Wackiness in Packerland

2 08 2011


In mourning until strike is over

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

Shot a bunch of photos of various unusual scenes including this “mourning” scene at the Stadium View bar near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The trip was a blast. We flew into Minneapolis, drove past Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, gawked at Rib Mountain’s towering presence over Wausau, and then stayed a night before going into Green Bay. There, we attended wedding festivities and basically drank a lot of beer with the family (hey it’s Wisco) before heading out to Door County to drink more beer and gawk at beautiful scenery. There was also a lot of free-flowing cherry wine. Such good wine.

Then it was down through Oshkosh and through a bunch of small towns before visiting West Salem and Sparta just east of the Mississippi River. My grandma has a farm out there over by the crazy FAST boneyard. And then back to Minneapolis to check out some of my parents’ old haunts. They met at the University of Minnesota and got married in that city. And then a 3-D movie at the Mall of America and back to Atlanta, in my case.

Check out the full set of photos.





New Year’s best illusions

4 01 2011

It’s the beginning of 2011 and time to make New Year’s resolutions. While I sort of cringe at the thought of caving in to “year pressure,” I mostly kept my resolutions from 2010, and it helps to think ahead, so why not? This year is a whole different ball game than last year. FIrst, it’s a milestone year. My fifth anniversary at work is in May, and I’ll be attending my 10-year high school reunion in the fall. So, I’m naturally thinking about my life right now. Also interestingly, people I know are moving around left and right, thinking about their futures, building their families and relocating to different states or even countries. 2011 may be the most mobile year in recent memory; while I’m not planning any big moves at the moment, watching everyone do this to themselves despite (or because of) the rough economy is sort of a wake-up call for me to assess where I currently stand and make any needed improvements — big or small.

I’ve tried to come up with a list of things that are both easy to do and hard to master. In other words, I can dabble and succeed, or I can really delve in and take it and run with it. Maybe I won’t keep these resolutions, but thinking about the things I want to do is probably the best step in actually making them happen. Hopefully I’ll turn back to this list and try to make it happen, and hopefully I’ll be inspired to take on and achieve even more cooler things this year.

Here’s my somewhat banal-but-important list of 13 things for 2011:

1. Get my thoughts on real and digital paper. Writing is what I do best, and if I don’t actually write, I won’t get any better at it. Write at least one poem per day, even if it’s a silly haiku about wikipedia. Dream up storylines and explore the human condition through the power of the written word.

2. Read more of everything — eat a more balanced media diet. I hate buying paper books, but I’m kind of addicted to eBooks, so maybe getting a reader is in order. Allow the inner geek out to play, and investigate comics and films in that vein.

3. Blog more. Tumble often. Sign up for tons of sites that I never use, and find out why I keep coming back to the few that I do. Continue to explore online communities and the management challenges therein. Find out what the creative types are up to, and get to know them. Maybe meet up with some community organizations.

4. Shoot and edit more video outside work, even if it sucks; experiment and go crazy. Doing a video project can be very intimidating because it’s hard to do it really well, but as they used to say in the Arizona Lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play.

5. Play more music, even if it’s just GarageBand. Better if it’s something I do on an instrument. Pick up the clarinet every now and then, and then obtain a guitar or keyboard that I could potentially hook up to my computer. I have a decent keyboard at home, but it’s too big to take back with me.

6. Try to shoot at least one photo per day; preferably of but not limited to hat wear. Finish the 365 hats project from 2010 and carry it forward into 2011 in all its, um, glory.

7. Educate myself informally and perhaps even formally — educational resolutions might even be their own category in and of themselves. This is really something that I started in 2010 but want to continue. Expand my vocabulary, and continue to read up on world history. Learn about the city of Atlanta and the southern region; and even though it’s sometimes depressing, read the local news and try to feel like a part of the community. If I was a community reporter in this town, like maybe working for the college paper or something, what would I report on? Reconnect with my alma mater and catch up with former classmates, which I’m traditionally pretty horrible at. Figure out where I stand on furthering my education, and maybe take a class or so. Keep up with sports, music, languages, the cosmos and humanity’s Big Questions.

