Plastic Childhood?

May 3, 2010

I didn’t intend to throw a kids party with no Plastic. Yet, it removed the veil of petroleum and it was a clear day of joy.  Children’s parties have become events about things: gifts, juice boxes, “sharing” which is another word for not grabbing the gift you can’t have, and arguing with the children to stop running, stop yelling, stop being such a crazy thing!

It was not Luca’s birthday. In fact, there was no reason to have a party – but the memory of May Day. No one celebrates it anymore – but, what the hell, we needed some fun, some celebration in this time that’s been filled with crappy news!  Also, Luca thought a party celebrating flowers coming back and summer almost here was an excellent idea. So, we did not invite the children in order to eat cake. We did not invite the children to rip open gifts. We had a party to be together.

And, that’s what we did. We had a party where, for some reason the kids did not scream, the adults talked to one another about stuff besides their kids, and we were more rested after the party.

I am NOT a person who has gone totally plastic free. It’s really hard (as a person) but with kids it’s really tough! I was introduced to the idea/fact/reality/terror of plastics by Manuel Maqueda (a founding member of http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/) about a year ago, and the issue of plastics taps into major issues for me: ecological destruction that needs to change, civil liberties violations (we are sold water in toxic bottles, and this water and soda is aggressively sold to poor people), and finally, it’s killing us. I’ve been on a project with J Nichols (www.wallacejnichols.org) who is an oceans activist who also lives the life of clean and good slow food – I’ve learned a lot from him and his partner, Dana. And, then there is Beth Terry, living plastic free for two years who has explored this dependency of ours with clarity (www.fakeplasticfish.com) – been inspired by her as well.

So, I am a newbie – and I was curious, as a test, to see what it might be like to remove the plastic (especially since all that petroleum you sea in the ocean is the basis of plastic that holds our water). I did five simple things:

– Reused all the glass milk bottles (for milk) as containers for flowers, hold juice (no juice boxes), water to drink, and left overs.

– Reused all of the glass jars for Jam as glasses and had a few re-used plastic cups (but only 10 were put out).

– Bought paper streamers and put them up in the morning. No balloons.

– Bought fifteen tiny terra cotta pots, chalk, stickers (ok, couldn’t find un-plasticy ones), dirt, and seeds.

AMAZING things happened. The kids didn’t have juice boxes, so they did not scream. We did not put cupcakes out in full view – they didn’t even ask for them. Some people brought gifts, but once they were opened they were put aside because the kids wanted to GO OUTSIDE. Wow, they wanted to make the pots and plant. So, again, I can barely get my butt in gear to really plant my garden, but the kids took such time to make them – and were proud.

Then, the parents. Ok, I bought beer and wine. Please, it may be noon but let’s be clear – we make fierce espresso and even knowing you can relax, and have food (I made some salmon and grown up food so we did not go hungry) places you, the adult, in the picture: in the experience of fun!

I invited back that lovely facepainter (I wrote about that in in February “Body Paint Gone Wrong” about http://bit.ly/cpp0h3) – his name that he uses is Oliver Twist…come on, it’s worth it just to have a person in the house named Oliver Twist! Why facepainting? Well, it’s fun. And, Oliver has new paints that are not oil based, but, I noticed something the last time we did it: children love to choose a new face.

So, as some kids played with dirt, the others chose their faces. And, while they had their faces painted, I noticed we all stood around watching them. They sat quietly (did that have something to do with no juice boxes, or the parents being still and watching them?)

What happens to a child when they are really looked at? Seen? Not, juiced up, not fed sugar, or yelled at to stop being wild: from the stuff we feed them?

The party, for me, felt open. We were all smiling. The children were the gifts, the treats, the party favors – they ran and made bubbles, and yeah, we made balloon animals – there it is, that icky plastic – though we didn’t feed food off of them.

Each kid had a new face.

Each kid shared.

Finally, the meltdowns had more to do with naps – and less to do with sugar high.

And, in the end, they made something – they made the party, made the plants, sat on the earth and not in a bouncy house, chose their body and their art. They were May Day – a celebration of life:

And, so, yeah – I’ve told you about our party. And, here’s the nut of it – I spent half the amount of money for the party (party favors were the pots and paint, there were no extra party favors, there were no plastic utensils/cups/plates to buy)…and it took under an hour to clean up (with three of us pitching in). Oh, and not ONE big plastic bag filled with plates, cups, gunk – not one bag.

The house was lighter. It felt good. The kids did eat hot dogs, though we had out little carrots – but chips as well. They were kids. And, they were not encased  in plastics – pumped with the crap that comes in plastic – and it wasn’t that hard to do: and I loved making the party for them – as did, it seemed, every parent there. Because we love them and want them to be happy – and healthy.

