May 30, 2014

That’s Dean Potter and his best friend Whisper. Here’s what he says to people who for some reason question the way he spends time with his dog: “Dogs don’t live as long as we do. Every day that they’re trapped inside a house is like seven days trapped inside a house for us. Certain people I know will say, ‘Hey, you’re freaking taking your dog BASE jumping you lunatic!’ But my response is that Whisper wants to come with me. My philosophy is take the dog with you. It’s part of the family. Don’t trap it in the car or at the house all the time. That’s no fun.”*
*From an interview in the July 2014 issue of Climbing Magazine

Just DO

May 16, 2014

Sponge Bob

Ok, I resubscribed to the Harvard Business Review in hopes of finding something of value for my entrepreneur son. First issue to arrive was April 2014* and a quick look at the table of contents led me to page 30 and the “Idea Watch – Defend Your Research” section with: “The Challenge – Does touching men’s underwear really make women more likely to indulge in risky, reward-seeking behavior?” The title of the article gave away the findings of this important research: “Women Too Respond to Sexual Cues by Taking More Risks”.

Hmm. Interesting. Oh ya, I remembered an MTV interview with candidate Bill Clinton during which he was asked “Boxers or Briefs?” by a cute young woman and we all know how that ended. Further recollection brought to mind the series of events that led (eventually) to the birth of all three of our children and indeed tactility and boxers had been involved! I’d long wondered what could induce a young woman in the throes of youthful exuberance to risk all for reward of unknowable dimension. It all suddenly seemed so obvious.

Unfortunately though, a complication inflected these cerebrations at the very next visit to my reading room and what else but the Economist**. Recent experiments have conclusively shown that some lab animals are so scared of men (and not women!) that pain producing nerve cells shut down. “Simply put, the animals were being scared painless. A significant increase in faecal pellets suggested they were scared shitless as well.” And, relative to the above, the mere presence of an article of men’s clothing is enough to induce the phenomena.

Hmm. Go figure. That doesn’t seem conducive to you know what. I guess it must have been my good looks and scintillating personality way back when. But maybe I’m over thinking this whole thing. Recently, while reading of correspondence between artists Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt, it occurred to me that once again I should meditate or take a run or something other than cogitate.   Hesse was agonizing about aspects of her life and work to which friend Lewitt advised: “Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbing, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning… Stop it and just DO!***

*No foolin’: HBR April 2014 P 30
**Economist May 3-9, 2014 Sex, writhes and videotape
***WSJ 4 23 14 “Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt
Note: Lewitt’s “just DO! was written fifteen years before Nike took as its slogan a convict’s entreaty to his own firing squad cf April 6, 2012 below


Good Lesson

April 4, 2014

Chang 1
A few weeks ago I accompanied my potter wife to the NCECA* convention in Milwaukee. I’m not an artist, but am always interested, sometimes enthralled, listening to experts describe their enterprise -whatever it might be. At the very least it can be invigorating to watch the approach of truth and beauty at the hands of a mere mortal. Occasionally, with attention and luck there will be a flight of transcendence and such was the case with Ching-Yuan Chang who you see on stage above.

Mr. Chang makes his delicate pots by first scoring (like this: /////) several smallish slabs of clay an inch or so thick and then gently throwing the slabs against the floor till they are so thin that the spaces between the lines have become linear protrusions. He then trims them and assembles the pieces into a vessel of one sort or another; a cup, a pot, a vase. It was fascinating to watch him work while slides of his fired and finished pieces flashed on the screen to the right along with photos of the landscape around Taipei.
Chang 4

There were two sessions. The first was from 1:00 to 4:00 PM on a Thursday and the second from 9:00 AM to noon the next day. I was there transfixed for the whole six hours. He made many different vessels, talked about his career path, related his take on the life of an artist, and with a serenity unavailable to me answered many questions, some repeated many times. “I like to keep things simple” was a frequent refrain.

