Arts

The Arts section of Orient Lodge

The Public Creative Empathetic Sphere

This morning, my Chromebook was acting weird, sluggish. It wouldn’t save what I was writing. In the end, I lost a draft of a blog post which I had put a lot of work in. It’s just one more thing in what is been a frustrating few days. Yesterday, one of the dishes from my mother’s house, from my childhood, broke. Things have been very stressful at work. Blah.

Anyway, I had started my blog post reflecting on Groundhog’s Day. It may be that Punxsutawney will see six more weeks of winter, or perhaps those in the media spotlight will continue to experience cold slippery conditions, but any woodchuck here in Woodbridge would have difficulty seeing much beyond the end of his burrow, let alone his shadow.

The top news story of the day that Google News select for me was about Gov. Christie’s letter to his supporters. The whole thing reads like he is helping write the libretto for Christie and the GWB, an opera on the scale of Einstein on the Beach,Nixon in China, or perhaps Brokeback Mountain.

The next story was about the Super Bowl. I wonder how many people will be talking about Gov. Christie as they drive across the George Washington Bridge on their way to the big game. I expect traffic will be pretty bad.

Buried much deeper in the news was reports that the death toll has now risen to 16 in the volcano in Indonesia.

Yesterday, Dan Kennedy posted a status on Facebook, talking about the State Department report on the XL Pipeline. It has now received fifty six comments, most of them very insightful well thought out about climate change, transportation, cost benefit analysis, stakeholder analysis and so on.

It provided an interesting data point with which to think about Howard Rheingold’s video, Why the history of the public sphere matters in the Internet age. This is a video that was posted back in 2009 and recent reappeared in my social media feed. It has lots of interesting ideas to explore, and I’d love to hear thoughts about it five years later.

Was the discussion around Dan’s post a good example of the public sphere online? Was it an anomaly? What can we learn from it? I was planning to write more on this after I took a break to go to the dump. On the way, I listened to David Sedaris on NPR reading his New Yorker article, Now We Are Five.

It was a moving recounting of issues in his family and it made me stop and think. Is it the public sphere that we need to be thinking about, or is there something bigger, something more important? What about an empathetic sphere? What about a creative sphere? How do these spheres relate to one another? Do the overlap? Does one encompass another? They they part of some giant three dimensional Venn Diagram?

What does this public creative empathetic sphere look like and how does it behave? It’s still foggy outside, and I’m not really sure. So, I’ll get ready and head off to church for Candlemas.

Promoting Empowered Wellness Through Spreading the Contagion of Creativity.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. I”m glad January is over. Let’s hope February will be better. I’ve been incredibly busy with issues at work and have had little time for writing or exploring new ideas. I did get a chance to visit my daughter Miranda up in Boston last week, and as we talked about my work in health care and hers in arts education, a phrase came to my mind, The Creativity Contagion.

One of the really important movements in health care right now is the empowered patient, or ePatient. Often this empowerment is tied to being online; finding information about diseases and connecting with others to address the disease. It seems to work well for privileged patients, who have gone to college, had good careers and made enough money to be comfortable, but what about other patients, those struggling to get by day to day, those who are not empowered in their daily lives. How do we empower these patients?

My ideas started crystallizing around a 3D printer we got at work. There is something empowering about having an idea, learning how to take the idea and make something of it, and, in the case of a 3D printer, see the idea actually take shape as an object in front of you.

Creativity may be the key to empowerment that I’ve been looking for. Too much health care is defensive. We get our shots and change our diets to avoid getting sick. When we do get sick, we go to the doctor’s office to get better. Wellness gets bandied about but not pursued as much as it should be, especially when we are dealing with chronically ill patients.

We try to avoid getting sick. What we should really be doing is trying to become creative, with all the hope and empowerment that comes with it.

Perhaps that captures what I hope to do with a 3D printer at a health center, Promote Empowered Wellness Through Spreading the Contagion of Creativity.

Smarter Happier Selfies

This evening, I sat down to my evening positive attitude adjustment, and found Howard Rheingold had shared on Facebook a link to Jason Feifer’s comments in Fast Company, GOOGLE MAKES YOU SMARTER, FACEBOOK MAKES YOU HAPPIER, SELFIES MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

It was, in my opinion, a very well written response to Sherry Turkle’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, The Documented Life where she complains about Selfies.

My Initial reaction to Turkle’s piece was to write Sisyphus’ Selfie. I’ve been intending to write more on this, and I started to write a comment to Howard’s status. Yet as it grew, I thought I should really make it part of my blog post.

I started off:

I must say, as an active participant in LambdaMOO back in the mid 90s and a friend of many of the researchers and cyberanthropoligists that became involved there. I've always found Turkle to be a bit full of herself (and other stuff).

