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There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence-an overwhelming determination to succeed. -- Sophy Burnham
One of my very favorite books is Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up. It was written by Patricia Ryan Madson, who applies the lessons she learned in teaching improv at Stanford to life. Just a wonderful, wonderful book, and one that I am re-reading. I read something over lunch that just bears quoting...
To the improv professional, the glass is always half full. There is always something there to work with; you just need to see it. There are gifts everywhere if we learn to see them.
I am always using some kind of filter when I encounter the world, whether I notice this or not. The light in which something is perceived will determine its value. I can look at a person or event from three vantage points:
To see what's wrong with it
To see it objectively
To see the gift in it
How do you look at reality? Which lens do you use?
Patricia then details a personal inventory that she was trained to do.
What had I received from others during my life?
What had I given back to them?
What trouble or bother had I caused them?
In this process, she writes:
What I discovered astounded me - a world that had been there, but was formerly unseen - a place where I was receiving far more than I had been giving; in short, a world of support. I wasn't the star, but one of many players.
Why is it that sometimes I am unnoticing and ungrateful of the gifts that others provide? What great gifts in our lives are we missing because we focus on what's wrong?
Patricia notes how even the chair on which you sit as you read this was the result of someone's labor that you now enjoy, and perhaps you never noticed.
How would the world be different if we first saw everyone and everything for the gifts they bring?
Said another way, I've been chewing on the Strengths Finders material put out by Gallup. If we focus on our weaknesses, we marginally improve. If we focus on our strengths, we exponentially improve because we're already in tune with these gifts.
What if we view others not in terms of their weaknesses, but in terms of their strengths? Not a matter of what they can't do, but what they can do? How would that change how we interact with them? Would we become thankful for the gifts they provide because we've changed how we view them?
Yesterday, I mused on Patricia Ryan Madson's book, Improv Wisdom. I said that maybe, if we're viewing life and people through a negative, critical filter, we need to change our own sight rather than change others. Patricia advocates a "gift" filter - seeing people and life for the gifts that they bring to us. Everyone has their strengths, and if we focus on that, we might be more thankful.
Which makes it a matter of correcting our vision.
I've come to believe that anyone can paint. Painting, in my opinion, is not a matter of manual dexterity. If you can forge the signature of someone else, you have all the physical talent that you need.
Painting is instead a talent of the eyes. It's a matter of seeing things as they are and not as we think they are. It's not an apple I paint, but a blob of red here and yellow there and spots of white and purple and blue. Shapes and colors... that's it. Tackling the outline of shapes is no more complicated than forging the curves in another's signature.
A friend of mine told me that she didn't have the patience to paint. After I convinced her that she might be able to do wonderful things with a brush, she said simply, "I don't have the time or the patience." And it's true that painting takes both - because much of the time is spent getting rid of what I think it looks like.
I get a first impression when I view the subject. If I paint only from my first impression, I'll fail and I won't capture it. I have to look at it again and again and again in order to get it right.
Now think of people. Do we let our first impressions stick and then approach that person from that perspective only? Or do we look at that person again and again and again to get it right?
Everyone has their strengths. Everyone has a gift. Do we allow ourselves the time to see them as they are to enjoy what they can bring to our life?
I'm about halfway done with my rework of this web site. You can check out the new blogroll. I don't have everyone on there that I want to list, but you get the idea. (If you don't know what a blogroll is, it's a list of other bloggers you recommend reading.)
I wrote recently about the death of the blogroll. I wrote of how I would change it, and I've mostly done that. I figure if I'm going to take the time to list someone on my blogroll, I ought to take the time to tell you why and give you some information about them. I think this is a better approach. It personalizes the blogroll in a way I haven't seen done before. And yes, it takes a few minutes to do each one, but if I'm recommending them, don't they deserve that?
I'll also be tagging each entry, so that it's easy to filter the list.
I haven't started with the re-work of the Gallery or Archives pages. The rest of what's done is about where I want it to be. The blog, more narrowed than you typically see it here on the web site, looks more clean and focused.
And so I go. One of the features of the Gallery is that I'll be opening up my artwork so that anyone can use it. No more watermarked images. More about all that in a later post...
I'm finishing up my work on the new web site and I'm just about done with the new gallery. The gallery is the place for me to showcase whatever it is that I'm doing creatively, be it art or photos or music or writing or whatever.
So, I've written the new pages in a way that allows me to automate the display of my work into categories. You'll see what I mean when you visit. The nice thing about this is the automation of my photos gallery. I'm having fun with my photography lately. This is a good way to display them all together.
Later, I need to adjust the contact page. That will be more autobiographical eventually. Details to follow. But I'm having fun, and after all, that's the main point of it.
