Friday, July 29, 2011

Linguine

One strand of linguine with pesto sauce sitting on a sidewalk square between 4th and Syracuse for two days.
Surprised when I saw it yesterday morning, but shocked when I saw it again this morning as I walked the neighborhood.
I squatted down this morning to look more closely, and I'm pretty sure it's pesto. With all the birds chirping, bugs crawling, people walking, and dogs prancing, how has this strand lasted so long on the sidewalk? Not a bite gone, not one nibble.  Is it the pesto or the pasta that birds, bugs and animals don't like? And no sign of a shoe print or stroller wheel rolling over it.  Did people not notice it, or walk carefully over it? Are they all wondering, as am I, how one strand of linguine has survived for two days?
The other question, of course, is how did it get there?  How did just one strand of linguine get separated from its group? Had it fallen onto someone's pocketbook and then slipped to the ground? Perhaps it had slipped into someone's long hair and then fallen loose?  I can imagine someone with carry-out dropping the whole container of linguine, but can't imagine anyone walking the streets, eating linguine, and losing just one strand.
I can visualize a child in a stroller with a little plastic cup of linguine taking pleasure out of throwing all of it on the ground. But throwing just one strand would be too much work. People around here put their trash out on Friday mornings, so it was not left over from Waste Management emptying plastic cans.
What's the story behind the one strand of linguine with pesto sitting on the sidewalk?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Letters

I cannot remember the last time I wrote a letter.
But reading the comment from yesterday's blog on junk mail has gotten me thinking about letters. I've moved enough times to have sorted and, alas, thrown away many letters, but I still have some in a box in the basement and in my desk drawers. I wish I had saved more of those letters.  I have one from my now deceased brother, writing from jail, telling me not to get divorced; another one from a high school boyfriend, full of misspellings; several from friends bemoaning various stages in their lives in very Sylvia Plath like voices; a note from my grandmother reminding me to feed my now ex-husband well; one from my mother, another from my aunt, and still another from my late mother-in-law.  I saved some other epistles and poems written by friends, and a host of postcards - one from Martha's Vineyard with a shark on it, sent the summer Jaws came out. I do have letters from my sons, mostly from their early college years, and that's about it.
Now I'm wondering if anyone has saved any of my letters from decades ago. Is there a paper trail to me or from me or not? As for my e-mails, I hope the delete button has been hit on most of them.
As Pat said in his comment, we are in awe of the number of letters exchanged between Georgia O'Keefe and Stieglitz. How many books have relied on letters for evidence of the way lives have been lived, cities have been built, neighborhoods destroyed?  Who's saving e-mails, IM, or text messages in order to understand the past?  And does a blog - sent out to the world, not an individual - reveal anything about the blogger?
Who is even learning the art of cursive anymore?
I'm feeling a bit curmudgeonly as I type away at this, but even with my posturing and nostalgia, I know I won't write a letter to anyone. But I am glad I have those few letters and postcards tucked away.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Other 90%

"The majority of the world's designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world's customers."  - Dr. Paul Polak, founder iDE

Speaking of mindfulness yesterday, I forgot to mention a really mindful art exhibit we saw over the weekend at RedLine Gallery on Arapahoe in Denver.  The exhibit is called Design for the Other 90% is a Smithsonian exhibition and focuses on designs that could improve the lives of some of the poorest people in the world.

Definitely an exhibit worth seeing, as one gets to see innovative, entrepreneurial designs that could change the way people live. My favorite is called Junkmail Shelter, done by artist Viviane Le Courtois.  Viviane had been collecting her junk mail for several years and making junkyard bricks out of the endless marketing debris that comes into all our systems.  When called upon to be part of the exhibit, she asked her friends for their junk mail so she would have enough to build a complete shelter. It's probably not the most practical (but what do I know?), but the one that came closest to me. I couldn't help but picture my almost daily practice of standing in the kitchen sorting the mail into junk and not junk piles.  The junk pile is always far larger than the non-junk pile. I wondered how many clothing, shoe, and home design catalogs I have put directly into recycle over the past few years?  I picture the stacks mounting daily.  That doesn't even include the envelopes from solicitors that don't get opened, but are directly flipped into recycle. I always wonder why retailers, marketing specialists, and politicians send out so much that doesn't get read.  The Junkmail Shelter appears early in the exhibit, and helps to get one's mind inspired.  What if all the money spent on junk mail marketing were diverted into solving global problems? 
So good to have one's mind jolted by art.
  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mindfulness Practice

