Proust on Newspapers

What I fault newspapers for is that day after day they draw our attention to insignificant things whereas only three or four times in our lives do we read a book in which there is something really essential. Since we tear the band off the newspaper so feverishly every morning, they ought to change things and put into the paper, oh, I don’t know, perhaps…Pascal’s Pensees! …and then, in a gilt-edged volume that we open only once in ten years…we would read that the Queen if Greece has gone to Cannes or that the Princesses de Leon has given a costume ball. This way the proper proportions would be te established.

- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Jack Gilbert and H.D.

Poetry! Just this week I’ve met two other poetry fans. It makes me happy to meet other poetry fans. Especially when they recommend poets I’m not familiar with. One of them recommended Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems this week, and sent this lovely poem:

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Another new friend recommended H.D. to me. I’ve never read her poetry, but found Eurydice, which is a dark and powerful poem about hell. It concludes:

At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;

and my spirit with its loss
knows this;
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

NCWIT Award

NCWIT award

A couple weeks ago, I was honored with an award from the NCWIT. the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Unfortunately, I had a bad flu and couldn’t accept the award in person. So my dear friend and colleague Heather Champ went down to accept it for me, and deliver my speech. This is that speech.

By clock and inch, by place and measure, by drive, dream and design, we’ve come here to California and to the keyboards of our computers, to make the future.

Our successes have been so great and so rapid that within 20 years we’ve gotten a third of the world’s population online, shrunk our computers to the size of our hands, and connected each to each. The magic, the generosity of spirit, the kindness, the art and the song that we’ve put into this technology and into this medium are in evidence all around us, every day.

But with all the glories, many defeats. We make our human mistakes. Connected to so many, we are intimate with fewer and fewer. We squander our days in amusements. Instead of truth, triviality. We are exhorted to sate the urges of the millions, their sloth, greed, pride or lust. We are told that this is what will make us a success. This is a deadly cynicism, which we must fight.

Because the internet is a medium, it doesn’t care whether it transmits love or hate. It is what we build and who we are that make it what it is. We can build things that diminish our humanity or build things that bring us to human flourishing.

There is great work to be done, and the women will lead us. So I say: Astonish us with your genius. Inspire us with your creation. Work with one another. Endure the tribulations. Dream, struggle, create, prevail. Be daring. Be brave. Be loving. Be compassionate. Be strong. Be brilliant. Be beautiful.

Thank you.

Doping, Adderall and The Meritocracy

Soon after the Lance Armstrong doping scandals emerged last year, I was talking to friends about the prevalence of doping, and my shock. “How could it be true?” I asked. And my friends said, “Are you being willfully naïve? Doping isn’t optional, it is required! they informed me. Riders were kicked off teams for NOT doping. And it’s not just biking…” and a lecture on professional sports, and how they work, ensued. You can do a blood transfusion, and train while on drugs, then do another transfusion before the testing to clean up your blood. There are new, undetectable drugs.

Next they told me you could take Adderall and improve not only your basic school performance, but also your S.A.T. scores. Kids were opting out of studying, and the months-long, grueling Kaplan SAT prep courses and popping pills instead. One girl, now at an Ivy League college said:

“Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

Madeleine estimated that one-third of her classmates at her small school, most of whom she knew well, used stimulants without a prescription to boost their scholastic performance. Many students across the United States made similar estimates for their schools, all of them emphasizing that the drugs were used not to get high, but mostly by conscientious students to work harder and meet ever-rising academic expectations.”

“Steroids are now in the middle schools,” one of my interloctors said grimly. And even before middle school, parents are “redshirting” — putting 6-year-old kids in kindergarten to give them an advantage — they’ll be bigger, stronger, and more advanced than their peers, an advantage that appears to follow them throughout their lives, especially in sports.

