Curiosity Journal

Curiosity Journal #4 – Transformative Power

Gradually I’m moving toward that possible radio show. This week I’ll submit my application; next week I’ll start my on-air broadcast training.

One feature I’m particularly excited about in my proposal is inviting others to submit their own “curiosity journals” for broadcast on the show. I love the idea of getting others to put their toes into these waters, to come explore alongside me.

Keep your fingers crossed – approval and getting on air are still a long way off…

Listen to Curiosity Journal #4 – Transformative Power. [2 minutes]

Transcript: When I was researching curiosity last year, the most entertaining thing I came across was the Boring Conference. No question. A whole conference dedicated to things like studying teaspoons and tie collections. What a riot!

The basic idea is the more you look at something, the more interesting it gets. It’s called the transformative power of attention. 

I have to say: I buy it.

And I want to bring more of it into my day…So I’m trying to train myself to think more about whatever  I’m looking at –say, a pine cone I’ve just picked up. 

Some things I need an expert source for, like the tree name…but there’s an awful lot that I can figure out if I’m just CURIOUS about it.

Is my little pine cone open or shut (I’ve learned that’s the result of how wet things are — ever notice that??)? 

Are the scales smooth? Are they spiky? Are there other pine cones around — do they all look the same or different? How does it smell? How does it taste?  Well, maybe I won’t do that.

Where’s the source tree? Are there a lot of them? How do they grow? 

Are they big and tall?  Fat and squat? 

Does it look like squirrels or something else has been munching away? If not, why not?

How does the bark feel? What do the needles smell like? Is this the kind of tree that oozes sap all over everything?

Suddenly, without knowing much about my pine cone, I know a lot about my pine cone. I’m starting to like my pine cone.  

Let’s hear it for that transformative power….


Love’s Iterations

Pick a day, any day. Pick a day and look for the love in it. I chose Wednesday.img_1677

Wednesday night I was in a cool little club, with a cozy little crowd, on a bitterly cold night, grooving to a rocking hot performance, and the love count was piling up. Not just the love songs and devoted groupies, although there were plenty of those, what I was noticing was the other love stuff.

AJ Smith is a local boy making it in the Big Apple. He’d come to launch his latest EP. He’s doing what he loves. [ding!] 

We’ve all lost some major music icons in recent weeks, but for AJ, Glenn Frey was also a friend and mentor. With a voice that was tight with emotion — but oh, so sweet — AJ played the first song he’d ever taken to Glenn. He thanked Glenn. I imagine we all did. [ding!]

Road weary, perhaps weather weary as well, AJ’s voice was giving way. He’d pause, chat a bit, clear his throat, move down an octave. It was a tough break on a big night. From somewhere in the crowd, Mom appeared, first with water then with tea. [ding!]

Then a string broke and the improvisation began in earnest. It’s an AJ thing, this improvisation of lyrics and melodies mid-concert. Inventive, attentive, playful — it was clear he’d been very present in the room as he looped in the crowd, the time, the place. You could almost hear the yes, and… in his head. Doing what he loves, loving how he does it. [ding! ding!]

He switched to the electric guitar and amped it up. Way up. I noticed what looked like a fleck of blood on his strumming hand. He kept going. Soon there was blood on the strings, blood on the floor, blood on the keyboard beside him. He kept going. [ding!]  With a dramatic flourish he finished, blood-drenched hand triumphant in the air above him. From somewhere in the crowd, a young woman emerged, pulling a BandAid from her purse. [ding!]

Fingers and voice shredded, AJ took to the keyboard and delivered his final song, a lush and vibrant tribute to place and time. At the end of the concert there were the usual expressions of thanks and appreciation for the audience, the venue, family and friends. But, this time? This time they felt very, very real. [ding! ding! ding!]

Now I die for your love

So let me try to show that I am good enough 

To fight for your love

Please don’t make me die for your love

              — AJ Smith, Die for Your Love

Life Lessons

If Something Is Worth Doing…

I have always believed that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. That if something is worth any effort, it is worth our best effort. That we honor our interests by going all in, and getting the most out.

As a student, I wanted to excel. Then, too, as an employee and boss. As a mother, I wanted to create memories and moments, to contribute substantially to the formation of especially wonderful young men.

At every turn I have believed in the importance of demonstrating my devotion to the cause by delivering not just quality effort but a quality product as well.

And – yet

I’ve also come to believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing not well. That if something is worth any effort, it is worth whatever effort we can offer. That we honor our interests by going in at all.

That it doesn’t matter if our watercolors are great or our prose deathless. Doesn’t matter if we can’t play the piano at the levels to which we aspire, or even the levels at which we once performed. What matters is that we paint and write and play, for the sake of painting and writing and playing. For our own sakes.

And – yet

Can both be true?  This I believe: that going all in on something that matters to us is important. And affirming. And probably the only way things ever really get done. And, this I believe: we owe it to ourselves to think more carefully about the outcomes we think we are after  — to be willing, even eager, to seek joy and diversion and developing skill at least as much as we chase excellence.

Which brings me to a tautology that strikes me as both elegant and dissatisfying: if something is worth doing, it is simply worth doing. Period.

see  sawAnd – so – on the occasion of my 99th blog, on a journey marked by as much by “all in” as “in at all”,  when sometimes the focus has been on finesse and sometimes just on finishing, I offer this:

Life Lesson #32: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Life Lesson #33: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing not well.

Life Lesson #34: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing.


Life Lessons

Gifts from Jonas

The urges began long before the first flakes fell. Like a primordial barometer, my blood responded to the impending storm with an insatiable desire to create. The sewing machine and I became as one, its mechanical hum a chorus to the winds around us.

Amid the threads and scraps, a piece emerges. With it, lessons for next time.

