January 1, 2010
And then suddenly … 16 years have passed. I started these year-end reviews in 1994. Since 2001, I’ve adopted metaphors that seemed relevant to commemorate the preceding year, such as: “Crossing Rivers” in 2001; “From Turning to Turned” for 2002 and 2003; “Balance Sheet” in 2004; “Living Patiently Frustrated” in 2005 … okay, that was literal, not metaphorical; “Chasing Rainbows” in 2006; “Work to Do” for 2007 which was part metaphor, part irony mix. Last February I wrote about 2008 and explained how I had landed temporarily in Santa Fe, “The City Different.” (Update on my brother’s health: he’s recovered and doing well. So well, in fact, that a few months ago he moved back to Texas, and even has his own blog on the Lubbock newspaper site.)
So the “Year Different” in the “City Different” seemed like a no-brainer title for this one. I’ll leave it to you to determine what’s an appropriate label — metaphorical, allegorical, literal, ironic, or even (gasp!) rogue.
Preface: Not that I’m defensive about the decisions I’ve made and the paths I’ve pursued, but I draw some measure of validation, if not justification, from the wisdom of Gloria Steinem and Steve Jobs.
While channel surfing across the local access cable channel, I caught the end of an award to Ms. Steinem as a “Woman of Distinction” presented by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. In response to a question from the audience about future roles for women, she said something like, “you need to do what only you can do.” I like that.
After hearing a reference to it on some talk show, I looked up the 2005 commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford. His speech consisted solely of three personal stories, including one about a calligraphy class he audited after he dropped out of college, and what that eventually led to. He observed:
“Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
I like that, too.
Having said that (any “Curb” fans out there?) … I feel more assured in admitting: 1) I’m doing what I believe only I can do; and 2) I’m trusting my gut-karma-intuition that, when the One Great Scorer comes to connect my dots, they’ll show how I played my game. Whether the dots reveal a “winner” or a “loser,” well, I’ll leave the labeling to you. And the One Great Scorer, of course.
I completed and self-published my first book in electronic format (pdf), Here’s Something About General Semantics: A Primer for Making Sense of Your World (ISBN 978-0-9824645-0-2; 290 pages). This was something I’ve had in mind for a long time, that I felt I had to do before I could move on to other projects. It’s primarily a compilation of published articles and columns I had previously written, but I also wrote some new stuff and provided some organization to it such that I’m pleased with the result. I initially offered it for sale, but within the first two weeks I ran into some logistical problems with the payment and downloading process, plus I hadn’t sold but about 15 copies, so I decided to just make it available as a free download.
I also created a blog in conjunction with ThisIsNotThat that I call DiscernThis! I can’t say that I’ve been as regular or prolific as I envisioned, but in August I used it to aggregate a lot of information and resources regarding the local hospital, St. Vincent, which had accepted a 50-50 merger with the Catholic health system giant, CHRISTUS, in 2008. Many Santa Feans (rhymes with sayin’s, not beans) had concerns about access to health care and procedures that were not consistent with Catholic doctrine as documented in their Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs). I also had questions regarding their operations as a nonprofit corporation, so I started digging around online, collecting documents, and trying to understand what was going on. As the volume of documents and references grew, I thought it might serve a community purpose to make them available, so my first use of DiscernThis! was a wee bit of “citizen journalism.” It got a brief mention in the weekly Santa Fe Reporter. Not that many people read the blog, but apparently two who did were the chairman of the board of the hospital and their PR director. This led to two hour-plus meetings with them and the president of the hospital to respond directly to some of my questions and comments. Recalling Steve Jobs and not knowing how the dots you make will get connected … last month I got a call from a freelance writer in New York who was working on a story related to healthcare reform and had found my blog. We talked for over an hour about the situation here in Santa Fe, but unfortunately the stuff we talked about regarding St.Vincent was edited out. Still, you never know what may become of blogs, or dots, or … anything.
