Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dignitas Perdidit

"Yesterday" Douglas Tavern, Douglas, Ontario
"If in dignitas you include the power of translating those loyal feelings into action or of defending them with complete freedom, then ne vestigium quidem ullum est reliquum nobis dignitatis [not even a trace is left to us of our dignity]." ~ Cicero, 46 BC

Dignitas Perdidit is roughly translated as Dignity Lost. But that's not quite right. While the word dignitas does not have a direct translation into English, the Oxford Latin Dictionary defines the expression as fitness, suitability, worthiness, visual impressiveness or distinction, dignity of style and gesture, rank, status, position, standing, esteem, importance, and honor.

Julius Caesar structured his whole life on his personal dignitas. People in those years were known to send themselves into exile, even oft themselves (RIP Marcus Antonius), and destroy the reputation of others (that would be you, Marcus Claudius Marcellus) in order to preserve or grow their dignitas. Such is the power of a single word.

The use of words carries the ever-present danger of possible cultural, gender-based, racial or political misinterpretations. What was right and just and honorable even in our parents' time (when the term family wasn't so often prefaced by the word dysfunctional) may be a completely different animal today. Antiquated terms, like yesterday's leftovers, have different meanings in the light of a new day. The above photo (taken by my niece Alison), while admittedly quaint, appropriately tattered and obviously sexist was seen back then as a sign of respect. (In the village tavern there was one door for rowdy, dust covered, profanity-spewing men, and another door for a more sophisticated couple out to enjoy a social evening. The fact that both doors most often lead to the same room was incidental.) If you look up the word escorts in the phone book today, you'll find an entirely different meaning (for every want, personal bent and budget).

What was a word just hanging out behaving itself yesterday becomes one with an identity crisis. The word brave was once used to signify cowardice. Awful meant ‘full of awe’ i.e. something wonderful, delightful, amazing. Nice, derived from the Latin ‘not to know’, originally meant ignorant. Gay used to mean light-hearted and carefree. A dick was a detective.

And not too long ago a computer was a person who worked with numbers and did a lot of calculations. Facebook was a high school yearbook. And you heard birds twitter in the merry wood. Bad is now good... or bad.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Grabbing For Moths

There was a moth in my living room last night. Not one of those big wooly ones, one of the tiny guys. For a seemingly awkward, fluttering creature it was extremely elusive and it took my attention for a time. It was like good design the way it changed direction the very instant I grabbed for it. It was fun for a time and then it got tedious. In the end I chose to ignore it because I am bigger than a moth.

I compare the moth to creativity because, well, that's my area of interest. If I were a lawyer I'd probably be relating the moth to other things like what crims have come up with lately to make their lives interesting, or what other litigators are doing with their lives. If my culinary skills extended beyond anything other than a bowl of Fruit Loops or cheese dogs I'd be looking at what chefs are creating to challenge themselves. So I look at a broad range of art that people find interesting because I suppose I'm interested in being interesting occasionally as well. And some stuff makes you wonder if some people grabbed for the moth and missed. Or maybe they don't even know about the moth. Or maybe they do have the moth cupped in their hand and I'm just not noticing. It's a quagmire wrapped up in a conundrum.

This morning the moth has gone to wherever moths go when they're not being grabbed at. I should check the closet but I know I won't. It'll be back on its own. And I'll be grabbing for it.

I hate design.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Taking Of Nature: One, Two, Three

Oh hell. Here we go again with the warm weather. Along with the onslaught of pesky stinging-flying creatures, dire messages advising us to slather on an inch of some skin concoction so we don't expose ourselves to (horror) the sun's rays and the predatory nature of hardware stores to make us all feel our decks and patios don't have sufficiently stylish weatherproof furniture to constitute an outdoor "living space" worthy of company, comes a warning: There are strange things growing out of the soil beneath our feet.

For those unaware of this menace, here are the basics: 1) Early in the spring these strange growths give off these pretty flowers to fool us. The shots above and below (from my own yard) show the blossoms and their devious nature, 2) Then, the flowers disappear after gaining our admiration and, after centuries of man conquering nature, they relentlessly proceed to take the world back, and 3) We need to get out the flame throwers and cement mixers before it's too late.

There are both traitors and the naively misinformed amongst us. Every year at this time, relentless romantics pop out of the woodwork and, in their dubious wisdom, remind us of a few things: 1) The cycle of creation continues to go on around us (like we haven't heard that particular nugget a couple million times), 2) Sometimes we have to take the time to smell the roses (forget it – the 350 lb. woman behind me in line at Walmart, who bathed in Chanel #5 killed my sense of smell), and 3) One person's weed is another person's flower (oh geez, just shoot me now).

