#TEDxVille - Prologue

Still reeling from the death of Bridget and the news that another friend is in the hospital, I got behind the wheel of my rusting 1997 Black Nissan Altima and started my drive up to Somerville to hear my middle daughter, Miranda, speak at TEDxSomerville.

The drive is only a couple hours, much shorter than the trips I used to take when Miranda was in College in Virginia, but to add to my blues was the rain. It seems like every time I drive up to a big event Miranda is involved in, it is raining, sort of like the negative space in a painting.

I’m going through one of those really busy phases at work, and my free time is also at a premium right now. I missed two other important events to go up and hear Miranda. I thought about Bridget. I thought about my friend in the hospital. What is life all about, anyway? I go through the motions every day. I do my tasks at work, hoping to make life better for those around me. On good days, I get a chance to write.

“What I need”, I thought to myself, “is a transcendent moment, a transformational moment, a spark of inspiration.” I go to so many conferences. I gather information. I write about the parts that grab me. This too, has become yet another task, yet another chore, something I do by rote.

I arrived in Somerville, parked in a lot and headed over to the TEDxSomerville venue, Brooklyn Boulders.

Brooklyn Boulders is a climbing community in an old factory. The walls are covered with foothold, handholds and art. It is a great space, but not the sort of space you’d expect to find a TEDx conference. People were climbing as volunteers set out folding chairs and giant beanbag chairs.

I headed towards the Assembly Row blogger lounge. I sat around and talked with other writers, had some amazing champagne raspberry Jello shots, recharged my batteries and got ready for the event.

And when she wrote about rescuing a dog, she gained enlightenment

It is the last Saturday evening of March and the rain is coming down. Kim is downstairs, watching television, unwinding after more social interaction today than an introvert feels comfortable with. Fiona is on the living room couch, cuddling the cat and watching something on her smartphone. I am writing, trying to make sense of the past few weeks.

I’m not sure if I’d describe part of March as being either lion like or lamb like. If anything, March has been like a senile lion, at times dangerous, at times, somewhat peaceful, but always trying. It has been another month where I haven’t gotten to write as much as I normally would like.

Friday, I watched parts of TEDxPhilly livestreaming on my computer. There were lots of bright people saying inspiring things, but does it matter? My thoughts drifted to Benjamin Bratton’s TEDx talk, New Perspectives - What's Wrong with TED Talks? Are TED (and TEDx) talks really just placebo politics? Are they a distraction from the real hard work of changing the world?

At home, Friday evening, I read various news stories about the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital. This was the hospital closest to the town I grew up in. I’ve slowly been learning the details of what led up to this, but I still have a very incomplete picture and uncertainty about what it means for the people of Northern Berkshire County going forward.

This morning, I headed off to the West Haven Funeral Home for a memorial of Bridget Albert. She was a local reporter and an animal rescuer. As I walked into the funeral home, the old feelings about how contrived funeral homes seem came back to me; the wide halls that you can carry caskets in, the large rooms with enough folding chairs for six dozen people, the front of the room with the casket and fresh flowers, instead of the large screen television that seems to grace most large family rooms. The flowers will soon wilt and be discarded. Those who mourn will slowly pick the pieces and find a new normal.

I’ve been to more than my share of funeral homes over the past decade and I looked around this one. Sure, there were the requisite flowers, but there were pictures of rescued animals as well. I glanced around at the crowd. Instead of the distant relatives standing awkwardly in groups around the room, this crowd was made up of people deeply involved in the local community. There were members of various boards and commissions. There were people from various animal rescue organizations. There were local reporters. Yeah, some of them may have watched TED talks, but often they were too busy making sure that the local community they lived in worked as well as possible.

I feel like I straddle these worlds. I sit on boards and commissions, support animal rescue activities, and write about local events when I get time, but I also have my digital life. I took part in a Thunderclap this morning to encourage people to sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Over a hundred people participated and the message went out to over a hundred thousand people. Did it make a difference? We’ll see.

I read through Facebook posts, and final got around to watching Upside: Anything is Possible; an advertisement by Ford appealing to those who try to make the world better, in contrast to the self-absorbed character in the Cadillac ad. Yes, Pashon Murray, like Bridget Albert, is the sort of role model we should be looking for.

Tomorrow, I’ll head up to TEDxSomerville where Miranda will be speaking. Will the people there be promoting role models like Pashon and Bridget? Will they be offering placebo politics? How can we think more deeply about the issues?

