Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Window or Mirror? Observing ego through art

"You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul." ~ George Bernard Shaw

Askew metal tree
Field trip 
Week before last the kids and I paid a visit to the recently expanded NC Museum of Art. The state of the art building is just as artistic as the content it carefully displays. I admit the primary driver for taking them was out of that typical motherly need to expose my children to culture, but I ended up with a few insights of my own.

Not just for children
The museum has some useful free literature for children that ironically ended up being more interesting to me than my kids. As someone who does all kinds of writing, I always find it interesting to look at how other writers interpret and compose based on different criteria so I picked up a bunch to thumb through.

There was one brochure I almost didn't grab but glad I did. It's called the Owner's Manual, and it facilitates how to experience the museum art beyond the obvious. My kids didn't even look at it when I excitedly tried to share it with them. I, however, couldn't put it down. The book does a lovely job making it so visually lively and simple that it could be turned into a wireframe or graphic mock-up for interactive development in a very short time.

Little book, big thoughts
In the "Things to Discuss" section of the Owner's Manual, one page caught my eye: Windows or Mirrors? It has the reader consider the following:

"It has been said that art is both a window and a mirror - it can frame a scene or reflect ourselves. For the next painting that grabs your attention, consider whether it's a window or a mirror."

I got to thinking about that bit of guidance so I grabbed my iPhone and thumbed through the pics I took that day. I thought about why I lingered with some pieces of art and not others, why I bugged the staff and combed the art directory to find a painting I'd seen prior to the museum moving to the new building, why it was important for me to send pictures of my favorite paintings to a few people, why I felt compelled to write this post.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Portrait of Emy
Windows or Mirrors? Maybe both...
I don't think it's an either/or situation when it comes to art. The experience is far too subjective. I think the visuals we are drawn to are both reflections of us (as in a mirror) and opportunities (as in a window or door) because they raise awareness that can then inspire.

When I saw Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's painting of his wife called Portrait of Emy, I was immediately drawn in. A radical style back in his day, Schmidt-Rottluff was seeking to explore and reflect her passionate personality which is clearly seen within and round this intense woman. While her expression conveys a kind of pensive, serious disposition which is typically associated with dullness or depression, it's quite the opposite. Being a participant and an observer in life can intensify and deepen one's overall experience, I think, and the vibrancy and color of this painting clearly says she did just that.

David Park
Another painting that stopped me in my tracks was David Park's Daphne from 1959 which is also an example of radical style in a conventional, proper era. The colors used, the openness, the clear intent to face life head on, the reinforcing of that intent with the the natural setting (I'm avoiding the tired Eve in the Garden of Eden reference), and the overtly intense colors took my breath away. David was an out-of-the-box thinker who as a child occupied himself with drawing, painting, making puppet shows, and playing music. His family definitely represented the lifestyle of the times, but with the help of an aunt, he pursued a life in the arts. It seems this painting represents his comfort with pushing boundaries.

Donald Sultan
Venice without water
I bothered the staff of the museum about a painting that haunts me that used to be in the old building. None of them seem to know what I was talking about, but then my 12 year old son, Ethan, surprised me with remembering the name: Venice without Water by Donald Sultan

Venice is a classically beautiful and historic city under constant threat of demise. Engineers are working feverishly to stop the flow of water into the city. The question this painting suggests is what would happen if the water was completely removed. Water has long had a place in literature, religion, and folklore as noted in this article about symbolism. Water often is used to cleanse, wash away, and regenerate. For me, the absence of water is the absence of life, and this painting is a stark reminder of just how barren things can be when out of balance.

Pausing at the reflecting pond
NC Museum of Art
Reflecting on windows and mirrors
This point of this post, dear reader, is not to engage you in dissecting and analyzing my own personality and perspective. I can do that on my own time. :) 

The point rather is to encourage you to take time observing ego. Figuratively stepping outside of yourself and watching what you pay attention to, considering the thoughts, feelings, and questions that pop-up in your mind over the course of your day, and observing how you interact with others. Through these moments, you gain deeper understanding of who you are at your core - your values, beliefs, boundaries, passions, character, moods, tendencies, verbal and behavioral inconsistencies, and aspirations. 

