Most Important Job
Overflow
The stuff that spills out of my head. Half Journal, half Blog, half stream of consciousness, half meaningless blather, half....

My name is Cody Clark.
If you're interested, you can find out about me here and here. But this is the site where I am most at home. Please excuse the mess.

I love guests, like everybody else, so sign my Guestbook.

Oh and if you wish to shower me with gifts, here's my wish list.


Listening To
Wilco
United Future Organization
Thievery Corporation
Steve Reich
Fuschnickens
Mocean Worker
Bowling For Soup
Radiohead
Barenaked Ladies
Cornershop


Reading
The Constant Companion
   by Eknath Easwaran
SoulSalsa
   by Leonard Sweet
The Perennial Philosophy
   by Aldous Huxley
Peace Like A River
   by Leif Enger
Tomorrow Now
   by Bruce Sterling
An Intimate History of Humanity
   by Theodore Zeldin
Sandman
   by Neil Gaiman
White Noise
   by Don Delillo
Creating Positive Futures
   by James Ogilvy


Stuff To Do
Environmental Scanning
Work on Waitt Foundation Community Site content
Finally learn how to use Paint Shop Pro
Put poetry on website
Finish friend's tshirt
Paint more tshirts


People to See
me
Rebecca Blood
Fleming Funch
Chris Corrigan
Peter Russell
Phil Ringalda
pamie
Phil Gyford
Owen
Mark And(erson)
Bob McDaniel
Nick Bostrom
Eric
Mary T.
Margaret Berry
Eliot Wilder
Daniel Talsky
Fred from Floyd
Gwen Zepeda
Alison Hawke
Malcom Davidson
Veronica Nichols
Caterina Fake
Meg Pickard
Kurt Brobeck
Dave Trowbridge
meesh
Sarah Hepola
Matthew Sturges
Dooce


Places to Go
Building Tomorrow's Communities
Futurescan
Mondo News
Everything2
Arts & Letters Daily
SciTech Daily Review
Arts Journal
Slate
Salon
Business Daily Review
EurekAlert!
SmartMarriages
Metacritic
Red Rock Eater
Obscure Store
memepool
Techdirt
Robot Wisdom
kottke.org
Boing Boing
Daley News
Raising Hell
Internet Scout
The Marriage Movement
Shifted Librarian
Deviant Art
Beliefnet
Relapsed Catholic
Holy Weblog!
Sursum Corda
not martha



Archives:







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This page is an H-town blog.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003
How about one that says "Clean Up After Yourself!" ?

If you are a parent, you must see this -- Guerilla Parenting (via web zen)


Intentions

I watched "The Razor's Edge" again last night, one of my favorite films of all time. Larry Darrell is one of my favorite characters of all time. (In my daydreams my character is some kind of Larry Darrell/Lloyd Dobler blend. Well, they're *my* daydreams.)

There was a scene in The Razor's Edge where Larry was in India speaking to a man washing dishes in the river. The man told Larry that washing dishes was a religious experience for him and that sort of impressed Larry, which I guess is why Larry followed this man up to the monastery on the mountain later in the movie.

What hit me most was the exchange they had that went something like:

Larry: "I worked in a mine for two years to come here."
Dish Man: "You worked in a mine? What was your intention?"
Larry: "To make money so I could come here to India."
Dish Man: "That was your reason, but what was your intention. Without intention, it was just an empty action."

Later that night, several things clicked. (Here's where Cody finally clues into what must be the obvious for many readers out there.)

In my life, action without intention, or with wrong intention, is just as much a problem, maybe more so, than good intentions with no (or bad) actions. I always thought my problem was simply a lack of proper attention. Turns out nothing is so simple.

Take, for instance, my cake failure the other night. It occurred to me that part of the problem was wrong intention. By that time on Sunday night, I was making the cake grudgingly out of obligation -- I said I would do it -- and I figured I might as well try out a new recipe while I was at it. A better intention would have been simply to honor my friend. Had I the right intention, would I have paid more attention and would the cake have turned out better? Just maybe.

Monday night, Girlzilla and I baked pretzels from scratch. She had been begging us to stop and buy pretzels at the store so we could have a snack. We made them at home instead. They turned out great. My intention in the process was to spend time with my daughter, teach her a bit about baking biochemistry ("Bread rises because of yeast farts" -- try that line on your preteen), and to give her the experience of pride in making something for herself that she's used to buying at the store. At the end all the intentions were fulfilled and the pretzels were good. Intentions do make a difference.


So this ties in my recent meditations on skillfulness with something I wrote a few months back about the source of my errors in making art. I had characterized my errors in my art as ones of ignorance, frustration, and inattention. Now I can add one more source to the list -- wrong intention.

Well, hey, it's news to me at least. I am a work in progress. Yep, a real piece of work.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Coffee with Chili Oil Surprise

This recipe will please chili heads and coffee snobs alike. It took me a while to reconstruct events that led to this tasty discovery. Unorthodox as it sounds, it's pretty good!

Ingredients:

2 tbsp Fresh Ground Coffee
2 cups filtered water
1 tsp chili oil (in plastic container with snap-on lid)
Sugar
Creamer

Instructions:

1. Remove chili oil container from Chinese takeout bag and place in desk drawer for later use. Make sure that the chili oil is next to your "Coffee Sock" (or other reuseable fabric coffee filter ).
2. Rummage around in desk drawer. Stir contents vigorously.
3. Allow at least a week for fabric in Coffee Sock to soak up chili oil that spilled on the bottom of the drawer.
4. Throw away empty chili oil container. Forget about chili oil completely.
5. Heat water to boiling point. Don't allow water to come to a rolling boil.
6. Put fresh ground coffee in Coffee Sock. Pour boiling water into Coffee Sock, holding the sock over a coffee mug. Allow all water to drip through the grounds into the mug. Discard the wet grounds.
7. Add sugar and creamer to taste. Stir until dissolved.

