Hump Day—From my POV.

There’s a romance author in my writing group whose posts crack me up. On Wednesdays—Hump Day, she calls it—she posts a Hunk-off: a pairing of two hunks and, in jest, she asks her followers to make the hard choice between the two. Is it the guy with the tat on his bicep or the full-bodied tats guy that turns them on? Or the city-type versus the country-type? You get the idea. My assumption about this was that the winning votes go to the hunkier of the two. Type, be damned, I thought, the bod gets the votes. The face is a secondary consideration, or is it?

HumpDay_Scottish

Hump Day post on Facebook.

Her own account is that, “it started as a goof because of all the other posts being made on Facebook on the same vein (Man Candy Monday, Wet Wednesday, etc). Aside from just being a fun way to share pictures of good-looking guys (objectifying them, yes, I know, guilty as charged), it also seemed like a good way to get a feel for what women are attracted to in a man, or more specifically an idealized version of men. That would be something I could translate into the crafting of my heroes. You might be surprised to know that the comments people leave are as often about the eyes and the smiles as they are the ripped abs.  That has told me one important thing: no matter how sexy or attractive the heroes may be, the true measure of the man for romance readers is always going to be focused on the inside, not the pretty outer wrapping.”

I react to these posts as a thriller reader who prefers to see how the hero survives at the mercy of the plot. Or not. Other romance writers who comment on Hump Day posts, do so from the point of view of their alter-egos as readers of romance. They are not reacting as writers of romance since they are mostly married, grown-up, professional women. Being a realist, I find this parallel interesting, particularly since both my thrillers have a strong romantic element, but use conflict and love between genders as a catalyst in my plotting. (By the way, being a member of the RWA—Romance Writers of America—strengthens my understanding of how relationships fire the plot.)

As in romances, thriller readers struggle vicariously with the hero through the plot. But both men and women read my kind of thriller—a good example would be The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry—whereas The Romance is almost exclusively a women’s genre. In her exemplary essay, The Androgynous Reader (published in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, 1992 University of Pennsylvania Press) Jayne Ann Krentz points out that, “in romance, it is the hero who carries the book”, not the heroine.  She flatly states that the man carries the book because the reader, “can realize the maleness in herself, can experience the sensation of living inside a body suffused with masculine power and grace (adjectives very commonly applied to heroes, including my own), can explore anger and ruthlessness and passion and pride and honor and gentleness and vulnerability: yes, ma’am, all those old romantic clichés. In short, she can be a man.”

No anti-hero losers in Krentz’s world.

The male stereotype is still relevant in romance as the posts prove, buying in to Krentz’s male-centric thesis about what she calls the male “placeholder” role. Consistent with her belief, Krentz points out that, in her RWA Best Book of the Year (1990) historical romance, The Prince of Midnight, the heroine character is virtually inaccessible for almost half the book. The book also only had the hero alone on the cover.

No clinch covers with over-endowed illustrated females for Krentz.

As someone who doesn’t write a romantic scene without a ticking time bomb counting down, I am liberated by Krentz’s approach to this point of view. Which is why I was surprised by her posts: it’s his face that encourages the viewer (or reader) to explore the hero’s anger, ruthlessness, passion, pride, honor, gentleness and vulnerability. Though, I have to say they mostly look like—forgive me—pussies, which to me, is far more offensive when referring to a man than to a woman. Objectification is insulting, but misplaced objectification is larceny.

I find it impossible to believe that the men in those photographs can fill the shoes of the romance hero; not just because they are so male-model-pretty, but because of the self-conscious vanity of their poses. If, oblivious to the camera, the country-type was carefully wrestling a bull to the ground to tend to a wound, would he not be more heroic? The woman reader is intimately familiar with the transference of alpha-male vulnerability when it comes to risking her own life for the sake of a child. Or a bull. Later in the Dangerous Men volume, Penelope Williamson, in her essay, By Honor Bound. The Heroine as Hero, shows how, in romantic novels, heroines transfer the heroic qualities of the hero to themselves.

Paradoxically, it was David Bowie’s death that brought me to wondering if the same rules worked in reverse. Do male readers of thrillers want to feel the predicament of the heroine; if only during the reading of the book? Bowie grappled with his feelings of alienation during the years of successive failures—believe it or not—in rock groups, then he developed Ziggy Stardust—the archetypal outsider. Glam rock was born—and became wildly successful. The excellent documentary, David Bowie – Sound and Vision (onemediamusic) shows how Bowie’s “otherworldliness” attracted thousands of teenage men who wanted to feel the thrill of the heroine in themselves. Whether it was the paranormal, phantasmagorical aspect, or his androgynous face, a generation bought in to his rebel vulnerability. As did I. Bear in mind that Bowie, despite his proclamations to the contrary, was not gay; he remained heterosexual all his life. It was okay that he acted out while taking us on his ride. I knew that when the song was over, I was still who I was. But the genius in the pages stayed with me. And that is what I want to take away after reading a really good book.

The meta conversation on music.

While posting the video of this discussion on music—a theme in THE FACES IN THE RAIN (Publish date, TBA)—I had to navigate between several layers of meta information. First, as you will see in the video, writing about music is a meta-based endeavor; the reader will never hear the music in the written word, so the writer must evoke the music in the mind of the reader.

Second—this now twice removed—I wanted to give the viewer an overall impression of Allison’s world as a contemporary, albeit young composer. The video mentions twelve living, working composers, all dynamically different from each other. The viewer of the video will see clips of other videos and hear excerpts from the podcast, Composers at Play. Information about information.

Finally—and here I break the 4th wall of blogging—a word about licensing: I had included a clip from a concert where Mariza was singing Ó Gente da Minha Terra (Ao Vivo), to make the point that “silver notes” coming from the Portuguese guitarra could be described in the context of a moment during that concert. However, when I posted the video to YouTube, Google informed me that my post had a copyright claim on it, and had therefore been blocked: that video could no longer be played on YouTube, and I may have lost access to some features of YouTube. The meta part of all this was that I realized that, in Google’s world, there is a difference between “sharing” and including the video (with attribution) in mine, although my intent certainly was to share that video! This is why you will see me describing the concert; I had no choice but to create a new video and exclude the concert footage. Fortunately, YouTube allows the embedding of links to other sources, so please view the concert—Mariza’s performance is exquisite.

The Composers At Play Podcast (46 minutes):

The podcast is named, “Writing About Music”. I was delighted to be included in the conversation with a panel of three composers to discuss how to write about music and how to overcome the subjective meaning we attach to words. In a wonderful coincidence, composer, drummer and academic Jenny Olivia Johnson (listen to Dollar Beers-Redondo Beach ’96) and Christine Chen were in LA just in time to join Sophocles Papavasilopoulos to ponder the role and limits of words describing music. As I suspected, no, hoped, the conversation revealed new approaches for me to take when writing about music or the process of creating it. The takeaway for me, was that music, just as in all fiction writing, must be shown, not described. And the only way to do that, since music is not visual, is to show the context and subtext of the scene in which the reader must imagine the music. Here’s the podcast link:

ComposersAtPlay_logo

Click to go to the podcast.

 

The elephant in the room is the ruin of the elephant.

Like it or not, elephants are politically incorrect. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the killing of elephants is something we know about, but would rather deny that the problem exists.