If, for some odd reason, we should happen to like the nasty little flowers that grow out of nowhere (without our asking) and the deviously pretty colors they add to our lives, self-flagellation is an option. Let our appreciation be a dirty little secret. We should all just give our heads a collective shake and remember: 1) Nature is simply an inconvenient byproduct of life on earth, 2) To sane people "nature" means cutting grass and trimming back the jungle so the neighbors don't complain, and 3) There are spotters out there just waiting to see us bending over and admiring a flower. Know that these occurrences will be documented and there is a good chance our competency, if not sanity, will be questioned.

My job is done. I'm off to picket a rooftop garden.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Hoping Pie

Why should only fancy-pant scientists, academics and theorists get pie charts? Big shots. Why can't ordinary people like you and I get one?

So here. Our own pie chart. It's about what ordinary people do when we do stuff. And, because everything important needs a name and "Figure 3.1(b)" didn't do it for me, it's called The Hoping Pie. It's not just about making pies but it could be. It could also be about building a tree fort, designing something cool, or putting together a video of bad impressions for YouTube. Whatever project we want to do, no matter how small or large; this is the pie chart for us.

Each portion represents a slice of what normal folks do to make things happen. The size of each can change depending on how weird your project is. While I added arrows (at extra cost) for direction, it being our pie chart, we can return to a previous slice at any time without occurring penalty minutes.

HOPING: When you hope it's like saying you're hungry. Hope says "I want pie" and takes our engines out of neutral. Our minds then secrete a special pie endorphin (I just made that up but it may be true) that says "go". We can't start without hope. It can't be added in the middle or at the end. Got hungry? Let's make a pie.

LOOKING: The great thing about waking up hope is the first thing we have to do is something that we normally do anyway – we look. In this case we focus our eyeballs and look at everything we possibly can about what we want to do. It's the cookbook of life. Hoity-toity people call it researching but really it's just looking.

SEEING: So we've been looking at all this stuff and the inside of our brain is full, but messy. Now we have to really see. Seeing is about organizing how certain things belong together (spicy, sweet, tart, yucky stuff). It makes scheming and getting it later a lot easier. Looking without seeing is like eating without tasting. What's the point?

SCHEMING: So what did all our looking and seeing get us? (No, not a slap in the face.) Put on your Dastardly Dan hat and scheme. If we're doing it right, possibilities should show up for the party: in all combinations, shapes and forms. Things that have worked before, things that are just plain silly, and things that haven't been considered yet but could work. So scheme and don't run the risk of overlooking a winning ingredient.

GETTING: It's finalist time. Everything we've done so far leads to deciding the direction to take. Taste, test and play. Our dream is defined, and redefined, tweaked and massaged. Here, we see the most likely solutions born from our looking, seeing and scheming. The winning recipe takes the spotlight. Finally, we get it. Time to do it.

DOING: Time to turn our plan into something tasty. Our mixing bowl is no longer a Cheezie dish, ingredients are measured and the oven is preheated. Skills kick in and we boldly go where no man has gone before using both old techniques and new technologies. The aroma of success is in the air. The cat becomes very friendly.

THE RESULT: Our project is complete. The votes are in. It's okay if it's not a total success. Less than perfect is actually good because it gives us a kick in the pants to do better the next time. We're back to a new start; looking harder and seeing better, interpreting our discoveries and testing our understandings. Even total success is not an end. It leads to new hopes. New wishes and finer dreams.

Make one. There is no failure in The Hoping Pie.

Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.
Mark Twain

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Six Steps to Successfully Getting Out Of Bed

While growing up, my mother had this quaint habit of storming into my room in the morning, whipping off the covers and throwing open the drapes, all the while gleefully exclaiming in her high pitched shrill, "Ge-e-e-e-et u-u-u-u-up!" The delightful nature of this routine would shake books off shelves, strip wallpaper and leaves me even today with fond memories reminiscent of the scratch of fingernails on a blackboard combined with the whine of a dentist drill.