Toward the end of the second session a petite and elderly Asian woman approached the microphone and asked: “Mr. Chang, I would like to know why you choose to make functional pots and not something sculpture or figure.” I’ve listened to enough related conversations between ceramicists to know that the response to that question will range from a polite demure to inane verbosity.

Mr. Chang said “Something happened to me many years ago that I remember to this day. I was staying with friends in Japan and they asked me to walk their young child down the block to kindergarten. I did so and watched in wonder at snack time when each child was given a drink in a small handmade ceramic cup. One was dropped and it shattered. My Japanese is not very good (my friends speak English), but I finally figured out how to ask ‘why not unbreakable?’ ”. Teacher smile and ask if I speak English.

I nod, she answer: “Well, they are each unique individual pieces made especially for us. Very delicate. The children usually develop favorites and return for the same one every day. But also almost every day one or two are dropped and become shards on the floor. Even in kindergarten there is realization that something special is gone forever never to be seen on this earth again. Like friend. Good lesson.” A hush fell over the room and I thought of those small faces looking down and then up. Ya, good lesson.
Chang 5

* (National Council for Education in Ceramic Arts – the acronym is better than the mouthful, isn’t it?)


January 18, 2014

Ceres Chair

Went to the movies the other night and saw August-Osage County which I just learned was nominated for several Oscars this year.  Hmmm.  Interesting performances, but I just couldn’t relate.  Never interacted with a family so rife with dysfunction.  Film starts off with senior male member of the clan, played by Sam Shepard, taking his own life.  Mother, played by Meryl Streep, drops the f-bomb with great frequency.    If I ever heard my mom utter that epithet I’d know the end to be near.

Sitting there attempting to get comfortable I thought a bit about Shepard.  He’s good in everything and makes memorable the smallest bits of a role.  There’s a personaI connection: I always think of his crooked teeth when I look in the mirror.  Anyway, as you may know he’s also a playwright and something he said about the craft came to mind.  “For me, playwriting is and always has been like making a chair.  Your concerns are balance, form, timing, lights, space, music.  If you don’t have these essentials you might as well be writing a theoretical essay, not a play.”

Well, for me, those concerns weren’t well addressed in that film, but as luck would have it, I got a new chair for Christmas and thus have been given to think about Shepard’s metaphor in relation to the gift and my way in the world.   Visitors to this space will know that I’m a world class daydreamer and should thus expect that facilitation thereof to be important to these ruminations.  Call me VP in charge of staring off into space.

The factors Shepard mentions are all important, but for me light and music stand out. In a chair you ask?  They’re not important for mushroom theory of management* sorts, but reign supreme wherever creativity is important.  And where is it not? I read an article in the Harvard Business Review a while back that described an incipient trend in which job candidates with an MFA were hired over those with an MBA.  They’re better equipped to develop ‘over the horizon’ scenarios.

Light and music in a well wrought play might refer to the manner in which truth about a character, or the plot, or life is revealed.  Think about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid maybe.  Ya, remember when they’re in Bolivia and Strother Martin asks The Kid to demonstrate his marksmanship?  The Redford character first misses the block of wood Martin’d tossed out, Newman winces, but the Kid then says “Can I move?” and with speed, agility, and grace destroys it.

I’m gonna quote myself to bring in a bit of science: “Recent article in the Boston Globe and WSJ describe new research into the emerging field of embodied cognition.  Investigators do indeed believe that movement and gesticulation enhance cerebration.  ‘People think with their bodies, not just their brains… arm movements can affect language comprehension… children are more likely to solve math problems if they are told to gesture with their hands….’”**

Ya gotta move and I can in this new seat like in none before.  I lean forward to type and then back to look at the ceiling or out the window and feel like I’m getting a massage as I stretch.  I think about Dad telling me not to lean back and rock in my chair, and then an article in the New Yorker about how those with Aspergers like to rock and then one in the same issue about how Bill Gates does too.