Serving suggestions:

Allow enough time between steps 3, 4, and 5 to make your first cup a "why is my tongue burning?" puzzling coffee treat!


Monday, July 28, 2003
Bad Art Night

Our game of One Thousand Blank White Cards last month was a success. It was a truly Creative Conversation. People left with ideas of their own for Creative Conversation nights. At least one 1KBWC follow-up night is being kicked around. That was exactly the idea for the whole Creative Conversations franchise.

So how to follow that? I'm stealing an idea from a friend's art magazine -- Bad Art Night. (Apparently it's not a new idea, but it's new in this corner of the burbs.)

In this world of sophisticated design at the click of a mouse, when you can get slick design with your coffee at Starbucks, when even the liquid soaps at Target are designed by designers like Todd Oldham and Michael Graves, the world needs more bad art. It's a depressing world where our cheese graters are hipper than we are.

So, we need some personal-level art, some non-professional art, some really bad art. A recent Utne article by David Byrne calls for more Bad Art for the exact same reason. Who am I to refuse the man who introduced me to blip-hop?

I'm not so much interested in propagating the Bad Art aesthetic as I am interested in freeing up people to be creative. People don't think they have to have professional skills to go running or play softball, but they won't try their hand at art because they don't have "talent." I want to give people a night where they have permission to have no talent. And then reap the conversation that sprouts up among people being newly creative among other newly creative people.

So mark your calendars:

Creative Conversations: Bad Art Night
Kenny J's Coffe House
Corner of Kirby and Nasa Rd. 1
Wednesday, August 13th
7:00-10:00


Open yourself up to new ideas, new people, new modes of relating. And possibly new futures for yourself and your local community.


Mornin' George...

I'm showing my age here, but maybe you gen x'ers will know what I'm talking about.

Remember those old cartoons with the sheep dog, the one whose orange bangs hung down over his eyes, and the wolf played by Wile E. Coyote? You know how they'd punch into a timeclock with lunchboxes in hand and say, "Mornin' George." "Mornin' Ralph." And then they'd spend the day with the wolf trying to steal the sheep and the sheep dog beating the crap out of the wolf? And then they'd clock out when the whistle blew at the end of the day (usually in mid-beating) and say "Goodnight George." "Goodnight Ralph."?

Yeah, that's the one. So, I have a question:

Who *paid* those two? What kind of messed-up company sets its own employees up to such mutually-frustrating job descriptions?

Which brings me to my next question:

Does it ever seem to you like you work for that company?

Just wondering.


Sunday, July 27, 2003
Beware the chocolate chip toothpick test trap!

I violated a basic rule.

Never try a new recipe on anyone but yourself or your family.

I almost went out and bought a mix. By the time I remembered tonight that I promised to make a cake for a coworker's birthday tomorrow, there was not enough time to make either my chocolate cheesecake or my Uber-rich chocolate celebration cake. I was tempted to try a mix. Just do it and get it out of the way.

But Jan's a long time friend and she's made cakes for me in the past, so I figured the occasion called for more than a mix. El Scratcho Cake-o. So I tried this new recipe for Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake from one of my wife's "trade magazines" like Good Housekeeping or some such.

Anyway the cake turned out drier than I had wanted. Probably tastes perfectly fine, but I had envisioned something gooey and decadent. Something that would make folks say "Ohmigod" as they clamored for a glass of milk. This is not omigod cake. This is sensible cake. At least the dark chocolate sour cream frosting is good.

As I was frosting the cake, I realized my mistake. I probably overcooked the cake because the toothpick kept coming out brown. So i mistakenly thought it needed more time. What I forgot -- a lesson I had learned the hard way on previous cakes and apparently forgot -- is that the toothpick will not come out clean if you have chocolate chips or bits in the batter. Damn.

I failed to refactor the chocolate chip toothpick test trap into my cake making knowledge base. Fool me twice, shame on me.


Saturday, July 26, 2003
Oh, bother.

"Regarding one's own personal needs, there should be as little involvement or obligation as possible. But regarding service to others, there should be as many possible involvements and obligations as possible. This should be the ideal of a spiritual person.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama"


Which reminds me of my favorite definition of Love, which I attribute to our friend Winnie Honeywell, who happens to be director of our diocese's Family Life Office:

"Love means being bothered for the sake of another."

Which reminds me of an old 10,000 Maniacs song:

"Trouble me. Disturb me with all your cares and your worries"

So does that mean that Love is a big pain in the ass, albeit a happy one? C'mon, bother me.


Friday, July 25, 2003
Is Skillfulness loopy?

More on skill:

"The fact that skills can be developed implies that action is not
illusory, that it actually gives results. Otherwise, there would be no such
thing as skill, for no actions would be more effective than others. The fact of
skillfulness also implies that some results are preferable to others, for
otherwise there would be no point in trying to develop skills. In addition, the
fact that it is possible to learn from mistakes in the course of developing a
skill, so that one's future actions may be more skillful, implies that the cycle
of action, result, and reaction is not entirely deterministic, and that acts of
perception, attention, and intention can actually provide new input as the cycle
goes through successive turns."

-- Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wings to Awakening Part 1-A


Action, result, and reaction. Perception, intention, and attention. I feel a causal loop diagram coming on... Or at least a mind map.

