Quotidian: Interestingness | Week of November 17 -23, 2019

More links from my week on the web. I do enjoy the notion of being a digital magpie, this being the place I bring my shiny scraps and sparkles found to feather the nest.

Recommended Reading

Joe Bidden struggles with, and has mostly overcome, a stutter. I had no idea. A sympathetic, insightful article that shouldn’t change your mind about the 2020 election, but maybe it can inject a little more kindness into my own social media takes about gaffe prone Joe.

Eyes and Ears (videos/podcasts)

“It’s Been 50 Years Since Apollo 12 Landed On The Moon” by Geoff Brumfiel. NPR Morning Edition. (Listen time: 3 minutes)

The heroics and success of the Apollo 12 moon mission were overshadowed by the Vietnam War and other geopolitical events. Apollo 12 sounds like the most “Guardians of the Galaxy” space mission ever.

Nicole Hemmer traces how Republican politics, since the 1990’s, increasingly operate in isolation from popular opinion, making the Nixon impeachment hearings an unlikely proxy for the current proceedings.

Songs That Found Me

Quotidian: Interestingness | Week of November 11 – 17, 2019

I’ve become something like a digital magpie, forever gathering links from across the far-flung reaches of the web. Sharing is caring, so I’m giving you a few of my favorites from the past week.

Recommended Reading

I’m still trying to digest this article, which offers a long, somewhat heavy, examination of liberalism in American politics. I read Duesterberg to say that the political philosophy of liberalism offers an insistence on the value of individuals and, if individuals are allowed to live in conditions that favor their ability to self-improve then, ultimately, society itself will improve. Inherent tension between the insistence on self and the importance of shared community is the creative tension that drives the American experiment. That experiment is currently at risk. It has been at risk before. The risk keeps it going but there’s no guarantee it will keep going indefinitely.

Eyes and Ears (videos/podcasts)

Our monsters reveal uncomfortable truths about the things we dread. Our monsters are proxies for the things we need desperately to talk about but can’t. So what’s up with all the zombie stuff happening in pop culture in recent years? This episode of Throughline does a deep dive into the historical, cultural and sociological roots of the Undead. Fascinating.
I usually hate the cute kid approach to digesting a complicated news story for a broad audience, but I really like this kid, Leo. He asks smart questions. You may not learn anything new from this conversation, but I love the way the reporters reward this kid’s curiosity with respect and sincerity. They talk with Leo and never talk down.

Songs That Found Me

Birthday Greetings

Today is my birthday. I’m 44. I don’t feel 44. I don’t feel any particular age at all. I suppose I’ve reached the part of life they call Middle Age. Half the people I know think I’m still pretty young but the other half think I’m pretty old so Middle Age probably describes the situation pretty well.

I had a good day. I took the day off. I played Words with Friends while drinking my morning coffee. I wrote and read. I went for a run. I spent time just hanging out with my wife. We picked the kiddo up from school and got ice cream. We ran a few errands. I practiced piano. I walked the dog. We had dinner with my mom and dad and grandmother.

At 44, I don’t need a lot to make me happy. I don’t need gifts or parties or crazy midlife adventures. Each passing year, just being here still is a source of joy. I think that might be the secret of aging well.

I do enjoy the messages. Birthday greetings arrive by Facebook, text and email all through the day. I am grateful. I have a good life that I enjoy. Thanks for being part of this good life with me.

Blank on Blank: Recommended Website

The roots of our culture are oral — storytelling, Homeric epics, parables, sermons, the Socratic way of teaching.

The roots of our culture are also visual — cave paintings, canvas paintings, sculpture, architecture, pottery, television, movies.

Of course, the roots of our culture are also textual — poems, novels, essays, articles.

There is a strong urge to pull these modes apart and make them each separate means of expression. I say no. Give me the mash-up. Give me the Blank on Blank Animated Interviews project.

Blank on Blank is a terrific podcast series in which professional journalists are encouraged to donate tapes from their unpublished archives so that listeners can benefit from the deep cuts of journalistic history, the stories behind the stories that no one ever got to hear. The podcast is eclectic and deeply fascinating, featuring interviews with people like Bono, Muhammed Ali, Christina Ricci, Alan Ginsberg and Dave Brubeck. The subjects discussed are similarly varied.

