Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Currently Blogging on The Philotic Connection

Dear blogosphere,
Adventure has taken me to focus my blog-writing skills on a new and exciting project. Come see what I'm up to, and read my more recent ponderings and articles on the Philotic Connection.

Peace and love.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Living For The Art

Despite being kind of fabulous in plenty of ways, my life has looked kind of like this for too long. 

In some ways I've just been too much in transition. A multi-client consultant's mental juggling, red-lining my vespa all over the place in heels and chandelier earrings just to teach myself to believe that the sweet breezes still blow. Living more in reflection and history than creatively and presently.

With the few hours of truly blank-slate time that my first days off following moving into a new house (still covered in piles of unorganized stuff), then going on a sweet little vacation and returning to discover myself on the edge of some possible shifts in job structure, I'm drawing something a little less pragmatic and a little more glorious than normal in this new space.

I've written before about the crucial value of how one uses their attention, but most of us have to address the past before we can really move forward. We need to get out of the red before we can really start to invest and create value. To move forward and create value with grace and poise - from a place of love and strength, not fear and protectionism - takes focus, courage and consistency. Transitory chaos easily overwhelms. 

Lines and Triangles, Guido Brandt.

In my experience, more often than not, the key to traction that allows for real, grounded value-creation is a combination of the help of good friends and especially the transcendence of praise. By this, I mean letting what is truly beautiful and good loom large. No weapon that's fashioned against it can stand. It tends to disarm common bitterness and strife that divides and kill us too often. To notice, give praise to, and feed the glory divides and shrinks the chaos. The chaos must be directly addressed by the minute, but it is much more easily defeated with this means of what is almost mis-direction, or maybe starvation. Centralize and praise what is good and glorious, especially verbally in wide company. You might call it living for the art.

Beyond the piles of shoes, electronics, beauty products, and growing belief in the sweet breeze, I'm painting some beautiful, vibrant shapes using pieces of the very chaos that encroaches. I'm beating my swords into plowshares, and maybe some kickass installation art. The void that surrounds us is immense, and constantly threatens to confuse, steal and destroy. Ironically, victory is only sure with a deep smile and an aesthetic eye. 

Value is created in living for the art.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A New Technology Capital?

Washington is well known as a crossroads of global influence with a constant incoming stream of some of the brightest people in the world. From among the elements of what may be a greenhouse for it’s development, DC’s local technology business sector has become strong and is positioning itself, along with the local economy, to grow and thrive.

David Zipper, DC’s Director of Business Development and Strategy at Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development said, “It’s a big deal that we have so many young people coming in and out of DC all the time. It can both help us and hurt us.” People often come to DC to save the world for four years (and often less), then move on. It’s known as “a company town” - not where people make their homes and invest in communities - but could that be changing?

Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed the DC technology sector enhancement act into law, which includes five years of corporate income tax abatement that starts when technology companies based in DC become profitable. All benefits of DC tech incentives are available to any tech company in the District no matter where in the city the company is located.

“Let me be candid, the bill could have done even more,” said mayor Gray. A major change to the DC tax code giving incentive to DC based investors was removed by the DC council before the bill passed, “Largely because it wasn’t understood,” explained the mayor. DC local government has been working in cooperation with leaders of the newly burgeoning tech sector, including attracting companies like Fortify.VC, a venture capital firm that houses a startup incubator and hosts an annual pitch competition, Distilled Intelligence, which relocated to DC this year, and has resulted in millions in investment for it’s participants. 

Visionary, Jill Maguire
Will DC be the next Silicon Valley? In a way, perhaps, but as Julie Kantor, CSO of Barrel of Jobs, one of the winner’s of Distilled Intelligence put it, these developments at least mean that “Startups don’t necessarily have to go to New York or Silicon Valley to get investment capital anymore. Winning Distilled Intelligence led to some phenomenal investor meetings.” Kantor, born and raised in DC, pointed out the potential strength of connecting improvements in the startup ecosystem and DC’s local education system to increase avenues to comprehensive social & economic improvements.

“We like to celebrate the city,” said Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber during his keynote speech at DC Week, a celebration of the growing tech sector in Washington. “This is a place I’ve been spending a lot of time recently,” he continued. He had put up a picture of the Wilson Building, which holds the offices of DC council members, eliciting nervous, appreciative laughter from the crowd. The juxtaposition of historic & modern seen in that particular sample of DC architecture gave illustrative perspective for Kalanick’s overview of what it’s been like for Uber to succeed so wildly. “Not everybody is so happy about it, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs understand what it’s like to disrupt, what it means to bring innovation to an industry that hasn’t seen it for decades,” Kalanick explained as he  moved to an image of the first of many cease & desists that Uber has gotten.  

Indeed, the 2,000 member audience Kalanick spoke to, and at every one of the over 100 DC Week events where a direct question was posed, consisted of a majority of people from DC who were self-described current or aspiring entrepreneurs. iStrategy Labs CEO Peter Corbett, who also co-produced DC Week, is one of the main figures responsible for inspiring and regularly creating opportunities for these entrepreneurs to come together. 

“Everything we do, we want to make it so sticky they don’t want to leave. They’re gonna stay, and they’re going to build their businesses, they’re gonna build their families, they’re going to be here forever. And that’s selfish...I want to make this the most interesting place in the world, so I don’t have to leave.” said Corbett in reference to the developing community of tech entrepreneurs in DC.

Washington, DC has always had strengths. It has always been the nexus of some of the most powerful networks, but always transient. However, with a bit of collective consciousness, good leadership, clear avenues for investment and growth, partnerships with local government, and a willingness to disrupt what is in order to possibly bring something better, the District of Columbia may also be becoming a capital of technology and innovation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Think Something is Really Happening Here

What if you could look on one screen at all of the public transportation options in DC at the same time and choose the best route home (metro, bus, capital bike share, zipcar, and car2go)? Have you ever tried to cook from a recipe on your ipad or smartphone without getting food on the screen? A voice controlled cooking app called sous chef and an all in one dc transit app called go dc.me are just two of the ideas generated this week alone at DC Week.  