Later, when were cleaning up, I saw that one of the questions I had asked as a piece of art for the kids was answered (picture below). Don’t read to much into it, but notice how even in the presence of chaos a kid made a flower on the bottom. The kid probably was older than the littler one who made the squiggles. That’s not the point – the point for me, is about a hope for this – a clear picture of a flower, pushing from the chaos: breaking out from behind the thick, plastic film that we wrap around ourselves, and our children.

It’s been hard to slow down. I’ve been working hard with J, Jake and Stuart on our piece at The Academy of Sciences in June. It’s a piece about the sea. But, I had forgotten the feeling of water: till I saw this woman dance.

Last weekend, I saw her. She had her earphones in and had a nano in her right hip pocket. She was singing to herself, and her sister was sitting on the sand watching her. I was very tired.

We had gone to the beach to relax, watch the surfers and let Luca run free.

I stared at this dancer.

I don’t think I was gawking. Yet, like a fan, I asked her sister if I could take a picture. I got the sense by her laugh that my taking a picture might delight her dancing sibling. I took a whole bunch. Then, I crouched down, and in an incoherent way  (deeply tired) I said, “Well, she’s really in it, isn’t she?”

The sister turned her head, kindly, and replied, “Of course.”

Of course. Yes, I forgot. Some people go slow. And, to dance hula you have to slow down, to hear the crash of sea behind you as the drum. Though, in this case, the dancer had earphones in and she could have been listening to Lady Gaga for all I know – but, she was smiling, and laughing a bit, and danced on without any awareness of us.

What I see when look at this picture (and at the memory of her) is how extreme we are in our relationship to the sea – or, perhaps it’s just me. One view is that she is a perfect moving body in front of a perfect moving sea. Another, is that she is a human with ups and downs, humor and faults, and she is dancing before a sea filled with more pollution than plankton. Two extremes.

I sat down, I pushed my feet into the sand and watched my kid learn to surf by jumping high onto a boogie board laying on the sand. Two visions of him popped up: my blond Adonis learning to ride the sea before a body of water he will come to know. And, my four year old who has been a huge challenge recently what with the fixation on legos and demands to jump on the bed, and an ocean that may not be clean enough for him when he is old enough to surf.

I had a headache. I had a heartache.

So, I watched her some more.

Surfers were behind her. That dog was trying to get into the act. And, she was simply beautiful in her exact, languid flow. She was digging her personal time on the beach. She was not cut in half. She was all of herself, dancing in front of the ocean which is all of itself.

I’m tired of being torn in half about the sea – and perhaps all things human. We are all the splendid movement and trash within us – we are both/and – we just happen to be at a point where we need to decide how we want to live our lives so that we, and the sea, or the sea (and we) won’t be choked up with our filth and remnants of our fast lives.

I watched her for a while and felt the integration of both good and bad, the movement of her body and the speed of my life – which needs to be reminded of another rhythm.

I felt better. I came to the conclusion that we can clean up inside and out, slow down inside and out: we/I can stop and reconnect.

Then I saw this picture this morning – and the feeling of integration is replaced with rage:

What dance is this?

What dance with death are we in a tango with? What does this oil spill, one of the biggest perhaps of all time, do to the movement of our lives – to our ability to look our ancestor, the ocean, in the eye?

I only hear all the hips of all those who have made the sea their music to dance to, all those dancers of the living and the dead, ache.

Today, that lovely dancer from last weekend seems like a relic of innocence. Today, my heart is filled with British petroleum.

The sea is dancing in oil.

I’m having horrible memories of braces, unrequited love, and that question most kids in their teens have – who “likes” me? Some young buck of a CEO made an announcement,and now I feel I’ve lost my sexy post-graduate community to the commerce of “Like”.   Facebook just turned into High School and I think Pandora is snogging behind my back!

It makes me want to have a drink – the kind only those over 21 can have and review the grown-up facts:

1. Facebook has new policies and they bring up issues of privacy. Though we don’t know how that will play out yet.

2. There is the question if “Like” partners will scale.

3. Finally, there is a question if ANY of what I just mentioned means a thing to ANYONE.

Here’ a good HuffPo post about what the they announced — it talks about how they’re bringing Facebook inside out now…our likes and dislikes can be aggregated outside of Facebook — CNN, Yelp, Pandora and others (right now) can show people what you are “liking” – and then they can sell you stuff. Here’s the link before I start my personal rant: http://huff.to/cdlwhP

Ok, so, I don’t drink that much…so…let me start here…because it’s so totally uncool…

…So, the day after Facebook announced that they were going to move from the “social graph” to the “open graph” my friend walked in to meet me for breakfast with a printout. It had a pretty picture of Pandora and then a picture of my face saying I “liked” one of the songs he had listened to that evening. The song was, to be plain, not one of my better selections. That was embarrassing. But, worse, my boyfriend, my algorithmic hottie, my song seeker, my PANDORA was kissing and telling!