8. This is kind of cheating as a resolution, but there’s something to be said for setting goals you can keep: Travel to new places this year as well as old favorites. Do the midwest and SoCal in July. Maybe go to Europe in the fall. Hopefully make it out to the mid-Atlantic again this year, and maybe do the Northwest and New England, which are both kind of mysterious to me. Could a trip to Austin also be worthwhile this year? What about Disney World and Miami? Any good day treeps in Georgia? And of course, head out to the American west.

9. Eat more nutritious foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. Order the healthy stuff when eating out, and rely less on frozen dinners. Fire up the stove once a week. Keep my calorie counts within daily recommended limits. Alcohol in moderation as always.

10. Pay attention to my physical being. Work on exercise and balance, and defeat arthritis. Just a little a day goes a long way. Refresh my wardrobe and replace things that have overstayed their welcome in my closet.

11. Nurture an optimistic spirit and ignore negativity as best as possible. Try to be more forgiving and less judgmental of other people’s foibles and quirks and occasional self-absorption. Continue to work on understanding my fellow human beings, socializing more and feeling less anxiety in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. If we all listened better and raged less, the world would be a better place.

12. Become geographically independent. Knock off the Atlanta must-do’s list; eat a Ghetto Burger for God’s sake. Feel at home wherever I am. Live in the present and make my apartment feel like a place I want to come home to. At the same time, dabble in other geographies and try to understand where people who prefer tree-infested landscapes over the desert are coming from.

13. Get more wheels and rolling things in my life, from cars to bikes to balls. Do trains have wheels? Planes do. Actually, this might be the first thing to tackle out of the whole list, perhaps Priority Numero Uno. I’ll get started on that right away.

I think that rounds it up. The Lucky 13. Here’s to an awesome year.





2010: Re#hashed with 365 hats

31 12 2010


Hiking the butte!

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

It’s almost 5 a.m. on the last day of the year 2010. I just got up super early to take one last “365 hats in 2010” photo and celebrate a year well done. I didn’t stick with the “one hat per day” plan entirely, but then again, I did still manage to keep the concept going all year in spirit if not in exactitude.

When I set out, the goal was to challenge myself to think creatively. This was certainly the case. In terms of sticking with a goal, improvising with what you have, and having fun over the course of a year, this project satisfied its original criteria. Some of the “hats” aren’t really hats, just things I fashioned out of household objects. Some of them are folded or handmade hats. Others are hats adapted into new hats.

If you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to take a moment and peruse the now 365 images that populate the Picasa photo gallery that was set up to hold the photos. They kinda give you an idea of what happened this year. A lot of my personal milestones and big vacations, and even news events, were strangely enough best described by using hats. Here’s a rundown of what the hats can tell you about this year’s biggest events and surprises:

It was strangely reassuring for me to know that every day would have a photo associated with it, good or bad, and that there would always be more days and more hats. Some pictures were taken in different locations or with different backgrounds, my hair changed length, etcetera.

In a couple instances you’ll note a hat appears multiple times. An order of two separate hats ended up being an order of two identical pink hats, so they appear together in the shots. Also, I lost my purple hat twice, so it appears three times throughout the snapshots.

Also, there are a couple shots in there of friends, coworkers, random people and a cat. The goal, again, was to have fun, and I thought a few surprises here and there wouldn’t hurt.

Since I’m on vacation and doing the holiday thing, I’m not going to go into extreme detail for this little year in review. But I just want you, dear reader, to know that it’s been a pretty great year and I get a little wistful thinking about all the things that have happened this past year. A lot of it’s been really good, with only a few little bumps in between. Hopefully 2011 will be even better.