This week, DC’s business and tech savvy creative class is showing it’s colors at DC Week, a festival slash conference happening all over the city, aimed at bringing together social innovators of all kinds. I think something is really going on here.
photo courtesy of BenDROZphotography
While plenty of people cite the parties (especially the closing party, which is going to be SICK, I hear) as one of the most exciting things about the week, it’s really about social innovation. “We really view it as our job to catalyze as much creation as possible.” said event co-producer Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs reflecting on the 2011 event. There are just over 100 very diverse events throughout the week, reflecting the depth and reach of this prolific network.

Lots of the events are nearly or already sold out, but not all of them, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a badge for all of (actually not for a lot of) the events. (Ps: pls be nice and RSVP if you can.) But hey, maybe you crash one or two and make a new friend and maybe get a free t-shirt or a drink (I know I’ve already gotten several of each and it’s only Monday = #signofagreatweek ) and start exchanging ideas. That’s kind of what they’re going for here. See the full schedule

“We’re inviting the community to not only participate, but to drive an agenda.” said Jen Consalvo, COO of Tech Cocktail, and added “This is about about a region coming together to create something bigger and better. Not only that, but to really come together and shine a light on what’s happening and what can happen in this world. This is not just about DC, this is about creatives and thinkers, and people who want to make a difference.”

The opening party at Penn Social was a room full of entrepreneurs, product promoters, talent recruiters, and people trying to meet and learn from them. Listen Local First, a DC based initiative creating alternate avenues for local musicians and venues to collaborate with locally owned organizations and businesses, brought Cannon.fm  to the festival, and is working with cannon on an app that will be “like a local spotify or pandora” said LLF co-founder Chris Naoum.

“I think DC Week is about putting us on the map and proving that this is an up-and-coming entrepreneur community that has got a lot going on and is going to be successful.” said Danny Boice, co-founder and CTO of Speek, which just closed a million dollar seed round, almost entirely from DC investors. “DC has been kind of a sleeper city in terms of startups. People say you can’t raise money in DC, but we did, and it wasn’t easy, but it never is.” 

After being the Series A winner of Distilled Intelligence in October and growing about 12% a week since they launched in June, Speek might be one current flagship of the #DCTech community. However, this is a self-proclaimed tight-knit, openly collaborative community, collectively hunting for new contributors, ways to improve and cross-pollinate ideas, products, solutions and platforms into relentlessly new and better forms.

They’re looking for smart, motivated, innovative people who want to build something.They want to help people start good businesses, and profit from them. (Hello? Did somebody say job-market?) So here’s your chance even if this your first time to hear about it. Find them. Meet them. Make friends with them. These people are up to something great. Something is really going on here.

Some major highlights of DC Week are yet to come in the keynotes, core conference and closing party later this week, but the real gems will only really come to be seen months and maybe years from now. They are the conversations, new connections, and sparks of an idea that maybe, just maybe, will turn into something really great. So for those creatives and thinkers around the District waiting for an invitation to drive and contribute to and build something better, DC Week is an excellent place to start.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Constitutional Love

This is the third in a series of posts about love. Read the others in this series, Poison Love and Medicinal Love.

Love is, perhaps, the most foundational thing in the world. The things a person identifies with, the places they hold the most confidence for where each one stands in life - the way we love or abuse love becomes our own constitution - a foundation by which we establish ourselves and build onto what we find. These establishments allow us to build and grow. They are given to us and we are built into their forms by love, or the lack of love. This is true even in toxic, mutilated parts of our identity - which can also form platforms for growth, but only like tumors - quickly and parasitically causing more demolition than construction. We are bound incredibly deeply to our own understanding of love and what connection means. It is the basis for all we do and manifests itself in all forms of our life. 

I want to make something of myself. I want to build something, but how, and what exactly? I'm not sure. So I go to my thoughts, search my talents, connections and ambitions. They come from the reservoir of what I am drawn to. Who I know or want to know. What I have compassion on. What excites me. I sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen, dreaming and searching for how I can build up and be built up. We commonly call these things our babies - and sometimes they actually are - but does the artistic wisdom and practical discipline it takes to build up a human child, a healthy company, an actual building, or any thing else come from entirely different places? We spend our lives building things. Creating edifices and looking to be edified. The passion and dedication we use to set out and remain on these courses - especially if repeatedly - points directly to the character of our individual constitution in love.

WWII Cannon Foundation, Three. By Wink.
The best place to start when you're trying to build something - to establish a foundation or make a create a new constitution for a way forward, includes two types of information: historical and differential. What kinds of similar establishments have already been made, and how were they constructed? How is what you are going to build be different and take what has already been done to new levels? Both must be thoroughly and simultaneously considered in overlap and by contrast and from every conceptual and physical or other kind of angle you can possibly imagine. Lots of people talk about and imagine these things, but do their loves move them to actually bring the thing to completion? Rarely.

The foundation of a building. The constitution of a nation or of a mountain climber's stomach. They determine, almost entirely, the character and integrity of the success of entire edifice they are supporting or feeding. Underpinning all these things, the authorial element highlights the nano-coding of love and love-turned-bitter into every millimeter of this for any version of any person involved in any kind of similar process. Who the founder (and eventually presider) is personally, and why they are doing what they're doing infiltrates the whole establishment. Under this, all things are tested and submitted. If you want to build and to be built up - start with where you are rooted, and consider the loves of those whom you are rooted among. Rotten roots and foundations will kill the whole edifice. Healthy, deep roots support, nourish, stabilize, and can even resurrect the edifice like a new tree growing out of what appears to be just an old sawed-off stump.

Our work. Our children. Our art. We cannot create something that does not bear our image. What we build will always have a profound connection to us and affect on us. Even small things. Even in mundane, seemingly soulless things - those we'd argue the opposite for - there is a sinking and a callousness represented in that desired disassociation. The glory or the shame of our creations edify or deconstruct us. What do you love? Who do you love? Why do you love it? How do you love it? The answers have shaped your human constitution. And everything you do will be built onto their platforms, and take on their forms.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Medicinal Love

This is the second in a series of posts about love. Read the first post, "Poison Love" here.

Love is, perhaps, the most remedial thing in the world. Most of us are quite confident that love is probably the answer to all of our pain and incompleteness. Love is strong medicine. It is a powerful substance. But, like any potent chemical compound the medicine of love can act as poison perhaps more easily than it can act as an antidote. It is a dynamic, volatile solution that - like dynamite or wet cement - left for too long in the wrong state, becomes obstructive, harmful or both. 

