Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Importance and Power of Creative Expression

In 2001, I sat in a philosophy class at Boston College. We were discussing the meaning of performing an activity for solely the pleasure of engaging in the activity, free of all external benefits. Merely the essence of the activity is enough; it can stand alone. While I didn't wholly understand what this really meant to me at the time, I do now.  Activities with this form of 3-dimensional-satisfaction-driving-capacity that stir your heart and ignite your mind, seem to almost lock you into an experience where time is locked out, and the participant and the activity become a unified team, catalyzing each other into an oblivion of total-and-complete-neuron-firing-rapture - ie; it's off the hook :)

I will name a few of activities of my own that to be frank - do it for me: writing, music, dance, photography, running, conversation. By their very nature, these activities, are enough.

These activities are, what a 25-year-long best friend Kylah and I used to describe in fourth grade, as "delicious."

Now I bring you to a talk by Robert Gupta, violinist with the LA Philharmonic who takes this a step further and shares a story about not only the "delicious" properties of music but its medicinal and sanity balancing capabilities. Make sure to listen all the way through to his rendition of Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 @ 6:27 min.

Listen for yourself.  Chills?  Check.  Listen on repeat 47 times?  Check.

"This is the very essence of art...this is the very reason we made music...we take something that exists within all of us at our very fundamental core, our emotions and through our artistic lenses, through our creativity we are able to shape those emotions into reality and the reality of that expression reaches all of us and moves us, inspires, and unites us." Robert Gupta

Photo by Patrick Frost.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Favorite Finds - Running Paraphernalia

Running in of itself can be pretty darn addictive (hello endorphins).  Throw in a few gadgets to better gauge your progress and ease your woes, and you might feed your addiction that much faster.  As a runner since high school, I've discovered several tricks of the trade that can brighten any 10k.

1. Running socks.  Just like you can't build a solid house on a faulty foundation, you can't build up to long runs if your feet can't get past 5 miles without blistering into a bloody mess.  I made this mistake when running the Boston Marathon in 2003.  I wore cheap cotton socks and naively never thought twice about it.  Sure, I wore a variety of socks in my training, but on that particular day, I picked whatever was convenient instead of giving the necessary attention to this vital part of preparing for 26.2 miles. Invest in several pairs of high quality moisture-wicking socks.  I look for ones that are cut specifically for your left and right foot with slight padding in the front to protect from chafing from the front of the shoe, and for padding in the back that is raised slightly to prevent blistering on the heel.  I like these two brands best: lululemon ultimate running sock and asics kayano low cut.

2. Body Glide Skin Protectant Stick. Along the same vein as the running socks, you can be in perfect race day form, have cardio that mums along with the efficiency of a Prius (actually, that may be a bad analogy these days), but neglect to consider where your skin may rub raw and you might go down in flames, and quite quickly for that matter.

3. Garmin watches.  What you don't measure, you can't improve.  If you're in the business of running to set a PR, a garmin watch is a pretty nifty tool to do this with.  Like many tech gadgets, there is a pretty big range of functionality and price points.  As someone who is admittedly obsessed with keeping track of progress and who will run another X miles just to "round things off" to a whole number, this is a welcome little computer.

       4. Sport Jelly Beans.  As a child, I would conjure up obstacle courses on my elementary school playground with a group of my friends.  We'd use whatever snacks we had in our lunch bags as "magic food" - grapes, raisins, crackers, snark bites, whatever.  This food would give us special properties, the ability to become invisible for a few minutes, the freedom to touch the ground without penalty, exemption from being tagged.  I am assuming most kids do this from the ages of 7 - 11, right?  When I came across Jelly Belly sport beans, I concluded that if I could spend an entire recess convinced that the 12 goldfish in my pocket were the sole factor preventing me from falling into a pit of lava, popping a few caffeine infused jelly beans could help get me through some of the onerous points of a race.  And they do.  I like the fruit punch flavor.
5. Foam Roller.  Here's a foam roller confession: we have a love/hate relationship. Run after run creates muscle knots or "trigger points"which can start to manifest themselves as pain, stiffness in the knee and ultimately along the IT band.  So while this 12+inches Styrofoam tube can make you feel as much pleasure and pain as reflected in Germany's Sturm und Drang romantic period (think Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony), it can also cure pains that can get you back on the road and back to feeding your addiction.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Favorite Finds Series

New discoveries are pretty golden.  Think for a moment about the last you discovered something new that you liked - a product, an idea, a place, a book, a food concoction, a new hobby (I'll leave humans out because that's a bit more complicated).  A nice feeling, eh? Personally, I love these moments, and I equally love how ones likings can leave a little trail as to ones twists and turns in growth and development, some things staying the same, and some things changing. Looking back at these likings is perhaps a personal anthropology study, providing remembrances and indicators as to who a person was at a certain point in time. A lot of who we are is a result of what we like, and what makes us happy, right?  Maybe I'll start an "I Like" journal to capture my own twists and turns and straight lines.  I'll keep it separate from my "Idea" journal and my "Quotes" journals. 