I read her Op-Ed and found that my opinion of her hasn't improved over the past 18 years. I've been meaning to write a blog post about her article, very similar to Feifer's, but perhaps from a slightly different angle.

This is where I decided to merge the comment into this blog post. One person suggested, why not just call Turkle a Luddite, and then went on to repeat various assertions of Turkle that are tangential to the article, claiming them to be facts.

I think Luddite is an overused word amongst technophiles and so I want to present a slightly different idea.

Marc Prensky, in his famous article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants presents the idea of people who have grown up in a digital culture as digital natives. Those who have moved into a digital culture, having grown up in a different culture are digital immigrants.

In my mind, this fits nicely with some of what Turkle talks about. Yes, growing up in a digital culture does change the way we think and act. Yet this also points to the biggest problem with what Turkle has to say.

She is looking at digital culture from the viewpoint of a digital immigrant. For example, her comment

We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.

This sure sounds a lot to me like that old grandmother living in the immigrant community complaining about how people these days just don’t do things the way they used to in the old world, and how much better the old world was.

I pause to think a little more and glance at my daughter creating something in Mindcraft. She is a digital native. Me? Having been on the Internet for over thirty years, and on bulletin boards and programming computers long before this, I tend to think of myself as a digital pioneer, or perhaps a digital aborigine.

Yes, working with computers for all these years has changed my way of thinking. A critic might compare it to the way mercury changed the thinking of hatmakers, and my children might have other comments about having a Dad that has been online longer than they have.

Yet I relish my experiences with technology and I’m glad that my children are having even greater experiences with it. I love the camaraderie of other digital pioneers or digital aborigines.

Through my discussions with friends on Facebook, I’ve also found myself talking about Jacques Ellul, whether or not people need to learn to program, representations of transhumanism, The Power of Patience and Civil Religion and how it relates to prophetic religion, the social contract, the way we interact through digital media, and if there are implications for a Great Awakening.

And, for that matter, I let a young college student from Iran borrow my Google Glass this afternoon, so he could take a selfie of him wearing Google Glass, standing next to a robot.

Technology does change the way we think and act. There is much that needs to be discussed about it. I’m happy that Facebook has given me topics to Google and become smarter about. I’m just not sure that Turkle is really adding much of value to the conversation.

My Backyard

Saturday morning, the leading edge of the winter storm had arrived. It was still just snowing lightly, but it had already snowed enough to make the roads messy. Because of events on the previous weekends, it had been a couple weeks since I had made it to the transfer station and I really wanted to go before the weather got bad.

These days, every big storm brings up the topic of climate change. Yes, it had snowed recently in Egypt, for the first time in over one hundred years, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary with this storm.

On the radio, Scott Simon had talked about the drama around the production of RENT in Trumbull RENT has been much on my mind these past several days.

After dropping out of college back in 1980, I moved to New York with a couple friends. We lived in an old spice factory that had been converted to loft space in Brooklyn. One of my roommates was a painter who was working on a masters degree at NYU. Another was a photographer who was a food service manager at CBS’ broadcast center, and a third was a sculptor trying to find some way of making it in the big city. Upstairs, there were dancers. I aspired to write poetry and supported myself writing computer programs.

It was not ‘La Vie Boheme’ from RENT, but it came close. I met pushers and pimps, prostitutes and junkies. I remember the first time I saw someone shooting up in a car on 2nd street when we went to visit friends in the east village. Safely up in the apartment we sang Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done.”

A couple years later, I left to spend eight months hitchhiking around the States and Europe. I stayed with friends of a friend in San Francisco and walked down a quiet Castro street in 1983. AIDS was on everyone’s mind.

When I came back, I live for a while with actors on Mott St in Little Italy and spent time talking with the old WW II and Korea veterans who drank Wild Irish Rose as they sat on the steps of the laundromats not far from the Bowery. One of those actors was from Greenwich, which now has already produced the High School version of RENT. ANother was from Trumbull. I don’t know if his folks still live in Trumbull, or what he thinks of what is going on there now.

Somehow, we all made it through those turbulent times. I got married, started a family and moved to Connecticut. It wasn’t until the nineties that I knew someone who died from AIDS. A friend of mine was gay. He didn’t tell people because he was afraid he might lose his job. His partner of 14 years had contracted AIDS and I remember doing the little I could to help.

A couple years later, my first wife left me. It was devastating to me. She got a job teaching theatre and moved to Trumbull. She still teaches at a private school in Connecticut. I haven’t spoken with her about what is going on in Trumbull, but I suspect she sees these sort of conflicts more than she would like.