Love's natural state is active. It has to be applied to be restorative. It has to be given and received over and over to act as the remedy. 

The dilemma and the miracle of love both arise from the same characteristics: we cannot survive without love, love is more powerful than anything, and love is everywhere - it cannot be removed. 

We cannot survive without love. We were born incomplete. Individually, and collectively - we find ourselves taking the shape of simple, elegant equations, missing one key variable. We are symmetrical creatures, eternally searching for the piece that would complete our symmetry to make us as whole and beautiful as we sense we should be, but currently are not. Love is exactly what we need. In this need, most of us spend our whole lives. Children need to find belonging and provision. Women need to find value and beauty. Men need to find honor and respect. In this need for love, manifested in what I will not, here, attempt to list in it's potentially innumerable ways, we almost always try to use love for the sake of and solely unto ourselves. That will never work, because love is necessarily relational. It cannot be gained or kept. It must be given to be received, and it must be received to be given. For love to bring healing - both must hold hold true and constantly return to reciprocate. 

Better Me, Ilja Hackman
Love is more powerful than anything. Alone, we are weak - naturally moving towards death. Love is the thing that we can take up - we can wield it, but only for the sake of each other - to move each other towards life. Love is necessarily humble and sacrificial. Those you love are the ones you return back to serve consistently, whether in your mind or in the flesh. Love is to directly engage them, to come alongside and join them, to relentlessly vote with your attention and affection. Those you love are the only ones in a position to give you the love that can heal you, if they are able to rightly make use of it's power. Think about what fits the above description in your life. Really everyone is in love with something or someone, even if only in their minds. They are the ones you are in a continually revolving servant-master, master-servant relationship with. They are the ones that can love you - but how will they treat your trust? Love implies risk for the lover and the beloved. For the lover it is in fear of rejection - fear of what you will become if the love and service you give is not reciprocated, and risk that you will begin to wield love as poison on yourself or your beloved in your weakness. For the beloved it is in fear of mistreatment - fear of the lack of sufficiency and grace in your lover's wisdom for how to wield love to heal your ugly and delicate wounds. In these fears, love has more often been used to do harm than to heal, but even so, love is the only medicine. Like only diamonds can cut diamonds, even the wounds caused by mis-applied love must be healed by love, although it may best be done by a more wisely chosen lover. 

Love is everywhere - it cannot be removed. For most, "love" evokes sunset romance, and "medicine" evokes salve or antibiotics, but medicine and love are really much more broad than that. Either might more completely be defined as "what will do you good," or "precisely what will restore you to more complete wholeness." Both are necessarily subjective, and most commonly non-physical and non-erotic. This kind of love permeates and infiltrates every part of the universe. No one can escape it. No one can escape the need for it. No one can escape the desire for it. It is an implied, inescapable risk of danger - which would be horrible were it not the only exit from a worse fate. To approach love is to face fear, but to remain in love is to continually cast it out. Deep consistent healing love always results in the expansion or creation of families, whether biological or not. Love can rarely be sustained as an applied healing force outside of family.

Each of our lives - each of our families - are a history of love. Love desired. Love remembered. Love abandoned. Love grown out of. Love received. Love abused. Love restored. For each one to make sense of it, the history may be approached as an epic adventure or a tragedy. Many potential outcomes lay ahead of you, but you cannot survive or grow alone. To live in love, you must be a champion. You must continually risk pain and face fear. You must relentlessly serve, then allow yourself to be served. You must consider your resources, and wield them as agents of healing and strengthening. All of us interact with, and make use of love, but only those who take it up to heal, overcome and discover will be able to be healed, find victory, and be discovered.

This is the second in a series of posts about love. Read the next post, "Constitutional Love" here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poison Love

Love is, perhaps, the most dangerous thing in the world. It comes softly, easily - as though a complex chemical cocktail planted in your pocket by a ragman on the street. The ragman hasn't stolen from you but he's planted something loaded on you, like the seven year death touch. 

Love opens your heart. The ragman exposes you. He soils your soul's sterility with "the dirtiest of all dirty words....promising." It's overpowering. It's too strong for any of us. Humans in love are like toddlers playing with matches and sticks of dynamite. The cosmic farce seems to be this: to open your heart to love and to be loved is to risk serious pain and suffering, but to shut your heart off from that same love is to choose immediate impotent death. We seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

Sweet Poison,  Jose Schmersen, Jakarta
Waking echoes of daydreams of the wide oceans of waterfall love that my soul knows it needs to stand beneath to be whole, brings me the nearest thing to what might rightly be called "alive" that I think a person can now be. Returning to reality to find the distinct lack of the same - as if waking to find the quite real protrusion of an arrow's feathered tail coming from my chest and being greeted by the one I'd loved to say they'd put it there, and weren't the feathers beautiful- strangles the same within an inch of being "alive." I do not mean to say that I have been uniquely accosted by this arrow- we all have, and have all been the marveling idiot of an archer as well, which is worse. The point is that we need love but cannot handle it, as starving east african children need food, but cannot digest it.

C.S. Lewis suggests that really, what we call love is most of the time just the longing to be loved, and that loves which we are left to manage alone become malevolent gods, and actually exist as complicated forms of obsessive hatred. 

I think you can look at most tragedies in the world, whether widespread political-economic tragedies, or simple domestic ones, and rightly say, "They didn't manage their love well." Or, "I wish we could have loved each other better." We all came to know love before we understood it. We were born here, giving and receiving love before we knew what it meant. Before we knew how it would devastate us.

This is the miracle. That for every shattering of our hearts, for every bodily gasp that can't bear to abstain from touching the beloved even one more moment, for every instinct to to scrap it all and start over- to run away with the wind and "to do it right this time" like my dad used to say- we've already known love. By contrast every memory of a sweet giving smile from a mother, every rushing into a place we called home- elated to embrace people we called family, every soaring butterfly of romantic love in which you though you might somehow BE the other person because you were so connected, the sound of raucous deeply knowing laughter shared with a friend, is an unthinkable miracle. The fact that we have any ability to see, welcome, understand, and bless each other in any capacity is otherworldly. It is not from us, but it is through us and for us. I fear it and long for it more than any other thing.

