet always found a reason to disrupt it for the thrill of spontaneity.  Until today, this morning, I thought it was my fault; believed I’d never achieve this.

Yet here it is, and I have the recipe now.  I can create it whenever I want it, I know how.  And I can’t express that particular relief.

Which brings me back to my current situation, complete with a man thankful for his freedom and who has unilaterally opened my eyes to see again: with the recipe for quiet, steady comfort emblazoned to knowledge and memory, it’s time to break out again, seek fertile experiences, a fresh (and refreshing) view of life at its molten core.  I can always come back to this (says the optimistic and entitled American); it’s time to let all this go, every last drop, and start fresh elsewhere.  I’ve previously promised myself Columbia as the next destination.  Instead it may be Russia or Panama or Venezuela or Brazil – or a meandering wander through these countries and more.  The dream of embracing that adventurous, Gypsy-minded streak running through my spirit has caught me as a red-handed romantic.    I’ve been placid in my existence far too long, frustrated by an nameless yearning for something greater, a grain of redemption for my past misgivings and deeds.  Where before I’ve turned a blind eye only to have the malfeasance and their wretched consequences seep and ooze through my dreamy subconscious as a monster we all know as guilt and contempt, today I am content, not only thankful for my past struggles to get where I am presently, not only for the blessing of all the skills, abilities, and experiences I present, but for the recognition that I have the freedom to choose my adventure, my freedom, my content and displeasure – and the single-handed aptitude not to passively be – but to actively do.

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

This is my constant struggle, but said much much more eloquently.  Original by Ben Pieratt, available here; shamelessly reposted by me; comments in blue are mine.

Update: just as a little bit of background, I’m back in the interview process for a few different positions, one of which I’d kill (or seriously maim) to have.  To be perfectly frank, I believe it would be perfect for me, especially considering this post below.  Too often I’ve worked with those who weren’t inspired nor inspiring.  This position, company, and people I’d work closely with would radically change that experience – already I’m inspired and thinking and the job isn’t mine (yet).  Regardless of what happens concerning the job, it’s affirming to know that I can still be inspired by those I work with AND that I’m appreciated for my skills, talents, and abilities, and especially for my creative, problem-solving mind.

Now back to your regular programming:

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

(Alternate title: The New Work Ethic)

I wrote this email to a friend a few weeks ago, and then the topic came up again last night with an old buddy who was frustrated with his work. He seemed to appreciate what I had to say, so I figured it might be worth sharing:

– – –

Thinking about your comment at the end our call. Thought I’d put some words down. Apologies in advance for the presumption.

The reason I’m so supportive of you quitting your job is that I’m intensely empathetic to your situation and I believe that you’re doing everyone a disservice by sticking around.

I’ve worked for a handful of companies over the course of the last 6 years. I started all of them with a fair amount of enthusiasm, but within 5 months of each I dipped into a depression. By 7 months the work was having a tangible effect on my mood and outlook, and by nine months, I’ve quit almost every job I’ve held. The longest was 12 months at [Redacted], and that was only because I wanted my options to vest. I handed them my resignation on my 366th day.

I always feel like a waste of space in these situations. Part of the depression stems from being so useless. Why do I hate this job so much? What is wrong with me that I’m so entitled? People the world over have jobs they don’t like, why am I unable to stick this out?

I could wax on this for a while (and I did, but then deleted all the paragraphs), but I think it comes down to the fact that, for some people, work is personal. Personal in the same way that singing or playing the piano or painting is personal.

Totally agreed on this point, and I beat myself up about this (and how I shouldn’t take it personally) each and every day. Every. single. day.

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Okay, small point of disagreement: things are not built from nothing.  It comes from something existing (usually many things), but re-ordered or re-expressed or re-done or re-concepted in a new, inventive, innovative, creative way.  Usually these “things” are solutions to problems; the more complex the problem, the more nuanced the solution(s).  Creative folks relish the fact that there isn’t just one way to do something – there are millions.  Don’t believe me?  How many poems, songs, paintings, books, expressions are out there with the singular goal of telling someone that you love them?  I rest my case.

Creation is entirely dependent on ownership.

