Saturday evening, Kim and I went to the Connecticut Forum discussion, Vision and Brilliance which featured Neil deGrasse Tyson, Neri Oxman and Neil Gaiman. The event was sold out; packed with geeks that most likely rarely make it to the Bushnell. I must admit that the only other time I've been to the Bushnell as to see Blue Man Group a couple years ago.
Others have written about what a great event it was, so I'm going to share a few of my thoughts about specific parts of the content. In the slides before the event started, it mentioned that the hashtag for the event was #visionforum. Yet then they played the standard announcement at the beginning of the events at the Bushnell about turning off all electrical devices and not taking photos. A lot of people had their cellphones out as the event started, but the tweeting subsided pretty quickly. Unfortunately, but my phone and Kim's were low on battery power and I didn't get to tweet as much as I would have liked.
John Dankowsky started off with a standard introductory question and the panelists answered the way I had already heard them speak in YouTube videos. Then he moved on to a question about what is vision and brilliance? Where does it come from. The three panelists all seemed to agree and give the same answer in slightly different ways. Vision and brilliance comes from doing what you love. From having a job you don't want to take a vacation from. Tie to that was an important aspect of keeping at your passion, even though others might not understand what you are talking about.
This played out particularly notably between Neri Oxman and Neil Gaiman. Oxman went off on topics about 3D and 4D printing; printing cartilage, printing DNA, and time after time, Gaiman seemed to say, that gives me a great idea for another story. Picasso's theory of relativity, a house seed, and several other ideas.
Oxman had talked about Cubism and the Theory of Relativity emerging at about the same time and how closely related they were in her mind. They were both about taking observations and trying to make sense of them. They both built upon the what was known at the time. It led to some interesting talks about intelligence. Intelligence, at least as it is measured by humans is about learning from others, from not having to rediscover tools or fire in each new generation. I could almost hear President Obama paraphrased into, "You didn't discover that by yourself." I could imagine some conservatives writhing at the idea about how connected and dependent we really are on one another.
After the break, there was a discussion about science and religion. It seemed to fall back on what I believe is a misguided false dichotomy between religion and science. The discussion drifted into the idea of "God of the Gaps", God, described in terms of what science can't explain. I got tired of that discussion over three decades ago in a science and religion philosophy class in college. Tyson spoke favorably about Jefferson's Bible, where Jefferson left out the miraculous and supernatural stuff.
Yet this struck me as anti-science, a sort of science of the gaps. Science is about observing, forming hypotheses and testing them. It is not about discarding observations that contradict current scientific theories. It seemed that Oxman managed to capture the spiritual aspect much more wisely, with an ability to appreciate the beauty of both arts and sciences.
Recently, there was an interview on NPR about a new book about prayer, which broke prayer down to three key forms: Help, Thanks, and Wow. I thought the author was brilliant. We all pray those three prayers in different ways, and Wow is a special place where science, arts, and religion can all meet. It also sums up, fairly nicely, the response to many great ideas that were shared at CT Forum's panel discussion Vision and Brilliance.
The tweeting continued until Sunday, with people talking about another CT Forum nerdfest; perhaps making it an annual event. I know that I have plenty more to write about the event, but I wanted to get these initial thoughts down before the new week started.
The other day, I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR and heard an interview with the screenwriter for the new movie about Lincoln. He talked about Daniel Day Lewis getting into character yet at the same time still texting with him. He referred to himself as Lincoln's metaphysical conundrum. Not only did texting not exist back then, neither did movies. Perhaps the best analogy for Lincoln would have been receiving messages via the telegraph from a playwright.
Yet even with that, there issues of communicating across time remain puzzling. When we write, it is people in the future, thinking of time as an ongoing sequence, that will read what we wrote, not people in the past. Texts somehow made available to an earlier time present interesting issues. Could someone from the future, somehow, share with us text that we will write in the future? Perhaps a biography or some literary criticism of something we are yet to write?