Love, affinity and affection present as a sweet glowing child, and left to us, almost always morph into a pandemic titan. Nothing, save omnipotence can subdue it to fruitfulness- but it must be done. Love upsets me. It makes my pride into a disgusting feeding baby bird, and saves me. Love does not suffer sterility. It agitates my personal space.   Love is poison, but it's an antidote. Without it, I am dead already. With it, I am out of control - at the mercy of another. In danger. In love.

This is the first in a series of posts about love. Read the next post, "Medicinal Love" here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Remain in Time

One moment finds me on the bridge.

I've stepped into it like an enormous globe filled with wind, not snow, between the earth and the sky at dusk. Feet and hands fastened to the sidewalk and railing, I remain. I am anchor against the wind careening past in bursts from the cars & busses just behind my heels. My hair dances as if to ask whether I've seen the coming storm. Eyes gloss over ever so slightly from the sweeping air with retinas behind mesmerized by the flashing chop of the tidal basin's top layer - here like shining fans, across the way like perfect glass. The wind steals my breath, then becomes a monsoon of it into my lungs. 

Helicopters hopscotching between marble buildings on either side of the Potomac. Ducks dive and bob. Jets to Reagan. Swallows flit through the trees & across the water in pairs and packs. I hear nothing, and everything. Clamor blends into peaceful silence.

Yacht Approaching the Coast,  Joseph Mallord William Turner,  c. 1845
Deep indigo thunder clouds invade the bright orange & pink sky that crowns the horizon made of almost-gone cherry blossoms beginning to be covered by nightfall. Tiny white petals littered all over the ground. Flowers fading but trees that will remain here long after I ever could.

Of all movements, time might be the most relentless. 

Can I stay here like a mountain? Can I stand here sending roots down and reach the heights like a tree? Surely the trees couldn't have stretched so high if they hadn't been fastened down with integrity. Surely no mountain could remain if it hadn't found a place to rest. No. Nothing is still, but nothing is alone either. Even the sky. Even the water. They are not the same, but you can never put a definite edge around them. They are always touching. Always together.

I may rest here. I may remain, but only for a moment. I may root down with integrity, but I will never remain as I am now. I will find rest, but I will never really be stationary. On this bridge, I've found a place to remain for a moment. Between water and sky. Between day and night. Between spring and summer. Between this moment and the next. We all stand here touching each other. But we are not the same--and if we are, we cannot remain the same. Time moves us on.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

12% Words

"Finally. There. Those people are leaving." My good friend Kelsey sped up and pulled in to park. "But I was just so frustrated about the pollution statements, you know. He keeps telling me they want to help and he'll come to the meetings but then totally disappears and doesn't follow through. What he's doing is good, but he can't push me to move if he won't sign the pollution stament. I'm not sure what to say. What do I tell him?"

Once inside she smiled easily. Eyes bright but relaxed. Ears & temples lifted in contentment. She chattered pleasantly with Jeff & Susan, whom we'd laid eyes on for the first time in our lives just moments before. A lot of words circulated between them and I followed about 12% of what was said.

Kelsey uses a lot of spoken words in order to organize thoughts. I use a lot of slowly organized thoughts in order to allow me to express anything verbally. She's a verbal processor. I'm a non-verbal processor. 
As I studied their demeanor, I discovered all of them looking at me. She'd said my name, and I remembered that I was there. They expected me to do something, not just to stand with them, quietly ruminating. "Hello. It's nice to meet you." I said. They were still looking at me...Words... Should I say more of them? Which ones? Which words should I choose at random to say? Do they want me to say more words? I'll just have to think of which ones... A half second passed in silence, and when I still said nothing more, they picked back up at Jeff's cousin's business which they'd used those many circulating words to discover was very similar to Kelsey's field.

Another moment passed and I became satisfied they wouldn't require any more immediate input from me so I resumed scanning the room. Blue walls but warm light. Five conversation circles sprawling over this room and down into the hallway, then maybe six more outside. Is that a pool or a fountain? Susan stood in front of the drinks. Completely blocking them. Kels would want a beer to start. I might go for G&T. plenty of lime. That's nice that they have limes right there ready to go. Jake had great shoes but probably hadn't ironed his pants in a week. He was talking about how important his job was, but I wasn't sure what specific goal he was after. His eyes, posture & tone gave clues, but it would take time to deduce them. The only words I actually remember him saying are "political sympathies." I caught onto that phrase because he repeated it just shy of entirely too many times for it to still hold any meaning.

This room full of new people- who are they and what are they after? Where did they come from? How did they relate to each other? Are they trying to have fun or to impress each other? I engaged these and similar questions by observing cues & dynamics like blueprints - alone able to translate about 12% of it into words. Kelsey engaged these questions by asking them directly with words - alone able to translate about 12% of it into prominent themes.

Several hours in the sun and beverages later I laid on the couch at her house drinking green tea and patting the dog while staring at the ceiling in thought. Kelsey was telling me about a conversation she'd had yesterday with her mom, the vegetables in her refrigerator, and how annoying it was that the fence fell over, all at the same time. Did I want an omelette, or maybe we could go get something. Also there was water, and beer. Should we watch a movie? 

The pollution statement answer came to me. "He doesn't want to upset his partners. Didn't you tell me last week that they were meeting with the other group? Maybe they don't mind him meeting you, but he can't sign until they want to too." I said.

"What?" She walked out of the kitchen puzzled, holding something like asparagus and a box of texas toast. 

"The guy from work with the pollution statements. You asked me what I thought. I think that's why he's not signing."

Friendships between very different kinds of people, to me, are the most valuable. It is often most useful to learn by contrast. The challenge in contrast, is finding what ground is held in common, and how to translate very different approaches to expand your individual understanding. We should celebrate our differences, not just as a virtue of patience, but knowing that building a bridge through that measly 12% gives access to a categorically different kind of synergetic life that is impossible without the contrast.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Take Care of the Roses

She's coming up on three decades of life. You can look at her roots and see the grey bark cracking off what is actually a tree trunk now, whereas you can easily imagine from the shape that she originally took to this soil as a greener variety - more of a vine. Branches cut off in years past have left circling wooden cross sections and smallish holes where the life used to flow out to the leaves & blooms she used to bear. They tell stories about sweet seasons past - blueprints of how the life and death in the elements of each hour brought her to be who she is today. 