The Buddha is addressing here the meta-skill of acquiring skillfullness. It seems to be a feedback loop that adjusts future action based on the results of previous actions, informed by perception and intention. All of these make a classic Systems analysis problem.

Attention doesn't seem to fit *in* the system. Attention seems to *be* the system. Attention is the prerequisite to the fact that you are examining your actions at all. One cannot be skillful and mindless at the same time. Perception and intention are themselves forms of attention, albeit to internal and external states, and act as inputs to the causal loops of Skillfulness.

At least that's how it seems to me. What is the difference then? Is Skillfulness just the application of attention to action?


HHIF, Y'all.

That stands for "Ho Hum, It's Friday." Y'all.

I don't look forward to Fridays. I am not a "workin' for the weekend" kind of guy. Weekends are just not that special to me.

I may go to bed a few hours later and then turn off the alarm and let the kids wake me up the next morning. But it's the same amount of sleep. I don't go off to my job, but weekends mean a work of a different kind. Entertaining little kids and a caring for a household is work. Usually those tasks that can't be taken care of during the week are left to the weekends. Different kind of work, but more work.

Not that I don't like being around my family. I look forward to it. But I just don't greet Fridays with that "TGIF" joie de vivre.

Besides, when we want to have fun and go on a date, Heidi and I are just as likely to go out during the week as any. We don't wait for the next weekend. When we need to get away, we get away. And we prefer the "off-peak" mode -- visiting all the places you folks crowd into on the weekend at off times when y'all aren't there.

And I don't engage in any recreational activities that I have to "sleep off" later. So I don't need the weekend time structure -- where you stay up late and sleep late to compensate -- to allow me to pursue any social activities involving controlled doses of self-destructive indulgence. Our average date starts at, say, 5:30 and ends at 10:30. I hear tell from my partying friends that 10:30 p.m. is when the fun's just getting started. I wouldn't know, myself.

I like it that way. For me, time has a quiet, happy, mundane continuity to it. I don't divide my experience into five days of indentured servitude followed by two days of recreation. It's all an illusion, this concept we call the weekend.

And, best of all, I don't dread Mondays.


Thursday, July 24, 2003
Bad Beans

I meant well. I'd let my Lola Savannah beans run out without a new order, so I needed some at-work coffee. I had romantic pretensions of shedding my snobbery when it comes to coffee. That's why I picked up a package of Eight O'Clock Coffee beans this morning.

I got this idea from my recent dalliances with cheap but serviceable brands of beer. I've recently tried Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life. They aren't as good as the fashionable microbrews I usually buy, but they are a good value in the taste to cost ratio. They're half as cheap but they're better than half as good.

Mixed in there is my romantic pretension that I could rid myself of pretension and snobbery. That I could quaff the brew of the working man, the man's man. People who build stuff in the Texas heat drink this kind of beer. This isn't "retire to the pub for a pint of stout" beer, this is a "down a cold one in extended gulps to extinguish thirst and heat, rivulets of overflow beer mingling with beads of sweat on your jowls" kind of beer. "Wipe your sweaty brow with the back of your hand while you drink" kind of beer.

And, faced with similar conditions last week, I found that Pabst and Miller make a decent thirst-quencher beer for a much nicer price. (I had to ignore the sudden urge to go watch NASCAR, though.)

And so I thought that idea could be extended to coffee. The cheaper beans stood on the grocery shelf right next to the Starbucks brand, their $3.97 price card mocking me and my trend-conscious coffee snob self. It said, "You know most of Starbuck's extra cost is just brand and marketing. Their beans are trucked in from Seattle, my beans are trucked in from New Jersey. You'll be paying four dollars extra for Seattle." So I gave New Jersey a try.

I've always held the view that a smart coffee snob should be more of a snob about the *way* coffee is made. If you have fresh roasted and ground beans, clean water, clean equipment, and a good brewing process, then the provenance of the beans is a secondary matter. That's always held up for me in the past.

But it only works up to a point. Perfect coffee process cannot save just plain bad beans. And this was just plain bad coffee.

My romantic notion of having rediscovered a forgotten coffee value -- a quotidian coffee, pedestrian but serviceable, a coffee that was good enough for your grandpa -- was gone after the first half cup.

Your grandpa didn't know Starbucks, apparently. And if your grandpa had access to the miracle that is Lola Savannah, he would have plowed under those Eight O'Clock Coffee beans in his vegetable garden as compost.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Skillfulness

Looking into the idea of Skill as a practical expression of spirituality, I came across an anthology of Buddha's teachings translated by this dude Thanissaro Bhikkhu called Wings to Awakening. Apparently the Buddha was foresightful enough to organize his most important teachings for those who would be left behind to write them down. Mighty considerate of him. He made lots of lists -- the five strengths, the four right exertions, the seven factors for awakening, the eightfold path, etc. -- in which he gave a structure to his teachings. People like lists. I like lists.

(Was Buddha the first Knowledge Management expert?)

So, at the base of this structue, along with Karma (which is a downright practical principle if you grasp it correctly), is the concept of Skillfulness.

(Okay, you Buddhists, I'm aware that I'm presenting centuries old wisdom as if it is new. Please bear with this clueless Christian as I discover this for myself. Feel free to chuckle smugly at my naivite.)