Waking up is hard to do. There is, of course, a scientific explanation. Something about testing fruit flies and the “twenty-four” gene—one of the core genes of the circadian clock. It's all so... academic.
“The function of a clock is to tell your system to be prepared, that the sun is rising, and it’s time to get up,” says Ravi Allada, professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern University.
“The flies without the twenty-four gene did not become much more active before dawn. The equivalent in humans would be someone who has trouble getting out of bed in the morning.”
But regardless of how difficult or easy it is for you to wake up, getting up is another matter and one full of personal perils. Fear not. You've got this old fart with decades of experience on your side. Try these handy steps:

1) Do not open eyes. No sudden moves. Put one foot on the floor. This tricks your mind into believing your body is halfway up. Never hop out with both feet at once as this will make all your blood rush to your feet, causing a massive shock to your brain and can lead to discordant maladies later in life.
2) Sit up slowly. Put other foot on the floor. Place elbows on knees and rest face in hands. This allows your equilibrium to gently orientate itself to the upright position. Rubbing eyes while still closed is optional.
3) Groan loudly, even when alone. This warms the vocal chords and aligns the molecules in the air around you. People entering your molecule field for the remainder of the day will be less inclined to give you grief.
4) Open eyes. Do not stretch. When opening eyes do not focus immediately. Focusing the eyes too soon may cause eye fatigue later in the day and stretching muscles that have been dormant for six to eight hours can cause over stimulation and may lead to unorthodox activities such as jogging and yoga. You have the rest of the day to focus and stretch out gradually.
5) Scratch something. This is important and is linked back to the beginning of civilization when we had fewer skin moisturizers and more personal itches. The act sends a message to your nerve center that it is about to be subjected to its daily job of letting you know when you hurt. Not doing so and waiting until you actually hurt to ignite your nerve center can cause a delayed reaction. And finally,
6) Transfer weight to your feet by leaning forward carefully. Use your arms to push, and shout something uplifting as you do so. Incomprehensible yelp-growls are an art form here. A Tarzan yell is good. Or something like, "Oh gawd, not another one" is effective as well. Be careful not to lean forward too much. That's how heads put holes into walls. Raise your head slowly. This will cause your back to follow and you should find yourself standing up straight. You have now successfully "gotten up". If you feel dizzy, lie back down and repeat from step number one.

By following these simple steps, staying away from cold showers and early morning exercising, you will be adding seconds, possibly minutes to your life and will ease your way into your day with grace and harmony.

Next week: How to brush your teeth and not look like you have rabies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Line

The grace of the single line. The power of a stroke's direction. Straight is the epitome of no-nonsense seriousness, while curved is the loveliest distance between two points. Exploring space, a line can be so unassuming. When combined with others, mysteriously representative of energy, conflict, tension and flow. 

Lines converge to define a story. Space between lines reveals shape and form. Singular lines express collectively; each and every stroke working to tell the story as perfectly as it can be told.

Every contribution adds to the logic and reason of the composition. Every gesture is crucial.

And while this particular work-in-progress isn't perfect, I'm working on it. (rand)

"Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change - life itself." ~ Lance Esplund 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Life, The Interweb and The Toad

"Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve,
Assaying by his devilish art to reach
The organs of her fancy, and with them forge
Illusions, as he list, phantasms and dreams;
Or if, inspiring venom, he might taint
The animal spirits, that from pure blood arise
Like gentle breaths from rivers pure, thence raise
At least distempered, discontented thoughts,
Vain hopes, vain aims, inordinate desires,
Blown up with high conceits ingendering pride
John Milton (excerpt: Paradise Lost: Book 04)

(Translation: Satan has turned himself into a toad and whispers into Eve's ear, as she sleeps, tempting her to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.)

Let me begin today with an apology for rambling a bit (and for mixing my metaphors). I've had some time lately so I've been doing a lot of looking around here in the Interweb. You might say I am an official looker. It's a difficult thing to do, because an official looker has to look at things one likes and things that one would rather not be looking at. It's amazing where some people's heads are at, or where they want you to think they are at. Far from me to judge but if I were to guess motivations I'd say some folks have Mr. Milton's toad whispering in their ear at night. Not a lot, but just a phrase or two each night, every night. Like one of those serial stories where you have to tune in everyday only to find out too late that the ending either sucks or worse, it never ends because it's limitless, like a bad soap opera. One thing exists to prompt another. So this post is dedicated to that as seen on tv site that prompted this post. Just when you think that someone couldn't know you well enough to know that you need something called "Bust UP Cups", there you go. Temptation is in the wind... (and the cheque is in the mail).

This electronic world is not only like eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, it's bigger than that. It's like a distorted reflection of life itself, isn't it? And just when you think you're done looking around, bang, they pu-u-u-ull you back in. It gets rather disconcerting sometimes when you sit down at your computer and three days later look up going "Gee, I'm hungry." There should be a twelve-step program. Oh wait. There is.