– – – – – – –

I thought I didn’t think much of Elizabeth Gilbert, all pop indulgence, but then she goes and writes a book about creativity and courage and, God help me, curiosity  and I think: I must succumb.

As the storm raged, I watched a TED talk to ease myself in. And then another. And then bought the kindle version of The Signature of All Things: A Novel. And now I can’t put it down, glad to have dropped one name from my list of disdain.

– – – – – – – –

Today dawned brilliantly. The snow and sky seemed to compete, to conspire — somehow both — to dazzle. The world, blanketed in an ermine coat, lay luxuriant, impassable. An elegant strangle-hold, beautiful and daunting. A reminder of forces far greater than ourselves.

Shovels in hand, I joined the battalion of cheerful supplicants who will toast Jonas tonight with wine and Advil.

Life Lesson # 31: Cut carefully, pin patiently. Change your mind. Dig deeply. 

Making a List

Assembling an Avatar, Version 1.0

I haven’t given this a lot of thought – at least, not over an extended time – but I can’t shake the thought exercise either. It’s sticking to me like winter lint: what would my idealized avatar look like?

Yesterday I was listening to Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on how and why she developed SuperBetter, an app that applies video game theory to recovery and wellness. Not surprisingly, as a gamer, she advocates playing in general and video games in particular, although that’s not the point of her talk. It’s a brief interlude, one little slide in the course 19 minutes, but there’s this moment in which she muses on the merits of avatars and embodying our idealized superhero selves.

The question snagged: what would my idealized avatar look like?

This seems to me tricky territory, riddled with stereotypes, archetypes and every imaginable sort of hype. How does one go there without succumbing to derivative commercialized images? Without conjuring Wonder Woman or something even more Disney-esque?  Over the years I’ve tried to avoid what I consider the Hero Trap, the peril of pedestals, the self-inflicted disappointment of human imperfection getting crosswise of adulation. Perspective is a warpy thing: look up to people too much and you lose sight of who they actually are.

But it’s too tempting…what would my idealized avatar look like?

Today’s version is rough — a very drafty draft. And I’m just going to cop to the branding issues: they’re there. My elements are chosen not for who they actually are, but for what they mean to me. I don’t know these people – I just know a bit of their work product, their brands. You’ll see what I mean.

I still haven’t quite figured out what my super hero mission is — which might have some bearing on what an idealized form ought to take. It isn’t an existential crisis, yet, but it’s worth noting for further consideration. I’ll have to come back to that.

In the meantime, my idealized avatar version 1.0 would:

  • Have the strength of Serena Williams
  • Write like Ann Patchett, Stephen Hawking and Bill Bryson combined
  • Dream like the love child of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk
  • Have the courage of Brene Brown or Malala Yousafzai
  • Sing like Ella Fitzgerald on her very best days
  • Rock her grey hair like Helen Mirren
  • Cook great meals and sleep well at night.

So my first-draft idealized avatar self is a powerful, visionary, eloquent, elegant old soul.

I can work with that.

Idealized Avatar 1.0 – looks pretty awesome, huh?
Back Story

Spinning Stories

The shoes hang from a wire, laces greyed, soles sun-bleached. They’ve been there a long time.

Urban creature that she is, M. says they are a street tribute to someone who has died, perhaps violently. I grew up with sneakers on phone lines and like to think otherwise.

I imagine three, maybe four, laughing boys at the beach — teenaged, but barely, wearing their privilege like their bathing suits: casually, comfortably, low around their hips — juggling skimboards, towels, and those shoes. They spend a long, luxurious day in the sun and then head home with skimboards, towels, shoes and, now, melting ice cream novelties bought for a small fortune at the concession stand just before closing. Something had to go.

– – – – –

A man was found dead in the street along my route to work. News shows covered the story of a quiet, well-liked man from a quiet, well-maintained neighborhood inexplicably murdered on his way to work in the wee hours.  A few days later, I noticed a plastic cup and candle under a nearby tree.

I lost track of the investigation, but something about the cup and candle stayed with me.

I imagine a man sitting against the tree, his knees drawn up in the chill air, a few days’ growth rendering his face indistinct. He is hidden from view by low-hanging evergreen branches – layers of shaggy indistinctness. A votive candle burns beside him, a warm lonely light on the darkened corner.

“Here’s to you, man. I don’t know what we had, but it was something,” he murmurs from inside his cup of bourbon.

– – – – –

When my brother and I were small and visited my grandfather, we liked to dig for treasure. We would paddle with Gramps up the creek to a sandy bank we called Money Beach. Using string and elaborate rituals for divining location, we’d scour the ground for exotic coins. We always found them.

“Pirates used to sail up the creek and hide their treasure in these woods,” Gramps whispered, eying the scrub oak and pines as if Long John Silver himself was about to emerge from their depths.

Maybe it’s genetic?

Life Lessons

Unwitting Teachers and Images That Instruct

Some time ago, I promised to post pictures of my trip to Southeast Asia. I’ve spent the last three days trying to take advantage of a seasonal sale on hardcover photo books. I’ve been up to my proverbial eyeballs in those images of late and I’m actually a little tired of them at this point.

Nonetheless, on the wall above my desk, along with the watercolors and map, are a few of the pictures that I find I want to keep looking at. Not in a Fabulous Photography kind of way, just in quiet They Speak to Me kind of way.

They remind me of things I want to remember.

That’s not what I’m posting today.

Today, I am drawn to a handful of pictures from Viet Nam that tell stories from perhaps unwitting teachers. People whose lives offered lessons worth learning. These are the real gems of the trip.

[Click images for captions.]

Life Lesson #21 Revisited (Corollary): Get in front of the greatest teachers — and great teachers show up in unexpected places.