"The fact that each side advanced an interpretation of reality implied that both agreed
that there were skillful and unskillful ways of approaching the truth, for each insisted that the other used unskillful forms of observation and argumentation to advance its views. Thus the Buddha looked directly at skillful action in and of itself, worked out its implications in viewing knowledge itself as a skill -- rather than a body of facts"
---- Bhikku, Wings to Awakening, Part 1-A


The Buddha was not very concerned with beliefs in Gods or metaphysics or cosmology, he was concerned in how those beliefs played out into everyday experience. He was more concerned with the actions of people who are motivated by belief and wanted to make those actions more skillful. His teachings, in other words, are for Christians too. The Buddha does not want to change my beliefs, just make my use of them bear more fruit.

I've been looking for a spiritual practice that produces results and looking for the motivation to produce more results myself. Skillfulness appears to be that integrative principle that joins intention, attention, knowledge, action, learning, theory, and applications and informs them all by looking at actual, honest to God, real world results.

Maybe I could leave eighth grade after all. Maybe I can skip ninth grade and go to trade school?


Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Skill

"If one wants to know emptiness, how should one do it?" "The one
who wants to realize emptiness should adore reality, develop a skill in living
in the world, and cultivate friends of the same mind. Skill can only be
developed in the presence of reality, not otherwise. Endowed with skill, the
person gives without the idea of a giver and lives in the realization that all
the factors of existence have no ultimate substance."

-Prajnaparamita


I'm still contemplating these words, but the concept of "skill" resonates with me. It is a one word answer to one of the questions that has been keeping me up at night lately. Skill marries learning and action. It joins study and practice. It is acquired through theory and application. And it usually results in some sort of product or tangible benefit. Skill is not just conceptual, not just talk.

Skill requires a balance between the very modalities of being I have been struggling to integrate lately -- acting and thinking. It seems to be a sign post pointing me somewhere promising. I'll let you know where it leads. When I figure it out that is.

All I know is that for several days I have been thinking that, if I went back to school, acquiring a trade sounds more attractive than getting another academic degree. I've been wanting to learn something useful. I 've been wanting to *be* more useful.


Monday, July 21, 2003
Being a table.

Reading Real Live Preacher's latest entry reminds me that I need to update my sidebar links. He's a must link.

The entry is brilliant and spoke directly to my heart. It's as if the Big Guy, knowing what my state was this weekend, had spoken to me directly:

"I got that crappy church catalog in the mail. Thumbing through it kicked up the disillusionment and depression that is always lurking just below my surface. It seemed to me that the church was nothing more than an institution. It seemed to me that the memory of Christ was very far away.

(snipped for brevity and fair use) ......

And I learned something in all of this that will help me the next time I let myself get depressed over something as silly as a bad table and a catalog.

If the wafers are going stale for you, be the bread yourself. Break yourself open and nourish the world.

If the communion table seems cheap and tacky, become a table yourself. Straighten your legs and flatten your back. Become a resting place for the weary."



Too freekin brilliant. Indeed, RLP has done just that for me by being open to share his own disillusionment. His blog has been a resting place for my weary soul.

I love the Internet.


Marriage Links

So after some rest, finishing my current fiction book, and gaining some emotional distance, I realize how grumpy I sounded yesterday about our retreat.

It's wasn't hardly that bad. In fact it was very good.

It is in my nature (human nature) to focus on the two or three detractors instead of the thirty-five or so couples who worked hard and were affected positively by the communication space we opened up for them. As I said on the weekend repeatedly, the cycle of romance/disillusionment/acceptance applies to all relationships, including areas of one's life, like work and ministry.

I guess for me it was more like disillusionment/acceptance/romance, but I came around eventually.

So if you're coming around my site from the weekend retreat, welcome. You were probably one of the best couples there, right? Of course!

I promised you a bodacious blog-a-licious bounty of resource links for further exploration into the process of preparing for marriage:

The Marriage Movement -- a blog that keeps up on the latest policy and research news concerning marriage and family. This is the bleeding edge stuff. I'm less interested in the policy and politics stuff than I am the research. Good source for keeping current on the latest marriage research.


SmartMarriages -- Smartmarriages is probably the most happenin' organization in the marriage field today. It's a coalition of marriage therapists, educators, and religious leaders who are very pro-marriage. Theirs is an atrociously-designed website with a large number of very good resources, articles, tools, quizzes, and references to marriage education providers. Have some patience with this site and your explorations will be rewarded. (Tip: subscribe to the SmartMarriages mailing list and you'll have the bleeding edge delivered to your inbox on a regular basis.)

Here's the SmartMarriages articles page that has links to articles of just about every flavor. And when you're done with that, you can seek out the books on the SmartMarriages books page.


So there's the tip of a huge mountain of information about marriage and relationships. Maybe more than you want. I know I promised you a bodacious bounty of links right here on my page, but why reinvent it if it's already sitting out there? Think of these as your "base camp" from which you can continue your marriage education journey on the Internet.

Don't ever stop preparing for your marriage. Even after the wedding and beyond.

And if you need any specific information or want to talk. I am always right here (and Heidi too).


Sunday, July 20, 2003
Shut up and show up.

I'm writing this after a pretty tiring weekend. Another Engaged Encounter weekend followed immediately by teaching Sunday School in the evening to Junior High aged kids. Phew.

I'm happy to have a chance to finally reflect and decompress. As usual, I started Friday night not wanting to be there. Giving up a whole weekend nowadays seems like a big sacrifice in the weeks building up to one of these retreats. I can always tell by the looks on the faces of the couples when we start the retreat which people feel like I do -- they can think of lots of ways they'd rather be spending the weekend.