The problem with the podcast is that the audio quality is not always good. This is probably due to limits in the source tape. Since I listen to podcasts exclusively in the car, the audio quality is a big concern. I can’t hear muddy tones over the roar of my care tires.

That’s one reason why I was so grateful to discover the Blank on Blank video project, in which the source tapes are illustrated with an animated video. The video makes these interviews feel more alive and entertaining. I am a big fan.

As a librarian, one of the things I do is curate content and tell people where they should go to read, listen and learn. I am telling you to visit the Blank on Blank project. There are only a few videos posted so far, but this is a great idea and they deserve a great audience.

Here’s Jim Morrison explaining why fat is beautiful and Dave Brubeck on fighting communism with jazz. Enjoy.

Be Authentic. Help Others Be Authentic.

Lately, I have been given opportunities to try on some new responsibilities at work. It has been fun. Today I was able to serve on the panel that selects the college’s President’s Award winner. This award is the highest honor given to a student at our school. Candidates are nominated by faculty and staff and then vetted for  academic performance, community service and extracurricular involvement.

Here’s the thing. All the students we interviewed were excellent. Each comes from a different walk of life with different obstacles, experiences and academic accomplishments. All of their bona fides were uniformly impressive. Their resumes and GPAs stack nicely.

Here’s the other thing. None of that stuff matters. What impressed me most about each of the students I met was his or her passion. These students presented their authentic selves. They were comfortable, honest and sometimes delightfully weird.

Every one of these students is going to be a bright light. They seem to know something that other people don’t yet recognize. They understand the power of being themselves.

These students are passionate about their lives and their learning. They understand how the work they are doing and the sacrifices they are making relate to their future selves.

One student is passionate about mathematics. Another is passionate about caring for others. Another is passionate about snowboarding and family. Another about helping others laugh through adversity. These students are really interesting, really talented, really unique people. And I am only now getting to know them.

Some of them have been in my classes. I have helped some in the library or chatted for a few minutes in a hallway, but I had no idea who they really were and what compelled them.

I can’t help feeling cheated. I should have allowed myself to get to know these students much sooner. I should have made these connections on day one. It would have made me a better teacher and mentor. It would have made me a better steward of their time.

I also can’t help wondering who else is sitting in my library, studying quietly. What weird, authentic self is quietly waiting to be recognized.

I can’t help thinking that I should be meeting these students and my first question shouldn’t be “What are you working on?” or “How can I help?” My first question should be “What do you love to learn about?” or “What are you passionate about doing?”

People who work with students should ask these questions first. Probably anybody who works with people should ask these question first. The people around us are talented, energetic and unique. They are greatly gifted. The problem is they may not know it. They may not see it in themselves, but it is there and it is powerful when it is discovered.

The best thing we do for the people who come to us for learning is to authentic with them, listen and encourage them to be authentic too.

Where Your Eyes Don’t Go

There is a place in your house so sinister, so terrifying, so mind-bendingly awful that dark fates befall anyone who goes there. Few are foolish enough to go there. Those foolish few are seldom seen again. Promise me that you wíll never go there. If you must go there, tells others where you are going, turn on all the lights and tie a rope to your ankles lest you be engulfed and disappear down the throat of madness.

I am speaking, of course, about that massive tangle of cables and wires behind your television. You have one. I have one. Every home in America has one — this writhing den of copper snakes, this mad tangle of serpents sheathed in white, yellow and blue vinyl.

wires

It starts out innocently enough. You plug a TV into the wall. You attach a VHS player, then a DVD player. Next, a game console. Perhaps you have stereo components or surround sound. A BlueRay player and DVR. Your TV is connected to a cable for satellite. Your internet comes through here on a cable to your modem which is, in turn, tethered to your router, which is, ironically enough, the source of your wireless lifestyle.

How easily we forget the many miles of wire supporting our wireless lifestyles. I was reminded this weekend when replacing my modem. I got a new router for Christmas and then bought the modem with Amazon gift credit. The router installed easily in about 10 minutes the weekend prior. Last weekend, I installed the new modem.