The elephant problem is largely ignored for three reasons:

  1. African elephants are not found in America. They’re African, so the American perception is:
    •  They are an African problem, and Africa is far way; out of sight, out of mind.
    • The elephants exist in countries that cannot govern themselves, so how can they hope to manage conservation?
    • African elephants carry with them sensitive historical baggage such as colonialism, racism, slavery and extreme violence. These difficult subjects are shied away from in the United States. I think this is the right time to be discussing these skeletons in the closet because avoiding them helps to perpetuate the elephant problem.
  2. The information about African elephants is overwhelming:
    • Statistics about elephants’ pending extinction abound. When the American public hears that five elephants die every hour it does not have the means to either believe or verify that claim.
    • The data have little emotional weight and are therefore easily dismissed. (Note to self: data are–plural–see this link.)
    • The opposite extreme comes from well-meaning conservationists, scientists and filmmakers who stress the intelligence, empathy and sentient qualities of elephants. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert sat down with Ellen to discuss their stunning documentary, “Soul of the Elephant.” Dereck is right in wanting us to understand the soul of the elephant, but is that enough? Does their message on the Ellen show motivate viewers to go to her web site, where they can donate, or do they wait for the next segment that featured Sia (Furler), singing “Bird Set Free”:

And–sidebar–this is where this meta conversation becomes meta ironic on so many levels: Sia’s video’s have been viewed over two billion times, yet she never shows her face, begging questions about identity and the intrinsic worth of her music and choreography versus the extrinsic worth of her celebrity. In contrast, Allison in THE FACES IN THE RAIN finds her identity when she obfuscates her online identity and goes under cover.  See-ya. Bearing this in mind, let me make my last point about why blood ivory still exists:

Third reason elephant preservation is ignored is that the demand for ivory is so shameful:

  • How can modern Asians consume such vast amounts of ivory based on traditional myths and misinformation? Confronting them on this is awkward, to say the least.
  • Affluent and supposedly educated consumers of ivory mostly believe that elephant tusks grow back. They don’t know that for every trinket, piece of jewelry or religious statue an elephant has died.
  • The revenue from tusks finances human trafficking, arms for war lords and atrocities throughout the continent.
  • Measures to stop the poaching are still ineffective due to corruption and poor governance.

These perceptions are broad strokes and I might have exaggerated or even under-estimated these value judgements about Africa and Africans. The reality is that no two african countries are alike and the GDP of the continent is growing fast. (See this on my YouTube channel.) The Africa of today is not my grandfather’s Africa–and thank goodness for that!

This is why I wrote my book:

I wanted to tell the story of how a white, jewish, twenty-five-year-old New York composer and an African street vendor, also from New York, discover the ivory supply chain and suffer the consequence of doing nothing. As they fall in love their emotional adventure uncovers the heart-rending story of the ivory trade.

Introducing meta-conversations

Hello:

Click to go to my YouTube channel.

Click to go to my YouTube channel.

 

Just a quick post to announce the first of a series of videos I will be producing and sharing as I prepare THE FACES IN THE RAIN for publication this year.

 

I’d love to read your comments either here in this blog or under the video in YouTube.

I’ll be back with more of these…

The fishy thing about Scale

I recently posted a video I produced of The Peconic Land Trust’s local food series called “Long Island Grown”. I came away from editing these conversations with local farmers and producers feeling optimistic about the future. That future, it seems to me, hinges on families building their lives, and staying together here on Long Island’s East End.

The Town of Southold, New York, is settled like an old sherry in the farmlands, vineyards, creeks and forests of Long Island’s North Fork. Just over twenty-one thousand people live in the ten hamlets—some of the time. The summer homes are silent in winter.

The end of summer at Goose Creek Beach – Southold, (North Fork, Long Island) New York

According to the Southold Town Demographic Inventory for the Comprehensive Plan (Nelson, Pope and Voorhis), permanent residents are mostly farmers, empty nesters and retired people. Although my wife and I are none of the above, we also stay to brave the deep snow and sometimes hear the grunt of the snowy owl across the creek. With the spring, permanent residents celebrate the thaw and the return of their kids, visiting from New York or some large American city they now call home. This is a fiercely protected way of life, though there’s something new going on.

A small but growing band of farmers, artisans and producers are daring to create their own way of life, where their children will stay on, year-round, to support and become a part of the local community. These are the Makers, the doers, the DIYers and the inventors. These innovators belong to vast and highly connected group of global Makers who have the access to tools previously found only in manufacturing corporations. They are combining their ingenuity with knowledge resources tapped from the free market of ideas. On the North Fork they are collaborating to create an emerging class of Maker farmers and producers who are changing the way we think about food and farming. In keeping with the nine-year-old Maker movement, a term first coined by Mark Hatch in his book, The Maker Movement Manifesto, these local innovators embody the spirit of making, by applying it to local food and farming. The unexpected consequence is that the Maker way of getting things done leads to incentivizing their children to stay, because the ebb and flow of tourist summers and deserted winters here offers opportunity to innovators. Watch the video here (8:39 minutes):

Read More

Swimming in fiction’s deep sea

You’ve been writing for years. Then, one gorgeous summer night, you decide to commit to a writing life. You have floated in the sea of fiction, but now you want to compete with the best.

So you work out. You build your strength for novel swimming. You hone your legs, abs, arms, and shoulders; the craft of gliding through water. A few times a week you venture out beyond the waves, to a point where you can no longer stand with something hard under your feet, and when you’re suspended, there’s no support to prop you up if you need it. You’ll set a modest goal, telling yourself, “I just want to swim seven hundred and fifty meters without stopping.” Like a triathlon athlete; which is an absurd presumption.

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On your first few attempts out you have to stop to catch your breath after a hundred and fifty lame strokes. You’re disgusted and discouraged. You tell yourself it can’t be done. You don’t have the strength. The craft is not there and you don’t see how it could make much difference to your endurance. Besides, the demand on your time and stamina is unreasonable. You miss the next appointment with yourself. You’ll be happy with a hundred meters. Fine. You go again. Nothing changes.

Yet, you continue to pursue the dream–just to see if you have the guts. Now when you swim again you think less about yourself and how to not keep swallowing water. Instead, you wonder if swallowing some might actually do you some good. Or not. Your mind wanders. You think about salt. Fries. For some odd reason, something has changed–you have swum further. Not much, but it’s a start.

Again, you want to liberate yourself from that feeling of self-consciousness. You take a risk and go further out, deeper, realizing that you crave the immersion. You begin to express yourself in your swimming. Every stroke, kick, and breath refines, defines your free style. You realize that the paragraph of the well-formed stroke starts with an inciting, inhaled breath, is driven by the plotted kick, the pull of craft and ends with the exhale, the paragraph’s reflective sentence. You inhale and quickly make the same repetition. You keep alert, as your hands stab through the surface, leaving a contrail of bubbles, the vestiges of memory, struggling up for reality. You align your armed characters, controlling the rolling pace, mindful of the long haul ahead. Your story has acquired a conscious thrust. Suddenly you have reached your goal. But you’re slow and exhausted, and you’re just not good enough.

So you go back, encouraged, and do it again. You learn how to improve. You repeat, somehow finding more energy. There’s a moment of revelation: you now listen for cadence and you’ve stopped watching. You’ve started seeing things in the deep, beyond the stretch of your hands. Now, when you inhale, it’s a quick check with reality, followed by a plunge forward into imagination.

You realize that every microsecond spent looking above the surface is a distraction from the real work underneath, in the thinking water. The brief glimpses of the shore and the horizon are so much more. They are filled with the minutia of the practical world: your dentist appointment on Tuesday, the leaking faucet in the bathroom, the conversation you had with your soul mate. But having inhaled the oxygen of reality, you can become immersed again and start the next chapter.

Your mind explores the deep canyons of your genre. If swimming to thrill, these are dark, traitorous canyons, a land of threat, of predators ready to sever a limb without warning. If swimming for romance, these are the canyons that funnel the unreliable currents of emotion, pulling you down past amorphous shapes whose relationship to each other is a mystery. Regardless, here there is no boundary; you have been freed from a reasonable life.

Over time, you reconcile the dichotomy—the here and now, the there and how. The churning oscillation between the real world and the second nature of the other-world spreads a buttered voice over your swimming life. Lost between these unsympathetic worlds, you are nevertheless buoyed by the quest, not due to the extrinsic reason of having to complete seven hundred and fifty meters, but because you don’t care anymore. There are no better options.

You are not alone. You meet other swimmers who conquer distance and performance–because they love to swim. And they all tell you that they are not good enough.