If I were less responsible, I'd walk up to one of them some time when the weekend is starting and comiserate, "Man, I know. I don't want to be here either." But I don't because I shouldn't. I'm supposed to be one of the leaders after all. Being the leader can suck sometimes.

And then later on during the weekend some things were going on that made me feel like things weren't going well. Some couples were giving me distinct signals that they were not pleased with the retreat. So by Saturday afternoon I was building up a big case of Bad Attitude. Being the leader can suck sometimes.

And then it hit me. Actually Heidi pointed it out to me gently in our sharing. This isn't about me. God doesn't care what I'd rather do with my weekend. He wanted me here. And it is not my job to ensure the quality of the weekend and that every couple is pleased. That's God's job. I'm not the leader; God is.

My job is to just show up, do my part faithfully, and turn the rest over to her. In other words, practice some of what we preached on the weekend.

And alas when I did, in prayer, offer my attitude up to God, he answered me. The weekend went well. My pessimism was disconfirmed. And I had some very meaningful dialogue with my wife. So it was a renewing experience for me and, as far as I could tell, good for the couples as well.

I need to learn to shut up, show up, and let God do his thing. I guess that's why we go on retreats, huh?


Beautiful Poem

"Opening Words"

I believe the earth
exists, and
in each minim mote
of its dust the holy
glow of thy candle.
Thou
unknown I know,
thou spirit,
giver,
lover of making, of the
wrought letter,
wrought flower,
iron, deed, dream.
Dust of the earth,
help thou my
unbelief. Drift
gray become gold, in the beam of
vision. I believe with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
beloved, threatened world.
Each minim
mote.
Not the poisonous
luminescence forced
out of its privacy,
The sacred lock of its cell
broken. No,
the ordinary glow
of common dust in ancient sunlight.
Be, that I may believe. Amen.

-- Denise Levertov



Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Dissonance

Another story I would have blogged last month had I not been on my Self-Imposed Hiatus was this story about 'inexplicable mobs' in NYC which caught the eye of the SmartMobs crowd. This reminds me of the Guerilla Masquerade Party group that I read about on Fleming Funch's blog in May.

And all that reminded me of this post I made in May of 2002 longing for something just like that here in the burbs. Something to punctuate the blandness of our corner of suburbia. (Part of the post -- my Suburban Dissonance Manifesto -- I've re-posted below.)

It was a pipe dream for which I had dare not hoped. A vision of social capital gone discordian at a time when I had little social capital and even less time and energy to make something happen. I had envisioned something a bit like a kinder and gentler version of Hakim Bey's idea of Poetic terrorism or a suburban-friendly flavor of the stuff the Principia Discordia is selling.

Nothing confrontational or illegal, which Hakim Bey seems to have no problem with. People these days are not intrigued by the extraordinary if it incites suspicion or fear. And no pretensions to mock theology or ideology or any other ology like in the Principia. Just a group of people who do different stuff to pierce the bland autopilot mode of most subrban dwellers if only for a few seconds. If only to make us all more aware of the blessings in this priviledged suburban space we take for granted.

Something like... Well, here:

suburban dissonance manifesto
(from May, 2002)

celebrate suburbia
embrace the Multiplex, the Minimart
love the pot luck dinner, the Chinese Buffet
appreciate esplanades and jogging trails
hug a soccer mom

celebrate suburbia, but
don't make it your world
don't take the Master Plan too seriously
don't sway to its rhythms

Instead, keep yourself a step off the beat.
Sing a little off key.
Create some dissonance.

Have a drum circle in a local park.

Get 50 people, all dressed alike,
go stand by the fountain at the mall.
When anyone asks you what group you're with,
say you don't know these people.

Put poetry and art on local bulletin boards.

Adopt a convenience store. Buy the clerks lunch.

Hop the local shuttle bus with your friends.
Ride for a few hours. Sing bus riding songs.
Bonus points if you sing in harmony.

Get some brooms and sweep through town. Literally.

Make fingerpaint murals. Invite passers-by to help.

Make people look twice.
Make people think
and laugh at themselves.

Give them something funny to share
over breadsticks at the Olive Garden.

Be peaceful. Be respectful. But be weird.
Get all the necessary permits, but don't seek approval.

Let people stare. Make them wonder.
Cultivate funny looks.



Consider this an invitation. For what? Hell, I don't know. That's the point.


Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Oh Mamaaaaa.....

Condemned man... singing to his momma.... merciless law enforcement... men singing in harmony with high pitched voices...

Styx's song "Renegade" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" could have been written about the same dude.

Just an observation.


Better late...

Wow. I finally got around to reading Real Live Preacher's blog for the first time yesterday. His is really good stuff. I guess this is news to no one but me, huh?

Now I think I'll check out that Seinfeld show that everybody says is pretty funny.


The path to Conversational Wisdom

If you are a man or a woman, please read this article by linguist Deborah Tannen. It's about conversational rules and goals men and women follow and why many communication problems between the sexes are totally unnecessary.

Theodore Zeldin's book "An Intimate History of Humanity" turned me on to Tannen's conversational analysis and Veronica turned me on to Zeldin and Kurt turned me on to Veronica's site, who I think I found by following a link from Rebecca Blood's illustrious blog.

I love the Internet.


You Can't Go Home Again, Part II

I went to my 20th high school reunion. I came out completely unaffected either way. I stuck to my rules. I did not try to impress anyone and I don't think anyone was impressed.

There were 720 people in my graduating class. People walked across the stage at my graduation ceremony that I had never seen before let alone talked to. I'd say a few hundred of them were at the reunion. Thank God for nametags.

