20 April 2011

What are you doing?

What are you up to? What are you doing? What are you helping to make happen in the world?

Each day, in a thousand little ways, we influence the lives and experiences of others. Our words influence. Our actions influence. Our very thoughts influence. And around us, the world responds to our input.

I'm not talking about anything particularly esoteric. Just basic logistics. Say there's a misunderstanding at work, and someone says or does something really bone-headed to someone. That someone goes into a funk and goes home at the end of the day in a rotten mood. Their kids irritate them, and they yell at the kids and their spouse. The kids and spouse in turn feel bad and "share the wealth" of discord with each other and the rest of their world, throughout the following days. And the one who was wronged carries a chip on their shoulder that colors much of what they hear and say and do -- not necessarily for the better.

Over the long run, you end up with problematic relationships all around, which -- as we are coming to realize -- create all sorts of other problems in the world. And not just at work. Of course, at work, there's the lost productivity (and possible impact to margin) thanks to frayed relationships. But in individual lives as well, there's a cost.

Once upon a time, it was thought to be enough to tell people to "suck it up" and "deal with it" and all that was wrong with the world would manage to make itself right. Now we know that the wrongs don't necessarily right themselves through sheer force of will (the quantum field notwithstanding), and sucking it up may only get you so far. Never mind the immune suppression, the susceptibility to illness and disorders, and the general havoc that unfolds in social ecosystems, thanks to unchecked drama.

It's all connected. There's no escaping it. We can pretend we're rugged individuals with no impact on others, but the facts indicate otherwise. We are connected.

Now, if you believe in the quantum field (as I do), you may be more inclined to consider your very thoughts and expectations to be powerful things. And if you believe in manifestation and the power of positive thinking, as many an individual does (I'm on the fence, I must admit) you may believe with ever fiber of your being that we all have the power to make our world according to our wishes.

But even if you don't believe in all that stuff, the fact remains that everything we do has consequence. The things we make, the connections we cultivate, the actions we take... it all has impact. But we often don't realize it. We're so invested in believing we are helpless victims who have been repeatedly wronged, who have no say over what happens in the world around us, who have no sway over our life circumstances. We get so caught up in thinking we are victims, we are targets, we are oppressed, we are at odds with all the world around us...

In a way, it's invigorating, especially if you're the kind of person who lives for the fight. But ultimately, it's draining, and if your fiestiness doesn't outlast your physical strength (how long till you cross paths with someone who's bigger, stronger, and a whole lot angrier than you?), eventually your autonomic nervous system is going to show the effects.

Adrenal depletion is remarkably resistant to sheer willpower, after all...

Anyway, this is the start of a little exploration I'm on -- the kind that never actually ends.

All I'm asking for now is, What are you doing? What are you making of your world? How are you being in your world?

Next time I'll ask, "And why?"

18 July 2010

The view of Prospect Hill

Here's a landscape I painted last winter for my Mom for her birthday. It's hanging over the couch in the living room. I wasn't expecting it to come out this way, but I'm really happy how it emerged.

It's oil pastels with gouache and watercolor, marker, and acrylic on watercolor paper. It's about 4 feet wide by 18 inches high -- about 4x2 feet, with the frame.

I know it "works" because when I was getting it ready to give to my Mom, I had an almost overwhelming urge to keep it and make her something else. But I overcame the urge, and now a lot more people get to enjoy it than me.

29 June 2010

Queen Woot

Mama Donna (Queen of Herself) has posted (edited) portions of a piece I wrote about a year ago. It's still as important to day as ever.

Thanks Queen Donna!


25 April 2010

Confessions of a happy person

Before I trundle off to bed for my Sunday afternoon nap, I have a confession:

I'm happy.

Now, it might not seem like that big of a deal, but in light of the state of the world, and in light of the states of minds of lots of people I meet, I think it's, well, unique.

See, here's the thing -- I'm really, really happy. Not just pleasantly surprised at how well this day is going... not just relaxed and enjoying myself... not just feeling no pain. Au contraire. I am feeling a bit of pain over a number of different issues.

But at the very core, at the center of who and what I am, in the most authentic fiber of my being, I'm happy.

Woo hoo!

04 April 2010

The Sense of a Powerful Place

Some time ago, I had an business appointment at a building whose tenants were global and powerful. Some of the most successful companies in their sectors had their headquarters in this massive steel-and-glass structure, built high atop a hill overlooking a reservoir along one of the most heavily traveled corridors in eastern Massachusetts. The building was clearly visible from below, and I'd glanced up at it many a time, while traveling north and south on the interstate far below.

When the appointment came up, I was excited to go. I had always wondered what it was like, up on that hill. On either side of the highway at "sea level", modern office buildings had proliferated over the years with impressive designs and intriguing logos prominently displayed for clear visibility to both north- and south-bound traffic. But up on the hill... that was a location of a completely different order. Whoever had their corporate presence up there was literally a cut above the rest.

I made a point of leaving early, to leave myself ample time to soak up the experience. I checked Google Maps thoroughly, figuring out multiple routes of approach, in case traffic got bad. I knew there had been construction around one of the main interchanges, and I didn't want to be distracted by lane shifts and Jersey barriers, along the way. I checked the map version... and the traffic version... and I also checked out the satellite, to see where the parking lots were located. Alas, there was no "street view" available, but I could make do in any case.