To get an inkling of how Jonathan Franzen swims in fiction’s sea, listen to his interview with Terry Gross:

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/437221079/437824472

A Library of Pebbles

It’s funny how we adapt. I always think of the extreme—how people deal with life during a war. You’ve seen the survivors: a child with flies drinking her tears, a woman walks through a bombed market, men sip espresso in shattered cafes, shopkeepers sweep up the broken glass. Let’s face it, people need to eat, need each other and need some sort of order, regardless. Even in the cyber war that constantly infects everything we do online, we too carry on, regardless.

And who are we, the observers, watching the plight of others? When the ugly reality ebbs from our living rooms and offices and phones, leaving the blown spume of stale breaking news, the silent majority that takes it all in, and lets it out with the tide, does very little, other than adapt. And who watches the watchers? These are the voyeurs of history: the journalists, camerapersons, artists and writers.

At our last chapter meeting of Long Island Romance Writers, we discussed brainstorming methods: free-writing, word association, mapping, cubing, questioning. A flash flood of ideas swept through the room. Because I write thrillers with a strong romantic element, I thought of Steve Berry’s use of the protagonists crucible:

What makes her do what she would never do?

Later that day, still literally thinking of novel ideas, I watched Anthony Doerr’s YouTube video where he talks about the idea that started the story of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See.

Sometimes it’s those small incidents, whether they incite or not, that can ignite a story. Doerr’s glowing novel articulates adaptability for us, and we show our gratefulness to him by buying his book. Is it a fair exchange? Does the $13.99 I spent on this profound work offer me more than the nine bucks I spent on the panini sandwich that I brought to our meeting? Is it just sixty-four percent better than the sandwich? Not even close. I quickly forgot about the sandwich, but the book remains with me, urging me to look out at my world with wiser eyes. And in the vast Big Data mapped into my memory, there’ll be times, over the next months, years, and decades, when his language will wash up a pearl of truth. The sandwich, not so much. And that is as it should be. The writer, having watched, has augmented, abstracted, found a context and subtext, and has taken the time to leave us with a better, and if not better, certainly a new understanding of our world. Pinned to the corkboard above my desk I have a quote from Simon Lipskar, president of the literary agency Writers House, which states, “I love novels that aren’t afraid to shuck off the prosaic, mundane world and take flight into the imaginative possibilities of fiction. … A book owns me when it does that.”

This essay is partly in response to Doerr’s essay Cloudy Is the Stuff of Stones (Orion Magazine, March/April 2010). Whereas the thesis of Doerr’s essay is change and time, I was struck by how different my response was to the pebble-strewn beach that I frequent. (I must hasten to add, this is not to say that my approach is more, or less, valid—it’s just what I think and do when I see billions of pebbles.)

Pebbles_2

 

Involuntarily, in a spontaneous act, I might pick one up, admire it, and every so often bring it home with me. Why this one? Shape, color, size, uniqueness, all play a part. The pebbles I like are small and white and almost perfectly round. Except I also pick up that iconoclast, that outlier, that oddity—the brown one, with streaks of white and blotches of iron-oxide red.

And the writer’s voice in me asks: Is this how I, and other readers, choose my books? On this literary beach, do I only look for a particular genre of pebble, in spite of the fact that I know every one is different?

If Antonio Damasio heard my thoughts while I strolled along the shore, he might say that my reflective thinking is the voice of my autobiographical self. In his fascinating book on consciousness, Self Comes to Mind, Damasio explores the relationship between the brain and consciousness, and shows that emotions play a central role in social cognition and decision-making. He describes “big-scope consciousness” (as opposed to the minimal core consciousness of the here and now) as:

…one of the grand achievements of the human brain and one of the defining traits of humanity. This is the kind of brain process that has brought us to where we are in civilization, for better or worse. This is the kind of consciousness illustrated by novels, films, and music and celebrated by philosophical reflection.

The reason my autobiographical self comes blowing in across my beach is that a substantial part of my life comes into play when I reflect on the pebbled library before me. As I stroll along, both my lived past and anticipated future gang up on me, questioning my personhood and identity. Given this response, one would think I would run from that literary beach, as uneven as it is hard.

Of course, writers have better options than pebbles. After all, we’re thinking, sentient beings. We have the capability to have our books be as good as they can be and rise to the surface. They can then qualify to be picked up by the great Me out there. But as in war, people adapt. Readers might leave this beach in search of the less challenging beaches of Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and an entire softer, more gentle landscape of blogs. Yet lovers of the written word come to my pebble beach. No beach umbrellas here. No, this beach is for launching fishing boats. It’s for swimmers, not bathers. It’s where young women ride abused horses into the sea.  It’s for the reader who wants to take a chance on a scarred, imperfect sphere, roll it in her fingers, and slip it into her pocket. It’s funny how we adapt.

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Photograph by Bill Stamatis

 

This essay was first published in Shorelines, the newsletter of the Long Island Romance Writers (Volume 20, August 2015), a chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Sharing and the Privacy Trap.

You know how frustrating it is. You post an incomplete Tweet, or send a Facebook post without that photograph…Apple Picking 2011 023or email someone with the attachment left off. It’s happened to everyone. We all need the freedom to check our drafts before pinning them to the public notice boards. We also have the right to NOT broadcast where we are and what we are doing at any point in time.

If you lose your option to review and cannot approve the dissemination of your creative work, location and activity, even if your own lack of vigilance is responsible, you feel as if a chunk of your freedom has been wrenched away. You curse–though not as much as you would if your personally identifiable information (PII) was stolen. As our private data is casually thrown across cyberspace, more and more people are, understandably, resorting to encryption. The Internet is awash with available encryption products, ranging from onion routers such as Tor, to virtual private network (VPN) products such as Anonymizer, and many others.

Everything we do online should be safe, but should it also be secret and anonymous? And if so, can we still be transparent and participate in the sharing economy? The danger of confusing privacy with secrecy, or for that matter, security is that it’s self-defeating. The conundrum is that people want to secure what is private, yet the more they protect their privacy by encryption, the more unsafe they become. Despite the use of encryption tools, we hear every week that private information is stolen, yet people revert to secrecy. They hide. (Others, like Allison in my thriller, THE FACES IN THE RAIN, obfuscate their online presence.) The better people become at hiding themselves, the more they hide those who lurk in their hiding places. Neither can they be found by those who serve to protect them. They don’t ask for help, for fear of revealing their hiding place. And so the Dark Web is born. Honest people are trapped by their need for privacy.

This is a massive problem for law enforcement. FBI director, James Comey, testifiying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill (July 8, 2015 in Washington, DC), stated: “Our job is to look at a haystack the size of this country to find needles that are increasingly invisible to us because of end-to-end encryption,” He tells how impressionable targets in the US are contacted by ISIS through Twitter, then given an address of an app with download instructions, and when they use the app, they disappear. They cannot be traced. “Justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted device.” he said.

The corporate world is reeling from cyber war. On June 17, on-line, I attended the FireEye summit, Beyond the Breach: Cyber Defense. The Sr. VP and Global Chief Technology Officer pointed out that, at a recent National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) event, the entire one-day agenda was devoted to cyber security. It is no longer sufficient that companies avoid the “accountability wrecking ball” by simply exposing non-compliance. They need to work with other (sometimes competitive) companies and government organizations to combat three types of hacker: nation state actors, hacktivists and organized crime. As FireEye’s CEO, Dave DeWalt stated, “the attack surface is getting wider.” The old methods of excluding or re-imaging boxes (servers) no longer works. The company is customizing solutions for industry verticals–utilities, retail, financial, health, and pharmaceuticals. Their capability to constantly monitor the network, and send alerts in real time means they can fix problems in real time, preventing infections from metastasizing. Presently, according to FireEye, the average number of days before intrusions are detected is 205 days! This is all progress, but the price is that even proprietary corporate information must be shared, and our data is, increasingly, is part of that information.

What happened to the public conversation?

