Monthly Archives: June 2008

Prolific Posting is good for you

prolific: adj. producing abundant works, results, or offspring

prolix: adj. wordy and tedious

Since I began this blog April 6 of this year, I have created 81 posts. Whether I’ve been prolific or prolix is up to you to decide. I’m having fun and (almost) don’t care what you think.

My purpose in having a blog was/is to practice, practice, practice the art of writing. For years I’d been saying that writing was a priority, but I wasn’t doing it, so mission accomplishing.

Am I saner as a result of such prolific posting? Probably not. But evidently some people are.

Last week Newsweek reported that some mental health experts believe that the confessional blog has therapeutic power, and are incorporating it into their treatment plans.

They say that blogs are a step up from plain old diaries, chiefly because of the built-in audience. We feel someone is listening. Someone who sympathizes. Because of the anonymity, “It’s high intimacy with low vulnerability.”

This blog is definitely a step up from diarying for me. My diary is where I whine or process material not fit for human consumption. In fact, the other day as part of my paring down process I opened a box of old journals and came darned close to tossing out the lot of them. Such drivel.

Why do you blog?

Pellucid panes

Pellucid: admitting the maximum amount of light; transparent, translucent

It’s been HOT and sunny here for several days. The sun has been rare in the Pacific Northwest in recent months, so I hadn’t noticed how filthy my windows were.

I was blind, but now I see. Sort of. Pellucid they ain’t.

Feng shui doesn’t like dirty windows.

“Somebody has GOT to wash those windows,” I said to my staff, standing very close by.

“Yes, boss,” I replied, saluting smartly. “As soon as you pay me for fifty years of back wages.”

Prius Envy

I love Toyotas. I had a 1988 Camry station wagon for ten years till I bought my current Toyota, a 1998 Sienna MINIvan. Except it’s not so mini. In terms of gazzling (my new word for gas-guzzling), it’s MAXI – 19 mpg. A tankful will probably cost me $80 this week. Last tank was $70. (I’m trying to use it as little as possible…).

My friends who have Priuses love them. They got theirs when they weren’t quite so scarce and when trading in their SUVs for them was a viable option. One of these years I hope to be able to afford one. Meanwhile, I need to learn to drive differently.

For starters, I need to leave for my destination BEFORE I’m due there… Well before. Novel idea.

An article in today’s NY Times describes other options: how to “Be a Prius:

In Europe, where gas prices are often more than twice what they are here, eco-driving has become mandatory in the driving curriculums in Germany, Sweden and, most recently, Britain. Beginning drivers are taught to avoid idling, unnecessary braking and jackrabbit starts at traffic lights, among other lessons that can bring fuel savings to as high as 25 percent.

Other fuel-saving tips include carefully timing one’s approach to slowing traffic or red signals and not accelerating toward a “stale green,” that is, a signal that’s about to change…..

Consider also driving less aggressively. An Australian study found that an “aggressively” driven vehicle saved a mere five minutes over a 94-minute course compared with a “smoothly” driven vehicle — but the smooth car used 30 percent less fuel.

He also suggests policy changes, like replacing stops with roundabouts, requiring drivers take a driving efficiency course, and encouraging less driving thru tax credits for miles not driven or miles on public transit.

Plant plethora

I loved this recent New Yorker cover by the French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé. The woman emerges from her country home with clippers in hand to snip an armload of posies. Someone has been there ahead of her to water and otherwise tend the garden, so all she has to do is cut and arrange the flowers.

Not a bad life.

Once a year I have an ecstatic experience like this – the day after my garden helper and I have hacked back a truckload of overgrown shrubs and he has spread dark compost over the bare patches where weeds once thrived.

This morning was the morning when I was able to emerge from the house, clippers in hand, with no task before me but to snip posies for a big bouquet. Oh happy day.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to hauling hoses, deadheading, weeding, fussing.

Passion and Possibility

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof –
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest-
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands –
To gather Paradise –

Emily Dickinson’s poem opens Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility:Transforming Professional and Personal Life. He’s a conductor and she’s a therapist. The book is published by the Harvard Business School Press – indicating this is no ordinary self-help or creativity book.

I read th Art of Possibility when it came out in 2002. LOVED it. Even gave it as gifts to a few people.

Then yesterday the video of Ben Zander’s talk at the TED conference (3/2008) was finally uploaded to the TED site so non-attendees could watch it. I was so moved and inspired that I hauled the book off the shelf and have been re-reading it.