Thought I'd share these Seven Attitudes of Mindfulness Practice with you. - They are taken from Jon Kabat Zinn's book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.
Our facilitator at the Saturday Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Janet Solyntjes, walked us through Zinn's definitions of the seven attitudes.  We were then asked to pick the one that seemed most important to each of us at the present moment and freewrite about that for about ten minutes. 
Here are the Seven Attitudes:
Non-judging
Patience
Beginner's Mind
Trust
Non-striving
Acceptance
Letting Go
I don't know about you, but for me choosing just one to write about wasn't easy.  Each is an area where I need huge amounts of work. Prioritizing and picking the present moment attitude that I wanted to freewrite about sent me into a spin.  Finally got it down to Non-judging, patience, Letting Go, and Acceptance. I finally decided that until I kick out my heavy judging talents, none of the others had a chance of coming to me. I wrote, and then the writings were used in a pretty powerful listening exercise.
A lifetime of judging others - and most of all, myself - doesn't disappear easily. It's not as if I haven't tried this before, but I'm back at it again.  Even at this very moment, I'm judging the wisdom of blogging this. Part of me thinks 'Who cares about your personal issues?' and 'Really. Do you think you are revealing anything new?' But for this Tuesday, I'm not going to second guess or judge myself for throwing this on the blog. 
In the meantime, it might be an interesting exercise for you to figure out which one of these attitudes you might want to cultivate at the present moment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

crunch

I stepped on two dead hummingbirds this afternoon in an hour and a half. Crunch. crunch. Disgusting.  First time I've been to Grand lake all summer, and only for one night, and I've been communing with death for the afternoon.
 I knew both hummingbirds were dead, as I had seen both of them earlier in the afternoon, but wasn't quite sure what to do with them and decided to leave them in repose. So I know that I didn't kill either of them, but then after stepping not just on one, but both of them in such short order, I feel as if I'm responsible for something.
Death by picture window is not uncommon in the mountains, especially these years after the pine beetle crisis caused so many dead trees to be taken down. The birds have had to orient to a new world, with fewer trees to perch in and more windows to crash into. As I sit here writing this, looking out the window on the lake, I notice the tiniest of hummingbirds sitting in the one tall aspen. Nothing to suck on there, no red sweetness to consume, just some green leaves waiting to turn golden.
There is some irony in my stepping on two dead birds I had already seen, as I spent four hours in a stress-reduction mindfulness workshop on Saturday.  Not mindlessness, mindfulness. But here I am today, mindlessly stepping on one dead bird after another. The redeeming action in all of this is that both dead birds were mindfully taken off the side porch and placed in the ground.  One four-hour workshop does not a mindful person make. crunch.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sharing

I've driven by Capitol Heights Community Church on 11th more times than I care to remember.  But today, I walked by the church on the way to my friend Ann's house. That's the beauty of walking: one sees things up close and personal.
Clearly, this is a Presbyterian church, as the cornerstone gives that information. But here are Sunday's activities, as posted.  CHPC Presbyterian service at 9:30 a.m.; Catholic service at 10:30 a.m.; Dignity Service at 5:00 p.m. One church, three denominations or three different groups sharing the same holy building.
This is not your grandmother's church. It's hard to imagine Presbyterians and Catholics rubbing shoulders as they walked in and out of her church. The church was sacred, but sacred for Catholics only.
I know the sharing is probably driven by economics and politics. Fewer people attend church these days and too many churches populate city streets. In fact, I've noticed a Catholic Church that only has one mass a week at 9:30 Sunday morning. Perhaps that church could be put to another use if some other church would share its time and space.  The Capitol Heights Community Church represents community in the very best sense of the word. Standing in the hot sun, the message of community and sharing was just the antidote I needed to combat the horror of the Norway bombing and shootings.  Have to take the good where we can find it.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Missed Opportunity