I found my way there in good time and got through the snarls of the interchange without incident, then made my way slowly along the reservoir, dodging potholes and keeping an eye out for the street number of my destination. Numerous office parks were built into the hillside, marked by substantial signs heavy with names that evoked a sense of practiced nonchalance with power. Near the end of the road, I spotted the number I was seeking, and with a quick left turn I began my ascent.

Just driving up to the building was awe-inspiring. The well-paved roadway, its lanes clearly delimited with tight-fitting gray curbstones on the outside and neat white lines between, wound up-up-up, past manicured "softscapes" and lower buildings, terraced parking areas, and stands of strategically maintained trees. I drove past signs that told of occupancy by well-known tenants, and followed the arrows to the very end of the road, where my destination awaited.

The campus high atop the hill was comprised of the usual amenities: plenty of parking (but precious little shade) surrounded a massive structure in lots that branched off one another like lobes of a liver. The afternoon sun and scattered clouds scuttling across the blue sky danced across the surface of powerfully framed, reflective windows, as though the massive bulk behind it were little more than a chimera designed to impress with glass and steel and Bauhaus-like austerity.

glass and sky
Air and Glass by AurelioZen

At first approach, the volume of the building was palpable, as though it were animated with a spirit of its own. If the intention of the architect was to convey a sense of protective power, they'd succeeded -- with me, at least.  I strode boldly up to the front doors, taking note of the regular people who were on their way out and taking some comfort in their ... normalcy. Taking a deep breath, I gave the heavy door a strong pull and entered the inner sanctum of the structure.

Once inside, it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. Outside, it had been bright and hot and wide open, but inside it was cool and dark and self-constrained. Where a drop-ceiling foyer with a receptionist surrounded by potted plants might have been found, some 30-40 years before, there was a massive atrium, a stories-high vacant space in the center of the building, which was flanked on all sides by the balconies of successive levels. Up-up-up it rose, the vast hollowness disorienting as much as it awed. Across the atrium, a stories-high glass wall overlooked the reservoir, the interstate, and miles of Massachusetts -- practically to the sea.

Standing in that void was, I imagine, like entering a decompression chamber after a particularly deep dive.  And it took a few minutes for me to adjust. Once I did, I was suffused with a very clear sense that I had arrived.

Now, I'm not well-schooled in architectural design, and although I have been known to page through Architectural Digest at times, I'm not well-versed in the nomenclature of that discipline. But I do know a sense of place when I feel it. The sense of that atrium..  in that building... was one of undeniable self-conscious significance. The place had clearly been constructed to communicate to the tenants that they were Players in the game of life. And to everyone else, the place spoke volumes about the importance of those who were housed there, and the significance of their business. Well-done, to those who designed it thus -- and I have no doubt that was their intention.

One thing struck me about the place, however, after I acclimated to it. And the reversal was almost as disorienting as the adjustment to it, coming in from the outdoors. In a matter of a few minutes -- once my eyes adjusted to the light, and my body adjusted to the change in proximity to interior artificial instead of exterior, natural objects -- the atrium morphed from a clear statement of consequential substance, to... well... nothing. It was the strangest thing. Here, I'd been climbing a hill in my humble little car, bathed in ample outside evidence of power and influence... and I'd stepped through heavy doors to the greeting of a commanding, even overwhelming inside space. But once I was really in the space, all sense of substance dissipated, and the atrium became, well, an empty void that had little to offer aside from echoes and a confusing absence of signage.

That first contact sense of awe and intimidation dissolved, as I looked around the space itself and saw little more than two angular, 50's-style couches facing each other in the center of the room, brushed metal elevator doors off to the right, and recessed alcoves of entrances to tenant offices. The layout looked a lot like a spread I'd seen about feng shui in the workplace and how foyers could be properly designed for the most advantageous energy. But the feel of this place was very different from what I'd gotten from that feng shui magazine spread.* It was as though someone had glanced quickly at that magazine and thrown together something that looked like what they thought they saw. As though the person picking out the decor had read about minimalism and heard it was the latest thing, and took a stab at it without a lot of deep thought, consideration, or even a direct experience of what that space would be like for people entering from the outdoors. It was as though they'd thrown together the atrium design -- such as it was -- as an afterthought... a last effort to put the finishing touches on a project that probably went over-schedule and over-budget, and they were just happy to have it done.

What a shame. For the impression I had of a commanding presence over the lesser office blocks along the highway below, morphed into a sense of distance, even longing. As indifferently aloof and overbearing as the structure had felt at first encounter, it suddenly felt, well, lonely.

And the awe I'd initially felt for its shiny, reflective surface transformed into a bittersweet sadness tinged with regret, even pity.

I'm sorry to say, my appointment turned out about the same. The meeting began well, and the potential client and I seemed to hit it off, but ultimately the connection didn't pan out. The business I had hoped to forge a deal with turned out to be very much like the atrium of the building that housed it -- impressive at first blush, but ultimately hollow and without a whole lot of substance, a little sad... and lonely, too.

As I headed back down that winding drive, I noticed that the signs along the way had some blank spaces where tenants names had once been. And in stretches here and there, the lines marking the lanes needed repainting.


* I'd have to go back and look at the book again (I may just do that), to compare the lighting and the proportions of the area with what I saw in the atrium. And perhaps the actual experience of that feng-shui-friendly office foyer would approximate what I felt in that real-life space. It's tough to tell from magazine spreads. I really have to be there to judge for myself.