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.

27 March 2010

The mindfulness of morning weight training

Here’s an interesting connection: NICABM has been hosting a teleconference series on brain science, and now this research comes out.

Weight training is good for you! I knew that already, but now science is talking about it, as well. It's not just for narcissists or body builders. It's actually really, really good for your brain. And I firmly believe that the mindfulness by weight-lifting has a lot to do with it.

I had a chance to see Dr. Dan Siegel (whom Ruth Buczynski talked with a few weeks back) when he came to talk at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center last weekend. One of the things that came through loud and clear was that intentional, focused, mindful activity clearly affects the brain’s health. Even 10 minutes a day can have an impact.

I have been lifting weights, on and off, for over 30 years. I have also engaged in other sorts of exercises, including toning and balance movements. I can personally attest that the focus and intention that is required when lifting weights — even if they are not very heavy — creates a much more involved state of mind than lighter exercise.

Even lifting light 2.5 – 5 lb weights requires more attention — both to movements and to the state of your body. And when you lift heavier weights, focus and intention and attention are not optional. The last thing you want to do is strain or injure yourself. When you’re lifting weights, you MUST pay deliberate attention. Sometimes to every aspect of your movement and posture.

Interestingly, after a number of sedentary years, I began doing light weight training each morning — nothing too intense, but it is weight training — within the past year. I’m in my mid-40’s but I noticed a significant difference in how well my brain was working, all across the board, in the space of a few weeks. I was more alert, more responsive, and I needed a lot less coffee to get going in the morning and keep going throughout the day.

Now, many months on down the road, I’m ‘hooked’ and I do this as a mindfulness practice each and every morning. It gives me a clear edge in my work, and in my life. The benefits and tangible results are numerous: a new job, improved time management, better rest, 15 fewer pounds to carry around (and my weight holding steady), and improved overall happiness, to name a few.

I’m a believer. And I would love to hear what Dr. Dan Siegel has to say about this.

05 February 2010

Gearing up for Audacity trainining

A little while ago, I received an email from someone inquiring about my interest in presenting on Audacity, a free open-source audio editor I've been using for a number of years to produce Women In Music. As the executive producer, each week for the past 13 years, I've been ensuring that Women In Music gets where it needs to go, to get up on the Public Radio Satellite System, so it can go out to over 100 affiliates each week. And Brainshark -- a company that lets you create online presentations on demand -- was looking for someone to help their user community better create and edit their audio.

Now, anybody who knows me, knows that -- given the chance -- I can speak at length and in detail about things I love. And Audacity is one of them.

My "personal journey" with Audacity has been a truly happy one. I genuinely enjoy using the program, and it has seriously saved my neck a bunch of times, when producing Women In Music.

Once upon a time, "getting the show up" to the Public Radio Satellite meant that I made sure we had a constant supply of DAT tapes, and I made the weekly trip to FedEx to drop of the DAT (digital audio tape, for those who are feeling nostalgic) in time for it to get to Ames, Iowa, where they would encode it and forward it on to the folks in Washington, DC.

But when PRSS went digital, several years back, and they started charging extra for encoding, we ended up deciding to do the encoding ourselves. It was a big change in how we did things. Once upon a time, Laney would record the show in the usual way onto tape -- through the board, and into the DAT machine. It was the same concept she'd been following since she started doing radio and recording segments in the mid-1980s. Now, back in the early days, she recorded on reel-to-reel (we still have some reels of her work in boxes in the basement), and manually sliced and spliced tape together. But the concept of recording to tape was the same, whether it was on reel-to-reel or onto a DAT.

Granted, recording to a DAT is less manual, and you're going to a tape that can't be edited by hand (which, for someone who is accustomed to more hands-on work, can be a bit nerve-wracking, since you don't have a direct way to edit the recording). But it was still recording to tape.

That changed, when PRSS went all-digital with their new Content Depot catalog. All of a sudden, it was no more DAT tapes, no more connecting with the Ames Uplink folks, no more runs to FedEx. It wasn't all bad, as there was no more rushing to get everything done by Thursday night -- or else. But having to go out and buy a new recording system (i.e., a 17-inch Mac Powerbook with an iMic, a big external hard drive and a spool of CD-Rs for storage) and transition to recording straight to digital, was a bit of a firedrill.