About fifteen minutes into the affair I gave up trying to pretend I remembered everybody. I decided I'd use "How did we know each other? I barely remember *going* to High School in the first place." as my line to laugh off the awkwardness. Faces looked familiar, but, except for the few that were in my direct crowd back then, that's where it ended for me.

As for people being older, fatter, balder, and wrinklier -- no dice. The beautiful popular people back then are still beautiful and popular today. The difference was that I had less of a problem with not being one of them. Good for them. They've managed to hold onto their looks. I just hope it doesn't cost them too much over time.

The whole thing reminded me of one of those big courtly dances where everyone is out on the floor doing the same steps and switching off with other dancers. You'd catch someone's eye and do a litlle "Catching Up" promenade:

"How are you doing?"
"Where are you located now?"
"What do you do nowadays?"
"Do you have any kids?"
"Is there a Mr./Mrs. Doe?

Then time to switch for another dosi-do with another old face from your past.

The event was rather cheesy. One of those package things organized by a service. Union DJ, overpriced cash bar, noisy crowded location, not enough of the reheated canapes to go around. I guess that wasn't the point, but I'd have liked to have had at least a couple of meatballs for my $45.

I did have fun though. It was nice to put on a tie and go out on a dress-up date with my wife. I caught up with some people I liked and talked to some people who I forgot I liked so much.

But mainly I can say I went. I will never in my life have to explain why I wimped out on my 20th High School reunion. Turns out it was nothing to get angsty about after all.

And I am still pretty much that same dork I was back in the day. But I'm okay with him now. He doesn't get out much anymore.


Monday, July 14, 2003
Reason Why I Love The Internet #156

I am sitting at my home computer listening to some of the coolest, weirdest sound art on a site called 8bitrecs. The list of artists on this label encompasses lots of different electronic experimental music, from squeaky blip-hop, to ambient post-techno, to sampled and altered field recordings (like water dripping off a melted iceberg) to "ethnographic forgeries". Some of the absolutely most befuddling and intriguing stuff I've heard in a while.

And there's a whole world of this stuff. 8bitrecs is just one of many tiny labels. (stasisfield is another favorite so far. Check out their page of sample clips.)

London, which appears to be the epicenter of the sound art multiverse, even has a radio station dedicated to the genre. (If you can call it a genre, that is.)

Yeah, this stuff is pretty weird. Way too weird to make it into any store near me. Now I can explore new sonic vistas over the web. I love the Internet.


You can't go home again

Well *I* can't anyway. It's being sold.

My brother is moving out of the house my family has owned since before I was in eighth grade. He was the last tie my family had to that place. Now it's going to get a makeover and be sold to the highest bidder.

I'm glad my parents will be losing one more real estate headache and getting some extra retirement cash. Good for them. But I'll miss the place.

I'll especially miss my cool room.

I wrote my first computer programs in that room. I did tons of homework in that room. Played a hell of a lot of records in that room. My first youthful romances played out in that room. Had dozens of makeout sessions and a handful of breakups in that room. I rehearsed my choral vocal pieces there. Rehearsed conversations there. Replayed conversations there, figuring out what I really *should* have said. In my room I was much cooler and more eloquent than I was in the outside world.

I cooked up a lot of dreams and schemes staring at that ceiling, all of which were intended for the world outside of that room. I've been in the world outside of that room for a long time now. I grew out of that room and, with it, most of those dreams and schemes.

I wish I could go to my room before they remodel the place and cut a largish square of wallboard out of that ceiling. I want that patch right above the spot where my bed was where I used to lay daydreaming and staring. I'd like to have just that one chunk. I could have it to remind me of the wonderful folly of my dreams. Dreams may change, but they must be dreamt anyway.

So, goodbye Old House We've Outgrown. It seems an honorable thing to fix you up and pass you on to some other family. Maybe some other kid will stare up at that patch of ceiling and cook up something really good in his dreams.


Friday, July 11, 2003
I'M GOING.

Whether I want to or not. I figure I would eventually regret not going to my 20th High School reunion.

You see, I don't like who I was in High School. I was pretty much a dork and a poseur. The kind of guy who was vice-president or secretary of every club I could get into because it would look good on a college application. I was self-absorbed in that annoying, obsequious "How can I get you to like me?" kind of way. Not a pretty picture. Dork to the core.

And I don't relish being confronted with that picture and reconciling my current self to the dork I was in high school. Maybe I'm afraid that I am still just that dork with a more sophisticated outer presentation.

But I'M GOING anyway, painful as it may be.

I'M GOING -- to renew whatever connections I can with people in my past.
I'M GOING -- to cheer on the geeks, nerds, and invisibles who languished in the shadow of the A-list crowd and who have since made it good and are coming back as well-rounded, successful people.
I'M GOING -- to coo at pictures of babies I'll never meet.
I'M GOING -- to swap ironic snarky comments on 80's pop culture nostalgia.
I'M GOING -- to share in mutual congratulatory thanksgiving for having successfully negotiated that psychological minefield of adolescence we called High School.

I figure they key to survival of these things is the list of things I am *not* going for.

I'M *NOT* GOING -- to impress anyone with what a cool guy I am. (As if!)
I'M *NOT* GOING -- to validate myself by comparing my kids, job, wife, toys, or car with others.
I'M *NOT* GOING -- to smugly chuckle at how all the glamorati of my High School days are fatter, wrinklier, and balder now. (Well, not too much, anyway. Hee.)
I'M *NOT* GOING -- to talk about my blog, my art, my futures work, etc. in order to paint my ordinary suburban existence as something interesting and extraordinary. I'm ordinary and proud of it. I'll let my happy frumpy life stand on its own merits.

