Monthly Archives: February 2018

hello toronto!

I hadn’t planned on visiting the homeland soon after my return from Orlando, but here I am, at YYZ, on an UP train into town. Unfortunately, it isn’t under positive circumstances. Just before she was scheduled to fly to NYC and travel with us to DisneyWorld, my mother shattered her lower leg in a compound fracture, rendering her immobile. She’s been in a rehabilitation facility doing physio and practicing getting around on her weight bearing leg. I’m up here to visit her. And I’m specifically here today because my sister is moving houses and needs some backup.

In the interest of Mom’s privacy, I won’t go into details on her injury and recovery, save to say that it is severe. I’m fortunate right now in that I can work remote from Toronto for the week so I can be with my family for any support I can give. While this trip definitely wasn’t planned, I’m grateful I could take it. And even though the circumstances are far from ideal, I’m also grateful for the extra time with the people I love.

back to a somewhat less magical existence

And we’re back from Disney World!  That was indeed a world, more than a land.  We were thoroughly Disney Park’d out by the time we got back, although you would never know it by the enthusiasm Ben showed on Friday morning while hanging out with his visiting cousin from Savannah (shown here in Pandora: The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom, floating mountains in background):

20180223_114006.jpg

Six days is a LOT of Disney time, but it turned out to be what we needed to cover all four parks.  Two days each in Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, one day in Epcot and a half day in Hollywood Studios was indeed the right mix for our plans.  We were able to hit all the high points on Day One in the parks, and then take it a little more slowly while spending time with my visiting family on Thursday and Friday.  Despite my initial skepticism, this was indeed the right family vacation for us this year, especially since Ben and his second cousin Oliver are JUST the right age to be let loose to complete a pirate quest in Adventureland:

20180222_122619.jpg

So now we’re back in Brooklyn, which is still magical to me, even if no one here is going to tell me to “have a magical day” as part of their mandated job scripts.  Ben has also made his list of Top Ten Favorite WDW Attractions:

    1. Star Tours.  We weren’t sure about this, since Ben had a panic attack after riding Flight of the Na’vi in Avatarland, and this was another simulator ride with some drops and a lot of movement.  Ben went on it with great trepidation, but by the end, was grinning broadly from the thrill of flying through the Star Wars universe, and asked to go on it three more times during the day.
    2. Kali River Rapids.  Identical to the Russian River Rapids in California Adventure, only with a different surrounding story of river rafting in India.  We all got drenched on this one, to Ben’s joy and delight.

 

  1. Haunted Mansion.  THAT’S MY BABY.
  2. Mission Space (Orange).  Again, it was the right level of movement and simulator for Ben’s anxiety and dislike of thrill rides.  Also, it is awesome.
  3. Soarin’.  I disagree with this and think it should be first since Soarin’ over California was my favorite thing at California Adventure and Soarin’ Over the World is an upgraded version, but I suppose my nine year old son is prioritizing the space rides as he should.
  4. Pirates of the Caribbean.  The movies are literal nightmare fuel, leading to a BEN WHY ARE YOU IN OUR ROOM IT’S 2AM incident the night before we left, but the ride remains a classic.
  5. Toy Story Midway Mania.  It combined the joy of fairground skill games with a movie Ben loved – of course it was a favorite.
  6. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blasters.  No surprise here either.
  7. Big Thunder Railway.  This was a surprise since Ben was extremely nervous about riding a roller coaster.  However, after riding Flight of the Na’vi, he decided it was actually awesome in that it was well balanced in its thrills.
  8. Kilimanjaro Safaris.  This is basically a big zoo, so we had to balance our appreciation for seeing the animals with our innate dislike of keeping animals in captivity.  It was a well done experience – a Jeep ride through recreated habitats for African animals – but still, not a Disney unique ride.

Ben’s top 5 WDW experiences:

  1. Rampaging Adventureland with his cousin on A Pirate’s Adventure
  2. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, which combined Magic: The Gathering with a Disney scavenger hunt
  3. Dinner at Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we ate gluten free naan while watching giraffes outside
  4. The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats at the EPCOT China pavilion.
  5. The Big Thunder Railroad Shutdown, when we got to evacuate the train when the ride stopped with us on it  – and got to see the inside of the cave with the lights on (it’s apparently the one part of Disney World that isn’t cleaned, ever)

20180222_164721.jpg20180222_164714.jpg

I think we can call this another Successful Family Vacation.  It was a much more exhausting experience than Disneyland, but totally worth the energy, money and time to make that many happy family memories.

welcome to the world of tomorrow!