Magic and monsters

28 11 2010

Continuing with the theme of entertainment-based flashbacks, which coming home always seems to trigger: Youthful lit is all the rage these days. The last two movies I saw were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (version 7.1) and “Tangled,” a charming 3-D animated romp through ye olde “Rapunzel” story.  Both of the films were very entertaining, and most critics seem to agree with me. During the latter, I witnessed a promo for the remake of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that is coming out at some point.

Got me thinking about some of the things I read as a kid. Of particular note to me were the John Bellairs series of gothic mysteries. The stories themselves weren’t particularly childish, but as the story goes, Bellairs was advised to rework an early piece for young adults because they seemed to be the best audience. (Think: “Goosebumps” et al) They were so chilling and mysterious and atmospheric … I just loved them. Another one of Bellairs’ books, “The Face in the Frost,” is supposed to be really good, but I’ve never read it. That’s apparently the work he’s famous for, a dark fantasy that pokes fun at the genre even as it moves through a fast-paced classic storyline. Or so they say.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Anthony Monday and Lewis whats-his-name and of course Johnny Dixon, whose father was away at war. The idea of a kid being away from his parents and forced to deal with a supernatural element is nothing new. Don’t we all face that same exact challenge — finding your way alone, as an independent individual? You have a choice to embrace it, avoid it, or resign yourself to a life of miserably accepting the futility of your meaningless existence. The Rapunzel story is pretty much the same. A girl escapes from her isolation in a tower and does what every girl learns to do: leave home, face the big, bad world and find an animated love interest voiced by Zachary Levi. And what a voice it is.





Dear high school self

27 11 2010

The 10-year reunion is in less than a year, and that’s a horrifying thought. Being home always reminds me of these things. A flip through the high school yearbook was a reminder of where I came from, and the path I thought I’d take. I remember imagining what I’d be like in 10 years. In most ways, I’m either on par or way better off than I thought I’d be, but in some other ways, I was completely off base.

So that’s why I’m typing this stuff right now; both in the spirit of being thankful for what you have and preparing for a future retrospective, if that makes sense. I know that without a real, working flux capacitor, this message will never get to you, even posted on this blog in “Channel 55: All Back to the Future, All the Time,” but I wanted to write this note just in case. Just in case.

On the positive side, I’m employed in a thriving division of a company that is doing well. I do work that is seen daily by people around the world. Many days, I thank my lucky stars that I get paid to do some of the things I do. In exchange for engaging in my sometimes manic profession, I really do get to travel and enjoy life. I’m able to live in another state and still make it home to spend time with the Zonies in my life. Outside of work, I have my own apartment and I also have a circle of friends. I go out and do things, and even attend parties. I take care of myself and am more confident. As a shy, awkward youngster who ate lunch by herself for years while dodging bullies, this was hard to imagine. None of this is small beans, so I’m thankful for my lucky stars.

On the negative side, staying healthy is a challenge. Living in a different place makes me feel chronically uneasy. Atlanta is definitely different culturally, intellectually, physically, etc. I miss my family and friends, and I miss the desert. I don’t own a car and I expend too much of my income on housing. My personality and thinking style are assets and liabilities sometimes.  My chosen field forces me to stretch the limits of how I express myself.

I will actively choose to believe that these “bad” things are actually good things, because it means I’m at the bleeding edge of change in my life.

Oh, and most of the stuff that I was preoccupied with in high school has turned out to be total B.S., and I should have relaxed and enjoyed myself more in college (but made a greater effort to make it to class).

What will I say to myself 10 years from today? I shudder to think about my 37-year-old self, but it beats the alternative. I hope she’s doing well.

What does this mean for you, self of the past? Well I really can’t tell you, because I don’t want you to change anything or screw it all up for me. The fact that I’m reluctant to change the timeline tells me something must be going good with my life. Thanks a lot, science fiction.