Ownership not as a percentage of equity, but as a measure of your ability to change things for the better. To build and grow and fail and learn. This is no small thing. Creativity is the manifestation of lateral thinking, and without tangible results, it becomes stunted. We have to see the fruits of our labors, good or bad, or there’s no motivation to proceed, nothing to learn from to inform the next decision. States of approval and decisions-by-committee and constant compromises are third-party interruptions of an internal dialog that needs to come to its own conclusions.

I’d like to state for the record that I’m not anti-committee and approval.  In fact, I need others’ feedback regularly in order to keep the process going.  It’s a struggle to balance out the need for stimulation (creative partners and decision-makers) versus the need for isolation (to actually get something done) however, and I do agree that interruptions in the process are creativity killers, especially when surrounded by morons who either can’t wait for an idea to develop and see a drafted product OR who can’t make a decision or provide feedback.

Your muse can only be treated as the secretary of a subcommittee for so long before she decides to pack up and look for employment elsewhere. If you aren’t able to own the product and be creative, then you aren’t able to do your work, and if you’re not doing your work then you’re negating a very real part of your personality, which is no good for anyone. No good for you and certainly no good for your employer.

I’ve come to terms with my own inherent work issues simply by recognizing that my weaknesses in one context are strengths in another. When I am able to own a project or product, I work hard and I work well, and I like to believe it shows in the results. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone is willing to spend stupid amounts of hours on a project simply because they believe in it. This is worth recognizing.

My strengths: problem-solving.  Give me a challenge, something complex, and let me run with a white board and several marker colors.  Once we’ve got it figured out and approved by necessary parties, I’ll oversee the implementation, but if you don’t give me another problem to solve, I’m gonna get bored.

My weakness: when I believe in something, I pour myself fully and entirely into it.  I’m not a typical 9-to-5 employee; I don’t leave my brain in my desk at work, and when I’m faced with something where the solution we need isn’t clear, I’m probably not gonna be at my desk.  I’ll likely be outside, or running at the gym, or drinking coffee and watching people, or listening to music or driving or drawing – something that requires just enough attention to let my brain focus on what I’m doing physically and not  overanalyze a problem or possible solutions.  Amazingly, my ideas percolate best that way.  And if I have no ideas initially, research research research in the veins of good art is copied, great art is stolen.

My point is simply this. From what little I understand of you and your situation, I feel like I can empathize. I would guess that you’re juggling a handful of self-loathing with a justified sense of entitlement. This is something that I came to peace with after I left my last job, and I get the sense that you’re still struggling with it.

Bingo.

I suspect that eventually our culture will catch up with our evolving understanding of work ethic and the personal nature of work in creative fields. In the meantime there’s going to be a lot of wasted talent pushing too much effort in the wrong directions. It is clear to me and anyone who interacts with you that a misplacement of your energies is at everyone’s loss. I hope that you’re able to recognize this fact and move forward accordingly.

It’s encouraging that not only am I not alone in these feelings, but that this other blogger gets it, publishes it, and makes it less my fault.

~ HUGE thank you to Ben Pierrat!

Scratching a Spine

I’ve got an idea coming together at warp speed and I’m electrified by it.

Though I’m not sure I can fully explain.  I’ve been reading (sneaking, much like candy) Twyla Tharp’s treatise on creativity and suddenly I’m exploding with new thought patterns, processes and more.  In the book, Tharp speaks passionately on the need for scratching together a whole and the need for spine in an idea.  I’ve got the itch and the spine and the boxes of notes and information and reminders and lightening impulses – now I just need time.

Ignore the man behind the curtain for a moment – the story I’m writing is a cross between the myth of Narcissus, the Wizard of Oz, and the death of David Foster Wallace.  Throw in a little bit of ‘you only see what you want to see – and little more’ and a dash of exploding obsession and a hint of revolution along with a few spoonfuls of generational angst dedicated to Carl Solomon – and we have a book.  A book built on the construction, destruction, and renovation of a dream in the present grasp of the fetishized generation.  Falling in love with a vision of yourself can only lead to an obsessively brilliant death.  Simply, from Dostoevsky:

“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”

It’s time to write.