So wrong!

Pandora, I thought you loved me? I’ve been devoted to you – telling you all of my secret desires, my secret crushes, my music! MY MUSIC.

Ok, let’s begin here — Pandora did something so great, first it named itself, “Music Genome Project” which sounds so cool. So, “Blinded me with science” – so, commercial free! And, when I met it I fed it one song – just one – that one secret one I loved and never told anyone – and it found me more like it. So, my Pandora channels are moments of private poetry between me and a search engine that feels like it cares for me, loves me and my taste (without judgement) and has worked day and night to give me more – of what I want.

And, now, it’s cheating on me!

I don’t care what anyone else likes! Let’s be more clear: I don’t care if my ex-boyfriend, ok, he was not a boyfriend, but a high school party means something happened, ok, WHATEVER…I may be “Friended” with him on Facebook. And, I have looked at his pictures of his KIDS…and we may have this really sweet, grown up, sophisticated Facebook friendship. We are grown-ups now. But, on MY Pandora I have a channel that reminds me of that year in the 1980’s and of him and his group of friends; it has those songs in there. I love that channel, it’s private to me – though I will never be sixteen again and that moment in time (that youthful gene in me is gone)….and now, when I go to Pandora, what if it shows me that he no longer loves The Clash – but – say – Sarah Mclachlan.  Do you understand now? Sarah Mclachlan!

I like the woman, she likes animals, she started Lillith Fair…nice Canadian person…but she is soooo earnest….and perhaps I only want to remember a time when people only loved the Clash and not…NICE people music.

What if I know what you “like” now, yet it’s not how we are truly connected? We were connected by beer, and bad decisions, and zits and punk and the emergence of the Beastie Boys, and when the Mud Club was still around, and when my dad would not let me go to CBGB’s and I yelled, “Why not? Why not? You let me go out…” and then I slammed the door…and smoked a cigarette and felt sick.

I am connecting to that, not to a song that you now “like”, one that Pandora has struck a deal with Facebook to share a split on once I buy it. Got me?

And, it’s FINE to try to run a business. But, I have angry feelings — like having your high school love go to College and decide not to be a poet but a lawyer (and I am one to talk, I was trained as a singer and I now sing in the shower, and I really need lawyers for my work…ok…so no dis’ on my friends who lawyered up..) But, seriously, we all have to grow up – yet, must we be told to grow up, money up, get up and out into the world by a kid who is twenty-five years old?

Mark Zuckerberg’s a smart kid. He brought a great infrastructure he built in college to the world. And, it worked. Look at it grow. Though, I really liked it as a world of it’s own. And, yeah, I know, relax and get a life…though, I had gotten comfortable with the personal elements in that weird little FB world: Poke, I dig that, if I didn’t “poke” my friends Cate and Jenn we’d feel totally disconnected. And, then there are the posts from friends that have nothing to do what they like (but about the things they DON’T like – those I value most). And, I dig the personal element of video apps, my dorky events tab, I don’t even mind big brands telling me things on the side of the page…It’s in my world of FB…and, I want this kind of intimate experience in FB because I am getting older, and my friends are far away, and we’ve reorganized our relationships to fit who we are now.

So, thanks Zuck, it’s a nice business model, and good luck with it. Really, I mean it. But, listen to this “MILF” – a little advice – a community is not defined by what it “likes”, nor what it buys, or who-knows-who: it’s how “public” is shifting, how we are taking our insides and hidden longings and choosing to share them with each other. That is the legacy of what you made – you set up a place where we create our own world, when the cold one outside is frightening and getting further from our youth.

So, leave Facebook as it is, please.  Leave it just like I like my community, my friends and my scotch: straight up, full of love (not “like”) and discrete.

Thanks, Zuck. Now, have a drink on me and let me share a painful thing about getting older – you stop thinking about what you “like” and only about what you do, and did, Love.

It was probably 1998. I was at a bar having a drink. I was wearing killer shoes and a suit from hell. I was quietly writing my agenda for my meeting with Charlie Rose the next day. I was an asshole.

Back then, I was employed by one of the largest communications company in the world.  The agency had been Nixon’s agency. They were mainly white. My father was probably on the Nixon List. He is white, but, he was once a pacifist anarchist. On that stool in 1998, I was stitched into that fancy suit very precariously.