The “inter” part of the Internet implies communication. A conversation. As with billions of conversations, over thousands of years, there is a well-documented etiquette at work. Yes, it’s prissy and quaint, but under the manners of conversation, are mutual respect and trust in the discourse. Unfortunately, whether due to the immediacy, or spontaneity, or convenience of our communications, the rules of conversation are being ignored. However, it would be a mistake to think that the Internet is to blame. I don’t know when it became okay to ditch the conversation between the people and their town, state or federal government. Town meetings rarely succeed in engaging the community. Perhaps we’re just on the wrong side of the swinging libertarian/autocratic pendulum. The conversation on the corner of Proper and Sissy Street (it’s a prissy intersection) has disappeared. This has escalated domestic violence across America. When there’s no conversation we get police brutality and crazies who shoot people in churches, malls and theaters. Where is the non-political public conversation about guns and mental health? After the bodies are taken away we hear about the dysfunctional lives, the isolation, the lack of empathy. I sincerely loath people who use the word, kumbaya to accuse someone of being weak. I am no fan of the phrase, with its obsequious boy-scout idealism, but we should never ditch conversation because we fear the scorn of cynics.

The return of trust.

At another leading cyber security company, Palo Alto Networks, CEO Mark McLaughlin, spoke about the necessity for trust on CNBC:

PaloAltoNetworks

The good news is that the mindset has turned to the community.

Policing, shared medical research and open data about health all benefit when the community is engaged. Technology has given us instant communication and made collaboration effortless. The open-source code culture has spread to Open Data initiatives. Mobile phones with small high-resolution cameras capture violence perpetrated against disenfranchised people, but they also capture personal health data, feeding it, with the patient’s permission, to the healthcare establishment. Viral exposure of incidents or medical breakthroughs make good news that garners high ratings in both social and traditional media.

When government decides to collaborate with citizen groups and create Open Data initiatives, good things begin to happen. We begin to heal.

See this example in New Orleans.

Demond and Open Data

Our best defense is transparency, open data and trust.

PIF program

The present administration has implemented the PIF program. As the web site states “The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program brings the principles, values, and practices of the innovation economy into government through the most effective agents of change we know: our people … These teams of government experts and private-sector doers take a user-centric approach to issues at the intersection of people, processes, products, and policy to achieve lasting impact.”

It’s the beginning of a national conversation. I hope it leads to other open initiatives where inclusive citizen groups become a factor for positive change. And it cannot happen if people don’t share some aspects of their privacy. Yes, secure your identifiable information and protect your privacy, but don’t hide. Share what you can. Come and play with the rest of us. Let’s build a better world. Together.

A corrected trajectory.

At the beginning of the year I published my blog on what was trending in 2015. If you were following me then, you might recall that these were my predictions on music, social media, smartphones and cyber-security. (All linked in some way to my book,  The Faces in the Rain.) I was thinking about how you never see people face up to their predictions, and I always wondered how they measure up. Which is strange, because doesn’t anyone want to know if the sooth-sayers were right or wrong? Yet it seems that no one cares about auditing past predictions because we live in the present and look to the future. Unless we can’t, as on this memorial weekend, we are doomed to remember, in singular or collective pride or disgrace. It was a soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar about the Ides of March—a catastrophe looming in the middle of the month. (Read Alex Horton’s affecting article in The Daily Beast.) 

More interesting, and certainly more important is the need to monitor predictions, especially when they might influence the trajectory of our lives. Let me make a distinction: We understand predictions and trends, but what exactly is a trajectory, and how are they different? Dictionary.com describes a trajectory as:

  1. the curve described by a projectile, rocket, or the like in its flight.
  2. Geometry: a curve or surface that cuts all the curves or surfaces of a given system at a constant angle. (Bold is mine.)

When we think about the trajectory of a life, the geometric meaning is more applicable.  If a “given system” is a life, then what is that force, that will, that geometric template that cuts all the lesser curves and surfaces in a life? This question dawned on me when I listened to the charming interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air.

Somewhere in this interview with comedian and podcaster, Marc Maron, she mentions the expected trajectory of her life. Expected trajectory. (Listen to the whole interview by clicking on the photo below.)

MarcMaron and Terry Gross

The difference, I think, lies in understanding that trajectory is not a goal, not a target destination. It is a momentum based on the parameters we are given. Our given system provides a stricture to constantly follow. Which leads us to make statements like, “it is what it is”. Predetermined. Fate. Rigid acceptance of trajectory has generated a thesaurus of folklore, brainwashing us into believing that doing what is expected, is the right thing to do. Indeed, society relies on this. But is it the right thing correct?

It is what it is. Unless it isn’t.

What if the momentum is based on parameters we choose? What if the arrow we launch must alter its trajectory because the target is moving? Inflection Point is well-known in geometry, and in business. The trajectory of a life comes to an inflection point more commonly for negative reasons than positive. People make decisions because they have to. Or want to. Less so because, for their own good, they should. However I think the tendency is to not disrupt.

There should be a word for proactively making a constructive disruption. CONRUPTION comes to mind. Your usage of either word will be subjective, but choose you must. The point is, the parameters (influence, trends, socio-economic status, expectations–to name just few) do change, but often they don’t change the trajectory, or they change, though only under duress.

Why is this? The Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert tells us that we have a tendency to believe in an optimistic future. So why disrupt that? How much unrealistic expectation can we tolerate? See his Ted Talk here.

DanGilbert_slide

Dan Gilbert: The psychology of your future self

He ends his TED Talk saying:

“The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time. It’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.”

How has your trajectory changed in the last ten years? And if it did, was the outcome better? Proactively taking action to change your trajectory half way through is exerting your freedom to choose.

Okay, with that in mind, and in the spirit of appreciating the fact that values change over time, I looked at how my predictions are coming along after just six months. It turns out that I was wrong in some cases and, although these are superficial factors, they have changed the trajectory of my life in the sense that the efficacy of my book is based on these trends. Which accounts for my constant revisions, and if those make for a more compelling read, then, yes, the trajectory of my life has changed.

Music streaming:

THEN: Music streaming services will get smarter. We’ll have more choice, better search.

NOW: Wrong. Just the opposite. Services get meaner; to the listener and to the artists. Industry? What industry? Listen to the Verve discussion here.

Phones and data theft:

THEN: Possession and ownership of data: In 2015, people will begin to understand the difference…

NOW:  I have just one word: Hilary. (The public debate as to whether she owns her private email rages on.)

ID Theft:

THEN: Identity Theft: Not a question of if, but when, in one form or another.

NOW: Surprisingly, a slight improvement, so wrong again. See the Fortune article here.

Anonymity and hide-in-plain-sight/cybercrime:

THEN: Anonymity: The flight to hide-in-plain-sight will increase. See the Wired article.

NOW: Okay, I got this one right. See the FireFly report here. “This latest tactic by APT17 of using websites’ legitimate functionalities to conduct their communications shows just how difficult it is for organizations to detect and prevent advanced threats,” said Laura Galante, Manager, Threat Intelligence, FireEye. (BTW, this is exactly the tactic Allison uses to hide from the cybercrime syndicate–or so she thinks.)

Privacy:

THEN: Users will be torn between openness and privacy. Multiple factor authentication will become normal. Law enforcement will resist encryption.

NOW: In addition to the fingerprint identity sensor on the iPhone 6 (released after my predictions), Samsung now has: SamsungIrisScan

Authenticity:

THEN: Authenticity: …will bring value to crowdsourced solutions. Authentic ideas will attract followers.

NOW: (for something entirely different..)

Not my thing, but Ellen Degeneres’ recent guest Tyler Oakley, who has 6.9 million followers on YouTube, talks about pop culture, and what’s going on in his life. When Ellen asks him why he thinks he is so successful, he replies, saying, he thinks people just want to see authentic lives, the good and the bad, and just see him being himself. That easy. Oh, and BTW, no meanness. (I agree.)

Conclusion? Authenticity works.

And a trajectory adjustment every six months is a way to stay proactive.