Nightmare. I hooked up the modem, called the ISP with the new modem MAC address and then watched the lights on my modem steadily disappear. The next six hours were a progression of disconnecting modem, connecting router, reconnecting modem. Waiting for lights to turn amber, blink amber, then turn green, blink green then hopefully steady blue. It never worked. I tethered my laptop to the mess and gave the router my IP address, my router MAC address, my modem MAC address and an endless dance of other 8 digit codes. I called the router company twice. They spent 2 hours troubleshooting an insane sequence of plug, unplug, replug, unplug, plug. We never got it fixed. The router is somehow defective and won’t talk to the modem.

I spent six hours of my Sunday entangled by a frightening coil of wires that wanted my life and my sanity. I gave it both.

While working in this frightening mess, I recalled the conversation I had a few weeks earlier with the satellite TV installer. I asked if every house had such an obscene tangle of cords and cables. “I’ve seen much worse,” he told me. I think he was being nice.

Then, I asked the question I really wanted to ask. “Do you have such crazy pile of wire behind your TV? You probably have your wires organized nice and neat. Do you think I should spend the time organizing mine?”

He smiled. “It would take a mad scientist to unravel the wad of wires hiding in my house.”

For a moment, I felt better about myself. Then, I started thinking about the kind of mad scientist who might undertake such a thing. I got really, really scared.

Has anybody out there tamed the beast? Have you bothered organizing the wires behind your TV set? Better yet, anybody actually label those wires so you can easily tell which device they power?

Maybe I don’t want to know. The beast in my house is cleverly hidden where eyes do not go. Stay out of that corner. Do not go back there. Ever.

You have been warned.

Event Horizon: My Vacation is Over

I took 3 three weeks off from work for the holidays. That probably sounds pretty libertine but I needed the time. I let my battery get too low. Work has been pretty manic the past few months, and I made the mistake of not budgeting enough time for myself to reflect and rebuild. The mind needs spaces to process information, place things in proper perspective and make plans for future action. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. For me, this requires half an hour or more every day doing something creative, a few runs a week and a few days off every few months.

I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to spend money. I don’t have to do wildly interesting things. I just have to budget my time and spend according to that budget.

Now I can feel the pull of work. I have started sorting through my emails, scheduling meetings, and sifting through a dozen conflicting priorities to put projects in their proper place.

I am fortunate to have a job that I love and a measure of control over what and how I do while at work. I like what I do and enjoy my time at work. Still, the weekend before the first day back to work has heavy gravity. It has a powerful, familiar drag that draws me ever closer to Monday. Time gets strange in this last weekend of vacation and everything slides toward the event horizon – that place beyond which no return is possible. No light escapes and we are committed to the guidance of gravity.

Pay Attention. This Isn’t My Life.

There have been plenty of times I have thought to myself: this isn’t my life. My life isn’t the 45 to 50 hours I work every week. My life isn’t the stuff I do around the house or the trips to the grocery store. My life isn’t my Wunderlist website of long term projects or the daily Stky list of tasks I keep on my phone.

My life is the thousand beautiful moments happening every day, which I am usually too busy to notice.

Occasionally, my life leaps out and grabs me by the throat.

Today my life caught me by surprise. The trigger was a cataclysmic sunset, both beautiful and terrible, like the  edges of the world caught fire. This, like a poem, grabbed me and could not be ignored. I turned the car around to admire the conflagration and, too soon, it was gone.

Memories of another fleeting sunset while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn play “Little Wing”. This is my life: small, subtle moments of profound beauty where the world is simultaneously made and unmade. Reaching out to capture me, when I pay attention.

I Learn Outloud

I talk a lot. I talk about things I understand, but sometimes I talk even more about things I don’t understand. Its how I learn.

People who don’t really know me can be forgiven for thinking me arrogant, a pretentious “know it all”. Sorry, folks. I can’t seem to shut up.

Talking aloud is how I make sense of things. Talking is how I sort out my thoughts and test out new theories. I like to explain things to people so I can see how well I understand them. Sometimes I explain things about which I have no clue just to find where my gaps are.

I used to think of this particular trait as a a kind of character flaw. I’m learning not to dwell so much on the idea of character flaws. Seth Godin’s post, “Stick to What You (Don’t) Know” helps a lot.

Required reading if you are like me and find yourself saying things before you realize you are thinking them.

To quote Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”