My journal from
It's pauses like these that create the opportunity to develop healthy self-talk where you can coach, question, and mentor yourself. It's also an opportunity to challenge your assumptions. We're all great fiction writers at the end of the day. In the absence of information we usually make it up so observing ego gives us a chance to gut check the stories we tell ourselves. Not having this internal meter can reek havoc on our emotional self and emotional relationships with others. So go on, have a peek at yourself from time-to-time. Happy ego observing...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reflective thinking...a sign of the times

We'd like to think regular reflection on our behavior and the behavior of others is customary and universal, but I don't know that's always true because of circumstance. As a matter of fact, I consider reflection, self-esteem, and psychological insight a modern day luxury born out of a reduced need for day-to-day survival. Reflection is sort of like disposable income - you use it when you have it but when you don't have it... Well, you need only spend time with old writings of others like I describe below to see what I mean.

Okay, it wasn't THIS bad
Looking back
When my grandmother passed away many years ago, my mother and I were left with sorting through nearly 90 years of stuff. She was my step father's mother and as an only child born to an older couple he couldn't bare the thought of going near it. My mother had been her primary caregiver after a stroke rendered her partially incapacitated eight years prior so for her it was just another thing that had to get done. So we did.

And a lot of stuff it was
My grandmother had lived a mostly privileged life and had wealth in the form of antiques and documents that stretched many generations. The money had long dried up with the healthcare needs of her and my grandfather, who eventually succumbed to dementia and literally died in the fetal position in a nursing home after my grandmother was a primary caregiver for nearly a decade.

A New Englander, my grandmother came from a long line of artists, educators, and medical people. They had money, they traveled, and they lived comfortably. She was a nurse, married an executive, and had one child, Bill. I remember being so impressed with their life in Vermont. My "Daddy Bill," as I called him, was a private pilot and he used to fly us in our single engine plane from Georgia to Whittier, VT. Their beautifully manicured three story home and lawn and the gentle, cool climate was so different from the GA red clay that never washed out of our clothes and clingy humidity that lived in our pores. I often felt I'd gone to another country when we'd visit which suited my nomadic spirit just fine.

Living the past in the present
Days into the sorting, we slowed down a bit partly from the exercise itself and partly because of the things we found. This was not my first time taking a dive into my grandmother's things. I can remember as a child lingering for hours at her house with the turn of the last century photo albums that were filled with those metal pictures (Daguerreotype) of people who almost never smiled because it took so long to take them.

I used to study them - the people's faces, clothes, the setting, the medium. Often I would try to figure out what was on their minds. Were they thinking about the excitement of this new technology or just dying to get it over with because they had a mountain of laundry waiting by the river or fields turning to dust from the lack of water for yet another week. Yea, these photos were just that old...

I found all of the faces compelling because they were fodder for stories I made up. I told myself it was an exercise in honoring those who came before me, but really it was less that and more a self-indulgent exercise that was plain fun. Eventually those fantasies snaked their way into the plays I'd write that I'd make my family sit through, the TV scripts I'd storyboard and play out with my friends, and voice overs for stories I'd record on my tape recorder long after my family had gone to sleep.

Pile of wood
Cord, chop, plow, and pick
Amid all that stuff I stumbled on several journals of my grandmother's relatives. Based on the writings in those journals, the life my grandmother lived was the result of what many a turn of the century family experienced - their money came from the toil of the soil. Those folks lived by the seasons not because they had some passionate, fervent existential crusade to campaign and demonstrate but rather out of a simple need for survival.

There wasn't much to the entries. Based on what season they were in at the time the man who owned the journals would either "cord and chopped wood," "plowed the fields," or "picked crops." These were the entries over and over again. Occasionally he'd include something that sounded akin to a Farmer's Almanac entry, but for the most part there was little to no reflection or personal insight.

Deviation from the season... A near reflection point
Analytical consideration of the journal content was exhausted for me in short order so imagine my surprise when just on the edge of tossing the whole lot into the "throw away" pile there was an entry that was clearly out of synch.  My ancestor had gone to a town dance and met a girl.