Really, this isn't that new of an idea. There have always been fortune tellers, but they are rarely thought of as bearing messages from a future biographer or a future literary critic. There is the whole realm of the unconscious. Can we learn something about, or perhaps possibly shape our future by discovering or exploring what is in our unconscious?
I wrote the other day about the unconscious that perhaps exists in our Facebook groups. Are there messages from the future somehow contained in our Facebook walls?
To bring this back down to earth, yesterday, Kim asked if I wanted to see Neil Gaiman at the CT Forum in a couple weeks; a message about the future. I went and checked out a YouTube video of Gaiman giving a commencement speech at the University of the Arts. He was speaking about the future, "Make Good Art".
Of course, the question of how we make good art remains. Where does inspiration come from? How do we better incorporate creativity into our education system or our work lives? Perhaps a future biographer or critic can give us insights.
It's been a busy few days, and I'm behind on my blogging, but I did get a chance to write the following post this evening, which I've also shared at the Bethwood Patch.
As I scanned Facebook this evening, I found a picture that one of my elementary school classmates posted of her first grade class. I was in a different class, but I recognized many names of long time dear friends. It was a grainy black and white picture of the kids standing on the school steps.
One person commented, "Everyone looks so cute! Remember when girls couldn't wear pants to school? I think we were in 5th or 6th grade when this rule changed." It was a different time and a different town. A small town of less than ten thousand, where a lot of college professors lived. It was a town that helped shape who I am today.
Then, I stumbled across some pictures of a friend that I got to know right after college. We went to the same church in New York City, a church where many of the young parishioners went on to become priests. For some, it was a fairly quick journey, for others it took many years. My friend was one who took a longer, more circuitous route to the priesthood. She was up in Hartford celebrating the Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons where another friend from church in New York was being ordained.
The pictures of the bishops and the ordinands in their fresh scrubbed faces, most likely just out of divinity school added to my rosy thoughts about education.
All of this set an interesting contrast to my experiences Monday night when I went to the Amity Board of Education meeting. I went to speak about my opposition to using police dogs to search students for drugs. Yes, there were drugs at my high school thirty five years ago, and I'm sure there are drugs at Amity, but somehow, the experiences were radically different.
High school is a very difficult time for many people. My high school classmates have shared reflections back on those days, "the tears and fears and feeling proud, to say I love you right out loud" at a school dance. "The moons and Junes and circus clouds." Yes, I sang "Both Sides Now" with my school chorus.
In many ways, the public comments at the Amity Board of Education focused on keeping our children safe from drugs, their right to go to a drug free school, where school policies were not considered a joke, and where there wasn't peer pressure to try drugs. The other side of the public comment focused on the students civil rights to not be subject to unwarranted searches, and the efficacy on using police dogs to curb drug use at the high school.
If I honestly believed that using police dogs would prevent drugs from being at the school, would cause students not to view school policies as a joke, and would eliminate the peer pressure to use drugs, that I'm sure exists at Amity today, like it did at my high school thirty five years ago, I might be more inclined to support the opinion of those that would like to see broader use of police dogs at the school. However, I don't believe that would be the result, if anything, I fear the opposite result. Students will still find ways to use drugs. They will still heap scorn on school polices, and they will still pressure classmates to engage in dangerous and illegal activities.
Yet returning to Both Sides Now, it's school's illusions I recall. I remember best, things like singing in the choir, playing in the band, being in musicals. I never was particularly talented, but I had the chance to participate in something beautiful, something bigger than myself.
My high school always had students going to All State for one reason or another. I had some incredibly talented friends and classmates, and that is what I'm most happy to remember. The Amity Board of Education meeting started off recognizing great teachers, and incredibly talented students at the high school. It ended with the board voting to approve setting aside money for building a black box theatre at the school. It struck me that those who pushed hardest to expand the use of police dogs at the school were also the ones who showed the most resistance to supporting the black box theatre. Perhaps, this too, reflects both sides of school.