We are in EPCOT today. It isn’t nearly as Futurama as I expected. It did, however, have a series of exhibits about the future that now require constant tending as the future changes faster than either Disney brother could have expected. The original future EPCOT displayed was expected to remain futuristic for longer. Now that the future seems to almost run in parallel with the present, technology wise, a central focus on the future isn’t visionary, making it mundane. As a result, the park seeemed a bit confused.

Out of that confusion though, comes a lot of SCIENCE. Including Paul’s favorite muppets, Bunsen and Beaker!

We’ve had a long day so I’ll have to detail the adventures in my own future. Suffice to say, it was a great day, ending

From symbolism to symbols

There is a moment, in the First Sex in the City movie, where Carrie realizes that Big isn’t coming to their wedding venue (because he is a ridiculous man child, obviously, who only showed devotion when he could buy his way out of it BUT I DIGRESS) Carrie, panicking, asks for a phone. Samantha throws her an iPhone. She looks at the screen, covered in the first generation of apps, and says, simply, I can’t use this. I don’t know how.

Thinking of that scene, it seems so quaint. How could anyone be so clueless as to not be able to use a smartphone? How could anyone have lacked the intuition to grasp the technology, driven as it is by pictures and icons? It is a moment made for empathy from the audience, as if to say, see this confusing technology? It’s OK not to understand it! Even sophisticated New York women cannot efficiently use this newfangled geek device from Silicon Valley!

Now, at the age that the character was in that movie, I think, how did we manage to grasp all this technology? How is it that most of us swam so smoothly into the tide of all of this change? All of these smartphones, all of these computers, all of this digital existence? How is it all of us, all of my generation, managed to transition from the first days of a text-only Internet, to the bright icons, shapes, colors, all of the wordless material that makes up the apps and pictures on our phones? How did our brains transition from having the information, in the format of words that we were used to for centuries, and just suddenly seeing it flow through in a completely different interface every few years?

Look at all these tiny pictures!

In the world of today, I feel fortunate enough to be from a unique generation. I remember A World Before the internet, but only barely. I am still able to see the internet as something miraculous, a conduit that allows for a flow of information and communication we never could have imagined in the past.

That, however, was words. The smartphones are all about images. They are a new way of looking at information, full of symbols. There are the pleasingly aesthetic squares of apps, the shortcut sentences of emojis, the flash of lights on the phone itself to represent a message from another person. My phone speaks to me in a code of shortcuts.

This is why I had to delete the Facebook app off my phone: the notification icon babbles at me otherwise.

How did the Xennials all learn this so quickly, changing the way we interpret information in so few years? How were we poised for this absorption of information? Words alone, I get – Western culture prizes ourselves on our ability to absorb words and change them into images and emotions in our brains. We have done that collectively for half a millennium, since the printed, widely distributed word accelerated the ability to read. The Internet as it was in 1995 makes perfect sense to me. The way we choose to communicate now though, it goes around the words. It is a direct transfer of simple information, including emotions, without the need to take in words and change them, in our brains, to a concept.

🍆🍆🍆🍐🍐🍌🥒🥒🥒🍑🍑🍆🍆🍆

Pretty sure this means something filthy IN PHONE SPEAK

Maybe this is how we moved so quickly to smartphones and this image and metaphor laden technology. It isn’t that we went forward, it’s that we went backwards. Most of what is done in smartphone communication is images and symbols because it is too cumbersome to pull together a coherent set of words. Going without words entirely may be more efficient on this device, but it strikes me as lazier .

I’m actually typing this on a smartphone, using it as a small computer. It isn’t efficient, but it’s how I write on the subway. The concepts I’m trying to express, I want a reader to interpret through the nuances of words. There are no cookie cutter symbols that can replace original paragraphs. Maybe there are images, but I’d rather forces a reader to create those themselves. It’s effort for both the writer and reader this way.

Oh and that smartphone Carrie caught in the movie? Thrown to her by Samantha. Who is ten years older than the other girls. Proving, of course that anyone can learn this nerdy new tech, especially when it helps them run their successful small business. And I am sure the writers would have forced a gratuitous use of a series of sex icons like the ones above in lieu of dialogue on the extremely well spoken and articulate Kim Cattrall if the 3rd movie had taken place, proving my point about laziness as well.

hello, spring!

Over the weekend at Frost Valley, the spring thaw began. Instead of the snow we expected, it began to rain. I heard the water begin running through the forest, little rivers and waterfalls throughout the campus. It reminded me of the part in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the sound of running water means of White Witch’s spell is breaking. It’s not a thaw. It’s spring.

The days are getting longer. It’s still light when I come home. I can feel my brain re-adjusting to natural light.

The air is going to be warmer. It’s chilly and bright today, but not with the same edge of Winter.