The Elevator Play

21 11 2010

The other day, I’m not sure which other day, I was reading about formulaic story plots. One of the most commonly used is the Elevator Play, especially in theater. This isn’t like the Elevator Pitch, which is given in an actual elevator in order to elevate one’s status, but rather a theoretical construct in which the characters are confined together in a limited space (like an elevator). “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (sp) is a classic example of this. The action takes place in basically one spot the whole time. You can see how a playwright would love a limited space like this. Screw the setting changes, focus just on the characters.

According to the formula, you put a bunch of characters in the space together and then at least one of them goes berserk, or otherwise instigates the rest of the group. The physical limitations imposed by the setting then force the characters to confront some kind of personal demons.

It’s interesting how that theory applies to many stories. Think about “LOST,” which I’m just about done watching. Maybe down to the last three or four episodes or so (whew!) and I’ve already seen the finale. So a bunch of people are on an airplane (another classic Elevator Play scenario) and then they crash onto an island (there’s the confinement again) and, guess what, they’re not only being chased down by smoke monsters and giant polar bears, but they’re being forced to confront their own personal demons. Be they misgivings about one’s father, as in pretty much all the cases, or something else. Who knows what. And, guess what, some of those people are unstable and they create trouble, but everyone’s trapped there and they can’t leave. And so it goes, until it all gets boring, and then they get to leave the island … all the events from the second half of the show were created to cope with the limitations of the island setting. It gets to the point where the island scenes are less interesting than everything else.

I think an interesting writing exercise is to think about your “elevator” and what kind of people you would want to put in it. If I had to pick one, it would be a subway car late at night, or a family hiding out in a bomb shelter underground, or maybe some kids who eat lunch together in their school’s band room. It could even be a shady motel room on Route 66, or a Seattle office during the dot-com boom. Maybe even the Donner Party in a snowstorm. There’d be some archetypes: the wide-eyed innocent, the sage, the stoic, the trickster, the thief, the cannibal. Naturally, some wouldn’t get along, and some would get hungry.

The theory behind the Elevator Play probably explains what makes reality shows so remarkably compelling. There’s usually a set location or premise that permits a group of attractive young people to stop being polite and start getting real. That is, they get into a fancy house and then start getting naked, showering together, fighting about petty things, doing mandatory volunteer work, confessing to the camera and having pixellated sex on camera. Which is about as real as it gets.

I’m now several years older than most of the cast members, but let me tell you, the Real World kids have nothing on me; they’d better get those elevator pitches ready.





Happiness is scary

21 11 2010

I’m feeling pretty content right now, and that’s frankly a little scary. Historically, I’ve been fueled by ridiculous and often-unachievable dreams. But there’s something satisfying about savoring the here and now, and about striving for the things that are within one’s reach.

I have discovered that it is nearly impossible to increase one’s happiness without being happy in the first place. Makes sense, I guess.

Perhaps it’s because to take pleasure in the challenges of one’s own life, and to take active steps to improve a situation in the actual form that it is, is to make real progress. Live in the present, enjoy the here and now, and take advantages of opportunities as they come.

Nothing magical, I guess, just a whole lot of sense.





I hate my blog

15 10 2010

I really hate my blog. I’ve always struggled with my online identity. Should I be funny? Should I be serious? Who knows. Guess it’s a little bit like real life.

Not that I don’t like blogging. No, on the contrary, one thing I can tell you is that blogging can really help you out.

The best advice I’ve ever heard is to try to take your feelings and put them into words. Whether you share them publicly is your choice or not, but it’s nice to struggle through a complicated thought and come out on the other side with a better sense of clarity. A blog can be your ally in doing that. Depending on your situation, it can really help you solve a difficult issue. I’m a firm believer in the format. It’s good promotion, too, assuming you are careful about what you express.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like a real bona fide thing that says, “this is who I am,” that isn’t vulnerable to some opportunistic rant that could show up in the Google cache some years later.

The age of the homepage seems to have died. It used to be you’d get an angelfire or geocities account and build some crappy circa-1994 thing and push it out there and tell people that’s your homepage. Now it’s blog, blog, blog, which is cool, but doesn’t provide that biographical feeling (and can really catch you at an awkward moment without the context of who you are).