I savor my positive memories of high school, the school's illusions of talent young students with a great life ahead of them, as opposed to a view of students as suspected drug users on the road to ruin. I hope our school board remembers this part of high school and seeks positive ways to help the students reach their dreams, whether they need help with substance abuse issues, or hitting the high note on Broadway.
Another blog post reflecting some of my thoughts as I run for State Representative, and try to be a good dad at the same time.
It's been a tough week. I'm trying to get a couple projects off the ground and as potential partners in these projects have interviewed me, they've questioned whether I am up for the project and have made me feel inadequate. I know that these are projects that will be significant challenges for me, but I believe I can do them, and that the criticisms were unwarranted. Nonetheless, I ended up feeling a bit invalidated a couple times this week.
I suspect others often run into this, especially if they are seeking to grow and expand their boundaries. As I tried to process my feelings, I remembered a great YouTube video, Validation:
I'm here to get validated.
You! You are awesome!
It made me think about what is going on in education in America. Our system has become so focused on standardized testing that education seems to be more about invalidation than about validation. You hear education wonks making comments about 'acceptable yearly progress', and not about how awesome our students are.
All of this came to mind as I visited Arts Week at Beecher Road School. The art on the walls, celebrating the creativity of the Beecher Road Students is truly awesome and I was glad to visit the reception with my daughter Fiona.
She is busy campaigning for me, and if I get elected as State Representative, some of the credit will have to go to her. One parent she introduced me to wanted to hear my thoughts about education. We talked about the problems with teaching to the test and having very myopic views of how to measure the success of teachers and administrators. We talked about school districts cutting sports and arts, two of the great ways that students can be validated.
Perhaps most importantly, we talked about that great factor in students' success, parental and community involvement. There were a lot of parents at the reception. There were lots of students being told they are awesome, and I suspect this is one of the things that has greatly contributed to the success of Beecher Road School.
I talked about how my campaign is not against the Republican Incumbent, it is against apathy. It is about getting people more involved in the electoral process, in their community. It is about improving educational outcomes by getting more parents involved in the schools their children attend.
To all of you that are getting more involved, by attending events like the Arts Week reception, by reading this and other blogs about what is happening in the community, and by joining discussions, "You! You are awesome!"
Every day at work, I scan Twitter, RSS feeds, Google Alerts and other sources for articles that I believe would be of interest to my coworkers. Sometimes it might be ideas for our radio show. Often, there are stories about the evolving health care policy in our country, or recent articles about health outcomes from peer reviewed journals. I keep my eyes open for articles about social media and technologies' role in health care, and try to find something unique from time to time.
Recently, I came across, The Power Of Flower Photos. The article starts, "I can't remember exactly when I received the first flower email, but I do remember it was sometime in 2005." It goes on to explain the backstory, related to a man dying of a rare disease, and ends off with"Just a quiet meditation from the dawn or the dusk — an homage to the power of friendship and the beauty it inspires."
The article struck me, as it did some of my co-workers. So, I've started adding a picture of a flow at the end of my Articles of Interest email each day. So far, these have been photographs that I've taken, modified and shared via Instagram. I have been cross posting these photographs to Twitter and Tumblr, and in turn, they get cross posted to Flickr and Facebook.
Yesterday at lunch time, I took a walk down to the river, keeping my eyes open for flowers to photograph. I saw many more flowers than I had seen other days on my walks. It reminded me of an aesthetics class I took in college where the professor bewailed those who quickly move through museums, as if they are checking off items on the bucket list; need to see Mona Lisa before I die. He spoke of these people as museum runners and reflected about how many people are museum runners in daily life.
Besides the newly discovered flowers on my lunch time walks, I've been fortunate with a few developments in my life. We've recently bought a new house and friends have been bringing us flowers as house warming gifts. At work, we are opening a new building and there have been many beautiful flowers in the new building. As I look through the photographs of my friends on Instagram, I find a lot of photographs of flowers.
It is interesting to think how dying one man's request of photographs of flowers has rippled through emails, through a story on NPR, and into my life, my blog and my social media channels.
Maybe, its time for more of us to stop and share the roses.