The light at Quebec and Alameda is long and provides the opportunity to observe the on-going events on the corner for a while.  The corner has its regulars, each at his regular time, that ask for money or food or a job.
This was a new face, unfamiliar to me.  He was eating out of what appeared to be a small can of tuna. When finished, he carefully put the can in a paper bag on his left. On his right was a stack of three books. He reached over to his backpack, pulled out a plastic bag, put the three books in the plastic bag, and then back into the backpack. Horns honked, signaling that the light had finally turned green for us.
 I took my right-hand turn and drove on. "I'll come back later," I thought. I had to talk with him, learn what he was reading and why.  It seemed to good to be true: tonight I am meeting with a couple of friends to talk about writing workshops for the homeless.  This man must be a sign that such workshops are a good idea.
An hour and a half later I went back to talk to my mystery reader. Alas, he was gone. In his place was the tall, long-haired, lean regular with his regular sign "Bet you a dollar you've read my sign." I've seen him collect on that sign, but I've also seen a man on the other side of town collect several times on his "Will Use Money for Hookers" sign.  Reader man's sign said simply "Hungry and Homeless. Anything will help."
Why didn't I ask what the books were? Need to figure out why talking about the idea of setting up some writing workshops for the homeless is so appealing, but when the opportunity came for a one-on-one conversation with a homeless book man, I miss the opportunity.
Disappointed, I made no eye contact while waiting for the light to change.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let Your Life Speak

Several years ago, I received a sign as a gift. The sign "Let Your Life Speak" sits in my kitchen. The sign spoke to me when I firsts saw it and still does. I think it means to be authentic, to walk the talk, to not only think the thoughts, but also act on strongly held beliefs and values.  This morning, for some reason, maybe the first sip of the second cup of coffee, I put down the paper and visualize Parker Palmer's book "Let Your Life Speak" on the fourth level of the bookcase in my study.
Both the sign and the book have lived in my presence and I never connected the two. How can that be?
I put the coffee down slowly, walk upstairs and grab the book. Opening the book slowly,  I see the bold underlining and check points on pages 2 and 3.  When I put my glasses on I see what I had underlined.
Parker says: "Then I ran across the old Quaker saying, Let Your Life Speak.'  I thought I understood what the words meant: "Let the highest truths and values guide you. Live up to those demanding standards in everything you do." . . .Several paragraphs later:  "Today, some thirty years later, 'Let Your Life Speak' means something different to me:
Palmer says, "Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life with truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent,"
Underlined, with a big, bold check next to both paragraphs. How had I forgotten such a powerful message? How did it get lost, fall into the black hole of forgetfulness so quickly? And why did I connect the sign and the book this morning instead of yesterday, or last week, or three months ago?  I can't answer any of these questions.  But I am going to pay attention to what my life tells me, what wisdom it holds and offers to me. All these years later and I am still trying to force the story, shape the narrative instead of listening to the narrative that is speaking to me.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing Community

This afternoon I'm going over to help Lighthouse Writers Workshop show off its newly rented digs.
Here's the brief history of Lighthouse Writers Workshop:  In 1997 Michael Henry and Andrea Dupree, creative writers and married couple, move to Denver with a dream to create a community of writers. Somehow.
On two weekends in August they placed ads in the Denver Post offering writing workshops in the Denver downtown library. Fifty people showed up. They had a friend and backer who believed in them, and launched the first workshop with just four members.  (This is excerpted from the Lighthouse website lighthousewriters.org). That friend had good insight back in 1997 in supporting the unchartered territory of bringing together people who love to read and write.
Flash forward to 2011.  Lighthouse has over 700 members and serves more than 1,200 students with the Young Writers Program. Over 30 professional writers teach at Lighthouse. Lighthouse outreach to the community continues to be amazing and this new home is going to provide more space for more classes.  And there is a campaign in progress for scholarships for people who want to take writing workshops but don't have the funds to do so.
This isn't a get rich story, but Lighthouse and Mike and Andrea stand on their own. The writing faculty receive modest funds.  It's not a story of money, but a story of Love and Passion. . . and passing it on.
And, for me, it's another experience similar to the one I had over the weekend: being surrounded by people who are trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random info

