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.





Strange little decade fetishes

24 11 2010

The ’80s are the new ’50s … and the 1990s are the new 1960s, I guess. Eh?

A bit ago, I was listening to the radio (which I haven’t done on a regular basis in years) and except for the sonic gyrations of Katy Perry, everything was pretty much as it was the last time I regularly listened. Or, more accurately, it was like a time machine of my teen years. Alanis Morissette was swallowing her jagged little pill, Weezer was rocking out, Gavin Rossdale was crooning sans Bush, Usher was doing some R&Bing. I looked up some Weird Al Yankovic videos for good measure, because that’s what we listened to when I was 13. And just imagine cruising through certain parts of Maryvale or South Phoenix (or down Boulevard in Atlanta) with Eminem cranked up. Yes. You know the feeling. Or you don’t.

At that moment, I felt that it could have been 1995 or 2000 again. Really, I felt like a time traveler, which tells you something about radio. So imagine that you made a time machine that goes back all the way to 1995, or perhaps a couple years earlier to when Kurt Cobain was still alive and young boys weren’t mourning in pea-green sweater-veils and stringy hair. My, how much the world has changed.

My thoughts immediately turned to the first “Back to the Future,” which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In that film, the “future” is 1985. Heck, that’s almost before my past now. If you did a parody of that film in today’s world, you could have some kid go all the way back to 1995 and try to get their strung-out grunge-loving dad to marry their grunge-loving mom somewhere in a glamorized pre-hipster conceptualization of the Seattle rock culture. (You might want to bring in Weird Al if you’re planning any parodies.) Universal Studios is already working on the motion-simulator ride for its Hollywood and Orlando theme parks. Or not.

It seems like at the moment, the 1980s and 1990s are getting to be almost as fetishably foreign to us now as the 1950s were then. You already see a lot of romanticization of the 1980s, as evidenced by my recent iTune-age of the “1000 GREATEST HITS OF THE 1980s.”

Time and decades were a difficult concept for me to grasp as a child. “Happy Days” was the ultimate confusion. By that time in my youth, I had learned that there were old things and new things. But the advent of “Happy Days” was a layered mess of reruns of an old series that took place 20 or 30 years before. Very, very confusing for a youngster like me. At the time, people were fascinated with the 1950s in a very special way. Music from the era was all over oldies stations and was popular with other kids. (Side note: it won’t be long before the Phoenix, Arizona, oldies station KOOL FM will be playing Madonna instead of the Marvelettes.) Enter “Back to the Future,” which didn’t make much sense to me when I was very young. Particularly because the second film was coming out and they were going “back to the future” in the movie, weren’t they? But they had done that in the first movie? But that was set in the past, not the future … OK, I get it now.

Incidentally, Back to the Future (the first one) is one of the tightest films or stories I’ve ever seen, plot-wise, and I think that’s why its popularity has endured. Modern movies and films and music would do well to learn from this example, regardless of genre. The key to its memorable nature is its straightforward plot, built in two perfectly intertwined layers so that the time-travel plot is a device for the emotional exploration of Marty’s parents’ relationship. How many things have you seen that balance this dichotomy so well?

Anyway, the point of this post is: leg warmers are going the way of the poodle skirt, Happy Days was awesome, BTTF is awesome, and holy moly, Weird Al is still going strong. Oh, and Gavin Rossdale is still as appealing as he was back in the day. That is all.





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.





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.





Thinking at the speed of light

24 06 2010

You surely know by now that the one thing that gets me back to this blog time and time again is those moments when I have so much passion or zest for life (or an aspect of life) that it kind of spills out and I have to express it. And, when I can’t sleep.

Right now I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m feeling especially creative and also hungry for knowledge. Other people have noticed this and commented on it, so it can’t just be my imagination and I know it’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me well.

