ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Embrace Transparency

Watch Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk, “Embrace Transparency” (aka “The greatest TED Talk ever sold”). No editorial needed… Enjoy!

Wild Life with Mary Oliver

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver (“The summer day”)

Wild Life: Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

Wild Life with Mary Oliver

Will you spring up from your pillow in the morning, heart racing, mind wild with questions and dreams? Will you sing softly then louder – to your spouse, your child, your dog, your view – an extemporaneous anthem of wants and wills and when’s and why’s?

Will you step into a steaming shower and listen to the raindrops and streams and oceans as you suds yesterday from your skin and hair? Or will you stride past the shower, the bathtub, the sink and dance directly to the lake? Will you dive in and swim until the shore calls you home again.

Will you pluck swollen raspberries from the brambles, grapes from the vines that wind through the fence around the garden, an apple from the gnarled tree in the first meadow?

And then, rested and clean and sated, how will you live this wild and precious morning?

Good luck! (And thank you, Mary Oliver.)

Mary Oliver Resources

Life is Poetry

A daily doodle by yours truly, and an eternal truth by the powers that be!

Life is Poetry: A daily doodle by yours truly, and an eternal truth by the powers that be!

Life is poetry.

Except when it isn’t. Like when it’s more of a broken record or an abscessed tooth or a tropical storm with hurricane potential.

But at it’s best, today for example, life is poetry.

Sometimes life rhymes. The message may be as difficult interpret as a summer mirage, but for a glimmering instant we stumble upon mesmerizing clarity.

And when I glimpse the poetry I’ve learned to step aside. Or sing along. Or dance.

I’ve learned that ignoring the poetry is all too easy, but unhealthy. Unhappy. It’s alright to sing off key or dance to my own rhythm. What’s important is diving in. Or yielding. What’s important is being open and receptive to the poetry. What’s important is embracing the poetry.

Each of us lives a life that expresses… Every thing we do, everything we are, expresses… What message are you giving the world, through your actions, how you live, how you treat others, what you accomplish, how you choose to be, every moment of every day?

Are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem?

Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?

If your life is a poem, what do you want it to say? What would you rather leave out? (zenhabits)

Here’s one poet’s answer:

What’s your answer? If life is poetry, what are you expressing? What’s your song? What’s your dance?

Flow, Process and Collaboration

Be driven, but be realistic, and create a culture based on flow, process and collaboration, not work heroism. (Medium)

Sometimes life rhymes. And sometimes it’s difficult to explain exactly why. Why did I stumble across Stef Lewandowski‘s thoughtful reflection on the heavy costs of overworking, “What gets done is what gets done“, and why now?

Why did I just happen to dip into this while scanning the Medium Editor’s Picks? Right as I’ve been deep thinking this whole matter of triumphal solo workathons (and shortfalls, setbacks, etc.)? And why did it coincide with a couple of spontaneous social media exchanges with peers on the very same topic?

Daunted by too much rain, rain, rain, it's tim...

Fearless flow, process and collaboration…

Poetry. Sometimes life rhymes. The message may be as difficult interpret as a summer mirage, but for a glimmering instant we stumble upon mesmerizing clarity.

A little more than halfway through the year isn’t such a bad time to reevaluate priorities and goals. Maybe even to rotate the map slightly. Or turn it upside down to doodle a fresh map…

Stef@stef) is cofounder of Makeshift (@makeshift), a cool “new type of company that makes digital products that ‘give a leg up to the little guy’“. Smart concept. Smart team. London-based. They built Bitsy to make it easy and affordable for you to sell your digital stuff, Help Me Write so you can tap your audience for guidance on what to write about, and Hire My Friend so can explore new work possibilities with help from your friends.

It’s all the more compelling to be reminded by a smart, hardworking overachiever who thrives in perennial start-up mode that we need to unplug. That we need to work smart. And that means that sprinting 24×7 because we have to (and because it often yields ace results, and because everyone has come to expect Energizer bunny tempo from us, and — let’s be 100% honest — because it’s a really addictive!) isn’t such a good idea. Not in the long term. Nor even the sort of middle term. It’s a fast track to burn out. It’s taken me most of my life to acknowledge this. To accept this. And to envision (and begin drafting) a new map.