Breakthrough: 2010

My brother sent me an article from the Harvard Business Review on the Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.  In all, they’re about prevention via innovation.  (An aside: the Hollander children are always reading a quirky collection of articles and reviews.  If you’re up on Google Buzz – or even Google Reader or Delicious, lemme know.  I’d love to see what you’re reading these days!)

In short, here are the top 10 ideas:

1) Getting to the Bottom of Worker Motivation

(Hint: it’s not about recognition – it’s about progress.  Head’s up to managers everywhere: if your workers don’t think they’re getting anywhere in their day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year, they will leave.  I speak from tremendous experience on this concept.  It’s time to abandon the autocratic time barriers to promotion!)

2) Technology to Revolutionize Health Care

(Hint: improving care – and medical records – via remote monitoring, whether through kiosks or through wireless updating.  Think about it.  If our mothers and fathers wore a personal health device that could update daily, or in some cases hourly, and communicated with medical professionals, we may reach the pinnacles of preventative medicine.  Imagine warnings generated to your doctor or practitioner – who can then follow-up with a phone call or office visit?  Certainly there are significant privacy concerns to address, but these technologies have an opportunity to (finally) revolutionize cheaper and more effective preventative care.)

3) Research & Development Centers for the Financial Sector

(Hint: The overwhelming complexity of our financial systems have come to light in the recent meltdowns of lending and spending.  The author here advocates for a system similar to military R&D where research, development and spending are overseen by the government with little intervention.  I hesitate on this one to ask the simple question: how much good are the national security centers doing?  Certainly, what comes out of the centers is relevant and intriguing, but how much of the information is practical as it filters into bullet point policies and procedures?  To me, both systems are nuanced and complex – if anything, the breakthrough idea should be interdisciplinary in all regards, but the increased pressure to ‘see everything’ also lands us to where we see nothing.)

4) Changes to the Big Pharma Business Model

(Hint: business models are a’changing.  Finally.  In just a few years, there will be no need for an alphabet of the same type of drug (at least those in which we understand the mechanism).  By standardizing drug assets – that is, what types of drugs are in the pipeline across partnerships – not only can drugs hit the market faster and cheaper, but more medical conditions can be addressed, innovative developments can be researched and developed, and smaller, advantageous markets can be reached.  One caveat: regulations for intellectual property must be developed.  Sharing is one thing; stealing another.  Whether it be carrot or stick-based, innovation starts with regulation.  Then allow the partnerships to nourish themselves in free-for-all standardization.)

5) Capitalizing Green Technology

(Hint: Much ado in finance and investments is how to capitalize green technologies.  The promises of these technology hold no bounds, but first, as with everything, those with the money to finance such technology development and implementation need to figure out how to get their own ROI.  Enter green bonds, green credits, and a variety of other newfangled investment mechanisms.  This snippet addresses only municipal opt-in bonds, affecting only those who invest in the technologies and implementations.  But the idea is much much larger.  My own idea is larger than this, extending to a new sort of “stock,”  one held at a near constant number and available for purchase/sale on the open market (one location, however) only once a year.  No daily fluctuations in price; steady long-term investment instead, designed particularly for research, development and implementation of green tech.  This idea is already in the oven, the recipe from savvier financial experts.  But this is one of many potential markets for a wholly new investment mechanism.)

6) Lab to Market – Re-thinking Technology Licensing

(Hint: Allowing a monopolistic university technology licensing office has been sub-optimal with dreary results.  This idea allows for inventor-professors to step out and find their own licensor for their inventions, rather than allow them to languish on the shelf.  I find a hybrid system more beneficial than a free-for-all market, a situation to not only improve the university’s licensing process, but also manage a professor’s time to her actual duties – educating and research.  What this looks like precisely, I’m not sure, but certainly it would address the negatives from the university’s monopoly while regulating a capitalistic time-suck from university educators across the US.)

7) Work Hacking – Better Utilization of Tools in the Workplace

(Hint: get this!  You can’t control how your employees perform their work, especially in the name of productivity.  It’s neither practical or possible – and it’s highly likely those employees committed to the company’s higher vision recognize this also.  Should work hacking be unmitigated?  Certainly not!  Hacking comes in all forms – the innocent, the wary, and the sinfully guilty – all of which should be monitored for ethical and legal obligations.)

