Yesterday, I was playing Battleship with my cousin’s 5 year-old son. The game started well enough but as soon as I started getting ahead (I’ve got 29 years of strategic thinking on him), he started whining. He wanted to play, but apparently didn’t want to do it if it meant losing. His whining got me thinking about my own recent behavior.
My friend Dan Paluska started an art/media project called “Brooklyn Mobile.” It’s a cart he takes around downtown Brooklyn, asking people if they would like to make Youtube videos. The intention of the project is to create a case-study in democratized news; the cart allows people on the street to be news-creators as opposed to the questionably motivated Fox News, CNN, CNBC and others. The reality of Brooklyn Mobile is a lot of teenagers giving shout-outs to their peeps.
I often help Dan schlep the cart around Brooklyn. The two of us hawk passerby’s asking, “Would you like to make a free Youtube video?” We make a funny pair: two tall white dudes with a ramshackle cart asking a primarily black and latino downtown Brooklyn population is they’d like to be on the internet. It’s a blast.
Anyway, a film company took interest in Brooklyn Mobile and wanted to film it as part of some lame public relations campaign for a behemoth multinational corporation. Dan is in Costa Rica, so he asked me if I wanted to do it. Because working the cart is fun and I’m vain, I said I would. Continue reading “I’ll Do It, But I’m Not Going to Like It”
Fortunate for my readers, I have finished watching the PBS documentary about the Mormons, but not without a comet’s tail of inspiration from these hardworking, family-oriented, non-drinking, upright Utahans.
Many know that the two most important figures in Mormon’s founding were Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Smith was the guy who found the gold plates, wrote the Book of Mormon, wedded quite a few damsels and was killed in Carthage, Illinois by an angry mob (apparently a not-too-uncommon way to go back then). He was the proverbial charismatic leader: surefooted, sweet-tongued and good looking. Like Jim Morrison or Tupac Shakur, his glamorous legacy was embalmed by an early death.
Young was the stalwart—more of a Randy Newman or Tom Petty figure. Stolid, long-lived, awkward and not-so-easy on the eyes (see pic above). After Smith’s murder, it was the corpulent Young who led the Mormon’s slog across the plains and over the mountains to Salt Lake City. If Smith was the hare, Young was the tortoise.
Right now I’m reading the autobiography of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and watching a PBS documentary about the Mormons. Aside from mutual obsessions with the afterlife, you’d probably assume that these two parties have virtually nothing in common. The Swiss doctor, famous for writing “On Death and Dying” lived a free spirit, constantly eschewing conventional female roles, disobeying an autocratic father and becoming an iconoclast in the annals of modern psychotherapeutic theory. Conversely, Mormons as a group, are models of conformity, preaching a blind devotion to their scriptures and prophets. In one of the documentary’s interviews, an LDS (latter-day saints) elder says that Mormons should not question their leadership even if that leadership is clearly in error.
Yet reading and watching the accounts of these two parties, I found some overlap. The first was a clarity of purpose. Coming of age after WWII, Kübler-Ross couldn’t wait to serve refugees in war-ravaged Europe. She fed the hungry and nursed the sick in concentration camps and decimated villages all over Europe. One can assume that her purpose is to meet the needs of others. Likewise, the Mormon’s ostensible raison d’être was and is to be like Jesus. Though some of their tactics like conversion (pre-and-postmortem) might seem questionable in their utility, others like an internal welfare system and disaster relief are not. Like Jesus, the Mormons clothe the naked and feed the hungry. In other words, their purpose is to meet the needs of others. Yes, yes, they’ve made some glaring missteps—Mountain Meadow Massacre, the exclusion of black people until deep into the 20th century—but I don’t think these missteps applied to a collective body are necessarily worse than those of an individual. I’ve done some pretty stupid, harmful stuff (no murder fortunately); if there were a few hundred thousand of me, my stupidity and harm would be that much greater. Continue reading “Are You an Individual or a Follower?”
“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”
Woody Allen quotes
After opening my computer to write this morning I read emails for 10 minutes, typed a couple replies and emails for 10 minutes, searched for a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes, searched for parking lots around LaGuardia for another 15 minutes, searched for a new pair of cycling shoes for 10 minutes, made several pitstops on Facebook for a total of about 15 minutes, read a blog post about Raghava KK for 3 minutes, watched his TED talk for 18 minutes, took a crap for 5 minutes. After nearly 2 hours of extraneous mental activity, my mind felt totally sapped of inspiration. I didn’t want to write the words you are reading.