And I guess I have to come to terms with the dork that I was back in 1983 (and still am to some extent). He wasn't such a bad guy after all. Bless his nerdy, approval-craving, poseur wannabe heart.


Thursday, July 10, 2003
A Creative Conversation

"Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet they don't just exchange facts; They transform them, reshape them, draw different conclusions from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards, it creates new cards."

-- Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity


Speaking of creating new cards...

We finally got to play One Thousand Blank White Cards last night. There were seven players -- a UHCL futures student named Kelly, and her tag-along friend named Jeanette, fellow bloggers Gerry, Angela, and James, my friend from work Cindy and her son, Rhys.

At first we started out awkwardly, thrashing about in a "now how do we do this?" mode. I had to resist the urge to jump in and give direction to soothe the discomfort about the uncertain rules. The group started to norm by suggesting rule modifications and things to do, glancing at me to see if I'd "allow" them. I kept insisting that anything goes. (Except for modifying others' cards. That was the one rule I laid down.) Soon people were getting into it, trying things they wanted to do and not looking to me for approval. So sitting back and letting things work themselves out, as uncomfortable as it seemed at first, paid off. We formed a groove of sorts and had fun the whole two hours.

We kicked off the night by creating a bunch of cards. We needed a deck to start with, so we each sat and worked individually on a dozen or so cards each. It was interesting to see how the group energy played out in that phase. It was a burst that ran down slowly. People drawing and scribbling furiously, then stopping every once in a while to look up in thoughtful poses before putting nose to the cards again. Eventually, the energy ran down and people were done drawing and were ready to play.

Then there was a period of just picking and playing cards just to see what was in the deck. Not many new cards were created at that time. I, for one, wanted to see what clever creations everybody else had made. And, I have to admit, I wanted to see what reactions people had to my cards.

Soon, though, the play and subsequent conversation sparked further creativity. Someone would make a remark and one or two people would grab a blank card and start writing. It was clear that the creative energy was a sustained growth rather than the burst and fade we started out with.

We started with a deck of about sixty cards. We ended the game with over two hundred. It was the Conversation, organized around the structure of a card game, that inspired our creativity.

Socrates introduced the idea that you are smarter in dialogue with others than you are by yourself. His Socratic Method was intended to draw out insights and intelligence through dialogue organized around a structure of asking questions. We did the same thing in a way. We started off with a flurry of individual creativity until we all were spent. But we drew out ideas and creativity from each other as a group that we did not have as individuals.

Conversation makes you smarter. Conversation makes you more creative. And if the above-quoted Theodore Zeldin is to be believed, Conversation makes you sexier as well.

We didn't just reshuffle the cards, we made new cards. And we became smarter, more creative, and sexier in the process. Woo hoo. We need more of that.

And so I announced last night as the first in a series of monthly "Creative Conversations." Getting people together who don't normally interact, talking about stuff they don't normally talk about, organized around an activity or structure that is novel or unusual. All for the purpose of becoming smarter, more creative, and sexier together than we could ever be by ourselves.

This is that creative social outlet I was talking about earlier -- a birthday gift to myself. Happy Birthday Week to me!

I can only hope that it will be a gift to a few others as well.


Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Poem: Norman McCaig

"Of You"

When the little devil, panic,
begins to grin and jump about
in my heart, in my brain, in my muscles,
I am shown the path I had lost
in the mountainy mist.

I'm writing of you.

When the pain that will kill me
is about to be unbearable,
a cool hand
puts a tablet on my tongue and the pain
dwindles away and vanishes.

I'm writing of you.

There are fires to be suffered,
the blaze of cruelty, the smoulder
of inextinguishable longing, even
the gentle candleflame of peace
that burns too.

I suffer them.  I survive.

I'm writing of you.

      -- Norman MacCaig



Unsafe Rafts

Some thoughts on piety and sin

"The rituals and the sacrifices described
In the Vedas deal with lower knowledge.
The sages ignored these rituals
And went in search of higher knowledge. ...

Such rituals are unsafe rafts for crossing
The sea of samsara, of birth and death.
Doomed to shipwreck are those who try to cross
The sea of samsara on these poor rafts.
Ignorant of their own ignorance, yet wise
In their own esteem, these deluded men
Proud of their vain learning go round and round
Like the blind led by the blind."

-Mundaka Upanishad


"The fool practices concentration
And control of the mind.

But the master is like a man asleep.
He rests in himself
And finds nothing more to do."

-Ashtavakra Gita 18:33


Seems like the path of piety is the most dangerous path of all. Better to be a sinner and know it than to believe that one's own religious and ritual spiritual observances somehow cleanse one's inner state. It is one thing to be ignorant and blind, but to be ignorant and blind to one's own ignorance and blindness seems most perilous indeed.


Onward Evolutionary Soldiers

The evolutionary strategies Humanity has used so far -- natural selction, genetic modifcations, mental modeling -- have succeeded in helping us achieve results we find individually desirable, but will only take our species so far.

This paper by Evolutionary Biologist John Stewart asserts that those strategies will not get humanity over the evolutionary hurdles our species is currently facing.

If we pursue evolution only to the extent that it satifies individuals' wants and needs and not the good of the Human Race, humanity may very well become extinct. How does humanity move past the pervasive problems that set our internal motivation systems at odds with our own evolutionary interests?

Stweart, in his book "Evolution's Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity," expands on the thesis in the above paper and asserts that spiritual practice is the evolutionary strategy which will give us the nudge past the standoff between what individuals want and what's good for us as a whole:

"The world's major religious systems all advocate the development of an ability to free onesself from particular emotional responses, desires, and motivations."

