Friday, April 30, 2010

the words

"Dont bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
---Franz Kafka

This one's gotta stew for a while; but it's gonna be delicious once it does.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

oh very young

Jonah Lehrer wrote today on the interesting phenomenon of creative peaks across individual life spans, centuries, and entire scientific/creative fields. He descibes the quantum mechanics revolution during the early 20th Century which flourished because of, and with the talent of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed scientists who were far exceeding the achievements of their older counterparts:
After a few years in the academy, however, Simonton says that "creators start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old, same-old." They have become insiders, invested in Newtonian mechanics; that is what they know and that is what they believe in. It's only the impetuous youth, those marginal figures without tenure or grants of their own, who properly appreciate the anomalies of the subatomic.
This got me to thinking of the theory's applicability, on a far lesser scale, to the modern workplace and how young people in their first and second jobs, despite what many would argue, might be considered prime agents for organizational innovation, creative production, and even leadership. As a result of their "outsider status", brand-new workers have an advantageous view, the ability to recognize inefficiencies and opportunities for change in areas where a seasoned professional might still be practicing "business as usual". The same ideas were shared by Rosetta Thurman in her discussion on generational change in the nonprofit sector. Her suggestion to the Baby-Boomers on how to handle the overwhelming emergence of Gen Y to the scene: Let them lead.

This seems to be an idea that's talked about often, but put into practice only very rarely. But I see so many around me eager to get their hands dirty, to move things around and stir the pot, if only because we see how stagnant it is. Where older generations might help out is by taking notice of the younger generation's ignorance to worn-out models and systems, and rather than deeming it a liability, see it as a positive and provide the learned guidance that will encourage the innovation we're already primed to produce.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

(Un?)healthy obsessions

It was the grand re-opening of one of Seattle's oldest and finest booksellers last weekend. The roommates and I made two treks down, once to enjoy the free food and block party celebration and again a few days later to actually peruse the stacks. The place smelled of rich, chocolaty cedar and fresh, untouched pages. It was deliciously intoxicating, and it's safe to say I got drunk off the smells. A half hour later, the stack of books I was carrying had reached the tip of my nose.
Call it springtime ambition - but more like blind ambition. I don't have the time to immerse myself in all these books - especially those plenteous works by Sontag and Wallace. Neither do I really have the money to spend. But I just couldn't say no to their firm, smooth covers, their inky pages with fibers like fine-grained sand. And now, I'm knee-deep in the sand, five of them to be exact.
Well, I tell myself, there's no hurry. They're not going anywhere now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring and all

Time is a green orchard (William Carlos Williams) And I'm working to tend to, keep, and bring up a bounty that will last me until the winter. 

If only there weren't fields full of distraction all around; wildflowers to pick and string together and decorate myself with, berries to smell and eat, dragonflies and bees and little brown mice to listen to. 

But without all these, the orchard could never grow - would never be so magnificent, intoxicating, or inspiring. And I would never be able to reap its kind rewards in full.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The best laid schemes o' Mice and Men

(I doubt this mouse had plans to catch the Froggy Express, but she's taking it anyway. Click for credit).

Since entering this great big blogging community (still can't quite get myself to call it the "blogosphere"), I've come across a lot of bloggers who seem to have their lives micro-managed and hyper-programmed to the point where they can tell you what project they'll be working on, on October 16, 2012 - and also, what they'll be having for lunch that day. I've met these sorts of people in real life as well: they are the people who set out their next day clothes the night before, and pack their lunches a week in advance. When I was younger, my mom tried valiantly to encourage this same habit in me. She failed. My argument was (and perhaps not so articulately put at age 8), How will I ever know what I feel like wearing until the day I'm going to be wearing it? Maybe I wouldn't know until right before I put something on, or even, only after. But of course, my other argument was that I wanted to spend those extra 10 minutes watching Nick at Nite. Both solid arguments, even today.

The same mentality carries me along now. It seems that most major plans I've made  - which college to attend, which career to pursue - end up changing significantly, either of my own accord or by some extenuating and impossible-to-ignore circumstances. If I had been too hung up on the "plans" I had made for my life at age 17, as a senior in high school, I would have likely missed out on many of the events, people, and places now woven into the very fabric that defines me. And there are just things you can't possibly know about yourself - what you want and what you value - until you're right there in the thick of things. It's not as if people aren't aware of this - but still we fall susceptible to the charms of planning (and as Robert Burns famously identified, it's a condition that apparently plagues humans and rodents).

