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.




This is a sync test

Nothing to see here – only posting to test the setup with Beeminder.

Actually, that’s something I can explain.  I’m trying to commit to writing more.  Over the last year and change, ever since I went to Camp Nerd Fitness, I’ve been trying to revisit many of the things I lost along the path of becoming what I thought an adult looked like. Some of those are my creative crafts, my love of writing, and my love of playing music.  Therefore, I wanted to commit to giving myself the time to do those things.  And, of course, every time I block off an hour labeled “Write a Blog Post” in my Best Self journal, it turns into something else: cooking, cleaning, volunteer work, or even just goofing off. I spend more time reading terrible work by other people than I do working on my own craft.

So I set up Beeminder and connected it to WordPress so I will actually do some writing.  Now, when I post to any of my owned blog space, it will count towards my 3 post a week goal.  Hence the need to test the setup to be sure it worked.

I have, over the last few years, debated what to do with this blog.  I’ve kept it online because,  while there is PLENTY of inappropriate behavior recorded in it, it’s all Youthful Hijinks that were age appropriate at the time.  It’s not like a prospective employer now is going to read a tale of why I am banned from UBC Housing and think I’m less of a hiring prospect for it.  If anything, a prospective employer should recognize that the flip side of all those pranks and bzzr gardens was actual student leadership.  And none of my grownup friends, the friends who only know me as an adult, should think less of me because I spent my first year and a half in L.A. behaving like a normal twentysomething , albeit one who perhaps should not have documented everything in quite so much detail. (I was smart enough to keep some of it password protected).  Still, there is a level of vulnerability to writing about oneself as an actual adult, when there are fewer superficial things to write about, and only the meaningful things remain.

Still.  After listening to a season of Magic Lessons, I wanted to put some of that fear of exposure aside.  There is something terrifying about writing in a public forum, even one that garners so little traffic as my own page.  And yet, it is a positive challenge.  Part of the craft of writing is to be able to convey a nuanced thought through words, to someone else’s brain. That is a worthwhile craft to practice, even in a short form, personal blog medium.

Writing blog pieces is critical writing practice. It is the word equivalent of playing scales or arpeggios on the piano.

So yesterday, I created a goal to make myself more accountable to…myself.  To prioritize giving myself the time and space to engage in these small writing exercises that are blog posts.  To that end, I tested a sync between Beeminder and WordPress.  The Beeminder financial threat isn’t the big reason I prioritize writing, but it will be a small day to day impetus to do so.  And those small day to day triggers add up to a full resolve to re-engage in this craft.





The last few months of open conversation around sex and power have been both enraging and illuminating.  It has been like flipping on a light switch to see horrors that were only barely camouflaged by darkness, that we all knew were there.  It is the way we have now shone lights on the society we have built, the way we have encouraged male and female roles to the point where men are expected and encouraged to prey on women who feel trapped.

This is a many faceted discussion, and it will be a long one.  It will take years to identify all the points at which behavior is conditioned towards inequality, and begin to change it.  But for right now, I’d like to just look at three minutes of the conversation, in which Aidy Bryant sums up how she constrains her behavior in order to make her statements palatable to men:

“I, like most girls, have been taught to be accommodating and nice.”

“I’m trying to keep it cool and chill so I don’t come off like a shrew!”

“That’s a straight up sports reference for the boys!”

Yes.  That, right there.  That is the behavior that women are expected to adhere to.  We put, “I think,” or “I feel” in front of our statements to appear non-threatening.  We do not negotiate hard enough or push for what we want, because we don’t want to be seen as threatening.  We try to take up as little space as possible.

What angers me about this is that this is the behavior I learned and taught myself.  It doesn’t come naturally to me, to shrink back, to be quiet.  It comes naturally to me to be loud and vocal.  I don’t “feel” something is right, I usually know I’m right, and I’m ready to argue it.  And yet, over the years, I’ve considered it a positive to have learned how to polish my behavior to be nicer and more accommodating, less aggressive, more passive.  I have tried to be quieter.  I have tried to take up less mental and physical space in an attempt to be more likable, less threatening.

Perhaps I was better off unpolished after all.  Perhaps I placed too much value on the idea of what acceptable adult female behavior looked like, a series of gender constraints and tropes that are just incongruous with who I am.  Now, I’m just furious that women are expected to function within these lines and boundaries, and, worse, that so many of us still think we have to adhere to these unwritten guidelines of being nice, being accommodating, and never speaking up to make anyone else remotely uncomfortable.