I don't mean to sound critical because I'm not. Denying the online experience is a good thing would be like saying life itself isn't wonderful. We live with the worthless to enjoy the worthy. Sometimes we just have to look hard to find the latter. John Milton must have known all about that. Blind since 1652, he wrote Paradise Lost by dictating it out loud, while he was often sick and after his second wife, Katherine Woodcock, passed away in 1658.

It may suspiciously sound like the next thing you're going to hear is not to complain about things like how your socks are too tight, that complaining is bad – but it's not. Actually, bitching is not only fun it's extremely necessary (plus, it's the one time in your day that you can be assured no one is listening).

Giving in to temptation often provides sufficient reason to bitch. And the Interweb has lots of temptation for everyone.

Give yourself bonus points if you blame everything on the little toad.

“For we were little Christian children and early learned the value of forbidden fruit” Mark Twain


Paradise Lost, published in 1667, is considered one of the greatest literary works in the English language. It is the Biblical story of the Fall of Man. In Book 04, Satan, having escaped from hell returns to Earth, is tormented by the beauty of Creation, and discovers Adam and Eve living in perfect harmony in Eden. Hearing them talk about the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, he turns himself into a toad and whispers temptation into the ear of Eve as she sleeps, but he is discovered by guardian angels and, threatened by Gabriel, flees from Eden.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Low Down On Raspberry Blowing

It happens to everyone once in a while, for some more often than others. Something or someone gets you all wound up and you think nothing will ever relieve the pressure. There are no pharmaceuticals, no years of professional therapy, no distances you can run or number of jumping jacks you can hop that will effectively provide relief. Enter the ancient art of blowing a raspberry, sometimes called a strawberry or Bronx Cheer (US). This simple act, secretly passed down through the ages, is now being heralded throughout the therapeutic world as a miracle cure for brain cramps.

You can do one too! (Demonstration here.) Place your tongue between your lips and blow. Relaxing both tongue and lips so they vibrate is best. It may take some practice to perfect but what you should end up with is a sound similar to flatulence.

Wikipedia reports that blowing a raspberry comes from the Cockney rhyming slang "raspberry tart," fart. Rhyming slang was particularly used in British comedy to refer to things which would be unacceptable to a polite audience, particularly on television.

"The term "Bronx cheer" is used sarcastically because it is not a cheer; it is used to show disapproval. The term originated as a reference to the sound used by some spectators in Yankee Stadium, located in Bronx, New York City, New York."

The act of blowing the raspberry is thought (by some very smart people) to lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, raise moods and lessen the number of facial twitches one may experience. But as healing as this act can be, it is something that one should use with a measure of self-control. There are times when one shouldn't blow a raspberry. I have assembled my top four don'ts for your consideration.

Blowing Raspberry Don'ts:
1) Close encounters. When one is a microsecond away from kissing your significant other. Big, big mistake. Not only do you end up spraying your lover from close range, but the ramifications (especially if you are in a... ahem, intimate situation) can lead to bodily harm and to denial of conjugal sharing for many days, weeks or even months.
2) Social gatherings. At a poshy wine and cheese event, when one's mouth is full of chewed up cheese mixed with wine (a fine Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese and a dry, red Cabernet sauvignon, for example). Trust me on this one. Not a pretty sight, especially when standing on a white carpet and/or shaking hands with one's host.
3) Board rooms. If you are in a meeting there are bound to be those in attendance who will not appreciate the healing nature of the act. Reactions can range from a simple snicker to outright guffaws and it's bound to be misinterpreted by the leader of the meeting as a rebut. No matter how much office cred you have, making up for a boardroom tph-h-h-h-h-h-htphffft could take some time.
4) Receiving praise. It almost goes without saying. When someone is giving you an award, telling you how much they want to spend the rest of their life with you or thanking you in some way. Letting loose with a fat, juicy one may not be recognized as the therapy it is. Try to save it for a private place after.

So, put away those pills, cancel your shrink appointments, retire that gaudy spandex outfit and put away those exercise shoes. Blowing the raspberry (with some discretion) will revolutionize your lifestyle, exercise your lower facial muscles and give you a new reason why the front of your shirt is damp. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How To Survive Social Media (and be a flower)

Unless you're twelve and/or don't give a sweet patootie, you're probably trying to find your way through this new social media stuff. It can be quite scary but getting involved online can be a rewarding and enriching experience. More and more relationships, contacts, business dealings and daily interactions occur online. But how do we tell if our interactions are as effective as we'd like them to be? How do we maximize our experience?