The idea being that developing such a capacity is the next great evolutionary trick we need to learn as a species.

(Hmmm. I grew up learning that evolution and religion were supposed to be at odds with one another. This is interesting.)

And so the next day I was reading in Huxley's Perennial Philosophy and he was talking about athletes and soldiers. Both are trained to sublimate their personal desires to the overall objective of the group to the point of enduring pain, suffering, and even death. This is just like the saint, the spiritual person, except that

The aim of spiritual training is to make people become selfless in every circumstance of life, while the aim of military training is to make them selfless in very special circumstances and in relation to only certain classes of human beings. (p. 44)

And so selfless, spiritual people may be the badass evolutionary soldiers upon whom the future of our species depends.

I want to be an evolutionary soldier when I grow up.


Monday, July 07, 2003
Beating the S-Curve?

I missed blogging about this in a timely manner due to my self-imposed blogging hiatus, but I am intrigued about the recent jump in popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon, not just as a beer drinker, but as a futurist.

In lieu of posting about this last month, I went and bought a twelve pack of the stuff. I can say that, from what I can taste, the uptick in atttention is definitely *not* about the beer. But it's twice as cheap as the microbrews I usually drink and I'll have to admit it's not twice as bad. Get the beer cold enough and me hot enough and it's a decent beer.

I guess if you're a beer drinker in the BudCoorsSchlitzMiller stratus of the beer drinking world, Pabst Blue Ribbon is as good as any. I'd imagine that the beer-to-beer preferences of such drinkers ride pretty heavily on variables such as advertising, branding, and image.

What makes this interesting from a futurist perspective is that the PBR people are trying to evade one of the ironclad laws of marketing trends -- the backlash. They're resisting the urge to promote and expand the trend with the usual marketing techniques, hoping that they'll not alienate the base of early adapters who started the trend to begin with.

(remember the Sprite commercials a few years back that struck that "you and we both know we're trying to sell you something" ironic tone? Commercial anti-commercialism? Consumers saw right through that marketing strategy. This is something else alogether -- marketing by not marketing.)

So can Pabst avoid a backlash with an interesting "non-marketing" approach? My bet is no, because if the next wave of consumers, who are more into following established trends than fomenting new ones, latch onto the PBR trend and take it big time, there'll be a backlash. Doesn't matter that the Pabst marketing will be blameless. There's only so much market capital in a trend and the people will blow it all even if Pabst doesn't.

But, if they do avoid the backlash, that'll be an interesting twist on trend dynamics.


Thanks for your support

"I am the father and mother of this universe, and its grandfather too; I am its entire support. I am the sum of all knowledge, the purifier, the syllable Om; I am the sacred scriptures, the Rik, Yajur, and Sama Vedas."

-Bhagavad Gita 9:17


God is the universe's "entire support." Yes.

A bond between two things that creates something new, something bigger and better than the parts by themselves, is the basis of all chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, and history. Such bonds are the universe's "entire support."

Now imagine that concept personified, endowed with an emergent consciousness, much like the consciousness that appears to emerge from the collections of cells we call humans. What do you call that concept, that consciousness.

I call it, him, her, (or whatever) God. Call it what you will. It just is.


Saturday, July 05, 2003
Birthday Week

Tomorrow is my 38th birthday. Go me. I am plausibly at mid-life. At least I hope I am at a lower bound of my mid life range. I figure that 76 would be the minimum life span where I would, like, not feel cheated or something. I'm shooting to beat my demographic.

So I am at an age where I am learning to accept some harsh truths about my life, my significance, aging, and the inevitability of death. (Cheerful, ain't I?) I need to be able to close gently some of the doors kept ajar for the younger man I envisioned my self as up to this point and put my full attention on the doors left to be opened. It's time to decide how I want to age, what my life's mission is, and what contribution I want to make.

But screw all that for now. Now's the time to party. I'm going to stretch it out over a week, sort of.

I plan to make some birthday observances. I will make art. I will pray. I will play basketball. I will play 1KBWC. I will take some Time Off To Take Stock. I will take this opportunity to thank all the people who help make my life what it is. I will write a letter to my Aunt Elinor.

And I'm giving myself some birthday gifts:

I'm starting a Men's Spirituality group at Church not because I feel some call to duty but because I want such a group in my life and it seems that the quickest way to get it is to start it.
I'm creating my own creative social outlet, starting with 1KBWC this week. More on this later.
I am reviving my bike commuting habit for at least a few days a week.
I am rededicating my prayer life.

I feel like I am at a place in my life where what I make of my birthday is more important than what other people make of it for me. So, happy birthday to me.


Flowing

So, I'm back.

I still don't have my shit together, but I came to a place where I can accept the state of my shit.

Right after I started my blog sabbatical, I sat down and made a "shit list," prioritized in order of what I most needed to do. I found I couldn't empty the list. In fact, it's larger now than when I started.

Well, who would want an emtpy list anyways? I always hope to have new stuff coming at me -- means I am still vital. Like any "To Do" list, the best I could hope for was to move stuff off the top to make room for the new stuff that flows into the list every day.

The freshest water is the flowing water. If water sits still it stagnates. That's how I was feeling last month. Stagnant. Now I feel like I'm somewhat flowing. That's what the sabbatical was about.

So my resolve is to keep flowing -- move something off every day to make room for something new to flow in. And somehow I will find time to post here too. I really missed being on Overflow. And I missed all of you folks.