Today is ok. It's still bleak but it's been getting warmer outside. She's showing good signs of life after losing somewhere between a half and a third of all of her limbs - mostly just the dead parts, the ones that wouldn't have been fruitful anymore. Tiny intricate bundles of burning red leaves are beginning to unfurl, but she needs the turnover of a new interval - a different angle on the sun before she'll really be ready to show what's stirring inside. She needs time and space. She needs light and food.

There are quite a few plants in the garden & potted inside my new house, but I can't help but to take delicate, attentive care of the roses. They're remarkable - better than a lot of things I've had the chance to call mine. They speak to me. They inspire the poet & the economist in me. I'm an investor, a builder, an economic developer in the broadest sense. Opportunities and solutions are everywhere to me. Lately, the trouble I've faced is getting lost in the weeds & losing clarity on what is central, remarkable, and still holds the ability to bear good fruit. 
Sunset Boulevard by Mark
The roses and I, we'll grow and bloom more fully if all the dead parts get cut off so the life in us can thrive. Brown branches with hollowed out veins, or lurching spindly ones that reach too far will always naturally develop as our extensions, but they're dead. They still cost nutrients, but will never produce. Brown branches prevent rest. They cause confusion and send limited resources to places where there will be no return. Each new branch begins with promise, but daily diverges to a place of fruitfulness or lack.

Today, as you engage your life - determining what to work on,  how to care for your family & your home -  think about what is really central to what makes you remarkable, inspires you, and bears fruit. Watch the extensions of yourself as you enter new seasons of fruitfulness or dormancy for signs of life or death. Wait for evidence to develop, but listen to the signs. If they're dead, cut them off - new shoots will grow there soon. Let yourself rest. Refocus your energy and your resources to the things that are showing life. Take care of the roses.

Monday, December 26, 2011


"You have to have a sense of humor about these things, missy." said Kenneth, directing a big smile down at me. My ears were hot, eyes drawn as far back in my sockets as they would go. I couldn't even look at him. I was trying not to explode with disgust for him, and the situation, and not succeeding very well. The entire downstairs floor of our house on D Street had smelled like some mix of dead rats (reminiscent of old vomit, or worse) for just over a week now. He plodded around putting flashy blue light mouse preventer contraptions in all the rooms downstairs. They were his way of saying he wasn't going to do more to address the actual problem, and they gave the trip to the fridge at night the feeling that you were on a tiny landing strip with erratic unpredictable signals.

Abandoned Train Station, California, Simon Christen
In its better days, tenants of this house had nicknamed it buttercup, cause it’s yellow and used to be kind of sweet. Still holding some of the prettiest little chandeliers and charming quirky little traits I've seen in the Capitol Hill Historic District, Kenneth was leaving buttercup, and we who lived there, to the rats, robbers, and slow decay that comes with 100 years of bandaid only maintenance. We weren't supposed to put nails in the walls, because when you did, a steady stream of some of the finest, dryest dust I’ve ever seen came out of the nail holes for an average of 30 seconds-to-a-minute consecutively. Most of the light switches and panels in the house still use push button electricity (you know, before electricity was really electricity).

Somewhere, between the smell, dust of death walls, belittling smiles, nuclear hazard night lights, and the phenomena that my roommates and I weren't sure we felt ok about hanging out anywhere but our beds themselves, and really only under the covers at that, my urban single girl brain began to wonder if we were really getting such a good deal on the rent. None of us are in a position to buy a house. We're renters, at least for the next good chunk of years. But at what point does a tenant become a squatter? Did we live there, or were we  just storing our things there, holding over for the night like some cave in the wilderness? 

Our souls cry for home. A place to belong. This was not it.  Three weeks til Christmas, and we all agreed & began searching craigslist for an immediate escape en masse. One click gave me pause. 

Beautiful. Why do I know that address? 
Impossible. My parents' house. 

The same two people by whom I entered this world, who originally defined my home. The same two people I just had to let go to the other side of the great beyond. The same two people who wouldn't be there on Christmas. There, staring at me on craigslist was the very same house my parents first lived in when, as 20-something west-coasters, they moved to DC in the 70s. A home. A veritable castle. A four story victorian, four blocks from the Capitol - and with a view of the dome from the top two front windows.

Seven days of jockeying, six close to sleepless nights, adding a couple new roommates to fill the extra rooms, too many texts, emails, and one of the best exhales in a long time, the lease was signed and we moved in just a few days before Christmas. It's like something out of a movie, an act of God. Is this a new beginning? The real life stuff of great books’ literary themes? A divine returning to the same ground to deepen the plot? These are the questions that go through my mind. These are the things of adventure, real life, a good lift to ride the wave of this human experience. We search for a lot of things in life, without really knowing exactly what they are. Maybe the gateway to many such expeditions is finding what I’ve just found at least some small part of. A starting place. A resting place. A home. Not just for being, but for belonging.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lift Up Your Heads, O You Gates

Unsolicited, the thought came through my mind,
"Lift up your heads, O you Gates!
 And be lifted up, O you ancient doors."

I wasn't quite sure where it came from. It marched into my head like a victorious army processing back into it's hometown, building a bridge to something else that has recently been present in my thoughts. I've been reading about the habitual connections of the synapses in our brains. Discoveries in neuroscience over only the last few decades suggest that a healthy mental state requires perpetual interaction with other people's right brain. This gives experiences of relational narratives that create thinking templates. Once our brain's synapses have fired according to a certain template, they are significantly more likely to fire the same way again and again. Unused, many areas of the mind simply shut off eventually, like an abandoned, overgrown neighborhood on the outskirts of town.

Autumn Composition,  Deduar
Common example: "I don't know how to trust anyone, because I'm so used to finding people unreliable or untrustworthy." Even when we come across people who would break our mental stereotypes, we shut them out, because we're following the somewhat implicit neural template. The physical pathways in our brain literally form ruts. Once they're formed, according to some research, most people never change them. Although, unlike at least most other beings on the planet, humans do have the ability to re-form these pathways.