Crazy talk or not, I notice all the time things I really enjoy and I make a mental note of the liking.  And with the advent of brands on Twitter (to talk purely of consumer likings for a moment), I find that if I really like a particular brand or product, I am excited to interact with that brand via Twitter, and most are equally excited about my loyalty or self-generated evangelism.

What I'd like to try over the next couple of blog posts, is to share my favorite finds. Yet because there are quite a few of them, I'll group them into categories.  Personally, I love reading other "favorite-d" lists by other people (Oprah is famous for this with her "O List").  So off I go.

(photo courtesy of drp)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Four Fabulous Teachers - #4: Srikumar Rao

Got happy?

This afternoon (despite the absolutely perfect weather outside), I got into one of my dusting frenzies.  It started because the brilliant light reflecting off my computer screen brought the smudges and particles into broad view.  Off I went for a soft cloth!  After the computer was thoroughly wiped and shined, I noticed the bookcase nearby, also afflicted with its own case of dust.  Up and down the rungs I went.  In the middle of my book-spine wipe-downs, I noticed a hard cover edition of "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert that I bought at a small bookstore in Brooklyn a few years ago.  I remember being so struck by the title, that I opted to purchase the book and carry it around all day with me.  It had a nice, clean, white cover, featuring a bright bowl full of cherries, overturned (yes, I am a total sucker for nice book cover designs).  On the front cover, prominent authors such as Steve Levitt (Freakanomics) endorsed it with "Think you know what makes you happy? This absolutely fantastic book will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how the mind works" and Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) with "A psychological detective story about one of the great mysteries of our ought to read me."

Oh, you don't worry Malcolm, I trust you.  But this blog post isn't about Daniel Gilbert's book.  Instead, it is about the topic of happiness in general and how it led me to Srikumar Rao, someone I am more interested in at this moment.

Gosh, I thought while continuing to dust the bookcase, what's with the topic of happiness these days?  In the last 5 years, I feel like I hear of a new book with happiness in the title practically every other month?  To see how accurate my predictions were, I did a simple search on for products with "happiness" in the titles.  The result? 720 items. 

Wow, I thought, with all those books on happiness out there, it's pretty clear many are in search of it, or want to purport they can deliver it. But how can you know which thinkings are solid?

Then I found this.

I will give you a brief synopsis on this talk, but it is probably much better if you simply take 12 minutes of time to listen for yourself.

In this talk, Srikumar Rao shares with us that we spend most of our lives learning to be unhappy, even though the very thing we are striving and searching for, is to be happy.  He delivers this message by starting off with the question: what do you have to get to be happy?  A fair question. Then he asserts: anything you can get, you can un-get, remarking that this is not a good thing, yes (he cites wall street, hehe)? By setting up the listener with the natural thought process regarding happiness - if I do X, then I will be happy, if I have Y, then I will be happy, and basically a model of - If this, Then that.  A pretty common human pattern of striving for happiness.

An example.  If I get promoted to XXX position, then I will be happy.  Or, if I marry XXX, then all will be glorious.  Here, Srikumar says we are investing totally on the outcome, and not the process.  Yet, he explains, because we cannot control any outcome, if we invest solely in an outcome, and we miss the mark, we will be left feeling like we failed, or even if we attain the outcome, we will spend our lives simply changing the If, and never appreciating, or accepting the journey.  This thought processes, or as he calls it, a mental model, is flawed.

Instead, consider a time when you were out doing something, and all of a sudden, you were caught up in a precise moment, where you were overcome with the beauty of a particular sight.  In this moment, all was right, and you were struck.  In this moment, Srikumar believes we are accepting things just as they are, and we are happy.  He believes this is actually an innate condition for us, but most of the time we don't accept things as they are, and we spend all our time "striving with might and maim to make things different - we are not accepting it and when we are not accepting it we are buying into the 'if - then' model." What we don't realize is all the problems we have think we have are actually equally perfect.

What to do instead? Invest in the process, not the outcome.  If at the end of things, we are successful, wonderful. If we are not successful, also wonderful. If we reach what we had striven to do, we are at a new point, and if we do not reach what we have striven to do, we are also at a new point, and we can select another outcome and keep going.