It’s one of the least discussed facts about the Internet boom of the 1990’s that young people, born of hippies and beat parents, infused the internet with deep passion – then, as though flying from another planet, chunks of stock fell into our hands.  And, since our our parents had instilled the idea of changing the world into us, we saw the Internet as a way to extend our legacy. We were open platform, virtual world, save the world through connectivity activists. And, some were making a ton of money.

Oddly, although I was hardwired to write anti-imperialist pamphlets, I chose to wear Gucci and market connective tissue: the very infrastructure built to flow our e-commerce through “T1” lines.   So, at that bar, on that night in New York, I was not thinking about world peace: I was thinking about a “growth economy” and how fabulous I was.

Charlie Rose had been kind enough to meet with me a few times about a program I had been allowed to build. The program had been approved by my boss and was to be called an “influencer relations” program.  If you use the Google system of today, 70/20/10 (70% core business objectives, 20% tertiary business objectives, 10% personal innovation projects) that program was my 10%.  Yet, I had a scary combination of dyslexia and entitlement, and I was pissing off my manager by lingering in the 90% zone of Charlie and only giving 10% to the thing I was paid to do.

But, again, I didn’t give a shit. The Internet meant you were free to express yourself, and that was one of the golden rules of the 1960’s: fulfill your destiny to say want you want, speak your mind, make a difference. These excuses came in handy to me.

Ok, perhaps I’m being hard on myself. I wasn’t out partying. I didn’t have the fanciest hotel room, nor had I flown business class. I was a person on business and I was sitting in a bar.  And, all around were tourists.  One person asked me what I did and I responded, “The Internet”.  The man smiled, looked at his wife and said, “Well, I’m sure our son would understand what that means.”  I didn’t care  – I’d stopped trying to explain what I did, “Create new industry spaces”, it sounded like a mash up of interior design and NASA deep space programs. Which it was not – it was high-end Public Relations; the aim to land your technology in a quadrant of a report, stake your territorial claim in the industry –  a land grab of sorts. And, I actually liked the work and the analysts: I found them thoughtful and committed. I even recognized myself when I worked with analysts, we talked about ideas: it reminded me of my upbringing, which was thoughtful and committed.

It was then, right when I had that fleeting memory of “thoughtful” and “committed” that the bar grew quiet as a few police dogs started to sniff our feet below the bar. We all looked around, not concerned about a bomb, or anthrax, or violence: it was pre-9/11. We watched calmly as the doors around us were closed, and a slew of New York cops filed in.

Then, slowly, like in that great scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, very small, beautiful men in orange robes began to climb the few steps up towards us. More came through the door, and towering above them was one soul person with piercing eyes and long hair.  With an unsavory lack of etiquette, we snickered as a tall, famous crooner pushed his way politely through the throng of small men to an elevator. Then, the bartender said for all of us, “All that for Michael Bolton?”

But, as quickly as we could dismiss the moment as a faddish, spiritual parade, three more men entered up the stairs and we all suddenly shut up: the man considered to be the reincarnation of peace itself stood like a regular guy at the top of the stairs.

The Dali Lama had the clearest eyes I had ever seen.

We may have looked strange to him, all of us holding our drinks mid-air, gapping.  Expecting him to keep moving, his entourage had stepped ahead of him, yet the Dali Lama stopped; he took one step towards the bar and asked everyone and no one, “Are you enjoying your drinks?” And, then, he turned around to go to Richard Gere’s party upstairs and we never saw him again.

I sat very still. Wasn’t I supposed to have some kind of deep moment? That was the Dali Lama for Christ’s sake.  My mother and father would have been thrilled to meet him.  The years of peace marches and battles for equal pay and AIDS work that my mother was involved in would have been sweetened by such an encounter. But, I wasn’t moved. In fact, I couldn’t move because his question had stopped me flat in my life:  I could not taste my drink.

In fact, I could not taste anything. For the past six months the speed of the Internet had been giving me anxiety attacks, big ones, always during the late of night while on media tours. And, my suits were swimming on me because I couldn’t eat. And, my only friends were the people I worked with, and I was pretty sure they thought I didn’t belong in Public Relations (why did I choose it? Did I know? Was it the money? Was it…the power to influence…what was I running towards?)

I was someone brought up to be “free” and I was “professional” now. Though, I think I was acting – and I had chosen a role  that was too tight, and I did not fit. As a child of Greenwich Village and the civil rights movement, I grew up in the radical theater of downtown.  My mother was one of the first activists to demand that the doctors take their masks off at St. Vincent’s Hospital when they tended to our friends with AIDS.  I had really wanted to find a way to take all of the values of my experience and feed them into the freedom I thought was intrinsic to the Internet.  Yet, I chose to believe that e-commerce was going to help change the world. I desperately hoping that the new “connected” world was a good bet.