I only have five weeks of travel to New Jersey. Effective April 1st, my time on that client is done, and I return to my Midtown office, with all my coworkers – not as a lonely lone wolf on site at the client all day. And I’ll be able to ride my bike to work again because I can safely park it in the office there.

I’ll also be able to run outside again. My asthma prevents me from running in the cold, but as soon as it’s in the mid-40s, I can run without my lungs seizing up. Running in the park is like multitasking cardio endorphins and forest bathing in one 45 minute loop.

There is so much to look forward in the every day of Spring. I’m so happy its sunny today. I’m so happy the end of Winter is coming.

it’s like an animal farm, that’s the rural charm in the country

I sometimes wonder about the appeal of the country.

Or rather, let me differentiate: I love being out in nature, in forests, on beaches, places where there isn’t as much evidence of man made alterations.  It’s proven that “forest bathing” can actually help with stress. That, I get the appeal of: it’s why I camp.  There is a state of mind that comes from the combination of a total lack of distractions, combined with the absorption of the ecosystem around oneself, that can be transcendent.

Still, I can forest bathe within the NYC city limits, anywhere from Brooklyn to Inwood.  I’m more talking about the country, the concept of country houses, which were not a thing on the West Coast – or at least, not so much as I noticed.  There is an ideal here of having a city apartment and a country house, a dream of multiple residences, that is new to me.  And despite the fact that a country home is conducive neither to my preferred state of city living, nor to my other preferred state of being one with the forest, I am puzzled by why this is suddenly something with appeal.

I suspect this has to do with the place of Walden Pond in American mentality.  There is an ideal that, if one could only get to one’s own Walden Pond, a country house, away from the city, one would be able to think.  There’s a sense that a country house is required as a place to be while working on one’s art or craft, that being out of the city will free up enough mental bandwidth to be creative.

At least, that’s the appeal it has for me, the idea that if I could just physically distance myself from distractions, while being in an environment with fewer man made stimulus, my brain would automatically channel the extra energy into brilliance.  That’s why I occasionally look at a getaway house, one of the adorable tiny houses outside of NYC.  The owners of that business are genuises – they have prevailed on a trendy desire for minimalism, rolled it up with the echoes of Thoreau, and created a company based purely on overpayment for tiny forest cottages that don’t even have the amenities of an AirBNB.  (I saw them on Shark Tank once – solid business model, if one with limited growth)

So really, what is the appeal of the country?  Is it the space available in a non-NYC home for stuff?  Is it the ideal originally made popular by Thoreau in America?  Is it the proximity to the forest and to nature?  What is it that gets city people out of their city homes, for which they have almost definitely paid a great deal in both money and energy, and into places so far away they can’t even be called exurbs?  And why do think it’s something I “need” to do as well?

 

cave day!

I first found out about Cave Day through Daybreaker.  It seems incongruous, a morning rave and a day of focus.  Still, I can see the overlap. There are bound to be people in those early morning sober rave dancers who have their own projects to focus on.  The idea of taking an entire day for mandated focus would therefore have a lot of appeal to anyone trying to translate a vision or an ambition into reality, and I’m pretty sure that anyone committed enough to get up at 6am for a sober rave is committed to some sort of hustle

Cave Day is literally just a day of being in a metaphorical cave.  That “cave” is a state of focus on a work flow.  Whatever one is working on, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you’re in a cave and isolated from the outside stimulus that may distract and derail.  Cave Day is eight hours of work sprinting, of trying to stay “in the flow” of whatever project it is one wants to get done.  I checked out a review online, and it seemed to work: the combination of mantras, focus exercises and peer pressure definitely induced work.  Oh, and despite their email address of bats (at) caveday.org, they are not related whatsoever to Bats Day.

I signed up for this as part of the 2018 work I’m doing, where I’m trying to focus more, period – and especially on my own arts and projects.  I’ve been kicking around an idea for a non-fiction book tied into my Political Science minor in Comparative Federalism, an exposition on my theory of why Canada got Justin Trudeau and his “sunny ways”, and America got Trump and his safe space for white supremacy.  Therefore, I wanted space to work on that book idea, and figure out if it was a viable idea I could roll out into a book proposal – and ultimately, justification to take a sabbatical to write.  However, as great an idea as I thought this was, I was never finding time to write in my daily life, no matter how many times I blocked it off in my day planner.

Therefore, Cave Day not only guaranteed that I would spend at least half a day writing, but it also gave me a deadline to finish some preliminary research and exploration to ensure that was what I wanted to spend the time on.  It isn’t as if I have any shortage of writing projects to work on: I also took a novel writing class last year in the hopes of getting my own tribute to the steampunk genre out of my brain and onto paper, for my own entertainment.  If my non-fiction project wasn’t viable, maybe I’d just get re-started on my fiction project.  Or I could just crank out a month’s worth of blog entries.  Whatever.  Cave Day was going to make sure I wrote.

