Thursday, November 08, 2007

Case In Point

Here's a prime example of what I talked about few months back in Too Much Too Soon. Chris Dodd is on the campaign trail instead of doing his job as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, where there just happens to be a lot of work to do to solve this whole Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

But we can't blame Dodd or the other lawmakers on the trail, right? Because it's just a bad system that has them campaigning earlier each cycle, taking them away from their real jobs and neglecting the running of the country. Somebody should pass a law against it. Hmmm, maybe they would if they weren't out there wooing Iowa. Wait a minute---maybe we CAN blame them. A little bit.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Small Talk is Cheap

I was at a certain "arts festival" in the Nevada desert a few weeks back and though there were a lot of amazingly creative things going on---visually, musically, performance-wise---there's one thing that really stuck with me from the whole experience: a noticeable lack of small talk. For an entire week, I'd meet and interact with total strangers, playing, singing, and improvising. And it was all on the basis of what was happening at that moment, whether that was our costumes, or the dust clouds that just went by or some random nonsense or WHATEVER.

But not once during the whole week did anyone ask "what do you do?" or any of the other standard getting to know you chit chat. It was incredibly freeing. I didn't even consciously notice it was happening until mid-week or so when I reached a comfortable lull in conversation with a new found friend and the question "what do you do back home?" crept across my consciousness for a split second. But before it actually crossed my lips, we just started talking about the phenomenon of small talk.

I can't deny that "getting to know you" talk is an integral part of our socialization and I'm not saying that it's bad in and of itself or that we need to abolish it. But there's a certain quality of small talk that I've experienced as having an unnecessary heaviness to it. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it feels like I'm lowering my head to enter a smaller room. Like the real conversation we were just having had to stop so we can do this little dance we do because we have to. I can't quite describe it, but let's just say I find it's so much more fun to define ourselves by creating conversation that's centered around shared experience, rather than running through job descriptions.

This reminds me of the time I ran into an old friend on the dance floor at the after party of an awards ceremony. The music was so loud and infectious that all we did was hug, dance, make faces at each other and laugh---it was brilliant. And at that moment, without any words, I knew exactly what she was up to and how she was doing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Love Lightbulbs

There's this guy who's a real character in my office. He's kind of a curmudgeon, super conservative, drives a zippy sports car and is known for making inappropriate comments. I think he's harmless, but that's beside the point. He just walked up to my cube, started talking about how slow it's been here lately and described what seemed to me be a pretty big epiphany:

"You know I've been working in real estate for 27 years and for the past 15 it's been non-stop pressure: 12-14 hour days, working on the weekends, the whole nine. And this is the first time where I come in, I put in my 8 hours, go home, relax and go to bed. I used to wake up at 4am worried about one of my deals, it was crazy. And where did it all get me? Now I've got diabetes and high blood pressure. And you know what? I'm goin' home early today."

And he said all this without the slightest degree of self pity or bitterness---he was just like "man, that was one crazy trip---I don't want to do that to myself anymore." And I say rock on with your bad self. I love that stuff, when people have a breakthrough, a really big one like that.

Anyway that's all, I thought that was cool.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Can't Live Without the Little Buggers

I was at a 4th of July party the other week that was overrun by a herd of toddler-somethings. It was an absolute jungle, the little critters running and playing and masticating all over their oreos and cheerios and getting naked and hanging on their Daddy's legs and all that other messy stuff. Yes, it was very messy. And loud. And chaotic. And absolutely beautiful.

Because these little guys haven't learned all the rules yet. I think that's why we keep them around; they remind us of what it was like to wander through the world with a wide eyed sense of exploration and wonder.

When a child's in the room, all eyes are on them. We look into their face and we go back in time, we see something of our former selves. They remind us what play is. That it's not connected to results or progress or deadlines.

On the one hand we're teaching them, but we can learn---or maybe unlearn---just as much.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Get Out Much?

I really need to get out of the country---it's been way too long. Once I took my first trip abroad, I knew travel had to be a priority in my life, but it's so easy to let the months and years slip by without "getting out". I'm taking a trip in the fall, but in the meantime, here's one of my favorite rants on Americans and travel.

For me, traveling is a huge part of developing identity and perspective, both of which seem to be in short supply around these parts. Despite---and perhaps because of---our ultra-connectivity, we are so often isolated in this country. Though we have the beautiful illusion of "globalization" and being a part of a world melting pot, in reality we have almost as much wool in our eyes as the Chinese about what it's like beyond our borders.

Most of our "experience" of the world is beamed into our our living rooms and PCs through a highly filtered lens. And though it's not the consciously state-imposed censorship enjoyed in China and other countries, our own brand of media-enabled ignorance is pretty mind-boggling if you stop to look at it. When you go out into the world or even engage other cultures within our borders, you realize that the shiny screen doesn't begin to capture the essence of actually experiencing that exchange in person. Television, movies and the news media so often create a fantasy world that runs on stereotypes and bite sized versions of reality.

The puzzling part about all this is that for most of us, this isolation is completely voluntary; about 80% of Americans don't even have a passport. Though many can afford to travel, it's either impractical or just not a priority. We're allotted 14 out of 365 days in the year to explore the world. And unlike many other countries, extended gaps in employment taken for travel are generally frowned upon. So that's under 4% of our lives. 4% of the less than 20% of the country who decides to get out there---how modern is that?

I'm not attacking Americans for not traveling or the media for perpetuating world stereotypes to get ratings. Because we're all complicit in this dance. I am attacking the roots of a stagnant mindset that weighs us all down. It's this head-in-the-sand ignorance that's led to much of our foreign policy blunders and the resulting global PR nightmare in which we find ourselves today. We can do and have done so much better. And I believe we will again. And the beauty of travel is that it's transformative; it's as much about reconnecting with ourselves as it is about connecting with the world.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Survey Says

I just took a survey about "Motivating and Managing Creative People." I'm usually reluctant to take surveys, but this one got my attention and I ran with it. Here's my responses to two of the questions:

How do you define creativity?
"By definition, being creative is bringing something into being that wasn't there before. It requires vision, as well as the discipline to carry out that vision, no matter what field you're in. It's about having the courage to think independently, to put things together that weren't together before. And it's about taking risks."

What is it that makes you a creative person?
"We live in a society that says some people are creative and others are not. But I believe we're all creative---it's the fuel that wakes us up in the morning. People who "aren't creative" are simply those who've chosen not to be or have been led to believe that they're not in on the game---but the truth is: we all are."

I've talked to so many people who used to paint or act or write or sing or whatever it is. And they have that head-hung-low-shame about the fact that they never pursued it further. But you don't have to "make it" in order to have creativity in your life---you don't even have to be an "artist" in any traditional sense. You just have to tap into whatever it is that makes you come alive, whether that's raising kids, building houses or writing the next great American novel. Creativity is our birthright.

If you'd like to create your own survey, go to

Friday, May 18, 2007

What a Wonderful World

On my way home from work today I passed a man in the park passing out food to some pigeons. And a squirrel. And a duck. They were all just casually nipping at the bits of bread without any apparent competition. I felt like I was in a Disney movie and if I'd stayed any longer someone was going to break into song. Wish I had a camera with me.

Ok, it's not the only blog-worthy thing in the world for the past month, but all I've got time for.

"Can't we all just get along?" like the wee little fluffy animals of the urban forest? Ha ha. I'm sure they were squabbling only moments after I rode off, but it was a beautiful little moment while it lasted Godamnit.