I was as tight as a drum, and beating to something far out of reach: peace through commerce, and peace through platforms, alone.

I’d also hedged my bet creating a, “thought leadership” program to gather together interesting people together, much like my parents had during the cultural explosion of the 1960’s. Yet, I had camouflaged my need for a Parisian Salon, and had positioned the program to my boss as an “offering” – Thought Leadership was a coined phrase in existence even when I got into the game. Even still, back then it was a term looking for context, a term I now see was turned into a very dangerous idea: one that I committed to with fervor.

Here’s the big, arrogant, whopping mistake I made: the intrinsic hierarchy of one person, or a few people being, “thought leaders” can’t be organically sustained, and more importantly, having no access to passion and feelings impedes the creation of true community.

Fancy talk – but the mistake was the belief that innovation only comes from one person at a time – and that “innovation” is “man” made.  The fundamental flaw in the construct is that although thought leadership conferences were inspiring those who could attend, ultimately they act as power brokering, networking events (even if you do a video cast, and even if you do bring to light amazing ideas and people) – it’s a moment in time for those who can afford a moment in time.

I wanted to create events with Charlie Rose leading the discussion, leading the thought leaders: leading the leaders around and around and spreading those collective ideas into wealth and that wealth of ideas into clients that went back to my employer.

I sold “Thought Leadership” as a bundled product: it was a collection of people who were smarter than others, who could see from the mountain top, and could help find “solutions” to all the world’s woes.  In essence, they were supposed to draft out immutable cultural “solutions” in concrete terms (certainly not in playful, nor ethereal ways): their job was to drive cultural change to lead the revolution of continuous growth: guides, evangelists, economic shamans for a new world.

The consequences of investing in the paradigm of thought leadership was that it set the stage for a new form of American empirical thought. And, if not thought of at the time, a comfort with those who claimed a vision that we should all cop to. It is my strong belief that promoting the concept of Thought Leadership, a kind of ecclesiastic confidence of those tapped with absolute vision – supported what was soon to emerge: the absolutist message platform of the Bush years.

The Right took the idea of Thought Leadership and “reframed the narrative” — they did the best public relations job ever: they convinced America that “thought” was for glutinous, selfish, elitist pansies – and that empirical leadership was the true evangelism: the true, safe “solution” to saving democracy through imperialist invasion.

As the economy failed in the early 2000’s, and now perhaps more permanently, we are left in the wake of the absolutist culture of consumption: though, perhaps we may have found a way to breathe. The deep breath of air, the taste of connections may now be found in the social networks, blogs, and that loopy chaos of Twitter and all the political, messy, personal, smart, poetic and dumb things we all tell each other online or through text. The chaos of culture is swirling, and no one person leads the way. Wiki is anarchy in a box – the open source of a needed chaos.

I think the chaos is the only reasonable response to Bush’s fundamentalist thinking, policy and suppression.  All of these social networks – any and all of those that are highly commercial, or remaining underground, is what I frame as the Conversation Revolution. And, though seemingly trite, I love how pissed off people get with every interface change by users from Facebook or Twitter, it’s a terrific sign that people are aware they should not be conned into thinking their ideas can be directed and controlled: that the straight line, the “right” way, or that “lead thought” means anything in a time where we are coming out of a cultural coma.

It’s 2010 and the Dali Lama has a site and a blog  http://dalailamacenter.org/about/who-we-are – not filled with just what he thinks, but the ideas of others – because let’s not forget that the guy is smart, and has been meeting with scientists and technologists for years — his thought leadership may be one of the heart (and if you believe in it or not – the deity element) he got the picture – keep the conversation open.

Anyway, my “thought leadership” program was about helping us find an elegant way to sell our services, because we were bursting at the seams with things to sell. And, in the end, that is what nailed us: our devotion to growth had morphed into a belief that making money was itself a form of innovation, and, that financial innovation could manufacture peace.

Didn’t seem to work, did it?

Yeah, so, the Charlie program never took off: wisely, he told me that the idea for the program seemed squishy.  Soon after, I didn’t need my Gucci after I lost my next job with everyone else to Pink Slips. I was soon home in San Francisco looking out at the freeway and watching 50% less cars driving south to Mountain View.  My friends and I stood stunned that perhaps, perhaps we had become what our parents had warned us against. I yearned to be an artist again, the one I was trained to be.

And, I still can’t remember the taste of that drink.

Though recently, with the help of some friends, I am starting to taste my childhood again: a time of a crowd, sourcing out peace.