Watch him review someone’s else’s YouTube video. Warning: this is crude. And very funny.

https://youtu.be/beaUkcqVrKY

(This link verifies Google+)

<meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”VtFrLEbUyJKecujDUSM99FIIAjw_ubb5s8kPW5RgJAE” />

“VtFrLEbUyJKecujDUSM99FIIAjw_ubb5s8kPW5RgJAE”

VtFrLEbUyJKecujDUSM99FIIAjw_ubb5s8kPW5RgJAE”

 

The riots of spring.

With the spring, the usual noise of useless information, that comes to us through new technology, turns to more informative and socially conscious matters, and to the stirrings of malcontent. Along with the buds of May, we see, here and there, scattered about in virtual spheres of influence, man’s inhumanity to man; exposed, raw and confrontative. Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere show us unfolding events that we could not have known was happening prior to the information age we live in. Sure, we have seen these stirrings before. In my case the scenes of the student riots in Soweto in 1976, and the photograph of the Napalm Girl in Vietnam, stand out.

Letter15

Soweto student protest, 1976, Napalm Girl, Vietnam, 1972, Baltimore tweet, 2015.

 

The power to communicate in those images was diminished by their lack of immediacy. The iconic images of our lifetimes have, until recently, been viewed after the fact. And so, because of the delay, we could stand back and declare that what is past is past, and we can postpone our responsibility.

As we know, the Arab Spring changed all that. It came to us in real-time, and in April, 2010 the Egyptian government declared the repeal of an emergency law that had been in place since 1963, allowing the government authority to suspend constitutional rights. That month the Syrian government launched the first of what became a series of crackdowns. We have watched the decent into mayhem ever since, and as we watched, the voices of decent have risen up.

When almost everyone has a camera in a phone, and has the ability to post their photographs instantly on social media, without concern for publication deadlines, quality or censorship, we are exposed to a wide variety of images that are happening in close-to real-time. As Americans protest police violence against black and other communities, the story trends up and goes viral almost as it is happening. The television networks chase the story. They don’t cover the story, they cover the event. Seldom do they analyze the root cause, but they air, over and over and over the same sensational clips. Later, they hire paid pundits to weigh in. Meantime, the on-line analysis is crowd-sourced, frequently skewed, and inaccurate. All opinion is welcome, yet the silent majority remains silent, and their silence is taken as conservative and frightened. I was struck by the Baltimore protester who pointed out to Garaldo Rivera that Fox didn’t come to report on what’s wrong with living conditions for blacks in Baltimore, they came to report the “black riots”. The protester even asks that the cameras covering his outrage be turned off. “This is not for YouTube,” he says. (although he must know it is.) But Rivera refuses to engage him. No conversation. Point made: television broadcasts, it’s a one-way street. The point of view (see video below) is one that no network would ever cover, yet the video has been viewed over a million times.

Regardless, the discerning reader must find perspective and compare what is happening as Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities explode.

The conclusion becomes clear:

POLICING HAS TO CHANGE.

Because we are all watching.

Our watchfulness blocks, what before, was censored, obfuscated and doctored for public consumption. Instead, a barrage of video and photographic material boils to the surface from a wide cross-section of a population who cared enough (for good or questionable reasons) to be there to record the event. It is not reporting, but it is a report, and it is plentiful. Even police departments are beginning to adopt uniform cameras, and in some cases have incriminated themselves.

I am grateful I live in an age where technology leads to transparency. Yes, we need to manage it better so it protects people’s privacy, but it should never be managed so that the truth gets swept under the rug.

 

That intuitive space

spacePics

Bird in Space (Brancusi), Getty Museum, Notes & Rests

 

Letter #14:

Managing space is something we all do. We exist in three dimensions, and, as sentient creatures we want to handle physical space in a way that suits us. While birds fly and build nests, we decorate homes, drive in traffic, and move in buildings where space has been well or poorly considered. Your consideration of space is different than mine. We are led to believe that the more we manage space the more effective we’ll be. This is especially true for composers, with their precious rests, sculptors, architects, painters and designers who know that decisions about space determine the effectiveness of the work. For them placement in space is a calibrated and precise decision.

When it comes to mental space we act like these artists; earnestly placing ideas in mind-space where better decisions can be made. I wonder if people are probably more inconsistent in their physical and mental management of space, than consistent, depending on behavioral and cultural influences. The neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (FYI, the underline is mine. I write about personal freedom and privacy in Letters #8, 9 and 12.) How we choose to act out in the space between the stimulus and the response informs our character type –introvert/extrovert, etc; yet just as with physical space, we are led to believe that more mental space leads to better decisions.

(“Unless they don’t,” says the smiling extrovert to introvert.)

Which brings me to Mark Ronson. Yes, the music producer Mark Ronson of the mega-hit, “Uptown Funk”, featuring Bruno Mars. Notice that the YouTube video below has 540 million views (plus), to date.

NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Mark on Fresh Air. Here’s what she said: “The song, on the album Uptown Special, just ended its 14-week run at the top of theBillboard Hot 100. Ronson has put out four albums under his own name, and they all feature other artists singing the songs he co-wrote and produced. Ronson has also had a hand in other hits: He produced some of Amy Winehouse’s 2006 album Back To Black, including the songs “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” (Listen to the full interview, and read the article here.)

So, what does this have to do with intuition and mental space? He tells a story about how he and Amy Winehouse came up with the song, “Rehab”.

It is a stunning example of the role intuition can play, and I would go so far as to say that it makes the argument that over-thinking can kill creativity.

(See this Psychology Today article.) Here’s the except from the interview:

She wrote “Back To Black” and “Rehab” while we were there in the studio, in like, kind of a matter of hours. So when she was telling me this story about rehab — we were actually walking down the street and she was saying, “There was this time a couple of years ago, and I was in this dark place, and my family came over and some friends, and they tried to make me go to rehab, and I was like, ‘No, no, no.'” And she put up her hand, and I just thought, “That’s such a catchy turn of phrase, and should we go back — and do you want to try to write a song with that?” Because it just instantly sounded like a hook to me. I remember it so well. She was telling me this really deep story, and I’m kind of like, “Is it gross?” — all I can hear is a big pop hook in there.

At the time Mark was building his career, and was relatively unknown. To me, it seems that he acted authentically in that moment. So did the success of that act encourage him to remain authentic? Who knows, but the point is, you can’t accommodate intuitive space if you’re not present. In the moment. Sadly, that act of intuition on his part later became achingly ironic when Winehouse took her life. (I mention her in the context of Music Trends in 2015 — and now add pitchfork.com as a strong influence.)

My character, Allison in THE FACES IN THE RAIN learned to be authentic—-the hard way.  So, while we’re moving things around in our places and in our head, making room for decisions, maybe, before we actually act on that decision, maybe we should stop and ask, what is that voice inside my head, telling me to do something entirely different? And why am I thinking in two dimensions, when stimulus, response and intuition offer me a much wider three-dimensional palate? When I am writing, I occasionally give intuition a voice to shout out, so the reader can hear it echo elsewhere in the book. Then, like the composer, I give it a rest.

The power of watching: Shifting from me-watch to them-watch

Geoffrey Wells Letter #13:

On Friday, the world’s largest company, Apple, released its new product–a watch. And well, it’s not only a watch. It’s well-connected, although the analog watch still has one advantage; it works without an iPhone. Samsung also released its new watch. No one is sure that these devices are going to take hold with the masses, but no one doubts that, increasingly, devices will be worn, not carried–at some point they will be called clothes, not devices. It’s like calling your phone a digital phone. I worked with a photographer years ago; he would say, “Call him on the electric telephone.” Yeah.  These watches are not only about convenience, what’s driving this trend is the biometric information that is integrated through Big Data analytics into our personal and other data. From my point of view, it’s all good, provided it is thoughtfully executed. It must not be like fracking: good idea, terrible execution.

Notwithstanding our concerns about privacy and security, I wonder about the self-centric nature of this trend. Is it really all about me? My health, my data, my friends, my likes? Me watching me? No.

Because the other side of the watch paradigm is about people watching out for each other. For the crowd. They don’t care whether they hold the mobile device or wear it, they care how they share it. (If you’ll excuse the rhyme, I’ll leave it there.)