A while ago, a friend posted on Facebook wall a link to 20 Crucial Terms Every 21st Century Futurist Should Know. One of the terms that was discussed was ‘Repressive Desublimation’ based on the work of Herbert Marcuse.

pop culture encourages people to desublimate or express their desires, whether those are for sex, drugs or violent video games. At the same time, they're discouraged from questioning corporate and government authorities

Is this another way of talking about the placebo politics that Bratton talked about? I think so.

It is tempting to wander off on thoughts about how this relates to Godel’s second incompleteness theorem or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, systems change, and the possibility of the created understanding the mind of the creator. But these thoughts, as well, may end up distracting us from the daily tasks around us of making the world better.

So, I’ll wrap this up, finish clearing the table, head off to bed, and hope my mind will be clear for tomorrow.

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?
The monk replied, “I have eaten.”
Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.

I Got My News from Bridget

As part of its eighth anniversary celebration, Twitter came out with a tool to find your first tweet. Mine was, “playing with twitter” back on October 15, 2006. Twitter wasn’t as well-known back then, but it was a great source of news. I’m guessing it was about a year later that my wife made me a shirt which said, “I get my news on Twitter”. It would raise eye-brows when I wore it to conferences on the future of journalism.

At these conferences, people would talk about how Craigslist was stealing all the classified advertising revenue and large corporations were buying up local papers, sucking whatever they could out of the profit, laying off local reporters, and trying to cover every story from headquarters in Chicago or Yardley, PA.

People talked about how the Internet might be used for news in the future but always talked about the importance of the local reporter. Local reporters had the relationships necessary to get the news. They had the background to provide the context and they had the readers that would follow them to whatever platform.

Bridget Albert was a great example of one of these local reporters. She worked for a while for the New Haven Register, one of those legacy news organizations bought up by folks from Yardley, and now working on reinventing itself. She later worked for The Orange Times. She covered me when I ran for State Representative. She covered my daughter’s radio show. I was a source. I was a reader. I was a friend.

It only seems fitting that Friday night, I learned of her passing from a post her partner posted on her Facebook page. “Bridget has passed. She died suddenly in her sleep. Memorial information will be forthcoming.”

As I read through the outpourings of grief, I find may friends and acquaintances from the community, people I’ve worked with in politics and animal rescue. There are numerous offers condolences and help. It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful local reporter. Rest in Peace, Bridget. I got my news from you.

A Simple Weekend

Saturday was a lovely day. The weather was warm and the snow and ice around the house was melting. I cleared off the deck a little bit more and sat outside. Later, I drove Fiona and Wesley up to the dog part in Southbury. Wesley, who had been playing outside much of the morning, took a quick dip and decided the water was still too cold. I ran with a few dogs for a little while, but fairly soon lost interest and started hanging out at the gate, ready to go home. Perhaps the ice which still covers much of the dog park inhibited his enthusiasm.

Fiona and I sought out places to get some ice cream, but many of the ice cream stores are still closed. We ended up having some self-serve frozen yoghurt on the way home. I rested. Soon after dinner, my stomach started bothering me, so I went to bed early and didn’t write.

As I think about Lenten disciplines, and for that matter, so much of my life, I am reminded of the need to relax, to not try to do it all, to enjoy the weekend and keep the Sabbath holy.

This morning, I awoke in low spirits, from an interrupted sleep and residual aches and pains from Saturday. I listened to story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and a sermon reflection on these temptations. Afterwards, I played hand chimes and headed home.

Fiona and I picked up some almond milk, lemons and sugar and in the afternoon, we made lemon sherbet. It came out very well. I rested more, and am finally sitting down to write before heading off to bed.

So, I close the blog post without any great insights from postmodern cyber biblical fusion, but that’s okay.

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Look at Things Differently

This morning, it was grey and cloudy. Looking straight ahead through the windshield it seemed a fairly uniform grey. Yet as I looked up through that tinted part of glass at the top of the windshield, the contrast was enhanced and the contours of the clouds appeared. My mind wandered back to my childhood. I remembered looking through sunglasses and being struck at how different things looked. This was especially the case with polarized sunglasses.

In junior high school, I joined the photography club and started developing pictures. I learned about burning in the clouds to similarly increase contrast by underexposing or overexposing different parts of the photograph.

It’s all about how you look at things. I guess this applies back to my blog post yesterday, as I talked about postmodern biblical studies and checking your privilege. Technology provides us new ways of looking at things differently. Wearing Google Glass, I’m more aware of opportunities to capture an image. Using special lens for my cellphone which I got for Christmas, I’ve started my deconstructed selfies series of Instagram photos to look at faces different.

Perhaps this also provides a way of thinking about Lent. It is a time to repent, to turn around, to look at things differently. Technology can be a distraction from looking at what is around us, but it can also be a tool to see things differently.

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