I’ve been obsessed with the letters of Richard Feynman this weekend. It’s been a lovely, slow and quiet time between me and a man, a woman he loved and an atomic bomb he helped to build.

Richard Feynman was a remarkable person — he was a physicist, musician, troublemaker, lover and one of the members of the Manhattan Project. It’s a stretch, but his life could be a metaphor for any life: he made choices that create and destroy. It’s not that we all can say we invented the bomb, but sometimes our best efforts don’t lead us in the best directions – and we hurt people, and ourselves.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_feynman I suggest you read, “Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: Letters of Richard Feynman”.

Man, could the guy write a letter. Very terse ones in some cases – but you can always see where he was coming from. And, when he was young and writing his mother (and later even still) you could see his respect for her. And, perhaps I should be most impressed with the ENTIRE chapter of congratulatory letters for his Noble Peace Prize, his notes back of thanks are self-effacing works of art.  Though, I find the the letters to his first wife Arline to be the most defining – they show the basis of his approach to life – straightforward, hopeful and revolved around his own reality.

All of these letters, of course, are dated on the top right, with the formal name and address. The letters are always signed, even between family members. That is the great pleasure of reading a book of letters – as opposed to a book of emails – you have the experience of time as it moves between the date a letter was sent, to the date that there was a response. People would return a letter over a period of months. But, lovers would write every day, and respond to each one – in as rapid a fashion as they could. They would never hold on to a letter to send to a person they loved for two years – but, Feynman did. More on that later.

There is one letter that shot me through and through (again, more than the letters of fame and academic  intellectual arm wrestling) about Arline’s death.  So, let me cut to the chase about a woman who died the same day her husband tested the first nuclear bomb:

Arline Feynman had TB. In the 1940’s and she and Richard married although they knew. He was living on the base in the desert working for Oppenheimer. She lived in a sanitarium in New Mexico. He shuttled back and forth between building a bomb and loving her.  She died, as I expressed, the day the bomb was tested. It feels almost like a “life for a life” mythic threat, yet Feynman never alluded to believing this.

And, later he carried a letter  for two years after her death. It’s said it was worn down, folded and re-folded. So, this means the letter was written but never mailed, and he had it on his body for two years. Can you imagine carrying an email you send to yourself: that email you want to say everything in to her/him? That doesn’t have the same ring or feeling to it, does it?

**

To Arline Feynman, October 17, 1946

D’Arline,

I adore you, sweetheart … It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing. But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and what I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector.

Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures. When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried.

Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want to stand there.

I’ll bet that you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls … and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you. I love my wife. My wife is dead,

Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.
**

This is a gorgeous and tense letter by a person who is hard-wired for logic, yet knows that his connection to something ephemeral (her memory, her being) is real to him. A scientist taking a logical approach to grief, and a person allowing himself to feel the entire ebb and flow love, in the presence of death.

So, why was it that at 11:30pm last night as I read about his pain did I feel such sadness for Arline? All I could think was:

Who was she?

How alone was she?

What did it feel like to be in a bed, reading, waiting to be seen, her man making something “important”: her body making the way for more illness?

If she had been alive today she would have blogged about it, right? Or, perhaps she would have Skyped with him? Or, perhaps she would have used a microphone and dictated her experience? Right? Wouldn’t she have done that? Would she be more real to us?

All this technology would have “connected” them more, yes? And, would she have had more ways to ask him about what he was building out there in the desert? And, would she have had more time to connect with others who loved her via email? Or, does any of that matter?

We can’t beat back death with a T1 line, can we? And, we can’t change that we don’t know the address of the dead?

Who was Arline?

In the end she was a person we now know from letters – one in particular that is folded up and torn. And, I found the letter posted here after I Googled it…so I guess she has a place, not a carbon footprint per say, but a memory footprint because she lives in a search engine.

What about us? Will all of this emailing, and face to face contact through video, and life in 2nd life will this make us feel more? (I am not arguing here that it’s not relevant – all this technology – I am not a technology prude – but I am haunted by a piece of paper….so…) would we have the guts to carry around a letter like that – a letter that you can’t send, but you keep in your pocket to remind yourself you are broken? Back then he didn’t have the option for immediacy. Do we give ourselves the option to bind ourselves to paper?

Ok, but, let’s not get to sentimental for the printing press! If she were of this time, would Arline have left us a bit more in writing beyond lovely notes where she begs him to visit, begs to be connected: is isolated in her gender and her illness? Would we have a record (emails, word documents, texts, video, anything??) of the woman who lived with the man who helped to invent the most dangerous weapon known to man – and loved him still?

I love his letter.

I would have loved to have known more about her: from her. She had that room to her own, but, what would she have done with a portal?