As Apple makes around $8.3 million dollars per hour in profit (averaged over a day), companies like Spacial Collective in Nairobi, Kenya, are helping people watch out for each other. I’d be surprised if they make one cent an hour.  As they state on their website, “Since power is a relation among people, Spatial Collective aims to understand these connections and with it power relations at all levels, ranging from citizens, to local service providers, private companies, local government, and state and non-state actors.” This is not a new concept; I wrote about this in Letter #6, where the city of Philadelphia is moving community-based services to the cloud, and in Letter #9, about Apple’s Research Kit. The value that data visualization and mapping brings to the everyday lives of their owners, and more importantly, to the needs of the communities in which they live, is remarkable.

BBC’s Click reported that mapping and app technology is allowing residents living in Nairobi’s Mathare slum to report land disputes and waste management and infrastructure problems. The app allows users to rate the urgency of problems and the appropriate action to be taken. It is hoped in the future that drones will be able to map the slum fully. This would enable residents to obtain full title deeds, gain access to bank credit and put up permanent buildings.

(click on photo to play)

 

At the SEGA School in Morogoro, Tanzania, each eleventh-grade graduate receives a mobile phone, thanks to Kidogo Kidogo, an organization that sells iPhone cases. Kidogo Kidogo is Swahili for “little by little.” When they sell two phone cases, Kidogo Kidogo donates a mobile phone, a phone number and 5,000 Tanzanian schillings of mobile credits to a woman in Tanzania. Read more here: http://www.care2.com/causes/mobile-phones-mean-success-for-female-students-in-tanzania.html#ixzz3X5imnHgc

Which brings me to Laurie Anderson, whose Big Science sounds uncannily like Big Data and who was wearing her instruments long before the Apple Watch. Maybe we weren’t watching her close enough. Er, excuse me, I have to go–my elbow is buzzing.

 

Lip Sisters

Cynthia’s animation is now being repurposed into web animation formats, and I think you’ll agree, this sample promises lots of great stuff to come from the master animator. Can’r wait!!

Visible Spectrum

Lip-Sisters_1

A clip from “Interview with Tallulah, Queen of the Universe” 1995

I was inspired by Laurie Anderson‘s lyrics from “Monkey’s Paw” “those high heeled feet”.

I’ve been learning about creating animated gifs in Photoshop CC. I love Adobe’s Creative Cloud because for a monthly fee you get access to so many Apps. I spent an insane amount of time learning Flash in 2002. My site “PiazzaNYC”is a flash reliant site intended to feature animation in a new way. A virtual piazza in NYC featuring the characters of the Commedia dell Arte – the 17th century traveling comedic theater.  Then Apple decided to not support flash files. I was crushed. I moved on to other projects and recently began researching animated gifs and that’s when we discovered the Creative Cloud. Now I’ve got some catching up to do.

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Privacy: It’s personal. (Don’t read this!)

Geoffrey Wells Letter #12:

I continue to explore the facets of privacy. It is a meme on the Internet today, and it is mutating from the embryo of the word private. The word is stealing DNA from the words, personal, confidential, secrets and identity. They are all closely related, though the distinction is important. There’s nothing nefarious about choosing to keep aspects of your life private. In those private times when we think, reason and create, we are free. We can exercise our freedom because we do not have to trust that our personal expression is judged by anyone but ourselves. We are free to decide when to subject ourselves to the scrutiny of the world at large.

A reader of my blog, Bill, sent me a response to my post last week. Bill says that, “The age of privacy is over! It’s an antiquated idea born during the age of industrialization and urbanization. There was no privacy when humans lived in communal groups. You fought with your wife–the whole village knew about it. Children acted badly–the whole village dealt with it. Your gay son couldn’t hide in a closet. If someone or family didn’t share the bounty of their hunt, they were forced out of the group and lost their place and the protection of the group. How did the concept of privacy come about anyway? Why do we insist on privacy? Why are laws written to protect privacy? Should any information be private at all? Can the concept of privacy coexist in an Information Age? Isn’t that contradictory? We need to think about privacy in a new way! Or, as the electronic information brings us closer in so many ways, are we returning to our ancient communal societal ethos–we share information with our electronic brethren and they with us. Privacy?!?! We don’t need no stinkin’ privacy!”

Well, Bill–I beg to differ. And let me start with your last statement. In Glenn Greenwald’s TED Talk, “Why Privacy Matters”, (see video below) which has been viewed 1.4 million times, he poses the hypothetical question to someone who claims that they do not care about privacy. He would ask this person to email all his passwords to him. Of course, like you Bill, he would refuse, but not because it’s personal, or private, but because it’s confidential. Here’s the video:

Margge, another responder, points out privacy is a personal choice. And my response was to agree, but on the stage of social media, friends, family and business associates challenge us to be authentic, because authenticity breeds success, and it encourages us to reveal our personal choices. If we’d rather not, are we being false, by hiding our private lives? Neither position is satisfactory and both have ramifications. We could protest–privately, but publicly is inadvisable; the unsettling thing about protesting on the Internet is that it serves to attract more attention. Nothing is more true of this than with the privacy issue. It is so common as to have its own label: The Streisand Effect. This term was coined after Barbara Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. The campaign had the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely on the Internet. (Which is why the subject of this post, asks that you don’t read it.)

Of course all the talk of privacy becomes moot if our privacy is watched without our permission. And while this certainly is a problem, the fact remains that most private information is accessible from the Internet. And most of it is not watched or exploited. Like the economy, privacy relies on trust. My new MacBook Pro laptop was delivered yesterday, on time. I thought about how much trust it took to get it from Shanghai, China to my doorstep.

ShipmentProgress

How many people were entrusted to get this laptop delivered on time?

Personally, Bill (and yes, it’s my personal preference that we preserve privacy), I think we’re a lot more civilized than when the (global) village knew everything about us. And, just to invoke the Streisand Effect, I’m thrilled you didn’t read this.

Privacy: Precious and/or destructive choices

Geoffrey Wells letter #11:

I start with a request: Listen to this Ethiopian jazz while reading the rest of this blog. Don’t ask me to explain why the music adds poignancy to the subject matter of privacy, except I will say that this subject seems to strike deep notes in the soul. (…and thanks to @worldisafrica that I follow on Twitter)

Last week, as we saw a mountainside of the French Alps strewn with airline and body parts, I thought of the many and conflicted opinions we have about privacy; its precious and destructive power being played out publicly, viscerally–the volcanic shame oozing through the fissure of our collective guilt. It seems apparent now that Andreas Lubitz, who is alleged to have murdered 150 people, including himself, was a sick man. Did sheltering under the veil of privacy allow him to keep flying? Or was it Lufthansa’s policy and German law that prevented an oversight of the 27-year-old co-pilot’s health and mental state? This raises troubling questions about where the responsibility lies. Should there be separate rules that are applied to those who are responsible for the safety of the public? And if the answer is yes, then could we not argue that we are all responsible for the safety of each other, in some way? Isn’t that the social contract? Who, I would ask, cared so little for him that they allowed him to fly?When I drive on a four-lane freeway, how many people might I murder by driving badly, or because I had too much to drink, or was depressed? Would that mean that I should not be allowed to drive? Who is to decide, and how, and how often?

In Alex Preston’s searching essay, The Death of Privacy (The Guardian, August 3, 2014), he breaks down the debate; that what we hold as private is thought of as shameful and secret, or, conversely, that sharing what is private is seen as socially responsible and actually convenient. I don’t know to what extent people shared their instant reactions to the news of the Germanwings disaster, but I don’t think I was the only one thinking, “terrorist” and dark thoughts about the chaos in the Middle East. Of course that rush to judgement should be private, and if that sentiment went viral, then the condemnation would be sealed into the history pages of the Internet. That bell could not be un-wrung–unless, as Preston points out, public censorship becomes common. He cites the European Court case of Google vs. Costeja Gonzalz, who won “the right to be forgotten”. False judgement (read slander) might be erased in the future. So, will the Internet then be the revisionist’s history? I hope not: It might be kind, but it also might be a lie. Because that’s not what happened.