What if you play the best music there is, and nobody listens? What does it mean?
You've heard of Disney's employees referring to themselves as "cast" before, right? They are performers... and conduct themselves as such. And Tom Peters says that this is not a mere "office" where we work, but "theater." It is our stage...
The virtuoso musician played at DC's metro station and got only $32.16 for 43 minutes of playtime... it really is all about presentation. And presentation is about preparation, looking the part, and venue. I could be the world's greatest genius, but if I'm not looking the part in the right setting with the right audience who is prepared to hear and see me perform, it's all irrelevant, and it gives my life no significance. I have no impact like I otherwise might. Think about strengths...
I'm able to do what I'm doing now here at my job because my new boss stopped to listen to my performance while I was working in my project manager role. But if he hadn't, I would have no contribution as I do today. Not in the way that I can, anyway.
So, I can do everything that I can to legitimize myself and look the part, but it's also about audience selection and audience preparation. I have to ready them to hear me play. I have to get their attention and then get them warmed up and ready to receive me, so to speak.
Axiom: Presentation =
= reception of my gifts
And my value goes upward as I massage each aspect. The virtuoso is worth $1,000 per minute in one circumstance and $32.16 for 43 minutes in another.
How do you set your stage for receiving what you're worth?
ETC: I mentioned this story to a friend of mine in the hallway here at work and he said that his nephew went to France and took out his trombone while vacationing and played on the street and did quite well. Better than $32 in an hour.
Could Joshua Bell have done better with different selections?
What does our audience want to hear vs. what do we want to play?
This is the best elevator description of Wikinomics I've read yet, from someone who'd never heard of a Wiki.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
God, that's both beautiful and true. Allowing others to self-organize around an effort/idea is the most natural, most sustainable mechanism for any mission we wish to undertake. It will also tell us whether the effort is marketable and worthwhile.
I'm tired of racism. I'm tired of the color of a person's skin having any impact on anything at all. It doesn't matter. Really... it doesn't matter at all.
I'm tired of words one person can use but another can't. If it's offensive for racial reasons, then it shouldn't be used at all. There is no justification for its use. Words are not owned by anybody.
Anybody recognize this?
"In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence."
"Dignity and discipline..." Do you agree with that? I think that's a great standard.
"Ho" is a detestable word. It denegrates a person. Why use it at all?
Be the change you want to see in the world. Lead by example.
I'm tired of grafitti just because a person can do it. Put down the paint can, whether it's in your hand or in your mouth.
I'm tired of people making objects of others and viewing them as discardable.
I'm tired of what is senseless.
I'm sick of hate.
If you didn't recognize the author of the words above, you might recognize the closing paragraph of his speech.
"When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
"'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
It was a great speech. It was given almost 50 years ago. It could still be given today.
I'm tired of racism, whether it's black racism or white racism. It's ugly, unnecessary, and wrong.
We ought to treat each other like we want to be treated, regardless of what color we are. That's the standard. Anything less deserves an apology and a better effort next time. Anything less is juvenile and hurtful.
88 professors at Duke and Al Sharpton owe an apology to three innocent men. Don Imus and his producer owe an apology to the Rutgers women, and Imus has. Comedians who use race as fodder for "comedy" aren't as funny as they might think.
Color doesn't matter. We're people. That's all that matters. We should behave accordingly.
One of my favorite practice sessions with art is the raw sketch. No eraser. No rough drafts. Just drawing, or inking, or, in this case, painting.
I found some guy on the Net, printed him out, and went into our fireplace room to sketch it out while Tamara watched Law and Order next to me. It's the first time in about 4 months that I've touched the brushes. And it felt ~~goooood~~. Spent about 20 minutes. I just wanted two colors. Limiting myself like that forces me to reduce it to tones and shadows.
So I'm working on getting myself back in painting shape for some things I want to do. More art lately, and it's great to be back at it.
I got home last night and watched NBC news and saw the freakshow that was Cho displayed before me.
The only thing I find more dangerous than Cho are those who see Cho, and people like him, as a victim. "What problems did he have as a youth?" This was a question stated by NBC's guy. I ask: who cares? He's no victim. To even suggest that he is a victim completely disregards his utterly senseless murder of so many people.
"Why did he do it?"
Wrong question. That only makes us stare at the guy and give him more undeserved attention.
The right question: how do we prevent this from happening in the future? We don't do that by studying Cho himself. We do that by studying why we as a society missed the early warning signs.
There are a lot of really, really bad people in the world who simply can't be reformed. When people show explicit signs of hating society and start talking of killing people, the risk is not worth it. It's time to pull them out of society until they can play nice in the sandbox with everyone else.
