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anger’s long shadow

I used to work with someone who had a horrible anger problem, like a volcano ready to explode. This was before “belonging” and “inclusion” became popular words in the workplace, and people got away with much more than they should have. People were afraid of this man. He possessed power and knew how to wield it to persuade others. He was also quite charming. However, he frequently erupted in fits of anger. When he exploded, the entire office trembled from his rage. However others relished in it, while being thankful it wasn’t directed at them. Confronting his anger became a sick form initiation for those who worked under him. New hires weren’t truly accepted into the community until they endured their first or second encounter with his yelling, name-calling, or throwing of things. Those who had worked for him for years made excuses for him and shielded him. They loved him and considered his anger as a wound in need of attention, care and nurturing. He passed away a few years ago, but the people he scarred with his rage, me included, still remember it vividly. They have been forever changed.

I recently read that “people contain their opposites,” and it reminded me of him. On weekends, he would dress up as a clown and entertain children with cancer and their families. The hospital adored him and cherished him as their dear friend—a clown who brought laughter to children. I believe he saw himself as a good father figure who needed to, from time to time, discipline his employees, using harsh methods to keep them “in line.” It was an incredibly complex and challenging first work experience to be so intimately connected with someone who possessed immense power but was also deeply troubled.

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I asked ChatGPT to explain a poem today. It’s a complex, beautiful piece with evocative imagery that blends holy and tranquil symbols with horrific and tense ones. The AI summarized the content, then unpacked the meaning of each image. The analysis was exceptional but lacked the emotional dimension of experiencing the chaotic scene. Afterward, I requested it to express the poem as a 6-word story, then a 5-word story, and finally a 3-word story, resulting in “War, Christmas, juxtaposed.”

Reading the poem with AI was a unique process, not a perfect analysis, yet it revealed missed insights and offered a faster exploration of the poetic landscape. It was like providing a zoom or pause button, enhancing my exploration and deepening my appreciation without altering the content.

Please read this incredible poem by Ocean Vuong: Aubade with Burning City.

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trusting the tale

D.H. Lawrence’s famous quote, “Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” epitomizes the question of whether art can be fully and deeply appreciated without context. While great stories can speak to timeless themes, understanding the storyteller’s background and motivation is crucial in assessing its significance. Context gives a story meaning, offering essential perspective and answering why the story is being told and what it aims to achieve. For example, a story about women in a society that values and encourages their leadership may inspire and encourage, while the same story told in a repressive society could be an act of great courage. The universal lessons remain timeless, but the context changes everything from what is at stake to how we relate the story to our own lives.

Lawrence elaborates, “The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” Critics may recognize, appreciate, and help us identify trends in universal stories, but it is presumptuous and pedantic to believe they understand the story’s intention better than the artist who created it, or that the artist poses a threat to their work. Artists often preserve a story by retelling it in their own voice, providing context to make it more relevant for new audiences.

Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” In this book, Booker identifies seven basic plot types:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

We don’t need critics to rescue us from a retelling of a familiar plot or story, or to save a familiar story from the calculating mind of an artist Rather than protecting, critics can enhance our appreciation of the story by highlighting the artist’s fresh choices that bring a new and more impactful narrative to the familiar.

The question of trust in art raises concerns about the accuracy of the artist’s facts and their motives, prompting us to question whether they have an agenda to influence us. However, good art does not necessarily require us to understand the artist’s agenda, but rather it has the power to provoke our emotions and spark fresh thoughts, awakening us from a state of complacency and encouraging us to question and feel things we may not have experienced otherwise.

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city walker

One of my favorite things in life is to walk cities. There’s something indescribable that happens when you walk a city and take in its people, its lights, smells, restaurants, coffee shops, poster filled walls and subways. This website brings you that experience by inviting you to experience walking global cities in real-time on video.

https://walkin.city/

Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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a tribute

I recently gave a eulogy for a young friend who passed away. She was a poet, and her poetry was scattered through out her Facebook profile. Ten years worth of updates. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

To write her eulogy, I read her profile updates. I immersed in her words, and revisited her sense of humor.

Her words were inspiring and subtle. There were times where through her words she guided us on how to grieve and how to live.

I believe that when someone passes, the most beautiful tribe we can pay them is to find their own words, words they use, which are their essence, and speak those words as we lay them to rest.

This is what I did at her celebration of life.

I’ll leave you with her words:

“everyone is a gift and gifted;
young people will save our souls and maybe even our soil;
belonging is a being that we build together;
communal ritual restores health;
tell the truth and embody love;
talk about and work to dismantle systems of oppressions in ways that generate connection and healing —
read books by rabbis ; dance with men with soft hands…
communities have nervous systems that we can hold and regulate
play is a cure-all ;
everything can heal”

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College Essays

The college admission essay is one of my favorite things on earth. It’s the first time many young people will reflect on what matters to them and have to express who they are not only to others, but to the blank page – a page that either embraces or judges them depending on what they project on to it. As someone who loves to tell and listen to stories, I think we need more opportunities as adults like the college essay: where we are invited to express ourselves to the world concisely when it really matters.

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Tonight I guided a workshop that invited new and old friends to listen to one another with rare attention. The purpose of the workshop was to facilitate deep connection, and we accomplished this through a series of intention activities. I most enjoyed seeing how what people yearned more for, and even named – the connection with other people – was the exact thing they were doing together.

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chess vs. checkers

Can you teach a chess player to love checkers…?

It’s not always a good idea to think too far ahead. You and I both know this.

We know that practices of mindfulness that invite us into the present through the breath, through paying exquisite attention to the moment. I wonder if we can retrain the mind that plans.

The worrying mind craves worry. The planning mind yearns for certainty. So many of the solutions people offer to reduce worry and concern are about inviting our attention to the now. 

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images guide meaning

I created two sets of images which you see below by free associating with prompts. It’s one way to study which in your mind and your heart: to create imagery and analyze it. Both sets of images feature light, joy, and intense connection, both are people set in nature, and both are relatively mundane moments elevated. The impact is calming and intriguing, and the image that calls to me most is the first block, upper right. I’m unclear about what’s about to happen next: the source of the light, the relationship between the figures, but I feel something is on the verge of being revealed.

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patience

Tonight, I’m contemplating on the power of patience – the revelations it uncovers when we surrender to the unhurried pace–when we little the water drop slowly. My belief is that patience is a tool that influences all other aspects of our lives. The ability to discern when to exercise patience, both with ourselves and with opportunities, versus when to take bold and decisive action, is a choice that lies squarely within our grasp, and one that we should strive to enrich.

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