8) Warning Systems for Economic Bubbles

(Hint: as with anything, the ability to identify problems comes with the tools and data available to identify a problem.  This snippet suggests using current tools with different data pattern identification to find warning signs of an economic bubble – think of dot coms and housing – and prevent widespread bursts.  Combine this with the financial R&D idea from #3 and we’ll not only have more tools, but more data to interpret.  An aside: when combining these ideas, I get a mental image of a guru with a Magic 8 ball sitting in a lofty office…even if that’s what these two ideas are precisely intended to avoid.)

9) Charter Cities

(Hint: Use the Hong Kong model…of colonization?  To me, this is a half-baked idea (great in theory; misguided in practice) and requires WAY more incentive, planning, and enforcement than what’s available for countries facing issues of economic development.  It’s so economic hitman-esque.  While I agree small steps are the way to go in this regard, there are significant cultural barriers to understand and hurdle not in a sprint, but in carefully planned steps to avoid the stank (no, not stink – stank) of nineteenth century colonization.

10) Engaging Non-State Actors via Independent Diplomacy

(Hint: the world is a kindergarten sandbox, full of burgeoning and breakdown alliances.  Some kids play well together; others don’t.  Engaging those lone wolves has proved difficult, especially through the hard-line rhetoric popularized following recent American terrorist events (“with us or against us,” anyone?).  Punishing those who throw sand may not be the best way to keep them from throwing sand in the future; instead, independent engagement through established channels, rather than marginalization, may limit extreme behavior more effectively.  This idea, in a smaller nutshell: established lobbyists for independent, non-state actors, to bridge a marginalized voice with the established channels.  A compelling and fascinating idea – one which adds some shine to an otherwise tarnished profession.)

What I’m Reading Now

I get questions all the time about what I’m reading, what a person should be reading, the books I couldn’t put down, the books I couldn’t live without – and the books I avoid like the plague [I’m looking at you, Victorian literature!]

And so a quick sampling of what I’m reading these days:
Conversational Capital: How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About

“In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell presents an important idea without any ‘how to.’ Bertrand Cesvet provides the ‘how to’ you need to create ‘Tipping Points’ for your business and success. This book is a compelling presentation of a powerful idea. This is how the new world will do business.  Like all great ideas, Conversational Capital is at its core simple: word-of-mouth momentum can be created, harnessed, and used to build consumer passion for a brand better and more cost-effectively than almost any other marketing medium.  This book provides the complete prescription for getting consumers excited about your ideas.  For all the books that speak of the value of consumer advocacy, few indicate how to create it to begin with. Armed with a compelling set of examples from their own work in fostering leading brands, the authors reveal the triggers of word-of-mouth and a process to embedding them in your own products, helping you create stuff people love to talk about.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays & Arguments

David Foster Wallace made quite a splash in 1996 with his massive novel, Infinite Jest. Now he’s back with a collection of essays entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. In addition to a razor-sharp writing style, Wallace has a mercurial mind that lights on many subjects. His seven essays travel from a state fair in Illinois to a cruise ship in the Caribbean, explore how television affects literature and what makes film auteur David Lynch tick, and deconstruct deconstructionism and find the intersection between tornadoes and tennis. These eclectic interests are enhanced by an eye (and nose) for detail: “I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled what suntan lotion smells like spread over 21,000 pounds of hot flesh . . .” It’s evident that Wallace revels in both the life of the mind and the peculiarities of his fellows; in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again he celebrates both.

The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travel…and Everything Else in the World Since 1953

The Paris Review, that mighty “little” literary magazine, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with an anthology every bit as mammoth and marvelous as its endless title suggests. Founded by Peter Matthiessen, Harold L. Humes, Donald Hall, William Pene du Bois, and George Plimpton, who remains at the helm, the Paris Review has published an extraordinary group of seminal fiction writers, poets, and essayists and some of the best writer interviews extant, irresistible conversations (Truman Capote responds to a simple question thusly: “Good Lord! I’m afraid you’ve let yourself in for quite a saga. The answer is a snake’s nest of no’s and a few yesses”) excerpted throughout this dynamic compendium showcasing more than 100 writers past and present. A shattering short story by Lorrie Moore kicks off the “Heartbreak” section, while Zelda Fitzgerald is first up in the “Madness” category. Rick Moody offers a painfully graphic variation on “Sex,” and Jonathan Lethem writes of a Tourette’s sufferer in “Outsiders.” Elsewhere the entranced reader will find Faulkner, Auden, Elkin, Cheever, Komunyakaa, Boyle, Erdrich, Munro, and Clifton.