That's why I love Alyson's recent post on dumping the five-year career plan, and instead working on defining a life mission. This phrase may sound more daunting at first but it really just means identifying what's important to you, what you want to accomplish in your life and work: plotting points and connecting dots as you go along; the shape only revealing itself in time. This of course requires an open mind be kept to allow the many ideas, individuals, and moments we encounter to affect and maybe even alter the mission. Oftentimes, people who itemize their future lives like they would their taxes set themselves us for failure and serious disappointment; while also running the risk of losing out on amazing opportunities that may not have been part of 'the plan'.

It's not as if planning isn't useful. It can be great in providing a starting point (which we all need), but it shouldn't be the only thing guiding us. We can't possibly be sure that the career we're planning on having in five years will actually take shape, or even that we'll want it five years from now.

The way I see it: we are not linearly-minded, but nuanced and change-oriented. My views on life, work, happiness, and preferred lunch spots will be changing quarterly if not weekly, so I avoid setting goals that won't let me follow multiple paths or think dynamically. Instead, I embrace a framework that is intrinsically complicated and messy. Not only because when we become so goal-obsessed we forget about whats around us in the here and now, not only because our goals and our methods for achieving them will eventually change, but because we are not infallible. It is in our DNA to fault and stop and pause and retract and rewind and skip forward... no matter how many machines we build or devices we employ to keep us on track, we just are not meant to be.

So I propose this: why don't we just admit to it - and then head out for cocktails? Because that's the kind of plan I have no problem making!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How to be an explorer...

I forgot where I originally found this, but I know it comes from this book.

Some early Monday morning motivation, mixed with a homemade cafe au lait and toast, stirred in with two hours of leisurely 'work', while the rest of the world sleeps, makes a recipe for a great start to the week. Now for a remedy for my pesky cough...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some Sunday night ramblings on getting old and losing your sight (and not the eye kind)

Fighting off the tail-end of this stubborn cold while struggling to manage a demanding full-time job and 25-hour/week intensive internship, myself and my brain are not in their most coherent forms; hence my cautious warnings if this post does in fact turn into a sunshine-and-Sudafed-induced rant of hysterical heights. However, important things have been happening and there is a need to flush them out, here, so that I may be held personally accountable for all the opinions and proposed solutions I adhere to them.

The most important thing that's happened in my little tiny life this week was the change in duration of my current work appointment. What had begun as a 2-month temporary stint has now been extended to last a full 12 months. Now, my admission to this next part may ruffle some feathers, but I'm saying it anyway: because  the second that sheet of paper was slid across the table to me, and I saw in bold, black letters my projected end-date, my stomach dropped so fast I think it may been ended up in a pool at my feet. The idea that I would technically, for all intents and purposes, be at that job, in that office, with those people for that long felt terrifying. While a far cry from a prison sentence, in that moment, it may as well have been because I saw all my whimsical plans, the ones that had been getting me through the first month of this job - new professional opportunities with organizations I actually liked, job fulfillment, travel - float away on a grey storm cloud.

Something else happened that caused me to take sufficient pause and write this wreck of a blog post. Today I realized it was April 18th. As in beyond mid-April. As in almost May, which would mean that this "new" year that's no longer so new is in fact a third of the way done. That was scary.

Then I realized that this year - and time in general - had been literally slipping through my fingers, which led me to the subsequent realization that I was experiencing one of those quintessential adult dilemmas: the where does the time go? dilemma. And that realization brought me to the next and final realization of the day: I am an adult. And, yes, that too was scary.

But both of these events/realizations can be traced back to the same idea: that is, of becoming an adult and the subsequent fears that are triggered by that idea. I think it's a little different for everyone, this aversion to growing old. For me, it's the fear of first being stuck somewhere in a job/relationship/life that you like well enough to begin with; and then getting stuck there, like getting stuck in quicksand - only it's not quick, it's sluggish and slow so as to keep you benevolently unaware of the fact that you're becoming stuck. Until suddenly you realize it: You are stuck in a spot miles from where you thought you'd be, and you can't even remember how you got there in the first place because you are so far past the point of return, and it's all so ironic and maddening; how you had become so content, so comfortable with the very surroundings that were pulling you gradually, deliberately down.