Google&Privacy

In Europe, Google search pages warn, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” –The Guardian, August 3, 2014.

The subject of privacy fascinates me. At a psychological level, it brings into question how conscious we are of ourselves. Privacy, is so fascinating to me, that I wrote my latest novel with the aim of exposing the privacy conflicts that a character might face. In THE FACES IN THE RAIN, Allison is, like many of us, somewhat indifferent on the issues of privacy, though she is fanatical in protecting her career as a musician and composer–especially after losing her identity. Determined that it will not happen again, she takes a passive-aggressive approach to protect both her privacy and her identity. So she corrupts them. So effective is she at this, that she is able to hide-in-plain-sight; a tactic commonly used by cyber criminals. Her approach is simple. Then the CIA informs her that she is being used by a cybercrime syndicate. With enough coding skill to be dangerous, and plenty of smarts, she has mastered the art of obfuscation. Now she must help them lay the trap, while undercover as someone else. The irony is that in the subsequent confusion she finds her authenticity. But reconciling it with her identity is another matter.

Allison, like the rest of us, while we gaze at our collective belly button, must answer the nagging voice, asking, “Who am I?” And so the personal and public consciousness of ourselves gets mapped to our identity in time and space. And if we’re careful, it will be what it is.

Well? Did you listen to the track while you read? Regardless of what you thought of the music, I hope you agree that it’s impact changes the emotional weight of what I wrote. Do you agree? Can music with creative writing be considered reading?

 

 

Geoffrey Wells Letter #10: The local planet.

I’m writing this blog on the first day of spring, Friday, March 20, 2015. It’s snowing. A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees…, well, they are shivering and shaking in the ground. The fluttering and dancing in the breeze will come later. The farm stands are still shuttered for the winter. While we eat California strawberries from the supermarket, I try to erase the sight of Long Island Sound (almost) covered in ice.

SoundIce

That thin black line is the Connecticut shoreline. Taken from Goldsmith’s Inlet, Peconic.

I have been recording on video, the Peconic Land Trust’s Spring Lecture Series: Long Island Grown – Food and Beverage Artisans at Work. After the lecture on The Appetizer, we pretended that spring was here: we took home microgreens grown in Long Island greenhouses; heavenly sweet thai basil, pea tendrils, and arugula from Good Water Farms. GoodWaterMicrogreensI made a lime/horseradish/Dijon vinaigrette, which got me thinking about what local means to us.

https://vimeo.com/91641765

Microgreens = Love from Good Water on Vimeo.

Talk to anyone about what they do, and sooner or later the obvious fact emerges: we live locally, though we are not prepared to act locally. Not easily do we give up the convenience of easy access and the homogeneity of packaged food. The reason that I love the Essential New York Times Cookbook is that I can’t find Spicy Orange Salad Moroccan-Style in my local market–I have to make it myself. The implication of acting locally is that our work and our activities revolve around ourselves, our communities and our local interests. Some Long Island restaurateurs who buy greens and fruit from local farms in the summer act locally, but in winter they buy elsewhere–from California, South America, New Zealand. Then, in winter, it’s too late to act locally, because they do not really think locally. For years conservationists have urged us to think globally and act locally. And yes, I get it: I am reminded of climate change as I drive to the supermarket, burning cheap gas. So, perhaps we should throw out the clever slogan.

Perhaps we need to think then act to sustain BOTH our neighborhood and our planet.

Is that too much to ask? If there were enough greenhouses, restaurants and local residents, we would have enough fresh, affordable and sustainable produce–year-round. As Brendan Davison of Good Water Farms says, “Turns out, come wintertime, we were left with little choice but to venture into the city in order to sustain the business. Luckily, we caught a break by being introduced to Whole Foods during our city jaunts, but what about the community we left behind?”

Local support should help farmers. Towns restricting greenhouses is not helpful. Go figure. They should think, then act.

Otherwise, we’re just fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Sustainable cybersecurity:

In case you missed it, the FED and corporate America are making progress in information sharing. (A theme that runs through THE FACES IN THE RAIN).

Senate approves bill that encourages IS companies to share information about cybersecurity breaches.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/2588

Hear what Leo Taddeo, (special agent in charge of the Cyber and Special Operations Division for the FBI’s New York Office) says about this:

pi in the sky:

10 stunning images show the beauty hidden in pi
Data art celebrates the magical, mathematical and infinite constant of pi.

http://wapo.st/1FewpYH

Geoffrey Wells Letter #9: Goals worth earning, owning and sharing

The relentless thing about achieving a goal is that once you get there, you have to hang on to it. Otherwise, what’s the point? Can you say that you have achieved a goal, if you haven’t figured out how to keep it? Yet, the skills and talent it takes to reach the milestone of just achieving a goal, are different from the skills needed to keep what has been so hard to achieve. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about putting on your socks. That’s not a goal. Neither is keeping them on. Unless you’re two.

No, I am talking about worthy goals, goals that are difficult, goals that will fire every synapse of mind and heartbeat. Goals that benefit both self and the greater good. Yet, it seems to me, the harder the goal is, the more likely it is that it will be dropped (like the ball), or lost (the eye taken off the ball), or squandered. Oh yes, and the big one: the goal is often messed up, bungled, sabotaged. Why is this? Because, the goal is associated with an event, a snapshot in time. It is neither–a goal must be a continuum. A constant upgrade. Failed goals often involve a fight, a struggle that sometimes take a lifetime to achieve. The self-destructive perpetrator could be an individual, a professional or a political movement. How many stories are there about expeditions that climb to the summit of Mount Everest, only to make bad decisions that take lives on the way down? How many stories are there of professionals reaching the pinnacle of success, only to crash and burn in scandal and greed? How many freedom fighters have woken up one morning after the last bottle of champagne is gone, only to groan at the thought of governing a people who have never trusted them? Subsequently, the oppressed become the despots.

And what of those who succeed at both gaining and keeping the prize? They have seen their objective holistically. They are the visionaries. The act that starts the process of setting a goal is making the commitment to getting and keeping it, and implicit in the process of thinking it all through, taking everything into account, is integrity. A goal that is earned, is nurtured, and its value is shared.

To be successful, we must change our mindset. It’s not about getting and keeping; we must focus on earning, owning and sharing.

I write about this because, as a writer with a completed second novel, I am tempted to think that my goal is its release into the world. Yet I know, that is not the goal. The goal is to have as many people as possible read it. It’s not about selling the book, it’s about sharing my life-affirming view of our world. And so, while I nurture my platform, I ask that if you like my view of the world, and if you want to help me share my work then “like” my blogs, or reblog, or comment. Tell a friend. It all helps. And thanks.

So, who gets it right?

Tim Cook! With Apple’s release this last week, the Research Kit becomes the game changer in medical research. Of course I immediately signed up to the Stanford Medicine Cardiovascular Disease Research Kit. I have a healthy heart, but I was curious and wanted to find out how the Research Kit works. Its design and execution is superb because it’s easy. And it seemlessly uses data from my Fitbit. The surprising benefit for me was that I saw immediately that I was sleeping better. The genius of this open-source initiative is that by supplying data the participant benefits–without compromising his or her private information. The more people share their personal data, without identifying themselves, the healthier we’ll ALL be.

Watch the movie:

Apple_researchkit

Should our privacy be a goal?

Whereas previously, we could assume that privacy was the default, now we have to fight to win it back. And when we get it back, we need to decide whether our privacy works for us, or is it to our detriment? I’m talking about an irrational adherence to keeping aspects of ourselves private, which, if shared would help to brand us as individuals coexisting in society. These are the private choices we all need to make.

 

Writers on Location – Melanie Finn on Tanzania

Read Melanie Finn’s novel, SHAME, also (like FACES IN THE RAIN) set in Tanzania.

