Archive - Nov 2012

November 29th

Moonlight on Snow

It was about five in the morning when my youngest daughter woke me up. Her earache was getting bad again. I stumbled into the kitchen where I heated up a few microwaveable pillows that would hold their heat and sooth her ear. Outside, the light from the full moon lit up the snow on the deck.

I gave Fiona the warmed pillows and headed back to bed. I would try to rest a little more before launching into my day.

For the past couple months, life has been difficult. The stress has worn me down. I don't know if it is stress, allergies or just lack of sleep, but my eyelids have been twitching a lot. I worry about catching any of the colds or viruses going around, and I'm trying to stay as well rested as possible.

I have been remembering more of my dreams recently. They are all fairly different, but there is a recurring theme. I am at a hotel and I'm trying to find my room. When I first started having these dreams, I was trying to find where to check in and get my room number. Later the dreams evolved to having checked in, and trying to find my way to the room for the first time. Last night came the next evolution. I've checked in, been to my room and I'm off somewhere in the hotel, trying to find my way back to the room.

This morning when I awoke from the dream, it struck me that most of my efforts to find my room have been anxious. What about if I looked at them as a fun adventure, a chance for exploration and discovery? When I got back to sleep, I found myself in a different dream. I was back on my sailboat. Was this the room I was trying to find? For those who don't know, I lived on a sailboat for several years in New York City. One of the issues of living on a sailboat was when the bilge pump didn't work. In my dream, the bilge was full and needed pumping, but the bilge pump wouldn't come on. My anxieties came back. Would the boat sink before I could reactivate the bilge pumps?

And beyond all of this, the full moon was shining on the snow. It had a certain zen feeling, like the strawberries eaten while hanging on to the root of vine over a precipice.

Now, I shall head off to bed again and see what this evenings dreams bring.

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November 28th

Authority and Authors, Social Media and Social Contracts

As part of the CT Health Leaders Fellowship program, I've been challenged to come up with "S.M.A.R.T." goals about my personal leadership. I've been thinking a lot about this, and trying to think out what goals make the most sense for me.

I have a certain ambivalence to traditional views of leadership, as I mentioned in my previous post, where I posted the old question, "Are you a leader, are you a follower, are those the only two options?" To a certain extent, we are all leaders, if we are willing to take up our leadership, or to toss in another quote, "One man, with courage, is a majority".

When I think about traditional views of leadership, I think about inside/outside strategies. Are you a leader on the inside? Have you been authorized to lead within an existing empowered social structure? Are you a leader of an outside group, perhaps authorized by a different existing social structure, the loyal opposition, to challenge the existing empowered social structure? Again, are these the only two options? Are the only two options inside the box, or outside the box? Is being outside the box, still defining you in the context of the current box?

I've attended several Group Relations conferences. Their titles often begin with the word 'Authority'. This begs a question, where does authority come from? How does it get formed? It is worth noting that 'authority' and 'author' come from the same root, to increase or augment.

To the extent that a person is writing within an established system, their authorship, their authority, is recognized by people reading what has been written; by the writings being cited by other authors. These ideas form a framework for a social contract affecting the way people deal with one another.

In the age of the Internet, just about anyone can publish whatever they want. It's easy, just set up a blog. That's what I did. But setting up a blog doesn't mean that anyone will read what you've written, much less, agree, share, or act upon your words, or that enough people will act upon your words to grant you any real authority.

Through using social media, you can reach a larger audience and potentially find others for whom your writing will resonate. You can use social media, within your existing social context, to ask people to join you and share your thoughts, to create new coalitions, new contexts, and from there, establish authority that is less anchored to existing empowered social structures.

Yet what are the things in our lives that prevent us from becoming authors and developing new audiences, new coalitions, and new authority? How does it relate to the social structures we grew up in, in our families, in our schools, churches and communities?

These are important questions that need to be asked, to help add a little meat to the bones of new ideas about authority, authorship, social contracts and social media. For me, this meat on the bones needs to be S.M.A.R.T., Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

So, my current challenge is to come up with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely goals around using social media to reevaluate our social contracts in the Internet Era. It seems very relevant and timely, the question becomes, what is specific measurable and attainable and what is blocking me from reaching these goals?

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November 27th

Dear 16 Year Old Me

Recently, a friend posted the question on Facebook, "If you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at 16.. what would you say?"