The psychological distress of many can be correlated with the literal lack of physical connectivity between the right (emotional, relational) and left (linear, logical) hemispheres of their brain. It could even be said that people whose brains don't integrate enough with other people's brains, will not be able to form healthy patterns of thought,  and have trouble integrating their own brain, as well as nerve connectivity to "the extended brain", or visceral organs (the heart, lungs and gastrointestinal system), eventually causing physical sickness in some. This gives new meaning to the old wisdom that you shouldn't have a divided heart, or a divided mind.

"Lift up your heads, O you Gates!
 And be lifted up, O you ancient doors."

It's originally from a song, written thousands of years ago, actually by King David, returning victorious from war, with the ark of the covenant, restoring authority, the life of the people, and communion with God back into his city.

For the first time in a long time, I've found myself venturing out into pathways I've left unexplored. After years of trauma, and subsequent hiding in fear, I'm daring myself to love again, to trust. What a welcome verse. What a bold procession. O, dearest hope, that I could find the right levers, that I could find the courage & stamina to join the song and open those gates.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Making Fun of the Devil

Some people really don't like halloween. It bothers them. A lot.  They want their kids to go to "Harvest Parties" --never anything called halloween and never out trick or treating.  I can't say I don't sympathize in some way - My mom didn't really let us go trick or treating or wear scary costumes. I'll probably do the same if I have kids. It makes sense that you don't want to expose kids to potential danger & what can be pretty disturbing costumes, especially if you, like me, aren't convinced there isn't some spiritual reality behind it.
Harvest Parties: The super cute version

All that said, I'm not one of them, and I just have one major bone to pick with them. They're afraid. And they want you to be afraid too. (Click here for the extreme version). If these people have a religious objection to Halloween, and they say that the God of Christianity is more powerful, then their tone on this issue should never be fearful or reactionary, yet it often is. They should never shudder or back down at the image of demons, witches, ghouls or devils.

It reminds me of Ignatius of Antioch, who has a pretty epic story. On the slow route to Rome to be put in the Colosseum, he wrote letters to encourage his friends, and in one (albeit one contested by some) he goes on to openly taunt the devil, calling him a fool and giving a play by play of how Satan's actions were 10 steps behind, specifically in the events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion. Satan didn't realize what he intended to be his victory was actually his defeat. There is a famous saying that "God and the Devil are in league with one another, the Devil just doesn't know it." This is what is implied in Ignatius' account to the Philippians, and he wanted to the world to know. Ignatius had multiple chances and friends in high places who probably could have gotten him released. He was not afraid, and neither should anyone be.

Hey,  idiot. Nice pants.
There seems to be a pretty decent case to be made for using halloween to make fun of the devil. If you hate the devil, shouldn't you fully exercise your victory? Think of it like completely destroying your rival team in sports then stealing their mascot and parading around like a fool in that ugly costume. In my mind, this may be entirely appropriate. Whether or not you believe in a real Devil that acts in this world, everything "devil" represents is not respectable. Satan is dumb - a fool. Feel free to treat him like it. In some ways, it's kind of ironic because Christians, by their own beliefs, should be the only ones who don't blink at the devil, but often it's just the opposite. Halloween isn't a bad occasion for Christians to parade their superiority (read: superiority over the devil, not other people. Some of you needed that clarification. As we saw in Example A, many of us have found Christians to be ridiculous idiots too. Seriously, these are often not the type of people anyone would want to associate with unless you really believe in the authentic historical gospel.)

So hey, halloween is coming up. You don't have to like it, just don't be scared. After all, isn't that the point?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Remember- I'm a Person

Usually it happens when you're walking down the sidewalk. It's the thing I love and hate about being out in public. People don't really know who you are. I was doing just that-- walking back to the office from CVS & decided to grab a coffee across the street.

Walking Shadow. Oliver Raffy, from the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia
My head was up, laughing to myself as I remembered some dumb joke one of my co-workers had told a few minutes earlier. It was warm and beautiful outside. There was a big truck right in front of the coffee shop with four construction workers leaning up against it facing the street in the sun. They were smirking and I felt them looking at me. I looked up to say hi as a courtesy and immediately shrunk back. Not because they weren't smiling, but because of the way they were doing it.

They were looking right at me, but their eyes said they saw something else. I could tell I was an impersonal invaluable thing to them. I tried not to react, just to dignify the situation, make eye contact, say hello and keep walking. Not all of them were necessarily even bad looking, or too old, or too construction worker-y, but they made us into foreigners by their demeanor. I passed by and continued toward the coffee shop's glass window front and saw them all whip around in the reflection as soon as I'd passed, gesturing crudely. I stopped, my arm halfway reaching for the door handle, then turned around to face them. I stood there, all of us staring nervously, and I was trying to think of what to say.

"Remember - I'm a person," was all I could manage.

We all do it to some degree. We treat each other like caricatures--ideas that meld themselves to what we think the world does or should look like. I don't know any of those men, but I hope that I can continue to treat them like human beings. The truth about that interaction, which is commonplace, is that they were attempting to express their manliness, but did just the opposite.

When a man objectifies or disgraces a woman, he innately dishonors himself --and vice versa. It is impossible to separate. It will always be to the glory of all people (but especially true between men & women) to treat each other with dignity. When a woman cuts a man down it is to their mutual shame, even if he doesn't treat her badly. But by the same token, when one treats the other with respect, it is to their mutual honor & glory.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Golden Days

In retrospect, we fawn over the golden seasons of our lives. They are the stories we love to tell and reflect on. The places we want to get back to.

I call the summer after I graduated high school the golden summer. Friends of mine had a huge house (aka the cabin) that everyone hung out at literally almost every night. You could go there at night and find people just sitting on the couches on the wrap around porch simultaneously talking theology/philosophy & the best youtube videos. We'd have impromptu sit down family dinners with 25 people (only a few of us were actually related). We drove around Corvallis in my friend's shag carpet van (no seats) with about the same number of people --sometimes playing jokes on frat party-goers, sometimes just all going to get burritos. We'd get out on the roof and smoke and talk til all hours of the night. You could come back in the morning and find people trying to barbecue pancakes on the charcoal grill (only succeeded once). Most days a good crew would eventually make it out to play frisbee golf (as long as you weren't stuck working) and a lot of the time you could stick around til the evening and do it all over again the next day. It wasn't uncommon that summer for my abs to literally being sore from laughing so much.

