Tidying Up

I wish for everyone a neglected blog. A pillow pile of old posts for the times when tattered life needs tending. Sentences sewn together again. Old fabric mixed with new finds. Unpicking certain threads.

This blog dropped off at the end of the Washington Writer’s Retreat, after a good run on topics like creative practice, global cultures, and the secular Buddhist practice of dana, or balanced exchange.

That writing was preceded by a few years of travelogs, including a creative road trip across the United States, visits in Melbourne, Brussels, and Johannesburg, where Louise and I met and have been earning miles ever since.

I still carefully carry with me the handwritten journals of youth, now more fascinating for their materiality and privacy. Unlike the internet, they can be burned.

I trained in graphic design in high school, luckily landing in a small print shop run by a larger-than-life leader. The smell of ink and photographic chemicals wafts among graphic memories, a time when life’s tragic romance walked in the front door. Wedding and baby announcements. My own graduation news. Also funerals and flyers for lost dogs.

Sadly, I designed more than a few business cards for start-ups destined to fail. Incomplete ideas, personal hubris, time-wasting exercises recommended by supportive friends. Also, very tender reasons like having a scrap of stock with one’s name on it when everything else had been torn away.

Pinning down colors was crucial. Flipping through fonts revealed notes of class and status. Name specifics, title details, followed by the minor marketing messages. So big in the mind, so small in the visual space. As an object, the business card is created to be so valueless as to be given freely. And it is laden with identities and latent opportunities.

I can’t help it, I kept nearly all of them handed to me over the years. Well out-of-date and entirely eclipsed by technology. Tiny portraits of past professions. People as they appear in paperwork, along with the resumes and websites too. Works in progress.

The combined skills of writing and design have served me well professionally. More recent executive and management work appears in slides, speeches, and proposals. Data visualization has become a lifelong passion and frustration, along with stories that reveal the very complex values beneath all manner of facts and finance.

Three syllabi and slide sets due for updating soon. Site visits and photos so memorable they bear mention. Social media memes scattered across a collectible universe. Also that time I invented a word and it got grand prize on an old radio show.

“Oma lo neary”

A phrase in place of ‘sorry’ in response to loss or grief

Time travels, too, back to moments before my own musings. The who and whose that made my mental landscapes. The places only my soul has been before.

And, more. Here’s to wild, untended, and not yet ended spaces.

Social Orbitals

Certain coincidences can’t be ignored. Lessons loop back on themselves, linking up with today’s tendrils.

Image 1 – The mindmap snapshot above captures a slice of the social orbitals that passed through the Washington Writer’s Retreat. People, relationships, writing themes, conversations, and shared experiences. Bound by place, time, and adjacent purposes. Image includes the words: love, dana, visitors, events, friends, community, brothers, Paul, bereavement, neighbors, basement life, kitchen soup ideas, tough spots, insurance, license, boundaries, Ruth King, BuddhaFest, long overdue thanks, decades of friendship. Another ten looping patterns would fail to find it all.

Image 2 – To be without some sense of metric felt like folly. I came to understand more fundamentally that my practice centers creative individuals, adds navigationals, and helps them pilot custom-designed vehicles in and out of loopy groupings.

Image 3 – In the studio these days, I am illustrating different visual representations of teams, organizations, systems, and societies. My aim is to improve upon certain abstractions, like the typical organizational chart. Ecosystem thinking requires that we unpick some habits of mind in favor of more imaginative (and accurate) mappings.

To Each Their Own

Prompts this week are tying back to the Washington Writer’s Retreat, a five-year social engagement among a community of writers and artists. More than thirty scholars stayed in my home in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we sat around my table often.

Creative practice became central to the experience. Its importance, what it is, and how it is done. The short answer is: uniquely. Of course, there are patterns that follow notable texts and teachers. The upclose view at the retreat included interesting deviations.

For example, a prolific historian was the model of stoic discipline. He stayed for six weeks. Each day, he got up, drank one cup of coffee, exercised, worked on his own projects in the morning, ate a modest lunch, and took afternoon phone calls.

His routine was deliberate and consistent. Importantly, it worked for him. He was on his eighth academic tome.

As host, I was witness to it all. From my perch, his routine was rigid and exhausting. I relished my daily opportunity to sleep in as needed and had happily tucked the necessities of each day around my own amusements. I loved it when guests left, not for the goodbyes but because flipping a room is the perfect time to listen to music, dance, and fuss the day away. It was a secret pleasure.

Months later, another academic stayed in that same room. She mostly toodled on her bike, exploring the city with her sister and niece. We all knew she had a massive book proposal to write. No matter, she filled an ice chest with luscious lunches, taking successive days in what appeared to be vacation mode.

Having a project and doing it was part of the invitation to stay at the retreat. A vacation in DC wasn’t precisely the point. I grew suspect. In the days before Airbnb, I was careful to bake integrity, trust, purpose, and focus into the decision to invite a guest. As a social exchange, building a reputation of productivity around the retreat was also important to me.

Then she came home one day, parked her bike, wrote the proposal, packed up, and drove off. The book was quickly greenlit and is now done. She’s doing field research on women’s health in Africa. Perhaps it was me who missed the point.

In reflection, the greater insight is apparent. Every person who stayed had their own way of working. Some sat with me in blissful chatter for hours over a simple soup. Others cocooned behind a closed door. Turns out one or two folks just needed a place to be. That was ok, too.

In this Episode, Everybody Dies

I’m sorry to spoil this for you, but start counting the women who die on your TV every day. Or, whatever screen you’re on.

Manipulated, maligned, molested, murdered. It’s usually a gruesome death, a mystery. Something for a clever woman to discover, or a sister to mourn, or a mother to fight for justice. The violence and abuse usually committed by a man she knows, or a stranger. Except, when it’s another woman. Lest we forget. We’re in this together, served up as a threat. We’ll know in 20 minutes.

It gets worse. Start counting the children.

Learn to say each and every name of the Black and Brown babies who don’t make the news. Multiply by those who do.

There’s something in it deeply true. Except on TV, it’s never you.

Ubuntu, a universal law says otherwise.

Though your eyes are magnetized, a drum major beats below. At times, only a brief hello that summons the sound to surface.

You do care, and you are aware. The constant stare at the horrific isn’t entirely static. Not all are automatically wired to tune out what you can’t bear.

Darker still. We each will. Pray that yours isn’t an Exhibit A in our social illness. Fodder for the next script, a speech that we are oddly keen to protect.