I don’t like this.  I believe in making people uncomfortable when they deserve to face some sort of social consequence.  As an example, last week at a bar, my friends and I were discussing a play we had just seen.  A drunken boor kept coming over to hang over one of my friends at the table.  She was charmingly polite to him, hoping he would go away.  I ignored him entirely and continued talking because I didn’t think we needed to be polite to him – he was in our space, uninvited, and distracting from the conversation.  His response to this was to announce that I was “the Professor”, a lecturer, and yell that I was lecturing about something boring.  (I was comparing the play we had seen, Mankind, to LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  I wouldn’t participate in the female accommodation of a rude man, so I was labeled with something sexless.  Then he came back to the table and grabbed my friend’s ass because she was nice to him, and he thought he could get away with it, even though he was a drunk slob and she’s about a zillion levels above him on the social attractiveness scale.

This wouldn’t be a big deal (other than the entertainment factor when we had him kicked out) except as a metaphor for male response to female behavior: if you are nice, you are inviting sexual behavior.  If you are kind, you are open for grabbing.  If you are neither nice nor kind, you are neuter, devoid of the femininity that is the only coin of value in these social transactions.  I am certain that the “neuter” response a lot of men respond to me with has just as much to do with my size as my behavior – I’m literally the size of most guys at five-ten – but this has happened to me my entire life.  If I challenge someone, if I am not nice and accommodating, I am no longer feminine.  I can be dismissed, because femininity is of the utmost value in these kind of low-meaning, public interactions.

I spent ten minutes at my next workout getting this out of my system, beating a punching bag at the gym while muttering, “take THIS patriarchy!” All the years I’ve tried to behave in a more female manner so I would receive a positive response from the world.  All the times I’ve been dismissed for not being female enough.  All of it from men who have no right to assign or deny any woman her value, and yet who feel they have the right to judge us.  I thought about that and it gave my jabs and hooks even more power – enough that I think Paul looked slightly worried when I came out and headed over to the leg press.

This is a minor offshoot of the greater conversation we’re all having right now, about the way our society has formed to give men this ultimate social power over women, and how women are punished if they try to step outside subservient behavior.  We’re all engaged in this question of how we re-write our everyday social transactions to be on equal ground, because right now it feels like every encounter between the sexes is one where men have the advantage, and choose to take it.  My quibble with gender roles is minor in the scope of what many women have experienced, and what they are now brave enough to voice and share, one by one.

And yet, my quibble is part of the foundation that leads women to be taken advantage of, over and over, without recourse.  It’s the invisible barriers.  It’s the rules that say we must shrink back, or be punished with labels, insults, social consequence.  It is a small piece in the scaffolding that is holding up our society in this inequal structure.  Perhaps if we change the way women feel comfortable behaving, and reward those women who choose not to be nice, choose not to be accommodating, we will be one step closer to the balance we need.

art vs craft

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about art and craft. They seem as if they should be interchangeable terms, as they go together so often in our language. Yet it is only art that we apply the term “fine” to. The “Fine Arts”: drama, music, writing, visual arts, etc.

This, to me, exemplifies the difference between art and craft. I believe Art is based in talent, a calling to create. It begins as a gift of creativity, an ability to transubstantiate emotion and thought into something others can experience. Creating something is an astonishing process, one Elizabeth Gilbert called, “Big Magic” for a reason.

Craft is more achievable to me than art. Craft is when you practice crafting something. It is ironic we call a craftsperson an “artisan”, a word that conjures up images of a handcrafted product. Craft is what we associate with making things, with shaping and perfecting aesthetics, perhaps, but ultimately with a functional product. That may be something as prosaic as a clay bowl, or as decorative as jewelry, but it is a tangible, functional item meant, mostly, for use.

In an age where so much work is now knowledge based, where does that leave us for craft? Are we no longer artisans? I believe that means we have to adapt our ideals of craft to intangible work. Knowledge work is now a craft. My expertise in digital marketing and in business is my craft. It is the work that produces something functional which I practice every day.

Art, however, remains art. The arts have always been a form of knowledge work, producing intangible, cerebral creations. That has not changed. That’s what makes art, the idea of transforming neutral, bland materials into full neural responses. And still – every art is also a craft. There is talent involved in art, but how does one become adept and skilled at transforming that talent into a chosen medium, unless one practices? That’s where art and craft dovetail again, in the requirement for practice, repetition, that constant refinement and polishing of words the same way a blacksmith would polish and re-shape a sword. It’s the challenge of making something that’s as perfect when formed as it was in it initial ideal. Without the same practice one would apply to a craft, art has far less impact and may not even be viable.