This year is the 100th birthday of the great Jacques Cousteau. My whole life I’ve seen him as a hero: someone serious, brave, on a search – like this picture – a life etched against his own adventure. But, this is not what I was thinking a few days ago when my four-year-old son ran from the sea screaming, “I’m saving myself from the Ocean!”

Luca had been talking to the waves in a rapid back and forth manner, as he made a mad dash from the very same discussion with that same sea.

Watch children who are practicing what it means to be brave, or safe, or on their own, and you may observe their testing of the sea. Yes, they could be sucked into the water – because they’ve been told it. But, they choose to play with the water because deep down there is a feeling of being in a story with it. And, so they alternate with the sea being the monster and they playing the hero. Either way, children seem to feel how we begin and end with water.

This is our human story with the sea isn’t it? The Greeks wrote of the ocean as the great gatherer of forces, of secrets, of men and their journey into the unknown. Rarely was the sea the hero – the hero was a person taken far from home, meant to conquer lands, meant to schtup women and in the end get the lasting point that (as Dorothy reminds us in the Wizard of Oz) “there’s no place like home”.  For the Greeks, the sea was not home – it was the middle place between humanness and becoming heroic: it was the unconscious (before they knew of such a thing) – it was the endless depth of discovery.

Other great poets and writers have taken the sea on.  From Moby Dick to Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” (my new favorite poem, thanks to dad) http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/show/45556-Arthur-Rimbaud-The-Drunken-Boat- the sea has been the anti-hero, and man (usually, male) has found the path to heroism by being witness to the beasts in and off the sea – and most often, killing them.

Hero’s, in the past, have been the killers on the sea – or, the killers of the sea. It was rarely a love affair.

I’ve started to think that our relationship to heroes may be part of our problem when it comes to the death of our sea. Or, to be more blunt, the concept of heroism may need to be completely changed in order for people, humans, those of us not riding alongside Ulyssess, to do something to save the sea.

What’s wrong with heros? We need them, don’t we? We’re supposed to grow up to be them. A hero, we believe, is a person who, against all odds chooses the right thing. Or, chooses the selfless thing in order for others to live. Or, chooses to tell the truth. Yes. These are all the necessary elements for being the better part of valor: the person who stands on the earth and takes the harder road. You know this. You’ve been told to try to be one, at least once in your life.

Yet, being heroic seems so out of reach. Because, in this contemporary time, heroes are also supposed to be “super” – never harmed, always in the right, fearless: not very real – much like the plastic super heroes that we give our kids.

I look at these these plastic superhero dolls and can only see how they represent this “too much-ness” – the unattainable perfection – like Tiger Woods: who is a perfect plastic thing. He even has an action figure.

Ah, Tiger, how the hero falls. In true Greek form, Nike put an advertisement with Tiger looking into the camera, not speaking, while the voiceover of his (now dead) father asks him, like Zeus from above, what has he learned: is he now a man? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XXGZFqDAUo

It is all out of reach, this real hero thing. So, we commoditize it and make our heroes plastic action figures, and then we end up with their bits and pieces floating in the sea.

I asked my friend J who is a biologist with turtles, why we throw things into the sea? Poison. Plastic. Toxic crap. And, his point was clear – we have always sent things out to the sea: dead bodies into the horizon, candles, bottles with messages, skipping rocks – we have always put ourselves out into the sea to make sure that is ends up, “There”.

There, is that place beyond the horizon where our animal brain believes the Sun lives. There, is the place that takes our feelings and comforts us. There, is where we think the junk and plastic goes – magically transformed into something clean.

Though, to quote Gertrude Stein, “There is no there, there”.  She meant it about Oakland, but I mean it about the sea. There is no There anymore: no Monster of the Sea that we need to Tackle.  No hero we will become by trying to conquer it.

Cousteau was a hero. He was not plastic, although the production of plastic was just beginning to be made when he was born. He did not go to the sea to fight it. He did not go to conquer it: he went to the sea to find the world beneath us. As a naturalist, and a scientist it was not his job to anthropomorphize the sea as a hero, or the species in it: it was his job to teach us – and in turn point out our interconnection.

Sadly, it may be that because the role of the hero cannot work anymore, we therefore do not know how to be heroic when it comes to the environment. We are of the habit to look to individual people to be the hero – like Al Gore and many others – we look to “Them” to save “There”.  Yet, it is the “We” – groups of children and adults, artists and scientists, politicians and writers, groups of people will redefine the “hero” into something more powerful: not throwing ourselves into the abyss, but taking small, fast actions to enact change. This is not about some mushy, sentimental “liberal” concept of togetherness – it’s the very hard truth that the sea is choking to death, and one hero will not be able to “fix” it. Heroism itself is just another “ism” – and, “We” is a complicated, layered solution that we are not good at, yet.