First. You. Must. Watch. The Video of his talk. The subject is ostensibly about getting everyone to recognize that they love classical music. And he achieves that goal with his Chopin demo.

But more than that his talk is about possibility – and how the vision of possibility can transform your life. His own transformation came in the 80’s when he realized that the conductor doesn’t make a sound. For his power, he depends on his ability to make other people powerful. It’s like chiseling away the marble to reveal the statue of David within.

My job was to awaken possibility in other people. How do you know you’re doing it? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. If they’re not shining, ask yourself, who am I being that their eyes are not shining?? As a parent you can ask yourself the same question if your children’s eyes arent’ shining.

When you can see possibility and believe in it passionately, you can move mountains:

The mark of a leader is that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, “I have a dream…. but on second thought, I’m not sure if they’re up to it…”

Lucky for me, the Art of Possibility is littered (alitered?) with a plethora of plummy p-words: perfect, perception, perspective, peril, prejudice, pattern, posture, profits, population, pain…. (for starters), so I shall be touching on some of their pointers in the coming couple of weeks.

Second. Read. The. Book. Let’s talk about it.

Pedestrian

Pedestrian: a person traveling on foot; a walker, esp. on city streets. Undistinguished, ordinary, dull.

The two main definitions of “pedestrian” are at odds with each other, in my experience. Sure, the most ordinary way human beings move through space is on foot, walking. We walk from here to there all day long, not even thinking about it.

But walking is hardly dull. How better to move through a neighborhood than on foot? You see and hear and smell things you miss at a faster pace. You meet other people face to face, maybe even have a little chat.

Compared to a car, biking is more experiential too, but you move pretty fast and need to keep your eye on the road.

Portland is designed for walking. Most neighborhoods have a central area with shops that provide basic services within easy walking distance. You feel safer on the sidewalks because they’re nicely separated from the street by planter strips – often with trees.

Perhaps because Vancouver, WA (where I live) was primarily rural until quite recently, sidewalks are rare except for downtown. On some of our lovely country roads cars may be occasional, but they go fast and a pedestrian often has to dive for the ditch to stay alive.

For years developers ruled in Clark County. They didn’t want no stinkin’ sidewalks because it added expense they couldn’t easily recapture. Furthermore, cars rule in rural and suburban America – only fools and poor people walk.

Now the county planners are wising up and requiring new developments to incluede sidewalks, but the result  is still a mishmash. You’ll have 100 feet of sidewalk along the roadway, then 1/4 mile without, then another couple hundred feet with sidewalk, etc etc. Maybe ten years from now it will be continuous, but meanwhile these pathetic little strips only emphasize our lack of foresight.

On Monday The Oregonian ran a front page story on the Sunday-Parkways car-free streets event. Interestingly the photo was of a mob of assorted human powered wheeled contraptions – mostly bikes, but also strollers and tricycles. My pedestrian friend and I started early enough that we weren’t run over. But for that couple of hours, this pedestrian loved being king of the road.

Powells Books: Portland’s pride

Visitors to Portland with the teeniest smidge of intellectual curiosity must make a pilgrimage to Powells Books – a behemoth store that takes up a full city block but feels like a rabbit warren of intimate spaces instead of the vast space it really is.

Aside from being able to find almost any book on almost any subject, they also BUY books. What a great service to the community (and a profit center for them, most decidedly).

So I loaded up my car with FIVE boxes of books culled from the eight bookcases in my house and hauled them in to sell this afternoon. They took half of them and gave me $120 cash (could have had more if I’d taken store credit…). As far as I am concerned it’s a win-win situation.

Now I’ve got to go over the remainders to see which to try to sell on Half.com and which to donate to Friends of the Library for their annual sale.

Potent or poppycock: a feng shui cure too strong?

Potent: possessing strength or power

Poppycock: senseless talk (from Dutch pappekak, meaning soft dung, if you know what I mean)

Last week I was clearing out a drawer and came upon a small compact mirror for which I had no use. I was about to give it the heave-ho when I remembered that it could be used for a feng shui cure.

Here’s the feng shui cure: when you have negative energy coming at your home from outside (like from a problem neighbor, noisy traffic, etc), you tape a small mirror on the wall with the shiny side facing towards that negative energy with the intent of warding it off by reflecting it back out.

My next door neighbors to the south are perfectly nice people, but they are renting the house and the owners live up in Seattle. Neither the renters nor the owners seem to give a rip about the condition of the house or yard. For ten years the place has become increasingly unkempt.

I haven’t been in the house, but the shades are all wonky and the garage is stuffed to the rafters with cardboard boxes and garbage bags full of who knows what. That’s their problem.