The Literary Sofa

Melanie Finn-detailThe list of places which have featured in Writers on Location is varied – Cuba, Arctic Norway, Mallorca, Las Vegas, to name but a few – but it is also pleasingly random.  There’s no plan: each post starts with me reading a novel with a brilliantly handled setting and I enjoy fiction set all over the world.  But even so, I’m delighted that Africa is making its first appearance in the series.  Today’s guest Melanie Finn was born in Kenya and her deep knowledge and understanding of this extraordinary continent is evident in her new novel SHAME, set in Tanzania.  She joins me to talk about a subject which is new to the Literary Sofa – witchcraft! (My mini-review follows):

There’s a strong dose of witchcraft in my novel, SHAME; the characters experience it as authentic magic or as the consequence of powerful belief.  I’m 99% sure witchcraft is chicanery. …

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Geoffrey Wells Letter #8: Nina, Nelson and never again.

Recently, I’ve been hearing the same song. Everywhere, sung by a wide array of different artists. Odd. Because it’s like someone has put a spell on me. More odd, or odder, because, “I put a spell on you” is the song I hear, and every time, I think about Nina Simone–though the song was written by Jay Hawkins in 1956. (I suggest you play the video, while reading the rest of this post…)

I was eleven in 1964 when Simone’s cover of the song was climbing the Billboard R&B chart. That was the year I heard, “Rivonia” whispered in our home in South Africa, as if just saying the word would tag us as communists and anarchists. We lived just a few miles from Rivonia where, on Friday, June 12, 1964 Nelson Mandela’s original five-year sentence was extended to life imprisonment for high treason. A year later he was awarded the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal for Peace.

Yet peace was not on Nina Simone’s mind during those civil rights years in the U.S. She was performing at the meetings, and at the Selma-to-Montgomery marches she was rejecting Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach.  Her civil rights message was standard in her repertoire. She later wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal. Neither was Mandela’s final statement to the court a message of peace before his sentencing: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the South African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Over the years Nina Simone returned to my consciousness. She’s appeared in the Cynthia Wells animated short, “Tallulah Queen of the Universe”, and in my novel, A FADO FOR THE RIVER, when she sings “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Do Not Leave Me). Then recently, “I Put a Spell on You” was sung by Annie Lennox for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. So, I hear it in the media and the supermarket, reminding me that tomorrow Selma commemorates the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, and the Selma-to-Montgomery march, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Selma

On the same date a continent away, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life for fighting for the right to vote.

Which, (like my post last week) brings me to another icon of our modern age, Peter Thiel. Thiel is co-founder of PayPal, who said, “If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth”. He explains in his book, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or how to build the future.” how he asks interviewees, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

Here is my speculative answer that I believe both Mandela and Simone might have given in 1964:

Most people believe that blacks in this country will never win the right to vote, but the truth is, they will. Eventually. And the contrarian truth is: Democracy is for all citizens. As Mandela’s autobiography states, it’s a Long Walk to Freedom. And Dr. King, standing on the steps of the capitol of Alabama in Montgomery at the conclusion of the march from Selma, said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

My answer to Thiel’s question would be:

I believe that most people think privacy is a form of freedom. But the truth is, freedom is not private. It’s a shared responsibility. And the contrarian truth is: Freedom is not a right, it’s a responsibility.

Allison comes to this realization at the end of THE FACES IN THE RAIN.

So perhaps this song is not just a frequency illusion at work.

(Sidebar note: The frequency illusion is also known as the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon, and is perhaps more ironically appropriate, since this revolutionary group executed violence in the name of a vague manifesto, whereas Mandela and Simone advocated a restrained revolution in the name of democracy, proving that what counts are the results, not the methods. The group also trained with the PLO, that also formed in 1964…)

BaaderMeinhofComplex

Indeed, Nina, you have put a spell on me.

Before I go…

China has banned ivory imports for one year. To which I say, why only one year? And thanks to Prince William for speaking out on his visit to China.

 

Geoffrey Wells’ Weekly Letter #7: Why done is better than not.

Hello again. This week I’ve been thinking about how, during the creative process, the elements of a project meld into a single unit, but only in the finishing stage. For years I have managed projects, from large multi-million dollar IT projects with diverse teams, to novels and small movies. My wife and I are in the finishing stages of our third renovated kitchen. For some odd reason we enjoy transforming a kitchen into a paradise for the foodies that we are. I have found that every project is complete only when the finishing details are addressed, the problems are resolved and the questions are answered. In writing and movie making this comes in the final editing process–and therein lies genius.

By the way, if you read these letters in email, you are missing out on the media links in my blogging. Clicking will take you to my WordPress blog site, which will be a better experience than email. And while I’m at it, if you know someone who might be interested in the sort of things I write about, please forward the email to them. There, I said it, now on to other matters…

As Thomas Edison said, circa 1903, genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. In my experience that one percent comes last. Of course to refer to every completed project as a work of genius would be the ultimate form of self-aggrandizement, which is why, I suspect, people misquote Edison, substituting genius with “success”; the assumption being, genius equals success. Not necessarily. Rather, I prefer to think of the genius IN a work that is truly completed–because the result is always more than the sum of its elements. Genius can show up, uninvited and unexpected, but always dependent on the simple act of finishing. It’s a great motivator.

A case in completion, with a little inspiration, if not genius, is the video I posted this week for The Perfect Earth Project and the Peconic Land Trust’s Toxin-Free seminar.

Distilled from a seven hour seminar down to three minutes and thirty seconds, the promotional piece did not work until I inserted a short music queue at the start and the end. Suddenly it become a single statement, encapulated by Paul Wagner (Soil Food Web, New York), who simply stated, “Manipulate the biology, not the chemistry”; revealing a key to sustainable toxin-free gardens.

Which brings me to Max Levchin. Co-founder of PayPal (with Elon Musk and Peter Thiel), Chairman of the Board of Yelp, on the boards of Yahoo and Evernote, and CEO of his own innovation and investment lab, HVF, (which stands for Hard Valuable Fun). He also heads up GLOW, a womans’ health fertility company, and Affirm, a financial services company offering consumer credit at the point-of-sale, i.e the cashier. I watch interviews with him, and I learn something from him every time.

MaxLevchin

In a celebrated–at least by me–interview with Charlie Rose (aired on 8/1/2013), he said, (paraphrasing Warren Buffet), “…people really don’t understand compound interest” and he extended that idea, saying that people generally don’t understand the concept of compounding changes–if you improve by 1% every day, you will grow amazingly…and it’s very hard to detect if you don’t have a long view and can’t look back at the data. This is his point about the value of Big Data. It’s why I wear a Fitbit. Similarly, a project that improves in 1% increments, provided it is improved until completed, will become exponentially improved. Some to the extent genius is produced.

Finishing is shining the cask until the genie (derived from the latin word, genius) rises from it.

I believe this is true of the final editing of a book or when making a movie. See the full interview here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/517751

Here are his views on the NSA and privacy:

Music:

My Composers at Play podcast, named, “Writing About Music” is now live. I was delighted to be included in the conversation with a panel of three composers to discuss how to write about music and how to overcome the subjective meaning we attach to words. In a wonderful coincidence, composer, drummer and academic Jenny Olivia Johnson (listen to Dollar Beers-Redondo Beach ’96) and Christine Chen were in LA just in time to join Sophocles Papavasilopoulos to ponder the role, responsibility, and limits of words describing music. As I suspected, no, hoped, the conversation revealed new approaches for me to take when describing music or the process of creating it. For example I had not thought about the physicality of the musician performing a composition that he or she wrote. Nor have I considered the spacial aspect of how instruments are placed during a performance–something Jenny has investigated. Listen to the podcast here. (Heads up–it’s 46 minutes long):

http://www.composersatplay.com/archives/212

Finally, to end with a reality sandwich; I just started reading Mark Goodman’s Future Crimes. In the last third of his promo video (below) Mark touches on a successful hack of Apple’s Touch ID — to Bill Stamatis’ point that bio-metric ID’s are not infallible.

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