You think it's just bicyclists, baseball players, track stars who use performance enhancing drugs? Well, I learned at a Mixed Taste adventure on Friday night that in high stakes pigeon racing the authorities test the bird droppings for cortisone.  Doping occurs internationally in Pigeon racing, and in places where people bet on the birds, the droppings are examined. 
I learned a number of interesting facts, but found the fact that pigeons can recognize themselves in mirrors pretty fascinating. I don't know how anyone figured that out, but there you have it.  Made me think of those magical moments when young children know they are seeing themselves or people with them in a mirror. What a shock it must be at that moment when one is in one's body and yet sees it separated and appearing somewhere else.
Over the weekend I also learned about some serious urban farming that is going on in Denver and around the country, learned the difference between doulas and midwives, and spent time engaged with some serious environmentalists and social activists who are trying to change their communities. Much of this occurred at a picnic/party for a friend moving away. In many ways, it was a flashback, and I wasn't sure if I was sad or glad.
Many of the people walked, biked or took public transportation to the public park (not us, but we were from a distance away).  Several people brought guitars, banjos, drums and played. Lots of young children, and everyone brought a favorite dish to accompany the burgers (veggie and meat) and tofu. Lots of commitment, passion, and a belief, in spite of present economics, that things will get better, politics matters, and they will make a difference.  I remember events like that: full of love, laughter and belief that each of us can make a difference.  It was so refreshing to be in that environment.  I think that's what Joan Baez was saying when she sang 'May You Stay Forever Young.'  It's so easy to be jaded, depressed over the political situation and the economy, to give up on trying to make a difference.  Back to the 'Meaning' or 'meaning' discussion.  Little meaningful gestures still count, still matter.  The time in the park refreshed my soul.
On that note, I also learned of an artist/restaurateur in Pittsburgh who makes it a point to serve food made from recipes of people in those countries with whom we are at war or in uncomfortable situations.  What a genius.  Food as the way to bridge the gap of unknowing between peoples, food as the common denominator.
On a completely different note, and in a different space, I had some intense conversation with several young men who had been kicked out of the military under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  We were with a friend and ex-student who is on the board of a non-profit that provides legal support for people kicked out of the military for who they are.  I forget how many cases are still pending, but the number is huge.  And, as we all know from the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, when Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed that won't mean the problems disappear over night. There still will be much work to do. 
So it was a weekend of being in situations where I picked up random info, and also got to be reminded of how many people are out there working for change, staying positive in a sometimes negative world.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Who Can You Trust?

Not me. Just the other day I suggested that a tag or brand line about 'creating massive wealth' and suggested that it was, well, maybe, a bit tacky or presumptuous.  Unclear and maybe pretentious, a hubris-designed goal.
Today I googled 'creating massive wealth' and saw that 3,310,000 articles on creating massive wealth appeared in 0.19 seconds.  Over 3 million. I had no idea that creating massive wealth was so important to so many people. . . and so seductive.  Loads of You Tube videos on how to do so, advice, and methods.  How many scams do you think are in those 3 million plus hits?  Why hasn't the U.S. Government hit on one of the schemes and taken care of the debt problems?
Don't trust me when it comes to branding advice or sensing what the public really cares about. . . I've always thought that wealth would be nice, but massive wealth never crossed my mind.
And speaking of trust, do you trust the few conglomerates that hand out the news to us?  Listened to Bill Moyers last night on tv as he lamented how controlled the news is, how so few people/corporations/conglomerates 'own' and disseminate the news.  His commentary was part of an interview on the Murdoch scandal.  Who can you trust?
I just read on-line that Les Hinton, CEO of the Dow Jones and Publisher of the Wall Street Journal, has resigned today because of the phone-hacking scandal. He was in charge of the British paper during the time the phone hacking was going on (didn't know about it, of course).  I don't know what he knew and what he's been up to in the last couple of years with the WSJ and the Dow, but I want to know how someone can hold down two jobs like that? Who can you trust?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Networking