If there is a national, secular religion in the United States it is the belief that America is the Land of Opportunity, that we are a Meritocracy, that any kid, no matter who they are, or where they come from, can work hard and move up in the world. That their effort matters. “You too can be the President,” every American kid is told. But one unintended consequence of this belief, it is that, as a result of our being a meritocracy, if you have not succeeded, you are of lesser merit. It is shameful to be a failure in this country. Everything from doping to boob jobs speaks to the struggle to gain an advantage in a competitive world. But this is a rational response to a society where the winner takes all.

So how do we keep the dream alive? How do we make it a dream worth striving for? I am reminded of one of my most retweeted tweets: “Avoid a life of chasing prizes not worth winning.” You’ve been such amazing commenters, I’d love to hear your ideas.

Conversation in a cab in San Francisco

Cab Driver: So what are your plans this weekend?
Me: Dunno. Go hiking?
Cab Driver: No, I mean for the game.
Me: What game?
Cab Driver: Superbowl?!
Me: Oh wow. Who’s playing?
Cab Driver: Where do you live?
Me: San Francisco
Cab Driver: No way…no way! What are you living in a cave?
Me: (dawns on me) The Niners! The Niners are in the Superbowl?
Me: Are they playing here in San Francisco?
(Cab driver looks like he’s going to cry.)
Cab Driver: No. NO! They are playing in New Orleans!
Me: Are they playing…the Saints?
(I was particularly proud I came up with this team name.
Cab driver almost drives off the road.)
Cab Driver: The RAVENS.
Me: Where are they from?
Cab Driver: Baltimore
Me: I thought that team was the Orioles.
Cab Driver: AAAAARRGH! Forget it!
(Long silence ensues.)
Me: Yeah, I think I’m going hiking.

Dance, animation, Ron Popeil

  • All that ukulele playing finally paid off when I went to the Ukulele Rebellion last weekend after my clay class at Sharon Arts Center. So good.
  • I have some thinky blog posts coming, just haven’t had the time to write them down, they’re just in my head.
  • At a YBCA event last night I learned about the work of Capacitor, a bay area dance-circus group, showing this crazy piece with four dancers in a kind of cage, but with the sides made of an amazing stretchy rubber, like if a net had a baby with a trampoline. It was quite something! Their underwater highlight reel is here, but not quite the amazingness of the stretchy cage piece.

  • At the same event, I learned about Kote Ezawa’s work, another Bay Area artist who teaches at CCA, whose best known work is an animation of the verdict of the OJ Trial. Ezawa was born in Germany, came to San Francisco to attend the Art Institute, and decided to stay. I liked this: “At the Art Institute, I always asked the security guards for their opinions. Security guards in museums and art schools often have an incredible knowledge of, and affinity with, art because they spend so much time looking at it. The artist Robert Ryman is just one of many well-known artists who started out as a guard. The best person you can have a conversation about art with is ‘the passerby.’ I like when people happen upon art, in contrast to the dedicated art audience that is looking for art.”
  • “It’s like, how much more black could this be? …and the answer is none. None more black.” — Nigel Tufnel, This is Spinal Tap
  • I was astonished that no one at my office had heard of Ron Popeil. I was extolling his virtues as a product designer.

Ukulele, Tune-yards, Blake

Another week and another weekend wind their way down the road, never to be seen again! And here I am blogging again.

  • Do you know about shit? was the question Jessica was asked by her son, in one of the funniest notes ever left on Findery. It’s so charming it made my week. A duet, with the daughter…just read it.
  • The Daily Ukulele has been my constant companion this week, which I ordered on Jill’s recommendation (as well as its sequel, the Leap Year edition). Thus far I’ve managed to master The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Blue Bayou, which led to an afternoon of listening to Roy Orbison, as I’d forgotten the tune.
  • I had a lot of Tune-yards playing on my headphones at work this week. Here is Bizness, though my favorite song is Gangsta. I like the Bizness video better. (I watched them both just now).

    I would welcome some new music recommendations! I was proud of having found Tune-yards…I have no recollection of how. Pitchfork? But my colleagues at work aren’t music recommenders, and none of my social music apps have come up with anything good recently.