I have to say, the sound you get from analog -- even onto DAT tape, which is technically digital, but is still tape, and thus a "softer" media -- is second-to-none. This might be why Ani DiFranco has done a fair bit of recording onto reel-to-reel. You just get a truly great feel from it.

Now, one of the things we did in between DAT and pure digital was, Laney would record the show onto DAT, make sure her levels were all good, and then I would master it into the final digital format on the Powerbook. If you've got plenty of time and you're heavily invested in a rich, full sound, I can't recommend this approach enough. It's the best of both worlds. You pay for it, of course, in terms of time and money spent, but if you're a highly religious audiophilic recording artist, you have tons of time on your hands, and you want to get the best sound possibly available, you may want to try this, in your next recording session. We got such great sound off that approach -- and if we had the time and the equipment to continue to do it, we would.

Sadly, the DAT player died, and between the money for the new machine and the DAT tapes, as well as the extra hours it took to produce the show each week, we opted to go all-digital and just record straight into the Powerbook.

That's what we've been doing for a number of years, now. At first, it was an adjustment, getting used to the crisper digital sound. One benefit I noticed with digital, however, was that the editing process was actually easier. The highs were more clearly high -- as in, you could see distinct spikes on the track in Audacity -- and cleaning up the highs and the lows and normalizing all the levels was a lot more straightforward.

If you're an experienced Audacity (or any other software, for that matter) audio editor, you know what I mean -- when you're editing with digital tools, you can see right in front of you where your levels are, and you can click and drag over the sections to adjust them. When I was editing digital versions of an analog recording of Women In Music, the distinctions between sections were a lot less clear-cut. So, I had to work harder to clean up the spikes and bump up the low areas. It took more time -- a lot more time. Between transferring the DAT to digital and then editing the whole show, it took several hours longer than just doing straight digital does.

I can't say I miss the hours and the money it took to make the show happen in the old way. But I must admit, I still miss that analog feel.

Well, nostalgia aside, the latest news is that I'm going to be doing training on Audacity with Brainshark, next Wednesday at 2p.m. And I'm looking forward to finding out how folks there use it.

02 January 2010

What kind of a world shall we create?

We're nearly 48 hours into the new year, and like many people I've been talking to, I have an invigorating sense of possibility. Not some heady, pie-in-the-sky fantasy of a world that fixes all our woes and has none of the smudges and smears of yesteryear, but a solid, certain sense that there is always a chance that we can -- and will -- make more of our future than our past.

I may very well be in the minority, in this regard. All over, I hear people talking about how the next generation can expect less than the previous ones. I hear people talking about how America is on the way out. I hear people proclaiming that the future is far bleaker than the past, and we're all going to have to adjust down our expectations and learn to do less with more.

Gas prices, after all, are going up.

But I'm not convinced that things are really that grim. Someone who "is supposed to know about these things" once told me that 'round about 900 AD, in western Europe, Christianized rulers (and their subjects) thought that the first millennium BCE was going to herald the End of the World. And so they started building lots of ornate cathedrals to convince God not to wipe them off the earth.

1,000 rolled around, and the earth didn't disintegrate. Everyone wasn't wiped off the face of the planet. And the unfinished churches which apparently ran into scheduling issues prior to the turn of the millennium were completed in a flurry of "Whew! That was close!" gratitude to God for not wiping everyone out.

I'm sure that's a gross over-simplification of what was probably a very complex and intricate relgio-socio-economic forumula for collective panic, but the general idea stands -- people are always looking for reasons to preach doom and gloom and convince others that they should be Very Very Worried about our chances for survival.

And yet we survive. We persist. We manage to muddle through, bit by bit, generation after generation. Cuban missiles and Soviet threats and Influenza Epidemic, Legionnaire's Disease, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, H1N1, global food crises, clean water shortages, extreme weather disasters (and more) notwithstanding, somehow we manage to continue. Granted, the future may look very bleak to folks who follow polar bears and the disappearance of ice and the decimation of the rain forests (all of which are serious, no doubt), but the future has always looked bleak to people who looked for reasons to be concerned.

We're human. We're small creatures on a big planet. Everything looks bleak, when you think you're up against the infinite.