The frustration and drive that you feel around what you’re working on is a good thing – it gives you motivation and direction, but it’s important to be grown up about it too. There is only so much that humans can achieve in a period of time, and by accepting this fact I’ve found that I’m able to create an environment where I feel more relaxed, creative and inspired than I’ve managed to be in before.

The result is that I, and my team are being smart about how we spend our time, rather than back-filling with a resource that we shouldn’t be using up—our personal time. (Medium)

Time. Timing. It’s one of the essential ingredients in poetry.

And life.

And work.

So are flow and process. Ideally. Though not always. Thanks, Stef, for the timely reminder. And thanks for building tools that help out with the collaboration part too.

Time for fearless flow, process and collaboration. Time to add bold lines and colors to my new map…

Book as Enduring Symbol

As we watch the book transition into its fraught future, will the eventual scarcity of traditional volumes mean we can no longer recognize an image of that rectangular thing as a symbol of “learning, poise, wisdom and moral fortitude?” Or will the book as a symbol spring eternal? ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) takes on “Book as Symbol” and concludes that it is as perennial as spring. Though debating Porter is an enjoyable sport, I rarely find the opportunity, such reasoning undergirding even his lighthearted and sarcastic observations. Instead I pass along the unfathomably clever comments I appended to his post…

le bibliophile

Le Bibliophile (Credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a bibliophile by default, and a digital reader by convenience. No. Scratch that. I am a reader by default and a print book, digital book and audio book omnivore by habit. And increasingly by appetite. In fact, I often purchase and “read” a title in all three formats. Bundling anyone? After all, print books still make awfully quaint wrappers.

“If anything, I find we badly overuse the traditional book as a symbol.” ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Indeed! A nostalgic eleventh hour attempt to ensure the symbol’s immortality? I’m reminded by Vaughn Roycroft’s anecdote (read Porter’s post and then scan down to Roycroft’s comment to enjoy his quirky story) of a library and garden designer I once knew who sold fancy folks learned libraries by the foot. Paneling, bookshelves, paint, leather club chairs, carpet, musty odor and collector’s edition books. Silly gobs of money for guilt tomes that might as well have been hacked spines glued into 4″ shelves.

English: Mabie Todd Swan 14k gold flexible nib

Mabie Todd Swan fountain pen (Credit: Wikipedia)

That said, the book will endure, not just as a symbol, but as a luxury. An indulgence. A preference. Many of us after all still age wines to perfection and draw ink into fountain pens despite the preponderance of cheaper, easier, more abundant and better marketed alternatives. I haven’t ever ridden in a chariot or published poems on stone tablets, but I instantly recognize both in humanity’s timeless iconography.

And what a joy it will be one day many decades anon to creak open the dusty spine of a vintage Quixote to read aloud to my grand nieces and nephews… Even with Porter’s Campari stains obscuring some of the text.

What do you think? Will the book endure as a symbol? Or perhaps it follow the slide rule and the Ford Pinto off to EFFI (the Elysian Fields of Forgotten Innovations, which incidentally, might be near Pine Point…)

Wonder, Gratitude and Change

As we forward-march to 2013’s drum, let’s not forget our capacity for wonder, gratitude, and collective impact. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world… are the ones who do. (Carson Kahn, Medium)

Video Credits: “Symbiosis” (Pilobolus), “God Music” (George Crumb), “Fratres” (Arvo Part) “Morango… Almost a Tango” (Thomas Oboe Lee)

On Wonder

Instead of imposing your story/ies, you need to open up, to become receptive and unjudging. To listen, I mean really listen, you have to be curious. To listen deeply, you have to suspend your own assumptions and convictions. (The Wonder of Storytelling)

On Gratitude

Many days, I try to humble myself and hold a 2-minute gratitude session… I don’t do it every day, but let me tell you, on the days I do it, it makes me very happy… Why should the simple act of thinking about who and what I’m grateful for make such a big difference in my life?