Relax, I have done a study. After vast seconds of concentrated thought I've broken down four distinct areas that will ensure your online experience will be a rewarding one. I call it "Find your social media flower":

Language. Believe it or not, a full quarter (that's roughly 25%) of online success, and 100% of online failures happen because of the written word. Brush up on your spelling and grammar (for instance, know the difference between we're, were, where and wear). And, you may swear a blue streak with your buds over pints but this type of behavior, where the impressionable amongst us can access our posts, is a definite no-no (and I'm not talking about hair removal). Keep potty talk for your significant other, best friends or unsuspecting colleagues. 

Attitude. Words can be easily misinterpreted; especially the written kind. Things we say in real life can be tempered with a sly smile but there is no such redemption online (BTW: smiley faces don't cut it). The dividing line between being seen as smart and smart alecky is a fine one. Oh, and personal animosities with politics, religion, members of the opposite sex, and/or hamsters with hockey tape fetishes are best kept offline, where people can cover their ears and sing "Lalalalala" loudly so they don't have to listen.

Appeal. Droning on about something that people lost interest in in 1965, making rude or disparaging remarks, writing off-color comments, or constantly quoting famous dead people (including but not exclusive to Mr. Rogers) out of context are major online faux pas. There may not be an ability to smell online (although I have been experimenting with "smell-o-media") but a remembered stink is often worse than the real thing. And besides, no one really wants to know how many times you puked on your shoes last night... except maybe your next date or a future employer.

Focus. Forgetting to wear pants in your daily life or acting dumb on television can be funny and entertaining. But online is a different kettle of fish. People just won't put up with someone who makes no sense, or replies constantly with responses like "LOL, awesome, that's just tooooooo funny". Doing so will undoubtedly affect your online credibility in a see-through manner (and not the good kind). All this accomplishes is to inspire thousands of people to shout "Busted!" out loud in their offices, living rooms and internet cafés around the world.

So now you know. Your online experience is what you make of it. By following the above suggestions and sending me a dollar in small bills, you too can blossom and be a social media flower. (Where's my pants?)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Your New Official Job Review Options

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..."
William Shakespeare

So let's say one day the world went really wonky and some jerk like me got a day pass from the "home" and came around to your workplace with an official looking clipboard to ask you to rate your work performance like you would a film review. Of course, it's a given your employment history is a masterpiece. But what kind? Let's see. There are several options to pick from...

A) Suave and Debonair. Your job is a wonderful romantic mystery adventure. You accomplish your goals with charm and a glint in the eye. Plans are hatched with panache and only the best in wardrobe fashion and exotic locales will do. It's not what you say while you dine at a table next to Bond, James Bond, it's how you say it – with polish and that disarming smile. When you do find yourself in a tight spot, you're prepared and cool, with just the right gadget, slick move or surprise up your sleeve. And as your caper comes together it might not work out exactly as planned but what the hell, there's always the next one. Or the one after that. You are a cool, sexy caper.

B) Action Hero. Every day at work is a non-stop, seat-of-the-pants adventure of epic proportions, where one thing leads to another seemingly without any plan. Excitement is your middle name and you don't care about what happens along the way, because it all works out in the end. Michelle Rodriguez and Jason Statham have nothing on you. Your stylists have a heyday and out you walk from the firestorm at the end of the workday with torn t-shirt, a few well-earned scars, a messed up hairstyle that your boss would have a conniption fit over and a big, big smile. You are a heart-stopper.

C) Leave 'em Laughing. Perhaps a comedic tour de force is more your managerial style. Madcap and zany with a tinge of insanity thrown in just for fun. Your quirky is simply full of a better quality of quirk. One-liners flow like an old puppy after a eating a bag of prunes. The wardrobe department supplies pants that fall down on their own and the guy from props ensures every gizmo you pick up works a bit differently than it is supposed to. Add a bit of slapstick, a dash of Monty Python and you're such a the hit with clientele that they line up around the block to see you. For hours. With no porta-potty. Yours is a wild and funny ride.

D) Vivaciously Versatile. Maybe you're a person of many hats. Your position is a hybrid, a combination of all genres, a veritable smörgåsbord of workplace contributions. Because something's just not right when things are predictable. What was high drama one day is laughable the next. You dress according to the scenes you need to play that day and at times you'd rather blend in with the extras on the set. You're another Johnny Depp or Meryl Streep and regardless of what role you play, you do so to perfection. People never know what to expect from you next. But one thing's for sure, there's never a dull moment and a quick review of your job performance would reveal it to be totally, outrageously entertaining.

Whatever role you play at whatever work you do, and whatever genre you fit into – you're a star. Give yourself two big'uns (and a raise).