For a time he described with meticulous detail the activities he'd complete getting himself ready for the dances he started frequenting since meeting the girl. The combing and parting of his hair, which I imaged was black for some reason, the donning of the vest that he smoothed out with great care, the selection of just the right hat. The anticipation of seeing her poured from his words although he made little mention of her. Modesty of the day and simplicity of the writer likely kept him from diving too deeply into his feelings for her, but the detailed departure from his seasonal entries was clear. He was in love.

Back to the present
Sorry, dear reader, but the journals stopped there. I'm not sure what happened to the rest if there even was any beyond the ones I read. I'd like to think his love for the girl was reciprocated - they married and had a brood of kids. For a happy ending we could just believe the journals that never got written or were simply lost over time chronically recorded "cord and chopped wood," "plowed the fields," or "picked crops" with each season that continued to pass.

Or maybe not...insert modern day chatter
Is it possible either or both of them wondered if what they we're doing in life was a good fit with their "skill set" or if they ever wondered at some point if the other still loved them? Could they at some point wondered if there could be more to life than the life they are living? Was there ever a time in their relationship if they wondered why they don't talk like they used to or they aren't as affectionate?

Reflection is a matter of perspective (and the times) 
Just like I believe much of Freud's theory was a reflection of the Victorian times in which he lived, I think the questions noted above are a product of times when the basic necessities of life are less of a concern. One only needs to look at the disaster in Haiti, the atrocities in parts of Africa, and refugee camps in Afghanistan to understand questions like those are a luxury when compared with those who are working through some Maslow lower levels.

Grief is that way too. Losing someone dear, leaving or losing a job, business, house, dealing with an illness or a something involving a child... The mind typically shifts to a more practical place when faced with adversity.

Balance looking in with looking out
So the next time the chatter in your head about your life, your husband or wife, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your friends, or your work seems to get a little too loud, pause and look outside of yourself. Use some self-talk to question your questions.

How many of the questions are the result of a snowball that becomes an avalanche because life is a little hard sometimes and misery loves company? How many of these Qs are the result of what the media tells us we should be thinking and questioning? Take time to sift through the noise. Spend some time in someone else's shoes. Considering others' perspective might give you a fresh, new perspective of your own.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Talking to a wall...being present at work & at play

Taking a pause 
Cuppa Joe in the backyard.
I thought I'd write daily in this blog, but so far that's not happened. Not taking time off for a while has meant I've gotten caught up on sleeping, reading, communing with nature, and "torturing" my children with vocabulary tests, studying new languages, and math drills. My daughter recently informed me she's ready for me to go back to work full time anytime now. She's kidding of course or maybe I'm just kidding myself with saying that. ;-)

Thinking, thinking
I've been doing a lot of thinking about the value of taking time off and what the experts and research say about it. While there's a ton of evidence that suggests taking time off is invaluable to psychological and physical health as noted in this article about stress and vacations, I'm not altogether on board with the hype. 

Feeling the Buddha
It's a matter of perspective
I recall a cultural observation made in Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers that compared the Asian and Western work ethics.  He suggested perspective, among other things, is rooted in agriculture. Historically Asians worked the rice paddies year round because of the longer growing season, but the Western growing season is limited to half a year or so which likely has influenced how the two cultures view work. You also can't consider this without considering the differences in Confucianism and Protestant work ethic which puts collectivism and presence at odds with individualism and fate. The net net is Asians spend far more time in school than Westerners, they spend up to 40% more time working through difficult math problems than their US counterparts, and they are out performing many Western students at universities. Of course, any culture is not without its fair share of issues so I don't want to imply I think one cultural approach is better than another. Instead I think it's better to take the best of both.

Luda & her friend Desiree
Some change is good 
I wonder how much of our "need" for time off is wrapped up in what the media says we're supposed to do. I don't want to completely discount the value of taking a holiday. I do think it's energizing and renewing. As a matter of fact research shows that a change of venue makes us more open to new experiences so I wouldn't toss that out for anything. It's also well known that some of the greatest discoveries were made while doing something unrelated their subject of study. Hooray for a change of scenery! On the other hand, time off can dull the senses a bit, make us feel like we're "not on our game," and the time to ramp up the pace again can be long and painful.