Just a few reasons:

  • Because it reminds you of the positive things in your life…
  • Because it turns bad things into good things…
  • Because it reminds you of what’s important…
  • Because it reminds you to thank others…

(Leo Babauta, zenhabits)

On Change

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. (Mahatma Gandhi,

The rest is up to you… Good luck!

Social Media as Cancerous Sprawl

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

“Social media is to the Read/Write Web what sprawl is to the metropolis of modernity: a homogenous, cancerous, rhizomatic junkspace that expands exponentially outward on a sludgy wave of strip malls and sponsored links, greed and induced demand.” ~ Jesse Darling (The New Inquiry)

Jesse Darling (@jessedarling) does not mince words.

Assumptions? Yes. Stereotypes? Yes. Norms? Yes. Egos? Yes.

But not words.

She sharpens them. Flexes them. Fuels them. And then she unleashes them. Sometimes playfully. Other times lethally. Often cunningly. Always intelligently.

I’m stretching when I say, “Always intelligently.” I don’t know Darling, nor am I familiar enough with her work (words, photos, digital, etc.) to speak so broadly. But what I’ve read/seen so far is searingly smart. Angry, flip, sarcastic, edgy but smart.

I don’t always agree with Darling, but I respect her bravery. She takes risks. Says what she thinks. And supports it. Intelligently.

The passage above, part of a provocative response to Evgeny Morozov’s The Death of the Cyberflâneur, is a powerfully articulated version of a observation about social media that’s been sloshing around in my head for some time. Sloshing but not uttered. The sort of observation that time will temper, prove or disprove. Most of us wait and see. Darling paints the graffiti on the wall. Today. And then moves on.

Social media is unchecked sprawl, and much (most?) of it is MSG enhanced junk with nominal real value. But cancerous? Potentially, yes, but Darling’s sweeping generalization inevitably oversteps. Such is the role of art and artists, of course, but Darling’s assertion overlooks the healthy aspects of social media (semi-democratizing the previously oligarchic media, empowering global collaboration and open source initiatives, dilating artistic possibilities, etc.). Unfortunately, social media sludge is more difficult to avoid than strip malls. And more enticing…

Demolition Derby

Dauntless Driver

Dauntless demolition derby driver

I haven’t been to the Essex County Fair yet. In fact, given the number of concurrently scheduled commitments, it’s likely I won’t make it at all this year.

It’s a pity. I love it. Less perhaps for the events themselves, and more for the top rate people watching. Good stuff. And I do have a weakness for fried dough and meditating on fuzzy baby ducks which — if I keep lobbying my bride — I may some day even get to raise myself. (So far she’s dismissed the idea as inhumane, basically raising coyote fodder.)

I’ve gotten excited about the idea of raising ducks. I did some research, found a catalog, ogled the pictures, read the descriptions, circled my favorites and told me wife. Emergency brake! “What? Raise ducklings so the coyotes and foxes can eat them? Are you crazy?” Needless to say, she’s not too keen on the idea. There’ve been a couple of heated conversations. I’ve demurred but repressed the desire. At least for now. (Rosslyn Redux.)

One of the most anticipated Essex County Fair events each year is the demolition derby competition. That should probably be all caps: Demolition Derby. It’s big.

I ruminated a bit on my love/hate relationship with the event over on the Essex on Lake Champlain community blog in an unimaginatively titled post, “Demolition Derby at the Essex County Fair“. I’ve paired it down even further for this post. Two powerful words. Destructive. Competitive. Celebratory. No need for fluff or drama on my part, “Demolition Derby” says it all!

Here’s the crux of my reflection, though it took me a little more beating around the bush to find what I really meant to say first time round. If you waited for the abridged version, you win.

It’s hard to imagine Elkanah Watson who first launched the fair in 1848 anticipating the demolition derby or the rollover show. Half a century before automobiles debuted, oxen and horse powered wagons and carriages would have been the rural Essex County equivalent to the gas powered vehicles that are now ubiquitous. Certainly there would have been little desire to smash or flip and effectively destroy horse drawn vehicles while risking life and limb in the process. And yet we are fascinated with the brazen competitors in their windowless jalopies sporting spray painted taunts, “Hit me hard!” and “Fear this!”