In March, Leslie from Amarillo stumbled across my website and found it worthwhile. She invited me to come to Amarillo to give a lunchtime presentation to the Amarillo chapter of the American Advertising Federation. I put a lot of work into a Powerpoint presentation with video clips. When it was over, I added an audio narration track and created a video of it, titled, “Lay Off of My PERSUADE Shoes.” You can watch the full 50-minute presentation or read the transcript with smaller pieces of the video here.
Oh, yeah … I moved to Santa Fe. ‘Permanently.’ As I mentioned last February, I rented two rooms in a large house on the eastern outskirts of town through May, keeping all my stuff in storage in Fort Worth.
As the end of May approached, I had to move, but where? After a short visit to Las Vegas (NV) in early June, I decided to move in (again) with my sister Lizann and her husband Tom outside of Fort Worth. However, I kept checking craigslist for Santa Fe rentals, and when one came available that sounded almost too good, I jumped at it. Three quick round trips between Fort Worth and Santa Fe and two weeks later, I was here, with major thanks to my daughter Stacy who helped me load and unload the truck, then drove my car behind me. She flew back on the inaugural flight of American Airlines between Santa Fe and DFW, which ended up being two hours late but they served chocolate-covered strawberries in the terminal while Governor Richardson spoke.
“Here” is a 850-sf apartment with 76-inch ceilings (74-inch right in front of the refrigerator), one of five units in a modest compound just six blocks north of the Plaza. The location can’t be beat, with mountain views to the east, nice quiet neighbors and conscientious out-of-state (well, Mexico) owners. I have a little private deck that’s at roof-level that offers a small place to sit and relax while cooking on the grill. It’s right off the Old Taos Highway, just across from the Fort Marcy recreational complex. All in all, it couldn’t be better for my purposes. It’s what I want.
I applied for at least a dozen jobs, most of which were offered by the federal government or local nonprofits. With my former military service I theoretically get a few extra points of consideration for federal job openings, but apparently not enough to overcome my general lack of specific employability. So now when I’m asked what I do, I can honestly say “write” since there are, literally, no alternatives. I did volunteer with the phone banks for the two local public radio station semi-annual pledge drives.
I spent a lot of time reading, and since I’m now “a writer,” I guess I can also call it “researching.” The first topic that grabbed my attention even before I moved to Santa Fe is the period of the Manhattan Project from 1942-1945, which resulted in the detonation of three atomic bombs. Los Alamos is about 35 miles from Santa Fe, on the other side of the Rio Grande, past several Indian pueblos and cave dwelling sites that have served as ‘home’ for somebody for over a thousand years. The fact that these ancient lands became the temporary home for dozens of the most brilliant physicists in the world, for the purpose of unleashing the incomprehensible power within what only they could even imagine, holds important stories and lessons that I believe have yet to be told, learned, and comprehended. This is one subject I’ve been “researching” in order to tell just one of those stories, from a personal, fictional, point of view. It’s involved learning about the famous physicists from the Manhattan Project such as Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and also the less well-known, but in some ways even more intriguing “real people” like Edith Warner, Dorothy McKibbin, and the Indians of the San Ildefonso pueblo near the crossing of the Rio Grande called Otowi … “where the river makes a noise.”
The second area I’ve immersed myself in developed from my “research” in the Los Alamos library. Since 1972, the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee has sponsored an annual lecture series featuring distinguished scientists, authors, and others from a variety of disciplines. The Los Alamos public library has the more recent lectures available on DVD. Last April I came across the 2005 lecture by neurobiologist Cristof Koch with the intriguing-to-me title, “The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach.” (Also the title of his book.) I checked out the DVD, and bought the book, and found myself amazed at some of his visual demonstrations. I say “amazed” because he was illustrating the same neurological principle — that we each manufacture, or generate, our own sensory representations of what we call reality within our own individual nervous systems, and these nervous systems are flawed — from which Alfred Korzybski derived his system of general semantics over 70 years earlier. I asked Koch for permission to host excerpts of his presentation on my website, and he graciously agreed. You can view four of these eye-opening (pun) demonstrations here, and then compare them with Korzybski’s low-tech “fan-disc” demonstration here.