(I should add, one of my goals this quarter was to submit a blog piece to my employer’s Official Company Blog as part of Building my Personal Brand as a Senior Account Director and Media SME.  I could have sat down and banged out 5 blog entries, a mix of personal and professional and it would have still been a satisfying day)

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Cave Day, to be honest.  I assumed everyone there would be much younger than me, the sort of people who have “side hustles”.  I was partially correct on that: the founders and organizers, Jake and Molly, were definitely squarely in the millenial generation, as were many of the attendees.  There were a few people in my Xennial category though, including the guys at my table.  It was also a slightly male skewed event, with an estimated 65/35 male to female split, as if men feel a pressure to do more.  The 25 of us in the room were, however, diverse enough that I didn’t feel out of place.

In fact, I actually made new  friends.  After an hour sprint of researching  why Canadians have such a vested interest in the common good, I looked up to see a group of grad students writing on a whiteboard headed “Why Are Canadians So Happy?”  It was, for a moment, disorienting, like my imagination come to life.  I bounced into the room, in true Canadian Tigger-like fashion, and discovered it was a marketing project, developing a new campaign.  I cheerfully then volunteered my opinions on Canadian culture:

  • Bears in swimming pools are a thing in heat waves. So are cougars in suburbs, the predator, not the human female.
  • Don’t mention gangs, too soon after the last spate of violence in Vancouver and Toronto
  • Yes, Tim Hortons is HUGE in the East, but in the West, we’re all Starbucks
  • Nanaimo Bars are the only real Canadian food I can think of
  • We are very proud of our diversity and tolerance and of being SLIGHTLY LESS RACIST than America
  • Yes, we all agree, Justin Trudeau IS good looking.
  • We all secretly love the Queen.
  • The North is special to us.  We are, after all the True North, strong & free
  • We don’t vacation IN Canada.  We go to the USA
  • These views are limited to English Canada.  Don’t ask me about French Canada.  Pretty sure they HATE the Queen
  • Margaret Atwood is ALL OVER TV right now and we suspect Netflix’s $500M investment is just going to all be adaptations of her work

After expounding on the culture of my homeland though, I did actually get right back to work.  The day was structured in work sprints, 50 to 60 minutes apiece, three in the morning and four in the afternoon. In the morning, we also started with a one-line intro and commitment to our projects, which we re-emphasized at the end of the day by stating how much we felt we’d accomplished on that project.  We wrote down our plans for our day and each sprint in advance so we would have a clear end goal in sight.  And after each sprint, we stopped, stretched, took a five minute break, and re-set ourselves to work again.

Overall, I liked Caveday.  I loved the space in the Breather offices in midtown. I appreciated the little bit of drama when we entered and were able to symbolically burn whatever it was was wanted to leave outside the cave by imagining it implanted in a ittle piece of flash paper that was burned on arrival.  I appreciated having my phone taken away from me.  Even the scents of the candles (citrus) and the sound piped in (water) were selected to improve focus and flow.  I wrote over two thousand words, completed a much procrastinated review for a direct report, cleared out a bunch of Scout email and caught up on some of my belated Todoist items.  It was a well spent nine hours, in which I accomplished much more than I would have on my own.

Despite liking Caveday, I don’t know if I would go again.  Nine hours is a lot to commit – I sensed I was the only parent in the room.  It’s also time spent traveling into Manhattan, for a 10.5hr day on a Sunday.  That is  huge bite out of my time.  If I can replicate that kind of focus closer to home, then I’d rather stay in Brooklyn – even if it’s just doing work sprints at the library or a coffee shop, somewhere outside the home where I can’t be disturbed but also where I don’t have to go far from home or take an inflexible amount of time out of my day.   Caveday is a great value though: $50 to sit down and accomplish something priceless, with lunch, snacks and coffee thrown in.  If it was in Brooklyn, or if it was more flexible, I’d do it monthly.

So that was my experience in the Cave.  One last thing I did take away was a custom coaster, printed on one side with “I am IN the Cave” for when I’m in a state of focus/flow, and “I am OUT of the Cave” for when I’m not.  It reminded me of my Camp Nerd Fitness wristband, where the red side represented a desire not to socialize, and to be left in an introverted state.  Together, my CNF bracelet and my Cave Day coaster side make an impenetrable wall for focus and concentration and staying in my own brain for a bit.  Totally leveraging both the next time I need the mental space.