Although I admitted earlier that attending the demolition derby conjures all variety of highway horrors that I’d rather abandon in the dusty recesses of memory, I admit an almost morbid intrigue. I drive slowly by houses where demolition derby cars are being fine-tuned and decorated with war paint. I’ve spent hours talking to demolition derby veterans, trying to understand their experience. And I’ve stopped at the fairgrounds the day after the demolition derby more than once to snap photographs or to watch the crusher flattening the wrecked cars and stacking them on the bed of a tractor trailer for recycling. Morbid. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

I reread the post before publishing and realized a couple of things.

  • I sound like a sissy.
  • I sound like a major sissy!
  • I sound like I’m being condescending or derisive even though it’s not the way I feel. Just perplexed. And conflicted.

I’m simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the demolition derby. Ever since I was a peach lipped lad, back when I called it the “Smash’em Up Derby” and attempted small-scale facsimiles in the driveway with my brother and sister on tricycles and Big Wheels, the demolition derby competition has provoked a complex reaction in me. The sort where a visceral cringe is immediately followed by a sneak peak.

In particular, I’m fascinated with the cars and drivers before the demolition derby. And then again afterward. The preparation for battle, and the detritus of battle. The howling engines and belching smoke and shuddering car carcasses and flames and sirens and medics trigger an irrepressible wave of adrenaline (good) followed by an equally irrepressible fight-or-flight response. So I skip the middle and savor the before and after!

New Tech, New Wants

A Sony WM-FX421 Walkman, for stereo cassettes.

Sony WM-FX421 Walkman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology creates our needs faster than it satisfies them. (Kevin Kelly)

My Monday morning muse for your ruminating pleasure is actually not mine at all. It’s a quotation from Kevin Kelly’s 1998  New Rules for the New Economy. No longer new, of course, but if you missed out before you’ll find that it’s still relevant and eerily prescient. And did I mention that the blog version lives on his website? And that it’s free?

According to Kelly, we’re hurtling forward, inventing technologies to satisfy our desires and — in the process —  discovering new desires.

Our wants are compounding exponentially… technology creates ever new opportunities for those desires to find outlets and form. (Kevin Kelly

Although the illustrative example, a $50 Sony Walkman (remember cassette tapes?), seems practically ancient, I can’t help but transpose an iPad or even a Kindle Fire.

When a merchant sells a consumer a new Sony Walkman for $50, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for tape cassettes and batteries. (Paul Pilzer)

Transposed for the digital age:

When a merchant sells a consumer an iPad, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for digital products (ebooks, videos, games, apps, etc.), physical accessories (from practical screen protectors and card readers to fashion carrying cases), non-physical accessories (warranty extensions, maintenance contracts, customer support, etc.), software updates/upgrades, and–let’s be totally honest–hardware upgrades because sexy new models with more memory, faster processors, longer lasting batteries and retina displays are the MSG that keeps consumers coming back for more!

With writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers wandering the Wild West known as the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm, it’s more evident than ever that technology creates more demand than it satisfies. Increasingly tech-centric publishing and storytelling is catalyzing an avalanche of new non-book formats to satisfy consumer demands. New options are invented daily, and yet we’re only beginning to glimpse the world of storytelling possibilities around the corner. Technology is simultaneously sating and creating new demand, seeding storytelling innovation and inventing new consumer desires… Suppose I’m bullish on storytelling in the digital age?!?!

Abiquiu: Naked, Iridescent and Wrinkled

After three days back at home in the Adirondacks I’m ready to wrap up my Abiquiu series about my month apart in a remote New Mexico desert canyon. A month of writing, revising and listening. This post is a freestyle retrospective in images, sounds and words. A digital scrapbook of sorts. If you’re interested, here are the previous posts:

The video/slide show above was shot on my iPhone. Excuse the blurry images and the bumpy footage. The audio was not recorded among the Benedictines, though Gregorian chants were a part of my days at the abbey. All credit for this beautiful music goes to Medwyn Goodall, a musician and producer from Yorkshire, England.