I quickly became so fond of my new perch that I traced its designer to Germany.    Guy by the name of Wolfgang Deisig.  “A chair should be like a comfortable jacket, you slip into it and it feels good” he says.  Interestingly, for me anyway,  Deisig has had a long relationship with the famed German Vitra firm.  At the Vitra Design Museum near Basel Switzerland recently launched an exhibition about the life and work of architect Louis I Kahn prominent in which is work by his collaborator Anne Tyng about whom I’m deeply engaged in research.

Tyng was fond of psychiatrist Carl Jung who coined the term synchronicity and amazingly enough, that’s just what we have here.    I’ve a long way to go, but look forward to a pirouette from time to time for inspiration and/or celebration.  My chair and I will see this project through to the end together.

Ceres Chair 2

*Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em shit

** See post of January 24, 2008

***Chair is the Ceres by Hon

****Speaking of synchronicity, Ceres is the Roman Goddess of Agriculture-Perfect for this site, no?

I Don’t Get It

January 10, 2014

Big Mac 2

Roy Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s into the purveyor of billions of Big Macs, Royales with Cheese, and reconstituted French Fries once said that “As long as you’re green you’re growing.  As soon as you’re ripe, you rot”.  Look at the photo above and meditate upon that metaphor.

That burger is about fifteen years old.  Recalling how my brother would drive and hour and a half to McDs when he was a geologist in a uranium mine in the middle of nowhere Wyoming I decided to give him one for his birthday many years ago.  Figured I should make sure preparation was up to snuff so took a bite before wrapping it up.

He was thrilled and I was pleased.  I’m older and have always looked out for him and taken pains with instruction related to the Golden Rule.  Imagine then how greatly I was moved when six months later I loosed a ribbon on a box from him and found the same sandwich!

Not to overdo a good thing and drain the exchange of its cathartic potential,  we don’t pass the two patties, special sauce,  sesame seed bun, et al back and forth more often than every several years.  I’d forgotten about it in fact and was thus thrilled to find it in a package for me under the Christmas Tree this year. J

Back to the metaphor.  From the one mouthful, I can attest to its original ripeness, but as you can see there was no subsequent rot to the rest.  No rodent, bug, bacteria, or bit of mold has ever paid it the least attention.  It is not at all fragile.  A recent incredulous visitor knocked it off of my desk by accident and reassembly was a snap.

I don’t get it.  Could McDonald’s have the key to immortality?


January 3, 2014

I thought Homer coined that word and regarding that belief wagered with roommate who did not agree.  I lose virtually all competitions with said woman, but didn’t worry about this one, because knew that her confidence would render the notion of research ridiculous and thus it’d been long forgotten.

Imagine, then, my amazement and dismay having just come across that word in a poem written by Joseph Brodsky in about 1975.  From A Part of Speech:

…After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “doh”
only their rustle.  Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter.  What gets left of a man amounts
to a part.  To his spoken part.  To a part of speech.

So I guess to Brodsky “doh” is almost a moment of awakening.  Homer occasionally gets it, while most of  the rest of us avoid the risk of introspection. Not all. Brodsky elsewhere wrote that: “The real history of consciousness begins with one’s first lie” referring to an incident in a library of his youth.  Asked about his religion, he chose feign ignorance rather than respond with the Russian word for Jew which led to quite a stream of consciousness for a seven year old.

*Amazingly enough, I just recounted an incident of my youth in a library involving dishonesty.  10 18 13

Thought I’d Know More

December 13, 2013

Galesburg Rail Yard

Few days after Thanksgiving I dropped son off at train station for him to make his way back to work some six hours north.  We’ve had the pleasure of A fair amount of travel by rail and find it much the most enjoyable means by which to get from A to B.  You can move about, see the countryside, converse face to face, and get a neat nights sleep on longer journeys.  No TSA.

Depot is about forty-five minutes from our home and as per usual I used the time to share nuggets of my accumulated wisdom.   I could tell it was well received because son’s eyes were closed in concentration.   We hugged, I watched him board, and the bullet quickly departed on schedule having only stopped for ten or so minutes.