Nine Stories

The war hangs over these wry stories of loss and occasionally unsuppressed rage. Salinger’s children are fragile, odd, hypersmart, whereas his grownups (even the materially content) seem beaten down by circumstances–some neurasthenic, others (often female) deeply unsympathetic. The greatest piece in this disturbing book may be “The Laughing Man,” which starts out as a man’s recollection of the pleasures of storytelling and ends with the intersection between adult need and childish innocence. The narrator remembers how, at nine, he and his fellow Comanches would be picked up each afternoon by the Chief–a Staten Island law student paid to keep them busy. At the end of each day, the Chief winds them down with the saga of a hideously deformed, gentle, world-class criminal. With his stalwart companions, which include “a glib timber wolf” and “a lovable dwarf,” the Laughing Man regularly crosses the Paris-China border in order to avoid capture by “the internationally famous detective” Marcel Dufarge and his daughter, “an exquisite girl, though something of a transvestite.” The masked hero’s luck comes to an end on the same day that things go awry between the Chief and his girlfriend, hardly a coincidence. “A few minutes later, when I stepped out of the Chief’s bus, the first thing I chanced to see was a piece of red tissue paper flapping in the wind against the base of a lamppost. It looked like someone’s poppy-petal mask. I arrived home with my teeth chattering uncontrollably and was told to go straight to bed.”

As for what I want to be reading…check out my Amazon wish list for books (and more) in my near future.

The Echo Chamber

DoOneThingTodayThe other night I couldn’t sleep.  While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, it was bothersome: something big was on my mind, something amorphous and seductive.  Call it meta-curiosity, but I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, unpacked my laptop, and sat waiting.

I’d read Seth Godin‘s compilation of What Matters Now (if you haven’t downloaded this free inspirational ebook, go and do so, then come back) earlier in the afternoon, picking it out of the mess of my Twitter feed.  I went through at a high-level, looking through the eighty-something pages of ideas for 2010.  And on first read, I thought to myself “Self, why aren’t you putting something like this together?  This is what you do best – what’s different about you?  Why haven’t you done this?  Why haven’t you written your manifesto?  GET TO IT!”

I put it aside for a few hours, roiling with discontent – and unfortunately taking it out on the sweet boyfriend.  He went to sleep and I laid there, listening to him breathe, asking myself what I needed.  What did I need to make it all happen, to calm that ambitious voice in my head?  Am I screwing around, or is what I’m doing the right path toward what I want to do?  What do I want?  How do I get that?  I know I’m not happy right now, but is it a necessary unhappiness to realize something later?  Why put off this happiness any longer?

Then I realized I’m in the echo chamber, caught in a crowd of voices parroting the same thing over and over, louder and louder, bouncing against nonporous walls.  And oh to countervail the crowd, even if faceless, nameless, and comprised of an unknown number.  I slipped out of bed, tiptoed into my office, and sat at my desk with my head in my hands.  What to do now.  What to do now.  What to do now to stop the voices all around me crowing of instant success while I languish in apathy.

Weeks passed before I found a true answer.

Simply to take it a day at a time and make one small step forward each day toward the motley grouping of goals.

I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Kitchen of Mine

Wanna know what things are like right now?

I'm in the weeds.
I’m in the weeds.

If there’s one thing I like – no, I love – about restaurants, it’s watching the line work.  Each person with their own station, intently focused, to create the best the team can do.  I’ve likened the kitchen (and restaurants as a whole) to pirate ships, among other metaphors and analogies, where all share in the glories, losses, and otherwise scalawag-esque doings, comings, and goings involved in the food service industry.

But right now, I’m in the weeds, a familiar term to those behind in their work.  There comes a surreal moment in the realization of work, both the moment you’re deep in the weeds and in the moment you’re in the clear.  What happens between?  Dali must have worked at the line of a restaurant as the clocks melt in the desert heat and all thought evaporates, other than getting through the faraway tasks in front of you.