Karol Zielinski
For many of us, the golden days are scenes from childhood or adolescence. Although these seasons still happen as we get older, I wonder if they're becoming harder to spot. By this, I don't mean to say that seasons of gut-wrenching pain & hardship (which we all face) aren't without worth. On the contrary, I've seen that those who dig into their pain-- facing it bravely, and with God's help pulling wisdom from it like seeds, can plant the same in hope and eventually reap the most beautiful golden harvests.

I no longer have the luxury of structuring my day around frisbee golf and barbecued pancakes. With age, I find that my capacity for joy, as with ambition, compassion, and meekness among others are becoming more sophisticated. I'm able to accomplish bigger & better feats. I still appreciate simple games, but I can also drink more deeply of fruit I see in family, friends and work.

Do I recognize the golden days while I'm in them? I don't think they look as simple, or always as obvious as the great games I played as a child. I can let myself be complicated-not every area or moment is golden, but some are. For me, now, I find great joy in my work. A lot of that comes from having wonderful leadership--which does a lot to cover and bring peace and direction to my life and the lives of others under their leadership.

The good things in life are not just ideas, nor should they be allowed to only be emphasized in past tense as memories. They have real world consequences. They are producing tangible, pragmatic fruit today. Look for them. Speak of them. Relish their sweetness. What is golden for you today?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Holding Back Accomplishment

Maybe it's this city. We value accomplishment. We praise proficient multi-taskers. We're high achievers. Friends my age are drafting federal policies, flying multiple times to multiple continents to do really revolutionary work in the developing world, spearheading really useful and creative local skill sharing forums, or just about singlehandedly lobbying congress to turn waste heat emission into pure energy. Seriously, we are knocking it out of the park. We're doing so much good. That's just who we are and we love it. It's really really fun to be good at your job.

Hopper. Nighthawks. 1942.
But with that, many of our identities are tethered tightly to our resume. And if not, then it's easy to get lost trying to relate to others within a culture of people flirting with the achievement trap (seriously, even the people working at fragers and peregrine have smart phones). I think I've often chosen to invest in my accomplishments and work over people often because I find it's easier to control. When I accomplish something substantial, I can step back, and say, "Here's something to put my weight on. Here's something measurable that shows my value."  Relationships are harder to predict. Even having truly great friends in this city, if I'm not super busy, then everyone else is, so we often miss each other. I literally have to schedule time with my super-close friends who live blocks away two weeks ahead of time. Apart from living in a culture of demanding jobs, maybe having saved the world a time or two makes us idolize that feeling. Even when we're not working on some heroic project, we act like we are, but really it holds us back. I'm there. I think I've forgotten how to really let go and rest. When I have spare time, I often don't know what to do with it, so I start another project. It's like voluntarily acting like a paraplegic. I might have really great arms if that's all I use, but it's pretty dumb not to use my legs just as often if they aren't actually impaired.

I have a beautiful community of friends. Really, it's life changing to belong to a local family that you love and respect. Show me your friends and I'll show you your future. However, I often think to myself that I'd enjoy the people in my life a lot more if we all lived somewhere else. When do we just linger and enjoy each other? Time together is joyful, but always neatly punctuated. I have long, lovely glimpses at their hearts, and it's enough to survive, but we lack consistency and depth in that. Why aren't we so resourceful in casting our nets wide for simple time spent on friendships, even if they may not represent any concrete gains for us other than the love and joy of the person themselves within those moments?

Hopper. The Sheridan Theatre. 1937. 
It's hard to do every day. For example, even just waiting in line for salad at lunchtime, I can barely stand to tear myself away from email or twitter on my phone for the 10 seconds it takes the girl behind the counter to ask me how much dressing I want, do I want bread, and is it for here or to go. It seems a small thing to give her my attention, so I skip over it. She has to raise her voice to get me to answer. I reply, not really looking up. What about courtesy? Why does it seem less significant to show patience and discipline in dignifying our interactions with other people as showing the same in our life's work?  In interactions like these, I make people an object to my goal, and innately reduce myself of dignity by not dignifying them. I sincerely love and am very proud of what I'm able to accomplish in my daily work and continuing education. It is good and right to expend oneself in such a way. But, for all the genius solutions, all the glorious essays & books, and all the huge, admirable accomplishments we all have made, loneliness still creeps in. Especially in the city, because of the fast pace, I think. It does for me, even often sitting in a room full of people I know and love. I have to connect with them. I can't go without it, and I'm one of the most task oriented people I know. Living jointly at this tempo often means cutting people out, not making more room for them. Loneliness should be a sign to us.

To have produced beautiful fruit from your labor is very satisfying, but it's not even close to enough. There comes a point when to continue working without sweet, long lingering pauses to enjoy the fruit and the hearts of those laboring around you, you subtract from yourself instead of adding. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Your Constant Thoughts

The most valuable thing I can give is my attention. We listen. If not to things or people, then to ourselves. We draw on the world around us. What we put out is built on the back of how we process the things we experience. The things we listen to eventually come out of us. Most of the time, we eventually let our core relationships--whether they're with friends, television, accomplishments, family members, ideas --or worse,   your ideal versions of people--define parts of our identity. Constancy is closely related to intimacy.

kandinsky.painting with white border (moscow).
I have one mind, one body. Every day, I choose how to invest my time and my focus. In large part, this is influenced by what I'm innately drawn to. At least in some ways, what we gravitate towards will teach us about what is already going on inside of us. What goes through your head over and over? What is your constant thought? The thought you wish you could get rid of. The thought that drives you. Write it down. If you're like me, you're walking in circles on roughly the same ground over and over. But why?

I challenge you to try something: Write down your most constant thought--the thing that loops through your head when you disengage--every day for about two weeks. Usually it's loudest right when you wake up, and when you lay down to sleep. It can vary from day to day, but I'll bet that in most cases you'll begin to see a significant pattern over time.