In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. I started the trip physically unprepared, getting exhausted after riding a few hours. This would have been easier to endure if the weather hadn’t been so shitty or if there were any people in Wyoming, the first state I passed through. Instead, in addition to an incessantly throbbing body, I contended with temperatures in the 40’s, grey skies presaging frequent bursts of freezing rain, epic winds and desolate roads leading to few towns, whose populations seemed indifferent to my arrival. Continue reading “Have an Unispired Week!”
[Read below for my limited time offer of unaccredited idea-coaching! Supply is limited (supply is one actually)]
Ideas I’ve bailed on:
High school debate team
Biking around the world
Become a chef
Starting an ecologically-minded catering company
Mortgage sales (this was a quick one)
Blog journalism (despite the money!)
I was thinking about these ideas a few weeks ago as I watched a talk by Scott Belsky at an event I help run. Belsky wrote a book called, “Making Ideas Happen.” In it, he outlines the difference between ideas that come into being and those that don’t.
Belsky explained that when an idea is new, progress is swift because everything is novel, learning curves are steep and we have nothing to prove. We are willing to work long and hard. We are unencumbered by pride as there is no shame in screwing up. We’re beginners and that’s what beginners do.
But then something happens? We develop some competency and the honeymoon ends. We are no longer just dating our ideas—we’re married to them. That’s where the work starts and where most people bail. Unfortunately, most of us bail before our ideas even have an opportunity to fail (or succeed of course). Continue reading “Are You an Idea Junkie?”
I call Chicago home because it’s the region where I was born and I identify with the midwestern, salt-of-the-earth character. Midwesterners are like their terrain, earthy, solid and level. They are less frenetic than the tirelessly ambitious east coasters, yet more resilient than the sunny-day-chasing west coasters.
The downside of this is earthiness is that midwesterners tend be fans of inactive activities: watching sports, watching TV, sitting long periods, drinking, eating. This inert disposition has many culprits. The weather sucks most of the time—frigid in the winter, blazing in the summer, with a perpetually grey, gauzy sky all four seasons. In Chicago, there are few compelling outdoor diversions aside from a lake that is swimmable for two weeks in August. You have to drive to get anywhere interesting as the city is huge and public transportation stinks. In the winter, when I typically go there, driving sucks too; you eyeball the heat gauge, waiting for the needle to go up so you can blast the heat; you then drive a half-hour to get to your destination, spend another fifteen minutes looking for parking, brave the cold again, only to do it all over again on the return ride home. Oftentimes, the effort doesn’t seem worth it. You figure you might as well stay home and watch Romancing the Stone for the umpteenth time. Continue reading “Checking Out for the Holidays”
The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous was the “Four Hour Work Week” of its day. It was meant as a practical guide to show you how to do something. Unlike the “Four Hour Work Week,” which deals with outsourcing, the “Big Book” (whose real title is simply “Alcoholics Anonymous”), was meant to show people how to stop drinking themselves to death and live happy lives.
It was also addressed to those who were affected by alcoholics. There are chapters entitled To Wives, To Employers and The Family Afterwards, each addressed to their respective constituents. The first of these chapters, To Wives, is a seemingly anachronistic text. The suggestion that women are the only gender affected by alcoholism is the first tip off that this was written in a different era. Perhaps it was decided To Domestic Partner lacked zing.
The chapter’s text is filled with oft-derided suggestions to the the wife like, “Cheerfully see him through more sprees,” as if this were something anyone could do cheerfully. Yet the most interesting aspect of the chapter is the idea of marriage as a commitment kept. There are a few mentions of leaving the alcoholic husband, and when there are they are always followed by asterisks, reminding the wife that the husband is sick and deserves her devotion and stick-to-itiveness. All situations brought up in the chapter—verbal and physical abuse, adultery, incarceration, abandonment—are framed by a doggedness in keeping a commitment. It’s not that a commitment to someone or something couldn’t include choosing to leave, but it’s a suggestion that we are going to do everything in our power to make something work. Continue reading “Free to Commit”