And such is life right now: selling and marketing myself, my experiences, my thoughts and visions and inclinations. I can’t see the forest for the weeds.

And what it comes down to: I need a team in this little kitchen of mine.

Powerful Idea

I’ve always believed in the power of ideas and all the dichotomy ideas provide: good/bad, love/hate, philanthropy/misanthropy, et cetera.  This just puts it in graphic form:

Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right group of people – and getting that right group of people passionate and involved.

On the Art (or lack) of Writing

About six months ago, I came across a lovely woman who quoted McInerney to me, which was a thrilling moment out in the suburbs. Simply stated (according to McInerney), asking a writer about the progress of his work is akin to asking about the progression of a person’s cancer. Which I generally agree with.

But in the several months since that moment, I’ve been afflicted with a terrible case of writer’s block. I’ve determined the root cause at this point (addiction + guilt), and in the process of diagnosis, I’ve compulsively read treatises on how to write, traveled backward to my favorite writers and scenes, traveled forward to expand my knowledge and experience, and even talked with others ad nauseam about this particular issue (which is drastic and something to be avoided). One thing is clear: I’m the writer who likes to dabble around like child with finger paints, or like a jazz musician in his off-moments, playing with words in a playful manner, creating a broad masterpiece (and not something ugly brown & brassy-colored).

I’ve been in the cancer stage too long, unwilling to play and paint – it’s high time to progress toward to the ‘reconstruction of the crime scene’ stage, then to the ‘marathon’ stage, then the ‘hospital visit’ stage. Then the ‘shameless shill’ stage?

But no more brain crack:

Ze Frank on the Expression & Execution of Ideas

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

~ W. Whitman, #208 “Leaves of Grass”

Wanderlust: It’s Time

So I got the fellowship.

And I got the time.

Now to sit down and write.

I’ve been thinking lately about wanderlust, mulling over the intricacies and necessary elements to satiate the desire to travel, comparing my own experience with several “historical” (classical?) travelogues. (Yes, I’m speaking of Steinbeck and Kerouac and Bryson and Frost and many others.)

And I’ve been considering a conversation years and years ago (May 2005), saved for this exact occasion:

Anne: do you ever have moments where you just want to run away?

Katherine: run run run run run run
yes

Anne: only i want a really fast car.

Katherine: having a rough day over there?

Anne: see, if this were a movie of my life, i’d head outside and find a classic car sitting outside, keys in the ignition, doors unlocked, essentially waiting for me.

i dunno – it was a very sudden realization.

and i’d drive out to the pike and to seattle

start a new life in a coffee shop out there.

Katherine: ok, but could there be an adorable puppy in the back seat of the car to whom you can make witty and sardonic comments

Anne: and my entire music collection would already be in the car, loaded into an mp3 player (or i’d have a 60GB ipod i could just plug in)

i’d get in the car, find an adorable black lab puppy in the back seat, call the dog molly and tell her we’re going on a trip.

then, “born to be wild” on the stereo as i leave tire tracks across the quad,

and that’d be all my co-workers would ever know of me ever again. i’d be urban legend here.
(and there would occasionally be flashbacks of my job here to slowly explain why i left)

Katherine: I love anne fantasy land

Anne: oh yeah?

Katherine: it’s very plot-driven

Anne: now i’m thinking anne fantasy land needs to be a book. a smart, witty, cut to the bone book with plenty of socio-political commentary and critique and perhaps a quick stop back to my roots in northampton.

Katherine: a la Citizen Girl?

Anne: ’cause when i hit the two hour mark i may be thinking it’s time to turn around – instead, i’ll stop in northampton, come face to face with the ghosts of wanders’ past and realize i need to do this not just for myself, but for all man/women-kind

(and that if worse comes to worse, i can always turn it into funny cocktail party banter when i get back to boston – the “oh, you remember the time when…” type of situation)

the book will be called “travels with molly”

Katherine: I’m liking this

Anne: yeah, i am too.

hmmmmm…. looks like i have a new project


And so I say now, more than four years later: it’s time.

Here’s the vehicle to success as well:

This car needs a name: ideas?

This car needs a name: ideas?