Be present while you work or play
So what's the middle path? It's being present at work or at play. In this world of technology driven ADD or what psychologists are starting to call Attention Deficit Trait (ADT), which is created as a result of constant multi-tasking, it takes a bit of discipline to be present in whatever activity you're doing. Being present doesn't remove stress but rather controls how you handle it. I always find when I'm trying to do multiple things at once it takes two to three times longer to finish. Others have told me the same happens to them as well. Conversations are more challenging. Solutions are slower. Patience is short. More coffee (or wine) is needed.

Daisy takes time to smell the flowers
Balance in all things
Too much of one thing is usually not good because it makes the limbic brain, or "feeling brain" as my son Ethan calls it, work overtime to constantly marshall the hormone troops in your body to produce. The effect is your system works overtime to keep those feelings rolling, but eventually like anything that is overworked, it goes on strike (anxiety) or shuts down (depression). It's a vicious cycle that becomes a kind of addiction -- yes, I said addiction. 

Focusing the animal in all of us
Some of the most energetic people I know are that way because they are so present in the moment whether they realize it or not. When something feels good we naturally want more of it and these energetic people have intentionally or otherwise figured it out. They approach an activity with the same focus and energy no matter what it is. It doesn't mean they aren't human and don't have complaints, struggles, and uncertainty.  It just means they acknowledge and give time equally across the spectrum of experiences and don't dwell on it. They have balance and let things go...

Moving on to the next moment
I feel this moment closing and a new one kicking off. The NC Museum of Art is calling so it's time to scoot. Please share your thoughts on living in the moment. I've had a number of convos with very smart people about this with no conclusion so I'll leave you with a parting Q: 

What does it mean to you to live in the moment? 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First day of the last day of my life...

Chips, peach salsa, avocado, & wine
I am on sabbatical. 

After three and a half years with working at full tilt and writing for, life stepped up and let me know I need to take a break. And so I am.

I couldn't consider what to do with my time without accounting for who I am. I see myself not unlike the "recovering"people noted in the article Let's Hear It for B Players, which was the inspiration for my first foray into entrepreneurship with the concept launch of

Some of the Tokii team. I'm on Skype, of course.
Taking an idea from concept to execution is not for the faint of heart. 

The hours are long, the deliverables never ending, and do-overs are enough to demoralize the strongest of minds. But that said, there are plenty of upsides. Giving birth to an idea. Shaping and molding it into something tangible and interesting to others. Watching it take on a life of its own. This is what has kept me going. Dreaming the impossible and banding together with other like-minded people to figure it out.

We had some false starts - a lot of them actually. It's not unlike what's described in this Fast Company article about the power of prototypes and failing. We were practiced in the art of rapid prototyping and design using an Agile approach to software development. And just when we thought we'd mastered what was developed so far, we found out we'd have to do it all over again. The wireframing, UI diagrams, arguments, and testing...the hashing and rehashing of content and copy.  It's never ending.

Reg & Alison in Kenora, Canada
So now what?

My thanks to Regina Miller for firmly pounding the above Socratic question into my vernacular. I've left my team for the next two months to continue to slay dragons while I sit here contemplating and waxing philosophical. Do I feel guilt? Yes. Do I understand sometimes one must step back in order to step up again? Of course. But it's not easy for someone like me to do.

So I'll write. I'll write daily here, and I'll write for a side project I have at Socialsexpert. Don't expect much there yet - it's just ramping up. I'll focus on sex and relationships, share erotic short stories I've written, and dole out a few bits of advice here and there. I'm a former therapist who had a private practice for several years. I worked with families, mental illness of all sorts, and addiction. I concentrated on relationships, anxiety, and depression mostly as a result of the type of clients MD's would throw my way so I feel fine about weighing in on the subject.

Me living online
What's in it for you?

Well, if you have an interest in what a recovering Internet entrepreneur is doing and thinking, it could be worth the five minutes and still leave you with 23 hours and 55 minutes in your day. We experience an avalanche of information daily so we constantly have to make choices about how to spend our time.

I admit this blog is for me. It's my journey that I'm willing to share with anyone who might find it interesting. If you decide to check in, feel free to challenge, share, and observe. Whatever works for you. Hope to see you here.