My problem is that their yard is completely overgrown with noxious weeds – blackberry, dandelions, ivy and a big thicket of Canada thistle. All of them are getting into my yard. The thistle is the worst because it spreads underground as well as by wind-born seed – and it’s nearly impossible to kill.

Which brings me to yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk, with a view of the street, when suddenly I hear a fire engine rumbling up the hill, siren wailing. It stops at the end of my driveway. Then another one arrives. And three more! Within a couple of minutes the joint is jumping – I counted 23 firemen in full regalia at one point – some clambering over this neighbor’s house, some hauling hose, some standing around pointing or talking on a cell phone.

My neighbor was up on the roof with a puny garden hose, trying to douse the flames. It turns out he had been burning cardboard in the fireplace (WTF?? especially since we have curbside recycling). The chimney is uncapped and the roof is (old, dry) wood shake. A formula for disaster.

With 23 young bucks on the case (why are firemen always so cute? Is that a job requirement?), the fire was put out before it destroyed more than the attic and part of the roof. No one was hurt and no important belongings were lost.

I certainly meant no harm – I just want the owners to sell the property to someone who will care for it. They’re coming down from Seattle to assess the damage this weekend. Here’s hoping they decide it’s time to let it go…

Pings and Productivity

An article in today’s NY Times about the perils of “pinging” – my word for the constant interruptions we face in our modern daily lives.

As the parent of young children, the pinging came from them: “Mom, I’m hungry (bored, tired, angry, mad at my brother, sick, in danger, have a dirty diaper); I need you NOW”. I don’t think I had a coherent thought for a seven-year period, except when they were in childcare. I was good only for low-level functions: buying and preparing food, cleaning up, running errands, arranging play dates.

Now, kids long gone (chatty husband too) the distractions are back. But most of them are (or should be) under my own control. It’s between me and the internet. Ping! I’ve got email! I do research for an article on Vitamin D (thank you google) and suddenly I’ve gotten from Vitamin D to auto-immune disorders to fatigue to distraction to this article – and now instead of further work on Vitamin D I’m writing a post about being distracted.

Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age has this to say:

What’s needed is a renaissance of attention — a revaluing and cultivating of the art of attention, to help us achieve depth of thought and relations in this complex, high-tech time.

The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention. The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention. Think of it this way: You can be “aware” that you’re in a beautiful garden and then you can “focus” on an individual flower. The last piece, “executive attention,” is the ability to plan and make decisions.

Coincidentally I was dead-heading the amazing Westerlund rose earlier today in the garden. Hundreds of blooms in thick clusters. A few branches so heavy they had broken (below, the flowers on just two stalks). I was clip clip clipping but somewhere else in my head. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t present and began to focus on each spent head and the shattering petals that fell as I snipped. Such abundance! Wow.

I used to do most of my writing on my laptop, which I keep offline. It is so much easier to focus when there’s no place else to go, no emails to worry about. I talk about self-discipline, but talk costs nothing. I feel myself with a big SHOULD coming on: I SHOULD ONLY CHECK EMAIL ONCE A DAY. I SHOULD ONLY CHECK DailyKos ONCE A DAY. I SHOULD ONLY….

What will I actually DO????

Portland for pedestrians

This morning, as a culmination of the Carfree Cities Conference here, 6 miles of street in North and NE Portland were closed to autos so that people could walk or bike or skate or whatever around several neighborhoods. The organizers hope to make Sunday Parkways a regular event.

A friend of mine and I came over from Vancouver to join the fun, and fun it was. Not to mention good exercise. What I loved:

First, this is a gorgeous time of year in Portland. Everyone’s gardens were at their baroque best, with roses at their peak on every block. The Rose Garden at Peninsula Park is a true gem.

Second, it was a treat to explore neighborhoods that were new to me, mostly of modest but well-kept older homes, front porches, trees.

Third, to live in a neighborhood where public transportation and grocery shopping is within an easy walk on real sidewalks (Vancouver has a shocking dearth of sidewalks), means you really could live most of the time without a car. Bringing the MAX light rail line out Interstate has transformed North Portland.

Everyone was so happy and friendly. Serious athletes, little old ladies, dogs, kids, couples with strollers or kids in bike carts, policemen.

Oregon’s income tax rate is 9% (Washington has none), housing prices are steeper than in Vancouver for comparable properties, and their property tax is pretty high. But if I didn’t have to drive everywhere? If I could hang out on my front porch and meet my neighbors? Truly I am ready to move over there.