During my reminiscences the song from RENT, “Light My Candle”, came to mind. I remarried. Fortunately a less tumultuous relationship than that of Roger and Mimi and she still lights my candle thirteen years later.

On my way home from the transfer station, after unloading my trash, I listened to the special coverage of the one year anniversary of Sandy Hook. I listened to the bells toll from Asylum Hill as a professor from Hartford Seminary talked about grief, hope, forgiveness and community. She spoke eloquently about what she heard in each bell toll, children’s laughter, gun shots, screams. tears, the tears of parents, of the community, of the world. They talked about other lives that have been lost to gun violence.

The words of John Donne came to mind.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It’s been a year. My mind goes back to RENT. 525,600 minutes. Seasons of Love. How do you measure a year?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died

High school was hard for me. Not academically, I got good grades good test scores and was an honor student. But I was socially awkward and my parents separation and our financial difficulties weighed heavily on me. It was things like high school musicals that helped me through those difficult years.

A few years back, I found that there are municipalities near Trumbull where the median household income is over $200,000 and other municipalities where the median household income is less than a tenth of that. Sandy Hook is just a few towns away.

In the discussions of Sandy Hook, people often ask, who failed. Why didn’t the gunman or his mother get the help that they needed?

Was it because the school administration and the members of the community were unwilling or unable to confront challenging topics? I’m not saying that a tragedy like Sandy Hook is likely to happen in Trumbull because of overly cautious administrators, but I do believe we need to look closely and see how the actions of the current administration in Trumbull relates to other failures in education and community across our country.

Learning About Bullying - Trumbull RENT

OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And I think that’s absolutely lovely. And the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important. And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.

These words from Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture often come to me when I read about school administrations seemingly getting in the way of education. The latest debacle in Trumbull is a great example of this.

The short version is that the principal canceled the production of the high school version of the musical RENT because of the sensitive issues that it raises. When he received pushback, he said that more time was needed to talk with students about the topics. After the story went national and theatre companies across Connecticut offered to assist, he backed down a little bit, but still had to try and get the last word in by moving the date to one that conflicts with other school events.

On one level, he is to be applauded for his efforts to make sure there is a meaningful discussion around the play, if that is his true intent. He has spoken about having the Anti Defamation League help with these discussions. This got me curious. Why the Anti Defamation League?

Yes, there are lessons to be learned about homophobia and bullying, but there are so many more lessons to be learned as well. As a health care activist, I’m especially interested in discussions about HIV/AIDS. I’ve written before about HIV/AIDS in the area around Trumbull High School and have spoken with other health care advocates in the area.

One health care worker in the Trumbull area I wrote to replied, “As you may know, I've been working in the area of HIV for aprox. 21 years, as we are in the 32rd year of the epidemic, I don't think we have done a good job with addressing the stigmas that is associated with the disease….Trumbull is part of my catchment area. I have not been able to make any inroads in that community.”

Yes, let’s have a serious discussion about the issues RENT brings up. Let’s make sure we have an open, honest, and frank discussion about HIV/AIDS around Trumbull and how stigmatizing the disease only makes things worse.

But back to the Anti Defamation League. I wondered why they were involved. A search online about the Anti Defamation League and the high school musical RENT turned up this article:

ACLU Announces Settlement of Suit Tied to Corona del Mar High's Production of "Rent"

Apparently, another high school tried cancelling RENT. In this case, football students bullied a student who had expressed her disappointment about the school cancelling RENT and soon after “received honors from their school for their athletic prowess.” The ADL became involved in part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the school district.

I hope, for the sake of Trumbull that the school does not get sued, and that there won’t be negative repercussions for the schools football team.

This was four years ago, so I wondered if there was something more recent I should know about. So, I contacted the director of the Anti Defamation League in Connecticut to talk about what was going on there. He wrote, “Although we have not formally heard from the High School at this point, we have seen the press reports and a press release from Trumbull High confirming that it will get us involved in this matter.”

He also wrote about how the ADL already has “a pretty deep and long relationship with Trumbull High School. For a number of years now, we have been providing the school with training that fights bigotry, promotes respect for difference and counters bullying.”

One would think that if the principal of Trumbull High School was so concerned the educational opportunities around RENT, he would have contacted them already, instead of having them rely on news reports and press releases about the controversy.

This takes me back to my opening. There is a lot to be learned from producing high school musicals. Some of it is indirect learning. The student who spoke up in favor of RENT has demonstrated amazing poise. The principal who refused to appear on camera is demonstrating that he is a petty bureaucrat most likely propped up by other petty bureaucrats, more interested in demonstrating what bullying is by trying to make things difficult for others when he can’t get his way.

Let’s hope that the students in Trumbull, as well as their parents and voters find more ways to stop bullying.

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