Networking. I've been interviewing some recent college graduates for a small project, and networking rolls off almost everyone's tongue.  Everyone seems to know what the word means, and most of these recent grads want to know how to do it better or wished they had learned how to network in college. People use Facebook and Twitter to network, but the questions seems to be 'How do I effectively network one-on-one with a person?' 'How do I walk into a large room and decide or figure out who it is I should meet and how do I make an impression on this person so he/she remembers me?'  'How does my business card get entered into a person's contact info and not tossed into a recycling bin or just thrown into a pile with all those other cards thrust upon someone?'
Lots of questions. Networking wasn't in my vocabulary in school or throughout most of my career. I'm sure the concept has always been important, but it was probably more important to business students earlier than it was to those of us in the liberal arts.  For a long time I thought networking meant using people to one's advantage or pretending to like someone because that person could do something for you. Utilitarian, non-compassionate, non-empathic relationships among people. That was way back in the day before social media.
But it's a different landscape these days.  Resources and jobs are scarce, more students walk out of undergrad school with big student loans, and hundreds of people can apply for a position on line. All over the world bright, well-educated young men and women are looking for employment in a world where technology has replaced lots of workers.  It's a world in which networking can give just the extra edge to someone.
But as one grad said, "Sure it's easy for that naturally gregarious person to walk into a ballroom of 500 people and immediately make connections. But for those of us for whom that type of conversation doesn't come naturally it's not easy at all."  So true.
Remember those ancient elementary school report cards that rated Plays Well with Others?  Do you think those who excelled in first grade at playing well with others is now networking well with others? Probably.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No More Cubicles

I probably spend far too much time and money at coffee shops, but there's always someone interesting to watch, a one-sided cell conversation to catch, or even the opportunity to eavesdrop on 2+ people's conversations. It's clear that each coffee shop has at least two or three businesses operating from the shop that have nothing to do with coffee.
The other day I noticed a man leaving a big table, and I moved over to capture it for what would be a foursome of friends. The man had a cellphone, a paper calendar, a laptop, a briefcase and another small bag.
"You sure carry around a lot of material," I commented.
"Beats sitting in a cubicle by myself. I did that for ten years, but the architectural company I worked for down-sized and I found myself another business.  I traded in my day job and left my cubicle for coffee shops. No regrets."
Well, my friends were late and this man was in no real hurry, so we sat at the table and chatted for a while. Maybe I'll go down in his books as a contact he made today, but as we sat there I realized he was one of thousands of people whose employment is made possible by coffee shops. Houses or apartments filled with families or renters don't make good offices.  Coffee shops provide an 'as if' environment: It's as if I am in a pleasant office surrounded by nice people all working on their individual projects. I can see and hear people, feel connected to the environment and the community.  Pretty nice 'as if.'
We exchanged business cards, and I told him 'emerita' just means retired. His card is plastic, with contemporary design and color.  He's the owner of the company and lists his cell phone, e-mail, and video phone addresses.  Don't know why he has a video phone, but there is lots I don't know.
The motto or tagline of his business is Brokering xxx and xxx to generate massive wealth. (I don't want to name the products just to make sure I don't inadvertently identify him).
Because I was too vain to put my glasses on, I didn't see the tagline until I pulled the card out of my bag later in the day.  Wish I had read it while talking to him, because I want to know for whom he is generating massive wealth - himself, people who purchase what he brokers, the products themselves or really nobody. Generating massive wealth strikes me as just plain bizarre to think, say, or put in print. And it strikes me as a strange economic context in which to make such a statement.  If I had read the card when he gave it to me, I probably would have told him to take that statement off. Now, I know little about marketing or branding and not one thin about generating massive wealth, but I think I know outlandish, too eager, desperate when I see it.
Samuel Johnson once said 'Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.'  I think my 'generating massive wealth' friend must be in the throes of hope, with all previous experience blocked out. Maybe he will generate massive wealth for himself and for hundreds of others. Maybe. Maybe not. But I sense that almost every coffee shop has its share of people pursuing a dream or a passion. People without a cubicle but with lots of hope and optimism.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monkey and River