  • Following on last week’s conversations about a commercial-free childhood I somehow came across a book called Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets, which I read, and which would probably have been informative and novel to someone who watches a lot of TV, but I never have, so most of the things these families were saying (“I have so much more time! I now play the guitar, exercise, talk to my family!” “We average 48 minutes of meaningful conversation per day!”) and so on, were not new to me. It didn’t talk about screen time in general — video games computers and social networking. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading some parts of it, and learned that people take offense at people who are TV-less as they feel it is a judgment of them. I nodded at the part about how the people who are most adamant about the TV-less life turn out to be those, like me, who did not watch TV growing up, and know that not being familiar with Saturday Night Live won’t make you a pariah. If you’re interested in this book, I can send it to you. Email me your address! TV-watchers considering eliminating TV preferred.
  • Kickstarter’s year in review is amazing. I missed a bunch of those awesome projects, but I participated in at least one! I am proud to be an investor (which is either bragging or Full Disclosure, you decide). I love Kickstarter!
  • I am reading The Blue Poetry Book, a collection of children’s poems, because I can’t bear the amateurish poetry included in my daughter’s homeschool curriculum. There is a lot of Blake in here, and some serious, sinister poetry. For example, a medieval English ballad, The Demon Lover, which I’d known only as a folk song The House Carpenter, on Harry Smith’s Anthology. Kids love this kind of thing! I got sick of reading all these Going Shopping With Mommy type books, and got The Highwayman and Orpheus
    by Charles Mikolaycak, Aïda, Golem and other serious children’s books.
  • Saturday Crafternoon, I finished my rug! And made a clay pot on Sunday, in a class with my sister.

Learning about the World

Back in the early days of this blog, after the weekend, I’d write about what I did the week before in an unordered list. This pressured me to do interesting things, which was a good thing, and reflect on them. Also a good thing. So this post is an effort to get back into the habit.

  • One of the many wonderful things about homeschooling is that I am constantly learning alongside my daughter. She asks a lot of questions and my answer is often, “I don’t know, let’s find out.” But today we went hiking at the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, after yesterday’s rainfall. The Pacific Northwest is a fungal wonderland, and the mushrooms were in full bloom, most of them having come up in the last day. I was able to impart a lot of my knowledge of mushrooms to my daughter, identifying Russulas, polypores, slime molds, and the ubiquitous “LBMs” or “little brown mushrooms” as David Arora calls them in his classic of mycology, “Mushrooms Demystified”. We are now making spore prints from all the mushrooms we found.
  • I wrote a brief blog post on LinkedIn called Are you on the wrong road? Turn back!, based on some advice given me years ago by my friend Jim, which I’ve used countless times since. I now have almost as many followers on LinkedIn as I do on Twitter. And great feedback and conversations, which happen rarely, to my sadness, here on caterina.net, like they used to in the old days.
  • After reading about the Al Ain Oasis by ECWC, I became curious about cultivating dates, and browsed about the web a bit, learning. And made a note of it on Findery (of course). An incredible number of dates are produced by each tree! They’re as big as banana bunches! I had no idea.
  • I joined a meetup group called Bay Area Parents for a Commercial-Free Childhood which I had searched for as I was going to start a group like it myself. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find kids to hang out with that don’t consume a lot of commercial culture. I met the group’s founder Jill and her daughter on Saturday. She tuned my ukulele and even tried to play “Five Foot Two” for me. And alerted me to yet another group that gets together at the Oakside Cafe, the Ukulele Rebellion. I’m looking forward to more art, nature and music. Awesome!
  • Saturday Crafternoon happened, a bunch of friends came over, and we modeled polymer clay, embroidered, and I worked on another rug made of tshirts. I love Saturday Crafternoons.

Quarrel not at all, or why one shouldn’t engage in online mudslinging

“Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and loss of self control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.”

– Abraham Lincoln