But let's not forget -- we're small creatures who are capable of great things. And for the life of me, I cannot see why in heaven's name we should give up, when we have such a profoundly amazing history of invention, ingeniousness, persistence, and courage. For all the challenges that stand in our way, look to the past, and see there the signs that our future is not hopeless.

It's not in our nature to fall apart when we're up against seemingly insurmountable odds. We have routinely done the impossible. We've caused huge machines to fly. We've rocketed into space. We've come up with amazing inventions that can not only transport us hundreds of miles in one day, but can have us talking and laughing with (or swearing at) people on the other side of the planet. Honestly, look around you and take a moment to wonder at the stuff we've managed to come up with.

Now, I'm not saying that all the stuff we've invented is such a great thing. We routinely dabble in things that I don't think we have any business fiddling with -- like the Large Hadron Collider in France/Switzerland... nuclear fission... and gigantic silicone breast implants. Pharma has come up with some pretty scary stuff that they market like it's candy, and some doctors routinely advocate surgeries to remove organs that they don't think serve any purpose... just because they can (and they can bill the insurance companies to do it).

But the thing that I take away from it all is that, given choice, we have the opportunity to do what we will with our abilities, our powers, our potential. We can use our powers for good or ill, for the sake of self-aggrandizement, or for the benefit of others in desperate need. We can use the same ingenuity that came up with a better way to harm others, and use it to help. Ingenuity (like money) doesn't care how it's used. It's just there, to use as we see fit. And we can do just that.

The trick is figuring out what we want to use it for. And mustering the resources to actually USE it... consistently, persistently, tenaciously keepin' on keepin' on, till the problem is solved, the widget is created and deployed, and the pernicious problems that make it so easy to despair are subdued enough to give us a little breathing room, let us catch up with ourselves, and remember to live our lives -- not just survive.

Call me crazy, call me a blind fool. I have a really hard time believing that all is lost, or that we're doomed. I also don't believe that any group, government, or agency can strip me of my human dignity and prevent me from having the life of my dreams with their laws, their regulations, their tax incentives. I'm too stubborn to let them. And I'm too contrary to give up, till I get where I'm going. People who have been on the receiving end of the cattle prod that is my determination know what it's like to try to oppose me, when I get my heart set on something, and I know I'm not the only one who's single-minded enough to not quit when things get tough.

I can't speak for anyone else, but it seems to me 2010 is shaping up nicely. I'm not saying it's going to be easy... I'm still recovering from my all-night blow-out new year's celebration, and I probably won't be 100% for at least another week. But eventually I will be at 100%... and in the meantime, anything more than 10% is more than enough to get me going in the direction I want to go.

It's a new year and a new decade. Let's make it worth our while.

Becoming Dabrowskian

About a year or so ago, I encountered the work of Kazimierz DÄ…browski, a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician who developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration, which describes how a person's development grows as a result of accumulated experiences. "Disintegration," as I understand it, refers to the separation (or un-integration) of the individual as they mature and realize that being well-adjusted to a mal-adjusted world is not the most, well, mature thing. Dis-integration comes from the maturing of thoughts, and it is positive when the process moves one's personality to a more developed level than what is offered by the dominant paradigm.

I've been intrigued by this idea for some time, in no small part because it reflects my own outlooks and approach to the world. Whereas a fair amount of pressure is placed on us as adults to "adjust" to the world, and there is a fairly large focus in psychology and educational circles on creating "well-adjusted" people who can be productive members of society, it has always seemed to me that about the last thing the world needs is more people who are content to accept things as they are.

It seems to me the world would -- and does -- benefit more from ill-adjusted individuals who take it upon themselves to change the things that are all wrong. Where would we be without these folks?

I've been meaning to make a more concerted study of Dabrowski for some time. Of course, work got in the way, as did life in general. But I'm clearing out a whole bunch of extraneous activities and interests that don't look like they're going to amount to anything productive anytime soon, so I'm making more time in my life for the things I really, truly want to do -- which will bear fruit.

Studying Dabrowski is one of the things I truly want to do. I ordered a CD of his collected works in English, as well as plenty of writings by other folks. It seems like the perfect sort of reading for a snowy day like today.

After I clear the snow off my deck and drive and roof, that is.

Health is...

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

- World Health Organization