It is said a great Zen teacher asked an initiate
to sit by a stream until he heard all the water
had to teach. After days of bending his mind
around the scene, a small monkey happened
by, and, in one seeming bound of joy, splashed
about in the stream. The initiate wept and
returned to his teacher, who scolded him
lovingly, "The monkey heard. You just
listened."         (anonymous source)

All too often I have listened but not heard, studied but not felt, understood theory but didn't apply it. It's sometimes easier to gather the facts, ponder the questions, think about thinking than just jumping in and being embraced (or embracing) what we are trying to know in a larger sense.
Jumping into things, becoming part of the experience brings joy, brings a sense of true connectedness, and a grand sense of just being alive. Over-thinking doesn't do it, nor does endless analysis. 
Reminds me of the beginning of a poem by e.e. cummings:
since feeling is first,
who pays attention to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
wholly be a fool while Spring is in the world.

This might be a good time to jump into the world, be of it, instead of spending too much time witnessing and contemplating.  Time to move beyond listening to hearing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mind Adrift

I was thinking about the wonderful opera performance of Carmen that we saw in Central City yesterday. And I was pondering the funky little Central City itself, home to many a boom and bust. The boom began in 1859 when John Gregory discovered gold there and the place, for a while, became known as the 'richest square mile on earth.'  In 1874 a great fire destroyed the city, but the huge efforts to re-build the city paid off, and many of the buildings built after the fire still stand today. 
Most of the mines are closed and noone in finding gold in those hills today, but with the introduction of casinos into the town in 1991,  there are still people searching for a magical find, a hit, gold at the end of the casino rainbow.
Blocks of buildings with For Sale signs, lots of free parking available to draw people, but other than opera goers, the streets seem empty.  The casinos are few, and they might be full of people, but no hustle and bustle in the streets yesterday.  The Teller House and the Grand Opera House stand out for their beauty and the careful conservation of the sites.
I was going to tell you more about Central City and even more about the opera and reflect upon all the beauty and raw talent that were exhibited on stage yesterday. But as I was having all those thoughts I was pulling out of a parking space.  Thinking about the Cuban-born opera singer Elizabeth Caballero and the standing ovations for her performance of Micaela, I just backed right into the new four-runner that was stopped in the street behind me. The driver was doing just the right thing: stopping to let some pedestrians pass; I was doing just the wrong thing: backing up with my mind adrift in yesterday.  Yes, even though he was stopped and I was pulling out slowly, there was damage to his car.
So I'm not going to tell you anything more for now about Central City or Carmen because I have to force myself into the present moment and call the insurance company. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Mind

OK. Time for as thinking break.  Last night we went to a workshop on mindfulness and mindstrength.
So we have progressed from memory to intelligence and now the mind.  It's all too much for me in the questions that surface. Does intelligence reside in the brain only? The brain isn't abstract; scientists have named the parts and even have come to understand how various parts of the brain works and what goes where. Memory is one place; creative skills perhaps another.  But where is the mind and what is the connection between the brain and the mind? Is the brain part of the mind or vice versa or neither? We can't find the mind in a scan or mri any more than we can find the soul. But I don't know anyone who would say the mind is non-existent. I could do more research on this, and someday I will, but right now it's hot and it's 5:11 on Friday. My mind and brain are off for the weekend.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Intelligence