People posted all kinds of stuff about enjoying concerts, not taking themselves too seriously, etc. My first reaction was, "It wouldn't matter, I wouldn't have listened". This was followed by thinking about what I would have thought 36 years ago if some guy came up to me and said he was from the future. I also always come back to the idea of show, don't tell. With that, here are some guesses about what might of happened:

Journal Entry, November 20, 1975: I was hanging out at the Student Union today, eating some french fries when this weird guy came up to me. He looked a little bit like me, just a bit heavier, balding and with a grey beard. A bit like a cross between me, Santa Claus and my Uncle Bud or Uncle Roger. At first I though he was someone who worked at the college and was going to tell me and other townies to leave the student union. Then I thought, maybe he's a professor. When he started talking I thought, maybe he was a professor that had gotten into some cult and lost his tenure. Hard to tell.

He said he was me, from the twenty first century and started talking about the importance of education, especially computers, telephones and cameras, but also not to take myself to seriously. I thought maybe he was going to hand me a tract or ask for a donation, so I finished up my fries quickly and headed down to Spring Street.

Journal entry, November 27, 1975: I was hanging out at the student union again. This time, I was down in the basement at the radio station. I was reading the news coming off the teletype and the strange guy showed up again. He started talking about how people would have their own news wires on small telephones that they carried around with them. He showed me this small thing. He said it was one of those telephones. On it was a screen called Twitter. It had lots of short messages on it, but very few of them actually seemed to be newsworthy. I shrugged and headed over to the rathskeller. There was a good folk music duo playing. Not many people were hanging out, but it was a good show. Between sets the strange guy showed up again. He talked about how in the twenty first century, people would watch shows like this on their telephone. He showed me a thing called YouTube. It was like a small color tv on his telephone. The music he showed me was pretty good. Then he started talking about how people would be able to make their own television shows, and he showed me something really stupid with a talking orange.

I don't know. The future he's talking about seems about as mindless as the seventies.

November 26th

The Great American Essay

Recently, I read Robert Atwan's article, The Top 10 Essays Since 1950. It is a formidable list with links to many of the essays. It struck me, ten essays spread out over a sixty year period; on the average, there should be a new top essay every six years or so.

The most recent essay on the list is David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" from 2004. Seems like we're about due for another great essay. It made me wonder, what makes for a great essay? Are they like wine, something that needs to age? Perhaps an essay written a few years ago will eventually make it to the list.

Or, are there societal changes affecting the essay? I'm not thinking about the latest is post-modern, post-structural, neo-retro-whatever. I'm wondering, has the change in the printing industry affected the essay? Has the hit that print journalism has taken left us with few people to write great essays? What has blogging done to the essay?

It also caused me to stop and think a little bit about my writing. When I was younger I wanted to be a poet. At other times I dreamed of writing great short stories or perhaps the next great American novel. Now, mostly I write blog posts. Should I work on my essays? Are there great essays, besides the ten that Atwan listed that I should read? Mostly, I've been read transcendentalist essays of late.

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November 25th

142 Pine Meadow Road

If you look on a map of 142 Pine Meadow Road, you won't find a farmhouse there any more. It is long gone. The land was bought by the power company decades ago to build a pumped storage hydro-electric facility. I visited the area once several years ago for a family reunion. Fiona was probably about four at the time, and when we told her we were going to a family reunion, she asked, "Who died?"

Today, I read an article, How to Find Cool Stuff in the Newly-Released 1940 Census Data, or, Cyberstalking Your Grandparents. I followed the links and soon found the page about 142 Pine Meadow Road. The 1940 Census was shortly before my mother's ninth birthday and she was the youngest person living there. Her two oldest siblings were already married and living in different parts of town. Her father, eldest brother and one of her brother-in-laws were working at the tool shop; I believe that would have been Millers Falls Tools.

It would have been interesting to speak with my mother about the information in the 1940 census. Who did own the house at 142 Pine Meadow Road? Who were the neighbors? Alas, close to a month ago, the last person who was living at that house in 1940, my mother, passed away. The history became a little more remote.

Today, my middle daughter posted a cartoon with the caption, "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it." Until my senior year of college, I had always been taught that history mostly about white European men, the wars they fought, and who led them. Yes, there would be an occasional queen here and there, but history was all about who wielded what power. Art history was much the same. In my senior year, I took some great female studies courses and learned more about the forgotten parts of history, women, artisans, daily people in their daily lives.

Related to this, I stumbled across a video, American Tintype. It talked about spending time to capture and create things of beauty, a much more deliberate act than snapping a picture with a cell phone today. What can we learn from Harry Taylor, or from my mother that isn't taught in history classes? Instead of looking at what we might be doomed to repeat, what might we be doomed to forget?

I know that my mother, like all of us, had her struggles, but the parts that I chose to remember, to hold on to, were the simple parts of the life of a farm girl growing up on the banks of the Connecticut River. My mother and all her siblings are now dead. The house they grew up in is now long gone. The memories of the simple joys of that life are fading. Before it fades much further, perhaps all of us needs to spend more time deliberately creating things of beauty.

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