It is very hard to let go of this desire to be a hero, and, it is not just a man’s struggle: it’s a struggle for all of us to not try to be perfect. And, maybe,  it’s our fear of not being perfect that has led to the commoditization of heroes – we’ve turned “Heroic” stature into plastic – the very thing that is killing the sea.

Does this all mean that we need to find the resolve, both the love and the grief, to admit that we must save the ocean – the true hero – from ourselves?

Yet, even after all this pondering, I admit it, I truly wonder what Cousteau would do?

Probably tell us to get off our asses.

But, he’d say it with a great accent, a smile, and a look that if you let him down you’d let down the ocean herself.


Futurists are Hot

April 14, 2010

So, I always thought that this guy was a Futurist. Ben Franklin seemed to scope out the future needs of the nation, while also being a deep historian of the past. He wasn’t very hot – but need he be?  No, he was a guy who could look backwards and forwards and generally, we could agree, implement long-term thinking to a nation.

Now, my buddy Jake Dunagan, a futurist, has expressed to me that he thinks we should throw out the constitution because the long term thinking of the past does not meet the needs of today. Scrap it, he says, start over. I gasped with the thought of the anarchy of that idea and then he just smiled in a wily way, and said, “Yeah, that would really shake things up.”  Wasn’t that the perspective of Franklin back then? Shake it up? Think for the future, and then, change the present?

Long term thinking.

This is what futurists do – they think long. And, I didn’t know anything about them. But, in 2006 I was introduced to Stuart Candy (http://futuryst.blogspot.com/) who was a fellow at the Long Now. And, later he introduced me to Jerry Paffendorf.  And, then I was introduced to Jake Dunagan (http://www.iftf.org/node/3402 ) And, now, we are developing a project for the Academy of Sciences, and I sometimes need to try to boss Jake and Stuart about – ok, I try to push gently. But, I don’t recommend this for the faint of heart (it’s my job, and after 15 years of practice I have the stomach for it) because futurists are, by the by, Bad Asses, and don’t like being told what to do: they are hard-wired to question…well, everything. But, more about bad assed-ness later.

In 2006 when I returned from PopTech! (www.poptech.org) I wanted to know if there were futurists under the age of 59.  I am not being snarky here – I have respect for the agents of change that are many Futurists – yet there was something about the idea of long-term thinking that interested me as it related to a younger generation.  I noticed that the futurists I met were very much in the moment – quiet, listening, asking questions about how things have worked in the past – and then imagining multiple worlds for the future. I wanted to know if young people were embodying this wisdom.

So, I have met the young ones, most under the age 35 years old. And, they are as rowdy, opinionated, fierce, and silly as the Founding Futurists must have been – it’s like hanging out with a punk circus filled with PhD’s and a van ready to leave for Burning Man.

Oh, and did I mention they are simply beautiful. Now, I will take a good deal of crap for talking about their beauty – but I think this is key – they are lively, contemporary and they are perfectly comfortable with being in the public eye, and spreading their vision as a rock band tours the planet.

But, let me define what beauty is to me: that rare combination of comfort in one’s body, and the expression of that comfort/energy/passion through feelings/words.

Please see my point below:

Jane McGonigal

Jerry Paffendorf

Stuart Candy

Jake Dunagan

These are only a few of the faces of futurists – these are just the folks I know or am near living in the Bay Area. And, they tell me that there are women around the world who are moving thought around (Jane McGonigal is most known for her insights into world-changing through gaming), and people working within the neighborhoods quietly making change (Jerry is now living in Detroit and leading a movement to convert abandoned homes and warehouses into places for film/design and futures work http://7billionfriends.tumblr.com/).

This generation of futurists I know are like highly connected community organizers with a drive to change the way people see. They want people to see the consequences of actions as a way to push for social change. It’s an inverted form of civil disobedience – it’s civic dissonance.  These brave souls want to turn your head inside out to force you into a place to resist present terrible decisions for the earth – those that are creating negative, globally destructive, future consequences.

Long term thinking = long term change = long term global beauty (beauty: health, joy, freedom of thought, embodied living and connectedness)

Concepts of beauty have changed throughout time. And, we are a culture obsessed with the physical beauty of our bodies. Though, perhaps beauty is now more critical – for me beauty is the integration of the mind with intention: and I am watching these younger people, (who defy the cliché of a tweeting/snarky/ADD Gen Y – whatever that is) these Futurists, they think in paragraphs and in 3D: and, they have every intention to change the world.

And, to me, this is gorgeous. This is beauty. This is Hot.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.