Yesterday, it was memory; today it's intelligence.  Yes, I am sure they ae connected but don't begin to understand how.
I heard a talk today about artificial intelligence, computers, gaming, etc.  The speaker took a delightful trip through the history of computers' vs. humans in the game world. He started with the game of checkers and said it took from 1965 to 2007 for' Schnook' to solve the game and beat humans. Then there was Garry Kasparov of Chess fame and Deep Blue. He went through backgammon, bridge and forward into the present day. 'The brute force of intelligence' was a term used to describe artificial intelligence.
They were simpler questions in the past: Who is smarter, the person or computer? Can artificial intelligence outsmart human intelligence? How can a human program something to be smarter than he/she is?
 We thought we knew what Intelligence was and most of us knew our I.Q.  Simpler times. Someone once told me that my high school wouldn't recommend college for anyone with an I.Q. lower than 120. The good old days might have been simpler, but not smarter.
These days we talk about multiple intelligences, emotional, social, physical, empathic, inter and intra-personal intelligences. We talk about changing intelligences and question the entire concept of intelligence itself. We wonder what 'smart' has to do with Intelligence and try to understand the place of Intelligence in the world of Wisdom.
Somehow, at least to me, a computer always beating a human in checkers or any game, or computing more quickly than any human seems far less significant than it once did.  With that said, I will also readily admit that none of my intelligences understand much about artificial intelligence or game theory.  But I am glad someone out there does.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Circus Fire

Today is the anniversary of the Hartford Circus Fire. I was just three years old and there with my parents.
The fire broke out in the main tent while the animals were coming in.  We escaped when a young boy scout cut a slice in the side of the tent where we were and people scrambled through that opening to safety. I've read a great deal about the fire throughout the years and also have my own vivid memories.  I have a memory of my mother handing me down to my father, memory of going through the slit in the tent, memory of the elephants, memory of the long walk to the car and when we finally got there, finding it was too hot to open the door. I remember seeing my grandmother, aunt, and one-year old brother waving to us from the porch at the top of the three-family house when we finally arrived home.
Should I trust my memories on any of this? I was just three years old. I can't believe I remember all those things, yet I have visuals that show up when I think about the fire. I see all those scenes I recounted. Yet I can't believe that most of it isn't just a jumble of constantly told stories and dreams that I turned into 'memories.' It doesn't really matter in any grand sense of truth and non-truth. But the real legacy of the anniversary of the Circus Fire In Hartford CT is that it makes me stop and think about the mysteries of memory and the many unreliable narrators in our minds.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Human Right Access to Internet

On the eve of July 4th, someone in a conversation stated with great certainty that the United Nations had declared access to the internet a basic human right. People talked about the meaning of a basic human right and others reminded one another that having a human right doesn't mean it comes free (i.e. basic health care). And so it went. Robust, bold, opinionated assertions. I'm not sure how many people in the U.S. take seriously the United Nations Bill of Human Rights, but I do, and was surprised that I hadn't heard of this addition.
So I went to Google to find some answers. I found lots of info: reports that France has declared access to the internet a basic right; a report saying that 95% of the people of Finland have access to the internet, but now the country wants high-speed internet to be a given right. Lots of bloggers chimed in, some agreeing with the notion, others wondering why the internet and not something else became a basic human right. I read parts of the U.N. report, and then read more.
I think what I finally figured out is that Frank LaRue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations, delivered a report in which he gave his personal opinion that access to the internet should be a basic human right and from the stories began.  I read quotes from LaRue's report that indicated that he wasn't suggesting a new article be added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that access to the internet is or should be seen as part of Article 19 that states its is a universal human right to exercise one's rights to freedom of expression.

Why am I writing about this? Well,  I think I agree with the Special Rapporteur (and love the title) that access to the internet should be seen as embedded in Article 19, but that is beside the point. The point is that I had to skim through several articles and blogs to figure out if the United Nations declared access to the internet as a universal human right. I'm a seasoned reader and can usually ferret out opinion from fact. But doing so in getting more difficult every day. And in my own curmudgeonly way I'd add that a lot of people don't seem to care whether something is fact, not fact, or shades of what might be constructed as fact. The word gets out there, and because someone said it someone else believes it to be true. And that person spreads the word. A speaker recently used the term 'Beyond Fact' to describe the world we live in today. I once lived in a world where the term factoid didn't exist.  Now I'm not sure whether I'm reading a factoid or an opinion.
There's probably more to this story, as I only skimmed a few of the many articles available on the question of whether the United Nations Declaration did or didn't declare access to the internet a basic right.
 We've got to be pretty crafty these days to figure out what's going on.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Patriotism