After working 11 days in a row (mostly by my own choice), through my somewhat bleary eyes and short-tempered stupor, I feel like maybe this is a good time to give it some thought. What would my ideal online home look like? What would it have?

Would there be a text area? Video? News? Something interactive? What would I want to put there?

I almost feel like my ideal blogging situation would be a bit like Twitter or the Facebook feed … you know, there’s various kinds of activities. There’s the things you’re reading, the things you take pictures of, the things you write in 140 characters or less … oh, hey, there’s Tumblr for that. I think my big gripe with Facebook is it’s kind of ugly. It is, however, highly reliable. No fail whales there, Zuck.

So look for some updates to come as I hash out my thoughts. Chances are, I’ll be putting them into words right here.





Being a good listener

30 09 2010

My listening skills are something I desire to improve, and something that people are always saying you should do — so much so that it often feels like an “in one ear, out the other” kind of thing. But I know it’s important, and I’m beginning to realize that actually fixing the problem is more vexing than I bargained for. It’s not just about taking off your headphones or cleaning out excess ear wax. It’s about changing the way you view the world and your place in it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we value listening habits because they appear to symbolize the value we place on others. Hypothetically speaking: When you place a lot of importance on a particular person, you  may find yourself at times listening very carefully and trying to memorize what they say. There may be specific motivations behind this kind of listening. It sadly can feel like an act of deference or flattery to pay full attention to someone, rather than simply a common courtesy. That stinks. Perhaps listening should be more commonplace. Then, more people would do it.

A poor listener may, in theory, view their opinions more highly than those of others, regardless of the actual relative merit of those ideas. They may have a short attention span or a preference for other forms of information delivery (i.e. visual). They may be preoccupied. Or, the poor listener may in fact value another’s opinions, but not know the proper way to balance their own input with others’.

Listening is valuable to human relationships for these and other reasons:

  • Understanding feelings and motivations of others
  • Incorporating new information into your worldview
  • Getting the global picture of an undertaking
  • Avoiding repetition of information/instructions (a biggie for many bosses)
  • Understanding of another’s point of view
  • Anticipating possible challenges or difficulties

The difficulty lies in our inherent egocentrism as human beings. It’s not an excuse, but a possible explanation. We are driven to fight for our own interests and to get the best meat on the Savannah. At the same time, our society wants/demands/requires us to be collaborative and places strong value on altruism. We can’t be industrialized or function in the Information Age without working together. All of our political arrangements and capitalism and socialism seem to boil down to different ways we channel our self-interest to work together efficiently.

The way I’m beginning to see it, the act of listening is a connecting force that allows us to reconcile the competing needs of the Self, Other and Society.

When you’re listening, you’re not speaking. Someone else is taking the stage. This can feel threatening in a group setting, where people are fighting to come up with the most entertaining anecdote or share the most enlightening observation. The people with the most status are the people in the best position to dominate a conversation. And, if they’ve accumulated significant awesomeness over the years, they may also be relaxed enough to police the conversation for the benefit of the group. This is a sign of high personal power. To be a good listener, you have to be comfortable with the idea that you aren’t in the spotlight, and that you are an audience for someone else. In turn, the speaker should be gracious to you.

We have to ask ourselves in life, how comfortable are we with the idea of being someone else’s audience? And how do we feel about the people who are an audience for us? The answers can be revealing.

Listening is at the crux of the ever-present struggle between the Self and the Other. The world is a competitive place and we all have to fight for attention and splendor and money and wealth and friends and lovers; it sometimes seems like whoever provides the most value takes the spoils. At the same time, we all have to get along, and we all depend on each other. We have to use each others’ ideas. A leader who can’t mobilize their followers can’t get anywhere. To balance one’s own needs with those of others requires clarity of mind and purpose, as well as a strong awareness of your personal motivations.