Think about sharing it with someone you trust. Consider what it says about what's going on in your heart, and what you are listening to. Writing or sharing a constant thought helps with honest analysis by putting it on an external backdrop. It's often easier to learn by contrast.

Shifting where you place your attention and what you focus on can eventually change the way you interact with the world, and ultimately re-shape your identity. If you want to be different, start paying attention to different things.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are you an Employee or an Entrepreneur?

The declaration “I am an entrepreneur” is surely more satisfying in this social media age than wearing a name tag or passing out the “standard corporate” business card.  In my millennial generation, we like to think we’re calling the shots, writing our own profiles, that we have no respect for the man--when most of us are just filling out the “About me” interface handed to us with little but over-used quotes. Are we really the rebels we brag like? And if we are, is that even a good thing? Is it better to think like an employee or an entrepreneur?

My friend recently inherited a large, very full mini-storage unit. This friend also happens to be facing--through no fault of her own--a serious debt crisis. I came to help her clean the unit out. We found everything from $500 business suits & stetsons to weird but expensive collector’s items--star wars special edition dolls (new the in box), crystal music boxes, about a bajillion baseball cards & autographed gear. She was very focused on clearing the place out to avoid the monthly fee, because her temp job didn’t pay that well. I saw dollar signs all over that stuff & suggested she try to sell it instead of trying to find more regular work for now.

“Honestly, selling this stuff online is going to pay you a LOT more than any other use of your time.” I told her, but she wouldn’t have it.  She gave away thousands of dollars of ebay-able merchandise. I thought it was dumb at the time, but maybe I wasn’t thinking straight.  Maybe, given all of the other stress going on in my friend’s life at that time, it wouldn’t have been a good choice for her. She wasn’t up to it.  Let us be humans--not just producers. We have to invest what we’ve got wisely, but emotional stability is an economic resource just like dollar bills.

Many of us don’t invest our resources well because we don’t realize what they are. We don’t see value in what we have-- an idea, a skill, an audience--so we don’t do the pruning & feeding that could make it bear fruit. One of my biggest professional growth areas over the last few years has actually been evening the scale in favor of thinking like an employee. I’ve always had good ideas, but overstepping my bounds was the only thing that’s ever gotten me fired. Even though my boss was totally wrong & making terrible decisions --his business went under shortly after he fired me, but I couldn’t’ve known that would happen-- I let being right ruin the resource that provided for me, my job.

Business owners, even some of the really big top dogs are wise to think about investing in relationships-- even over-investing before it's really obvious that they need to. I like to think I’m smart. I’d love to own my own business, or write for a living.  However, even the most brazen entrepreneurial minds need grooming. For most of us, it’s at least partially in learning to operate like a good employee that we’ll find our niche in the market and find success in our ventures. Anxious as I am to show my stuff,  I think lengthy seasons of  learning-- serving under a good boss will give better results in the long run. Like a good bottle of wine--I could probably stand to stay on the vine for awhile.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Share These Streets with Her Has Been a Blessing

Two years ago today, my mom died of breast cancer after an eight year struggle. She was a beautiful lady, inside & out-- a giver, empowerer, analyzer, counselor, sometimes a nag, loud laugher, organizer & often creative genius. She constantly assumed the position of coming alongside people to the point that I have a hard time thinking of stories specifically about her, despite missing her constant presence over my lifetime. A lot of my best character traits came from her (although I didn't get her amazing legs, a damn shame.)

Like one plant gives shade or nutrients to another, we belong to each other. Life is not an individual experience, it is a collaboration, whether we realize and choose to accept it or not. She contracted cancer of the breast, but that wasn’t what killed her. It was the intimacy between organs- tissue connection and shared body fluids. As each gives, takes, and communicates with the others, they pass on subtleties too minute for them to influence or defend against. It is the same with our lives.

Capitol Hill Rowhouses in the fall.
I find peace and purpose in small things my family and I have shared with my mother-- knowing it falls to us to carry her torch now. In 1976 she moved to DC from Oregon, a greenstick sweet little doe of just twenty three. My parents lived on Capitol Hill while my dad went to law school at Georgetown & she often told me how she used to love the neighborhood and watching the leaves change in the fall here. Over thirty years later, just weeks after her death, I had made the same move at the same stage in life and found myself with a weekly reason to walk through Capitol Hill for the first time in my life. It was not premeditated, although it was a kind coincidence. Below is my reflection on the experience of that sweet happenstance one evening after I made the connection, just as autumn was setting in.

I let my mind wander and we're both twenty five, with bright brown eyes and long auburn hair, wandering through the rowhouses on Capitol Hill in the fall, enjoying the neighborhood, wearing burnt orange-brown boots dad bought for her and her leather gloves. Both with peaceful, satisfied, subtle smirks on our faces with little noise but the leaves crunching beneath our feet and sporadic conversation.

We are full of life, healthy, at rest and going places. I shake myself back to the physical reality and it is just me. To share these streets with her has been a blessing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Begging the Question

The most wonderful things in this life aren’t the ones that arise outside of any individual or organized collaborative purpose that we here possess. We may be able to recognize and appreciate them, or even participate and contribute to them, but never really control them. True blessings, and even curses, always come in disguise, I think. One can turn into the other within the context of an individual life depending on that individual’s reaction to it.

The Great Carina Nebula (credit here)
An obvious blessing is more often than not a source of obstructive pride, blinding us to life outside of it. The best lessons and life processes, however, are those we would probably never choose for ourselves. They are things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, but would never take back either. Profound truth and beauty are completely other than the animalistic, reactionary behaviors we tend toward. Transcending problems and stress in this life is not possible without re-timing our hearts to the beat of that outside source.

People say God doesn’t act in the world, but I see the universe as a place that God made and created for His own purpose that we would seek Him out of it. Yes, terrible things happen and yes, it’s falling apart, but it’s like He’s holding it all together with a lynchpin. He’s giving us the forum we need to seek Him.

The things we see and marvel at like sunsets, stars, trees, flowers and oceans-- the handiwork of God-- could just be incidental fingerprints left there because it was Him who made it-- the handiwork couldn’t help but be marvelous because of the source-- not because that’s all He had to show. For me, it begs the question, prompting me to get up and find Him. (Prov 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”)