It's the grand day for celebrating Independence. And given the political turmoil and upheaval, the yearning for personal and political independence that we've seen in the Arab Spring and other places around the world,  it feels good to be living where the major independence battles were fought earlier, smoothing the way for the rest of us.
With the death of Osama Bin Laden, patriotism in the US turned on, and it's still on for this extended weekend celebration. I've read a couple of articles in various papers that suggests patriotism is bad for people and living things. Those articles always surface at this time of year. But the strongest anti-patriotism article I read was in Utne Magazine this month, Pledging Allegiance to Peace, an article written by a Quaker.

"Patriotism is immoral: it is selfish and irrational, hinders our judgment, divides the world, contributes to militarization, causes war, and contradicts the teachings of Jesus" says Tony White. He quotes Emma Goldman, "Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate."
He claims patriotism builds pride in our 'us-ness' and in order to protect 'us' we must often fight 'them.'

We've all seen examples - brutal examples - of patriotism run amuck, seen pride in country used to manipulate people and set people against one another. We've seen and read patriotic biases in the media and spend a fair amount of time sorting out truth versus rhetoric in the world of patriotism.

Still, with all that can go wrong with patriotism, the scenes I witnessed last night put a different spin on patriotism.  Denver, in its good urban wisdom, held a Civic Park event, with the Colorado Symphony playing, followed by fireworks.  I watched hundreds of people, walking, carrying food, chairs, blankets, lots of water, making their way to the great party on the civic lawn in the center of the city.  People of every possible shape, age, health, and background gathered.  Brown, yellow, black, white. . . it looked more like an international gathering than anything else.  And, of course, that is what is was.  People from around the world who had found their ways to Denver, to begin a new life, to live out a dream.  The classic immigrant story. Little children proudly carrying American flags, some of them too young to understand what had been left behind or too young to understand why their families made the journey to the US.  A film director or choreographer couldn't have depicted the beauty and diversity of people showing off their patriotism.

We can find the dark spots, the immigrant worried about being returned to his/her native country for legal reasons, the homeless man watching the crowd go by, the persons without health insurance. This democracy of ours is messy and quite imperfect.  But the patriotic faces I saw last night painted a different picture, a picture of hope and pride.

To his credit, Tony White calls for replacing patriotism with humanism or universal love. I'd be the first to advocate that and support such a movement.  He quotes George Fox, Quaker founder, with what can happen when we realize our connection to others and the underlying unity of all things; when we 'walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.'
On this day of Independence may we all recognize our connection to others. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Secret Places

Who would have thought this one-level brick house on a quiet suburban street was a monastery? Not me.
But it is. . .  simple, beautiful, open, and with a chapel as sacred and peaceful as any you've seen.
How did I find this?
It's an old story, a friend told a friend who learned from a religious person who belonged to a Church that another friend attended.  Little narratives, from one mouth to another.
I don't suppose it was ever meant to be a 'secret' secret, but just secret enough so throngs of people don't drive up and down the quiet suburban street looking for some place that looks holy. The monastery/house has a lovely yard and I saw photos of large public events that have taken place there.
Two guest rooms are in the basement, so traveling priests or others must occasionally stay there.
But on this Friday, just three people were at the monastery. My two friends who told me about the house and I.
Doors open, we went into the chapel for a while, sat at the large table looking at photographs, memorabilia and religious pieces. Then we sat outside and talked, basking in the sun of a hot Friday afternoon and the peacefulness of the surroundings.
I don't know the full story of how this suburban house became a monastery, so I can't really share that with you. And I can't really share the address, as I feel as if I would be betraying the place itself, but I can tell you the unexpected is just where you don't expect it to be.
Remember how we all wanted to belong to secret clubhouses, clubhouses no adults could find? This afternoon I felt as if I had found mine, thanks to my two good friends.