"Focus on the outcome, but invest completely in the process." Srikumar Rao

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Four Fabulous Teachers - #3: Peter Corbett

2 nerds are better than 1.  And 3000+ nerds, under one roof, for one mission, is pretty much, for anyone who considers themselves a techno-vation-enthusiast, bliss.  And for anyone who can brain child the organization, development, and execution of such an event, is certainly a master teacher of community-building and driver of the peer-to-peer idea stimulation/learnings if I ever saw such a thing.  Enter Peter Corbett.

Ok, let me back up.

Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs, along with his partners in crime Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo of Shiny Heart Ventures are putting on Digital Capital Week (DCWEEK), a 10 day festival in Washington DC focused on technology, innovation and all things digital in our nation’s capital.  The goal is to bring together artists, technologists, entrepreneurs, communicators, govies, and citizens to learn from each other, meet new friends, focus on the issues in DC that can be addressed in new ways, work on projects that benefit the city and the world, and...well, for the full list, see here.  The difference with this type of forum versus other more traditional "conferences," is that this is community-driven.  Everyone can participate and contribute in an event-shaping way, and in essence, what the community puts in, the community gets out.  There is a call to host an event/session that explores a digital interest area, host a "studio tour" to show off the presenter's stuff, host a party or fundraiser for a digital cause, and create a project for execution that week.  I say it again.  What the community puts in, the community gets out.  Let's get busy nerds!

We've learned from our recent techno-driven Here Comes Everybody world, and poignantly from Clay Shirky (his quotes to follow), by making it easier for groups to self-assemble without formal management, we radically alter the "old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort."  In short, "the number and kind of things groups can get done without financial motivation or managerial oversight are growing." Umm...the event itself will prove this as to be true or not, but surely we can get a hunch just based on the interest level for this event in the last 24 hours...1000+ nerds have already signed up.

Should be interesting to see how it unfolds in June...

Here come the nerds!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Four Fabulous Teachers - #2: Jeff Healey

This blog post is contributed by the inspirational in his own right, Timmy Olmstead; musical producer/engineer, videographer, or, as he calls it, snazzeographicianado.  Oh, and can't forget that he is a professional baseball player in Brussels, Belgium.  A successful artist of the many varieties, as I see it, and a good friend.  Thanks Timmy.

I was only 13 years old, but I was already an accomplished musician; mesmerizing crowds after school by thrusting my shiny guitar behind my back, over my head, and through my legs with unmatched fury and precision, all the while never missing a note. This would usually come to an abrupt end with my Dad gently removing his over-sized stereo headphones from my slumbering dome, and whispering into my ear, "Timmy, supper's ready." I was infatuated with the idea of having Axl Rose's hair - if just for a day - and to be able to make a guit-box sing like the rock Gods I watched on TV. I tried, even with informal lessons from a generous neighbor, but the throbbing pain in my fingers was just too much to bear, and it wasn't to be...yet.

It took five years for the right influence to find me, and it found me like a speeding freight train finds a dump truck on its railroad tracks. Boom!!! A man named Stevie Ray Vaughan grabbed me by my musical throat, and shook the holy bananas out of me. I didn't know it at the time, but Stevie had passed away fours years previous to my musical awakening, err...shaking. I felt robbed, and I cried for a long, long time. But I had no idea that I'd be eternally grateful, not just for SRV, but for the countless number of other musicians I was about to discover through him - guitarists he had influenced, played with, and idolized himself.

I'm writing this to share one of those musicians with you, because his story is truly and profoundly inspirational. I swell with pride in knowing that we've played on the same tiny stage, where the patrons are so close you can feel them on top of you. It's so intimate that you can reach out and touch them. And this guitarist did; that's why he cherished this small but ultra energized cafe so much, taking time out of his world tours to wander into the middle of nowhere to feel this sensation - a considerably deeper connection with his audience. You see, he never saw the swarming bodies that were literally inches away from him, he could only feel them, only sense, or hear them. Retinoblastoma, a rare cancer, had taken his sight from him as a baby. His eyes were surgically removed, and he was given artificial replacements, but that didn't stop him from picking up a guitar at the age of three. I am writing about a true guitar hero, Jeff Healey. Without the use of his eyes, it was easier for him to play if he laid his guitar down flat on his lap, which is highly unorthodox for the rest of us, and makes the instrument much more difficult to play. His left hand moved swiftly up and down the fretboard; his fingers like a tarantula darting after its prey, as his right hand raged against nickel-plated strings with the fury and precision that I had once dreamt of. Jeff and Stevie were fortunate to get to play with one another in their all-too-short time with us.

Jeff passed away two years ago tomorrow, leaving behind a wife and two children, but his legacy, his endearing smile, and his music, will remain with us forever. I miss him dearly, but I take comfort in knowing that if you've slow danced at your senior prom or wedding within the past 20 years, you've undoubtedly experienced his love, his warmth, and of course, his "Angel Eyes."