You can almost imagine contributions to a discussion being graphed in the shape of a hill, where the percentage of domination is on the X-axis and the value of what is being said is on the Y-axis. The crest of the hill is the sweet spot of how much you dominate a conversation, where you’re getting maximum value without going overboard.

So now I sit, wondering how to make myself a better listener and balance all that conversation bubbling up from within and without. Finding the sweet spot and consciously training the mind to place value on others’ views may be the key. I’m convinced it will help me out in several areas of my life, but I also know it will require me to fight evolution, experience and instinct. But I bet it’s worth it.

In summary, listening is important because it tells you something about a person’s world view. Learning to listen will for sure change that perspective, and require further changes in turn.





Savannah trip, philosophically speaking

22 09 2010

Perhaps the secret of life is telling a good story. Think about it. Every social interaction, every nugget of information we give, can be provided in many ways. Ultimately, many times the story format is most appropriate because it speaks to us from one person to another.

Perhaps the answer to all the world’s troubles, and perhaps a few of mine, is to strive to tell a good story. And, as we tell these stories, to be truthful just about always, in an appropriate manner for each situation.

One of the big challenges I struggle with is, “What exactly constitutes a story?” It’s not enough for people to tell me something or for me to hear something. I’ve got to process it to understand it. So in my process of great understanding, I fed this data into my subconscious and put in a ticket for tech support to come up with something meaningful and applicable to my daily life. When the motor of my mental machine stopped whirring, I ended up with what I hope is a good working definition of a story for my own purposes.

For example, I could tell you that I took a trip to Savannah this weekend. It was four hours’ worth of driving each way, and I traveled with three others on the way up and two others on the way back. Our accommodation was a three-bedroom vacation rental. We visited the beach at Tybee Island, and walked around the historic districts of Savannah before leaving.

I’ve conveyed raw information to you, but there isn’t much value to this information on its own. I’m leaving an awful lot to your imagination. You might infer that the beach is a pleasant getaway and that the three-bedroom vacation rental was pretty spacious. I didn’t qualify any of my descriptions or tell you if the trip was bad or good. But you do know that I went, and you kind of understand what I did. In short, the information I gave you wasn’t anything different than what you could have researched in a travel pamphlet. Most of all, there’s no value attributed to it, and no color or description.

If I turn this information into a “story,” then you start to get a little more information and there is more meaning and value to what I’m telling you. I could say well, it was a long day on Friday after struggling through a challenging project, but I escaped and made it out there. We were late thanks to me and got to Savannah at 1 a.m., checked into our beautiful rental with the gorgeous wooden trim and historic decor, visited a famed local bar and woke up late the next day. We had a marvelous day at the beach under warm skies, fanned by warm ocean breezes. After a lovely dinner at the brewery, we took a walk by the river to the sound of live music blaring from the buskers and bar bands. And then the next day, we had brunch before touring SCAD’s art shop and the historic cemetery where Capitol Records founder  Johnny Mercer is buried. The statue featured on the cover of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was discovered in that same cemetery yard, but it’s not there anymore. On the way back, we tried the famed Stickyfingers barbecue chain, which isn’t available in Atlanta. And then we crashed and went to work again.

That gives you a lot better idea of what we did. There’s a fair amount of description and context there. I could go even further and talk about the personal situations of each of us, give more details about the area and perhaps discuss the wonders of our living accommodation. There’s a host of other devices I could use to expand upon this.

So I think it’s interesting to give conscious thought to how we convey information to others, and to consciously think as we are having experiences, “What will I tell others about this?” I think for a skilled storyteller, things like this are second nature. Some people seem to be built to be journalists and love to tell a tale. It’s something that takes practice and work to perfect of course. I’m not sure where I fall on this spectrum. It depends on what medium I’m using to convey the information.

I do know one thing, however. I’ll be thinking a lot more about the story I want to tell about XYZ experience as it happens.