Yes, that's a violation of their civil liberties. But they're not being civil, so they have, in effect, opted out. Free speech doesn't include the right to threaten to kill others. When 63 out of 70 people don't show up for class because of this guy and nothing was done to boot him out permanently, that's a failure of leadership.
So, enough about what's his name. Let's focus on where we failed.
Yesterday, I wrote about Preventing Horror. A bit more today...
It turns out that two of my sons, who attend high school, were told yesterday of a student who stated that he wanted to "beat the record" of the Virginia Tech murderer. The sophomore was removed from school yesterday.
Question: will the student return?
The student probably will return. Perhaps as soon as today.
Question: does the student have a right to return?
No. In my view, the student just opted out of the school year for a comment like that. And if the student has a history with either mental health professionals or if the student has made other threats to harm himself or others before, then the student has opted out of every other school year. At the least, that kid just punched in his card for home-schooling or became a dropout. More suitably, he should go to jail. He should become his parents' and the court's problem - not the school's and not mine.
You don't make a statement like that and get a free pass; otherwise people will make careless, thoughtless comments all the time and get away with it and no one will know who's making the real threat and who isn't until it's too late. Threats are not constitutionally-protected free speech. Words have meaning.
My sons' lives, and the lives of others, aren't worth the risk.
I'll be having a conversation with the school today. Us parents weren't notified of this at all. I first heard it on the news and then talked with my sons, who know the student by name.
Hopefully, we won't ever see this local punk turn the nightly news into his own personal YouTube like the Virginia Tech murderer. Gee, I wonder when the t-shirts with that wackjob's poses will be screen-printed. Celebrating him like that - is that constitutionally-protected free speech too? The media is only stoking the fire of other wannabe nutcases by giving that guy's pictures any airtime at all.
"Beat the record..." - that's really disturbing, as though this is now a freakshow competition for kamikaze losers.
ETC: I spoke with the principal. The conversation went something like this.
"I heard about the threats yesterday. I get automated phone calls from you folks if my kid is two minutes late to class. Why didn't I get a phone call about this threat?"
"We sent out an announcement via our listserve. Are you on it?"
"Perhaps not. So is this kid in school today?"
"Mr. Rogers, we spent 11 hours yesterday trying to confirm the threat, and no one substantiated it. We talked to many, many kids yesterday, but no one can say that they heard the threat."
"I'm not surprised. Why would they paint that 'X' on their chest? Why volunteer to be the first one shot?"
"I would hope that someone would have that integrity."
"In this case, integrity can cost you your life."
"Well, we can't just go off of rumors. What if this were your son?"
"Keep him home. It becomes my problem."
"But these were unsubstantiated rumors."
"If this kid has a history of psychiatric problems or has made threats against himself or others in the past, then I think it gets more weight."
"So if a kid is on depression medication, we should kick them out?"
"This is not just mental illness. It's mental illness with death threats. There's a difference."
"These are unsubstantiated rumors."
"I'm not comfortable with this kid coming back next week. How do you know he's safe? Especially since my sons also heard that he said this friends would do the job if he wasn't in school."
"We heard that too. We brought in those students and their parents as well. We found no substantiation for any of this."
"So this kid can just come back in? If so, I'm not comfortable with that at all. At the very least, the kid should kept out until you've had proper psychiatric evaulation."
"We're doing that. I can promise you that."
"So you'll keep this kid out of school until you know absolutely that he's not a threat?"
"Once he's had proper evaluation from a professional, be it his own therapist or some other professional, he'll be allowed back into the school."
"I'm still not comfortable. My kids' lives are in your hands. You're asking me to trust you."
"Yes, I know that."
It's really tough being a parent some days. I'm sure it's tough being a principal some days. She seemed surprised when I said that no student would step forward to put their life on the line like that. I'm not sure that she had considered that. I hope she does now.
Tamara and I watched the most unnecessarily long and boring movie that I've. Ever. Seen.
It's Robert DeNiro's directorial debut, The Good Shepherd. Don't see it.
But if you really want to go see it, don't read the rest of this. Spoiler alert - you have been warned.
The story line could have been interesting... it's about the slow-grinding of a man's soul, the penalties of bad choices and what could have been, and loyalty. Trim 90 to 120 minutes from this plodfest and it might have been interesting - and you'd still have about 90 minutes of movie leftover.
Instead, I felt like I was living 20 years of his life in real time.
But consider: why do we aspire to the things we do? Do we do it out of a desire to please others? A desire to keep our word?
If you watch Edward Wilson throughout the movie, the only time he becomes animated is when he talks with his college flame, Laura. It's the only time that I recall him truly smiling. Of course, this is long after he marries the wrong woman. But she was his heart. And she talks of the life that she wanted for them - that he could be a poet and teach in a small university town. You can see the flicker in his eye at the hint of what that might be like.