Daily Scrape (listen to audio)

I’m shaving and all of the sudden a bearded fellow in black robes and hood is at my bathroom window. It’s Brother Hidalgo (name changed) from Monterey, Mexico. I’d met him on my second day at the abbey when he explained that he would pass by my hermitage a couple of times each week to pick up the garbage.

So I knock on the glass and wave. He recognizes me and waves back, then flushes crimson and turns away. He returns to the trash and recycling. I look into the mirror and continue shaving. I realize that – despite the towel around my waist – I must have looked naked to Brother Hidalgo. No wonder he was embarrassed.

Magpies (listen to audio)

When the weather is warm I sit outside and watch magpies, so many magpies gathering twigs and bits of fiber hanging in the sagebrush, gathering the ingredients for a cozy nest, I surmise, though I haven’t a clue if I’m right or wrong.

According to the 1961 edition of Roger Tory Peterson‘s A Field Guide to Western Birds, Magpies, Pica pica, are “the only large black and white land birds in N. America with long wedge-shaped tails. In flight, the iridescent greenish-black tail streams behind; large white patches flash in the wings.” Long iridescent tails that vibrate in the unfiltered sunlight that intoxicated Georgia O’Keefe once upon a time. The black billed magpies natural habitat includes this high desert canyon along the shores of the Chama River in Northern New Mexico, especially the foothills, Peterson says, and “ranches, sagebrush, river thickets,…”

Story Threads and Knots (listen to audio)

I’m in bed, almost asleep despite concerns on the first day when I arrived and saw the futon on a raised tatami mat floor.

That will be my bed for the month of March? Will my finicky back let me sleep on that? For almost four weeks?

But, like camping on an even thinner mat in the wilderness after a hike, I sleep restfully. Briefly, but restfully, though I usually awaken after four hours and think, How will I ever make it through the day with so little rest?

And then I do. Without yawning. Untangling then braiding my stories. Or twisting them into a rope. With knots. That I try to cut out when they become too tight to unknot. I discard the knots outside the hermitage door where they collect in a pile next to a cow patty the size of a Thanksgiving turkey which was still shiny, moist and brown-black on my first day but each day grows flatter, drier, paler and more wrinkled.

When I first arrived there were cattle wandering around the abbey grounds, especially between the Chama and the dirt road from the hermitage to the church. Sleepy eyed cows ruminating and nursing new calves among the sagebrush.

On the second or third day – when the winds were starting but before it snowed – a rancher on horseback passed through with a skinny black dog. I haven’t seen the cattle or the rancher since, but the dog comes back to visit every few days and I give him a piece of dried salmon jerky. He likes the jerky and he begs for more, but settles for a scratch behind the ears.

The pile of knots grows bigger each day. Twice buried in snow that melted within a few hours of sun-up, the knots that were too tight to unknot have been loosed by the wind, not all of them, not yet, but threads blow around the yard and hang in the sagebrush like desert tinsel. Sometimes I see one that I like, and I bring it back inside to braid or splice or just to wrap around my finger as a reminder.

Coyotes (listen to audio)

A lone coyote yips then wails then barks at the base of the canyon across the Chama, a river too lazy to reflect the moon which is full and high overhead. Soon others join in. The coyotes are all around the canyon, surrounding the hermitage, yipping and wailing outside my windows, perhaps hoping for salmon jerky handouts.

Coyote. Canis latrans mearnsi.

In Southwestern tribal legends the coyote is often portrayed as a clever trickster. According to a Native American twist on the Prometheus myth, coyote stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, a welcome gift that made winters more tolerable and raw food more enjoyable. Perhaps the coyotes outside my window are singing about fire. Or outwitting the gods. Or salmon jerky. Perhaps they’re untangling and braiding stories. I hope they can find something salvageable in my pile of knots or among the threads fluttering in the sagebrush.

At this liminal frontier of waking and sleeping my own story – naked, iridescent and wrinkled – emerges among the moonlit thickets. At last!


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