This is very exciting for me, because I fought a certain intellectual apathy for much of my teen years and into my early to mid-20s. Granted, this apathy was necessary in order to get me out of the house and socializing with other people and growing up and working at the college paper and getting a job and learning to conform to society. Now that I’ve done some of that (some), and I’ve got some of the external things figured out, I think I’m returning to the world inside my skull and filling it back up with the imagination and enthusiasm of my youth, as well as my bookworm tendencies. People used to think of me as a bookworm, but I don’t think that I have that reputation anymore, because I’m not. And so this kind of revisiting of what makes you who you are is what is necessary to become a whole person — to focus inside and out as well. I think I do a fairly OK job of balancing these competing concepts of self, but I can always get better.

Enough with the introspection, already. What this translates to is, I’ve got more passion for everything and more ability to absorb knowledge around me. At work, yeah. I’m fired UP. That’s fired UP, people. At home, yeah. Lately I’ve been hashing out plot synopses (about a page long) for stories I’d like to write. Many of these synopses are really stories in and of themselves that can be taken at face value. In the past I’ve found these sorts of things difficult to envision, but lately the trajectory of a tale is much easier to contemplate. I’ve learned to read new scripts and languages; I’ve boosted my brainz, and heck, I’ve never been so creative or focused. Granted, this is me we’re talking about.

I think I’m just growing up.

I’m even managing to have healthier eating/exercise habits and, off and on, cooking for myself and keeping my place clean. And socializing and going outside and doing things and traveling. Life is good, man. I may not have a glamorous existence, I may not live in the most amazing city or the coolest ‘hood, I may not have lots of money, I may not be powerful, I may not be suave, I may have my flaws (many), I may have my issues, but you know what? I’m a happy camper. Most of the time, I truly enjoy my imperfect, wonderful life.

And I’ve always known — believed — had no choice but to assume — that one must consume in order to produce. Often times, I’ve been out of whack, leaning to one side or the other of that scale. But right now, I’m in a rare equilibrium between desire to take in data and desire to spit it out. I’m born to be a storyteller, I know it, and it may just be the one and only thing that I know how to do in any medium or platform.

In the coming days, expect to see me delve into aspects of culture and things I’m thinking about or exploring.





Knowledge for knowledge’s sake

22 02 2010

I really want to get learning again. I felt a touch of yearning to start focusing back on educating myself over the past couple days, but I don’t want to go back to school because of the expense and career setback involved. This might sound a bit odd, but I got to thinking that an interesting compromise would be to put myself through a “school” of my own design. Devising some independent-study courses would be a creative project that I could test and evaluate and turn into a cool experiment, itself a form of study on our educational system.

If you know me, you know I go through phases where I seek to learn certain things for a short while. It’s sort of like a class, just done independently. Having this structured format, I think, would help me become more interested in things going on around me and would help me be more creative in my daily life, and have more things to talk about as an unplanned consequence. Here’s a few courses I’d like to take (some of which I never imagined I would want to take in my school days):

  • European historical geography
  • Language (Spanish, French)
  • Film/TV philosophy
  • Modern television series
  • U.S. travel and tourism
  • Independent music
  • Game theory and its applications to business
  • Social networks and game theory
  • Beginning computer programming principles
  • Geometry
  • U.S. history
  • Newspapers throughout the world
  • Science fiction in film
  • Reggae and society
  • Electronic musical instruments
  • Physical education
  • Origins of English
  • The Big Three Religions
  • Ancient History
  • Human Migration
  • Urban planning and city design
  • Cartography
  • Photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Video animation techniques
  • Video editing
  • Social media and journalism
  • Psychology

That should give you an idea. I think I might be serious about this, and I wonder if this will pan out. I was thinking of having a “course schedule” of sorts on a monthly basis with a topical course, a scientific or technological course and an “elective,” as well as some sort of “physical education” for my health’s sake. I dunno, maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I thought I’d start out in March with my first set of courses. In the meantime, I may take a mini-course or devote some time to researching independent study and curriculum development.

The downsides to this approach are that I would not have the guidance and expertise of a teacher or the social interaction with classmates. There would be no formal evaluation process. I might lose interest or focus. The upside is I can just do it with minimal overhead and interruption of my current routines.

So stay tuned; I’ll be posting my conclusions here on my blog. The first step, as I mentioned, will be to study curriculum development and learning techniques. On March 1, we’ll get started with the official courses if my interest in this project persists. Check back in and let’s see how it goes.