Maybe this is the fear that is driving me to change my hair color every three months, or why I frenetically imagine myself at a new job just three weeks into starting one, or why I've lived in a different city every year for the last five years. Maybe it's the inherent restlessness of being 23 - not old enough for the big commitments, not young enough for the impressed structure of school or parents; or maybe it's a trait programmed into my DNA, like impunctuality. Whatever it is, I'm old enough to know that it just won't do to ignore these fears, that instead they might be used for constructive purposes: to imagine, plan for, and create a life that doesn't make me want to run away, a life in which staying in one place won't mean being stuck in one place. For now, my job is just another stop on my way. As long as I've got dreams to remember, that's quite alright.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Slow down, you're moving too fast

(Pausing for a moment in the City of Sin. Photo de moi)

When life is going particularly great, and our personal, professional, and social needs are all being met (maybe even exceeded), the tendency to keep it all going instinctively kicks in. Often, we will even tend to speed up the pace at which we're moving, as if out of some unfounded (yet certainly dangerous) fear of losing it if we're snoozing during it. I say 'unfounded fear' with a tinge of hesitancy, because I realize there are times and professions out there that require fast-paced progression for success; yet, I'm talking about the whole grand picture: a career, a social life and family, and fulfilling personal time.

This hyperactive mentality has been fed to us daily for generations, and subsequently, our culture feeds into the mentality. The ingrained, and all-too-pervasive nature of the message can be said to have created a society of mindless drones who pass through life on a high-speed conveyor belt, stopping only when they are forced off or fall. But that's too easy a criticism. Because after all, aren't we responsible too? Who creates each tool and gadget designed solely to maximize our productivity, to make efficient our time, so that the fast lane can become even faster and we can short-cut/compartmentalize/schedule and otherwise sell ourselves short when it comes to actually and fully enjoying the life we are living. 

But I am not here to talk about that clich├ęd, and oft-dramatized scenario. Because in my opinion, the solution to that is pretty simple. The real problem is when life is moving along at break-neck speed, and rather than being annoyingly obnoxious or morally degrading, the near entirety of it is chock-full of worthwhile, fulfilling, and otherwise enjoyable little goodies. When this is the case, let me tell you, the very last thing you want to do is slow down , even when your body begs you morning, noon, and night; and your brain attempts to reason with your proud defiance.

Of course, at some point; not listening will cause you to lose. And you'll be stuck inside not working, not playing, not anything but nose-blowing for a lot longer than you would have if you would have taken one night or one half-day off. But if you're smart, your reasons for slowing down will be motivated by more than just a fear of getting sick. You'll actually take time to sit and reflect and absorb the day; because your mind, your body, life, and yes, your productivity will benefit from it. Because my life is so jam-packed with good stuff, I need to time to sort through everything, to connect the dots of events and places and people. To focus, and extract meaning; fit it into the larger, over-arching model for living and working that I will follow tomorrow, and the day after, and the next year after. It's not laziness, it's smart. And it's sustainable. 

Shouldn't this be the goal we are striving for - clarity, focus, enjoyment out of life and work - rather than double-bookings and 60 hour work weeks? Leo Babauta wisely puts it this way:

If our goal is to create, to produce amazing things, to go for quality over quantity, then rushing is not the most effective way to work. Slowing down and focusing is always more effective.
Rushing produces errors. It’s distracting to flit from one thing to the next, with our attention never one one thing long enough to give it any thought or create anything of worth. Hurrying produces too much noise to be able to find the quiet the mind needs for true creativity and profound thinking.
So yes, moving quickly will get more done. But it won’t get the right things done.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Be careful what you wish for..

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise."                                               
 -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Well folks, I got it all - and then I got crazy busy. So much so, that I don't even have time for things like closing the bathroom door or changing into pajamas before bed!

There are certainly two opposing ideas in my mind right now, but somehow I've maintained most of my functioning abilities. My man Scott is pumping up my mental fortitude, via this quote, and while I'd never be so melodramatic as to say anything is hopeless, I am determined to make things better than they currently are. I'm swirling, twirling, and whirling in every direction this week, and I know I'd better find a way to ground myself quickly before my house lands in the middle of Oz - on top of a witch - surrounded by Munchkins.

See what I mean about going crazy?