At the end of the movie, he finally reads a suicide note from his father. It tells him to pursue the life of his dreams and to be happy. But now in his late 40's or in his 50's, Edward is in the exact opposite place.
He's pleasing no one. Not himself. Not his long-dead father. Not his wife. Not his true love. Not his child.
So what's the point?
What are your dreams? What do you see yourself doing? Are you in the right place? If not, how do you get there?
Start moving yourself in that direction - today. Fearlessly.
If you've ever read the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, there's a great two-page drawing in the middle of it that depicts this very phenomenon of the grinding of one's soul. I'll try to scan it later, but on the left is this free-spirited joyous being and he slowly migrates into a cardboard corporateman, absent of all life. I wrote about it earlier here, about 500 posts ago.
I no longer paint at lunch at work. I worry about what others think. I no longer ride my bike to work. Good gravy - I believe that I've lost sight of who I am. I have some work to do.
Joi Ito writes a rather stirring post about the power of our words. Our words set an environment for ourselves and for others around us. Here's part of a quote from a book he's reading:
I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.
I think we have three choices in life. We can either try to stifle, control, augment, change, tweak the voice of another person. Or we can ignore that voice.
Or we can find the biggest damn megaphone that we can and stand on a box and raise it up before them and encourage that person to shout to the heavens.
Here's the graphic. I've typed out the words in it...
In the very beginning, if you think way back...
He was always amazed and had time just to gaze His arms were like wings and he moved like the wind The door to his heart was flung open wide - you could see straight inside His soul shone like gold and could never be sold Even his toes rarely touched the ground...
Now he moved his gaze down... his arms tumbled down He spent much of his day to make sure that his heart didn't fly off off and play The door was ajar, but not very far His soul winced and shrunk And every so often a tear would go plop
He emptied his thoughts
He hid his feet in some shoes
Sometimes his heart would cry out quite loud
There once was a day Then came the day someone casually said... Your feet should be planted on the ground So he did, as you can see Then one day someone laughed at him as he sung to the trees And so he promised himself never again would he sing to the trees (or the leaves) But still they laughed on At most everything he did So he thought to himself I must be more like them So he watched and he thought what to think what to not Walk like I walk Talk like I talk Don't piddle Work hard Don't be late Don't sigh Don't cry Look 'em smack in the eye Stand up straight Don't do this Don't do that
I ask: How do you encourage those around you to find their voice and to dare speak it with gusto?
I'm doing something I haven't done before, which is to collaborate on a painting with someone. In this case, I do this with my wife.
This is the largest painting I've ever done (11 x 14), and this is just a section of it. I love the early stages of a painting when it's rough and doesn't look like much. It hints at the direction it's going. The subject emerges with each stroke.
It's also interesting to collaborate. When I met Tamara, she swore that she had no artistic ability. I took the time to show her how to see the subject, how to mix paint. Later, she painted a series of rather large oak leaves for place settings at my birthday and she did a beautiful job. In fact, everyone at the table thought hers was better than the example I gave her.
And so we paint. It's not something we can do concurrently. I go, then she goes, then I go.
As for me, I've finally found a spot in the house in which I'm comfortable painting. I've had to change some of my methods to make it work. I've purchased some large canvases on which to paint. My next painting will be 24" x 48". That's quite a jump in size for me.
I'll post the final result of our teamwork in the next week.
While Tamara's out at a dog show letting our schnauzer, Dochas (Doh'-chuss), strut her stuff, I'm spending the day in codeville finishing (hopefully) the changes on this web site so that I can get rid of the cumbersome, complicated, unorganized interface that I have today. I hope that the old interface is completely gone by tomorrow.
Recently, I talked of the changes I'm making to the blogroll. That was a step in the right direction, but it didn't go far enough. I have favorite bloggers, but I also have favorite books, movies, etc. So I've organized the main menu of the site into 6 areas:
Things to do
Then, within each of these you can find the sub-areas. So under Thumbs Up, which is my list of favorite people, places, and things, I have these sections:
If you click on the Thumbs Up icon in the menu, you go to the new favorites page where you can access all of it.
This feels better. It's not just a hodge podge list of links with no context or meaning behind it, but instead I put some time into each person, place, or thing to which I link. If I really want to recommend them, they're worth a few minutes time to do it right.
Note to my friends and fellow bloggers: if I haven't yet linked to you, it's not personal. Today is infrastructure day. I'm working on the backbone of the site. Content, which includes you and the link to your site, comes later. Please forgive any delay.
This new site is organizes the clutter of the current site. I have a ton to do, and the new site will go through changes today, so if a few things don't work, it should only be temporary.