Wife knew of some sort of special repository in the vicinity and asked for me to find it and bring a load of stuff home.  I followed GPS to where I’d asked it to take me, but found that of the two related locations, I’d made the wrong choice.  Called the place and found that I was close and that the crow’s path would take me by the rail yard you see above.  It is huge.

In no hurry I stopped to survey the scene.  While so doing, for some reason, my mind went back to the advice I’d shared with son.  I remember thinking first that, like most of the time I hold forth, I should pay more attention to myself.  And then, while recalling the wizened faces of elders telling me how best to negotiate life’s labyrinth, realized that back then I figured that the nature of my consciousness would be different by this ripe old age than is in fact my experience of it.

Thought I’d know more, feel like a sage.


November 23, 2013


That’s a cresset.  A concave metal frame lined, in this case, with screening, fixed atop a pole, filled with combustible material, and set alight.  It is not difficult to imagine that a precursor apparatus was first developed not long after Prometheus and that the underlying motivation remained largely unchanged up to at least Colonial Williamsburg from whence came the model for what you see above.   It’s not ‘green’, but fun and was employed with great success to gain the attention of trick or treaters  a few steps more than the usual remove from our front door.

Thoughts of that flickering came to mind for some reason when reading about the findings recently released from NASA’s Kepler project – the search for earth like planets beyond our solar system.  Many questions are left to be answered, but, long story short, there could be a lot of ‘em out there.  Billions.  Programs like Science Friday on NPR had researchers arguing and foaming at the mouth by turns.  This here observer is left with the thought that it will likely be a long time till we will know if Goldilocks could really be out there.

Unless, that is, the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) transmitting/listening devices that have been reoriented as a result of Kepler yield something interesting.  One researcher said that the amount of space scanned up till now, relative to what’s out there, is analogous to the draft of a single cup from the rest our planet’s waters and that the effort will be greatly refined based upon Kepler findings.  So, assuming that ET’s not already been here and left bemused, perhaps the redirected signals will be perceived by some entity able to detect them and respond more quickly than the multi light year distance would have us think possible.

Hope they’re friendly.  Hope they help us all with our wood chopping and water carrying obligations, as opposed to, say, annihilating us.  Steven Hawking and others point to the fate of native peoples subsequent to contact with cultures more advanced.  Not pretty.  But what, me worry?  Na.  Just as I turned to see birds dart about against wispy cirrus bathed in the soft pink light of dusk, a Pandora DJ spun a string rendition of the Beatles’ Blackbird*.  It’s Friday and I’ll soon be home with wife and little black princess Nellie.  Who knows how things really work?  The only people I trust say that they don’t.  Louis Kahn said that a great question is far more important than attempts to answer.  Yep.

cirrus 2

*You should listen to it.  On Three Fervent Travelers by Time for Three.

Cheese Steak Jihad

October 25, 2013


If you don’t know what that building is and the role it played in the shaping of our country, you should be ashamed of yourself and in a way are partially responsible for the antics of the morons currently ‘governing’ us from television studios in Washington DC.  As Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be”.

It is Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the place where the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed and where the incredible compromises were wrought that became our constitution.  Imagine what careful deliberation and contention and resolve must have characterized those proceedings.  And oh yes, compromise.

The Founding Fathers – a bunch of farmers and shopkeepers – decided to declare their independence from an empire upon which the sun never set and figured out how to craft governing principles upon which all could agree.   Sure there was (and is) imperfection of terrible sorts only some of which have been ameliorated by amendment.  Still, the Constitution that we have today is largely the same document as the one adopted September 17, 1787 in the space you look upon above.

Why am I all worked up about it?  Well, I just returned from about ten days in Philadelphia and my hotel was not far from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s house, and all the rest.  School’s in session so most of the guests in the hotel, and most of the tourists visiting the sites were foreign.  Sort of visiting the sites.  They weren’t open.   Imagine.  Imagine!   These educated people from around the world had chosen to take the time and go to the expense to visit the cradle of our democracy – in admiration – only to find it closed.