It is hard to create art in a form that one isnt innately familiar with. When I noodle on the piano in free-form mode, I still use music theory to pick out the harmonies and chords. I still calculate the relative minors and majors, dominant sevenths, diminished minors. I couldn’t create without that framework.

So an art must be practiced like a craft. Craft can also, at its most practiced, become art. Once an artisan has the practice of creation down, they can take it to the next level, embellishing and decorating, stretching the medium into something extraordinary. This is where craft becomes art, where the statements and thoughts, emotions and intellect, are added to a piece to make it resonate in our minds instead of merely functioning.

What are my arts and what are my crafts? I see writing as a craft. I see my work as a craft. I see music as my art, although I work at it like a craft. No matter what the medium though, I feel the same part of my brain light up when I translate a thought into a medium outside my brain. When I have the right answers at work, when I have just the right word for a blog post, when I hear music in my mind and replicate it on a keyboard, it all hits my brain the same way. It lights something up in me. Whether it is art or craft, do we not all need to have something that lights each of us up?

Perhaps I am thinking about this too hard. Arts and crafts are what each of us have, on some level, to make us extraordinary. It’s what lights our brains up and, if we practice hard enough, we can even extend that to other people and their brains. Both are miraculous that way.

Yay, winter solstice!

This will come as a possible surprise to anyone who knows me: I love the winter holiday season.  This is mostly because it is such a special time to spend with my family around the Northeast, as we do the loop from Brooklyn to Toronto to Pittsburgh to spend the season with the people we love the most.  But I also love this time of year because it is a season of light.  No matter which side of my heritage I’m celebrating, this is a season of kindling light.

Hanukkah is the festival of lights itself, during which we light candles for the sole purpose of looking at them and celebrating the light they give.  Yet Hanukkah is a festival celebrating a historical event, although it could well be related to the solstice.  Being from a dark northern climate, I also feel kinship with the solstice festivals that began millennia ago as celebrations against the dark.  What I love about the winter holidays is the celebration of light and life, the warding off of the cold and dark and the fear and sadness the winter elements bring.  I love the winter solstice festivals that are basically a giant “f–k you” to Death.

We’re gonna get at LEAST 12 days of NOT FREEZING out of this Yule log

Growing up in a household heavy in English customs, I also have a deep nostalgia for the heavy use of greenery during a winter festival.  We trimmed the living room with holly off the holly bush from the backyard, which was a nice counterpoint to the traditional fake Christmas tree (the kind from Sears, of course, that Dad bought in 1975).    The use of these symbolic plants dates back to the Druids in the UK, and show understanding and respect of the changing of the seasons.  I like having those traditions to celebrate and respect nature.  After all, even with all our technology, all our artificial light, we still cannot stop the days from becoming shorter every year.

Recently, in researching Santa Claus’ origins to explain to Ben, I also ran across a great article linking Santa Claus to Odin, and his eight reindeer to the eight legs of Odin’s horse.  I loved this concept.  “Don’t take the Christ out of Christmas” is not nearly as cool a statement as “Don’t take the Odin out of Yule.”  After all, the Norse were running England up until the Norman invasion in the eleventh century, and still had sizable pockets of influence well into the twentieth.  It is completely plausible to me that these old Viking beliefs merged with the German traditions into the codified Merry Ye Olde English Christmas imagery forever preserved as documented by Charles Dickens.

At the heart of all these traditions though, we still see the light.  We have the Yule Log.  We have candles galore.  We have the tradition of extravagance of light.  Imagine, in an era where materials for candles are limited to bees wax or tallow, where light is expensive.  Imagine lighting those candles with abandon, as a celebration of life, against the long, cold dark winter of northern places.  It’s enough to make one want to sing for joy.

We light the Hanukkah candles and eat fried foods in a similar sense of joy celebrating the miracle of the oil that lasted eight nights.  We say the prayers each night saying that we “kindle light”.  This is where the two disparate halves of my heritage come together, in the kindling of light against the dark, and in the celebration of the shortest day of the year…and in the time we spend with the people we love in the process.

Speaking of which, we are back from our long, cold loop around the Northeast!  It’s been another successful year of driving the wintry freeways from Brooklyn to Toronto to Pittsburgh.  Those adventures, however, will have to wait for a future post.