As luck would have it, the Oppenheimer Memorial Lecturer for 2009 was another neuroscientist, Jeff Hawkins, author of the best selling On Intelligence (with Sandra Blakeslee), and co-founder/inventor of Palm Computing and the Palm Pilot. I attended his lecture in July and found it so engrossing I contacted a member of the Committee and offered to prepare a transcript of Hawkins’ lecture. They took me up on my offer, and here’s the resulting transcript. You can also view video clips from Hawkins’ lecture here. Like Koch four years earlier (and Korzybski, seventy years earlier), Hawkins emphasized that: “Your perception of the world is … really a fabrication of your model of the world.”
So what, you may ask, does the World War II atomic bomb project have to do with 21st-century neuroscience, other than the geographical coincidence of Los Alamos? How do THESE dots get connected? Well, since these two subjects will occupy my life (such as it is) over the next 12-18 months, I’ll attempt this explanation … Physicists and other physical scientists best understand the processes and mechanisms that explain our physical world. Neuroscientists and other physicians/surgeons best understand the processes and mechanisms that explain how we as a species function within this physical world. My interest as an uncredentialed, innocent-but-curious observer, is this: To what degree does our everyday language appropriately incorporate what these experts understand about the worlds outside, and inside, our skins? And conversely, to what degree does our everyday language ignore, or even contradict, what the experts tell us? Simply put, I’m preparing a critique of humans who use language with recommendations for how to revise our attitudes, our language habits, and world views to be consistent with what “those in the know” know. (If you’re a human who uses language, don’t take it personally.)
Now returning to planet earth … did you see my hiking video from last May? Down to the Rio Grande just a few miles from Los Alamos? It’s on the top of this page if you missed it, or if you just like to hear obscenities.
For two months last summer I was a party to a relationship that I thought “had the makings of a real good thing.” Like the summer, it didn’t last, but it provided me with many memorable moments, experiences, and memories, including an “unforgettable but bittersweet” camping trip in southwestern Colorado.
Coming off the disappointment of the ended relationship, I participated in a cathartic, ritualistic, and pretty “hot” annual event here in Santa Fe — the burning of Zozobra, started by artist Will Shuster in 1924, or 1926. Zozobra is the stage name for “Old Man Gloom,” who every year, just prior to Fiesta, is tried, convicted, and burned by the good citizens of Santa Fe “for being a menace, for making our dogs howl at the moon, for haunting our dreams and upsetting our peaceful way of life. With the execution of Zozobra we will release all anxiety, suffering, heartache, and gloom in our fair city.” One of the participatory aspects of the ritual is that the locals can stuff their own flammable symbols of anxiety and gloom into the monster marionette before he’s “executed.” I availed myself of this opportunity, as you can see at the end of the video.
My First Zozobra
However, my Zozobra-fication didn’t completely take. I spent a couple of days in Tulsa talking with my dad, who was there for me when I needed him. Then in October I spent a few days in Milwaukee with my former GS colleague and Asian sub-continent traveling buddy “Ms. Andrea” Johnson and her husband Tom. (Tom and Andrea, I don’t know what my final Kleenex tab was, but I promise I’m good for it, one of these days.)
Not surprisingly (since I moved out of state), along with family the most important people in my “year different” were people I didn’t even know existed twelve months ago. That’s a hopeful thing, I think. Thanks to all of you.
Of course, one constant has been my amazing daughter Stacy. She’s in her second year of teaching high school multi-media computer programming near Dallas, and next summer will be her fourth year working for the Texas Rangers baseball club in charge of player will-call tickets. I can’t say enough about her, so I’ll just say … I love her. And I should credit her for the better photos in my video review.
Speaking of which, I’ve chosen an appropriate-to-me tune to accompany some of the sights and sounds of the past year — “You can’t get what you want (till you know what you want)” by Joe Jackson. After reading all the above, I hope the video is understandable.
As I say at the conclusion of the video … Here’s wishing for you to know what you want in 2010.
Steve, in Santa Fe