I watched a variety of displays of incredulity, dismay, and disappointment.  Imagine if you were from a newly democratic country on a pilgrimage anxious to genuflect and sing hallelujah only to find that the wealthiest nation on earth might not pay its bills.  Bills representing expenditures upon which there had already been agreement!

The religious metaphors in the previous paragraph are additionally apt for a reason likely not to have come immediately to mind.  I listened to several tour guides addressing different groups from disparate parts of the planet all using, one way or another, the word jihad to describe those who would let our government close for business and default on our debt.

You know what?  I’ll bet the only thing that comes to the minds of those f***ers when they hear ‘Philadelphia’ is cheese steak.

I Love You Madly Madam Librarian

September 28, 2013


When I was in the fifth grade, I think it was fifth grade, I cheated.  The class was library and we were supposed to commit the Dewey Decimal System to memory.  I loved (still do) the Dewey Decimal System but since there was a big poster with the details on the wall, I saw no reason to waste time memorizing and I wrote it in pencil on my sleeve.

  Kindly librarian liked me even though I hadn’t been that great of a student and so when I aced this test she made much of it.  I felt a twinge of guilt which grew to immense proportions came the weekend.  I went pheasant hunting with my father and several of his friends.  One came up and introduced himself as the librarian’s son and proceeded to tell the assembled group about my perfect score. 

  Dad beamed and later told me how proud he had been.  “Keep it up son and you’ll go far.”  Well, I never felt worse in my entire life.  Dad’s favorite aphorism was “honesty is the best policy” and I had just cheated and abetted an implicit lie, and to this day I remember averting my gaze as he looked into my eyes.  I’ve done wrong since, but I don’t remember cheating at school again.  And, funny thing, I began to work harder at my studies and got better grades.

  The episode rekindled a fondness for librarians that began in Chicago about five years prior when my folks took me to The Music Man at the Schubert Theatre.  Librarians.  Marian was beautiful, could sing, and had a tender heart.  Anyway, the research project currently occupying my time has brought me up to speed as to the nature of modern librarians and an even more profound admiration and respect.  Few examples: 

  First, I found myself in need of something from the Buckminster Fuller archive at Stanford.  (Fuller was the guy who invented the geodesic dome).  I looked through the online Finding Aid (basically a detailed outline of the papers and objects) and located the folder in which was the stuff of my interest.  I emailed a request and sort of forgot about it for a few days when an envelope arrived in the mail with copies and a bill for six bucks.  Six bucks!

  Later I found that in a library at Harvard were copies of letters between various members of a certain family written over a period of seven decades.  On the site I found mention of a student research assistant service.  For fifteen dollars an hour I could engage a student to look through files under my direction.  So, using that Finding Aid I narrowed the huge trove down to the correspondents and time period that were pertinent. 

  The person looked through those files and without going into great detail told me what he thought he’d found.  Sounded interesting and so he had them scanned and sent and interesting isn’t the word.  Fascinating is more like it.  New details, corroboration, and different points of view – all from the comforts of my office.  Right here in River City.  Got out my binoculars as I waited for the download. 

  Emboldened, I began a search at the National Library of Australia.  Similar but different.  The Finding Aid held tantalizing clues and Canberra is even much further than Palo Alto or Cambridge.  No research assistants there, but  there is a society of professional historians and several responded to my query.  One was such a perfect fit it was scary.  I must be piggybacking my roommate’s karma. 

  But everybody isn’t involved in research and one might think that Amazon could  have wrought the same sort of havoc in the public stacks as it has with bookstores.  Not so.  They always seem busy.  There are all sorts of reference materials, scads of periodicals, wi-fi, and of course books.  Recently I asked a librarian friend in New England about the books.  “Do people still come in to read yours?”  I asked.  She chuckled and replied “The large print editions are very popular.  We had 200 people on the waiting list for Fifty Shades of Grey when that first came out.”   And that’s in a town of 6,600 fine souls.  The building is only a few years old, but they’re already in the process of doubling the size of their parking lot.  Hmmm.  I wear glasses.  I’ve wondered.  And I’m headed east in the morning…