Where Ideas Come From

I think this is the same artist in Daniel Pink's, "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates You" which I also love. 

I also love the notion that ideas come not from isolation (as the Romantics might suggest), but from community and connection - from collaboration. 

Earlier this year I read, "Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World." It was okay. But, I did love this bit about coffee houses, "They came to be known as penny universities, because for that price one could purchase a cup of coffee and sit for hours listening to extraordinary conversations -or, asa 1657 newspaper advertisement put it, "PUBLICK INTERCOURSE." . . . "The coffeehouses provided England's first egalitarian meeting place, where a man was expected to chat with his stablemates whether he knew them or not" (pg 12).

The New York Times even went so far as to say that these places and opportunities, if filled with people of difference, has the ability to make us smarter because "When surrounded by people 'like ourselves,' we are easily influenced, more likely to fall for wrong ideas. Diversity prompts better, critical thinking. It contributes to error detection. It keeps us from drifting toward miscalculation." A process involving, and appropriately called, "Cognitive friction."

In and of ourselves, our ideas are incomplete, because we are. Which, to me, points to the beautiful completeness of a collective humanity and not the false bravado of self and isolated brilliance. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Humanity  :  On Creativity


Awaken : A Celebration of the Spirit of Life

"AWAKEN is a feature documentary film from director Tom Lowe exploring humanity's relationship with technology and the natural world. AWAKEN is a celebration of the spirit of life, an exploration of the Earth, and an ode to the Cosmos."

Shot over a 5-year period in more than 30 countries, the film pioneers new time-lapse, time-dilation, underwater, and aerial cinematography techniques to give audiences new eyes with which to see our world. Executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Short Films  :  Movies


Not forgiveness, but empathy

I've loved Sherman Alexie for several years now. His book, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my all-time favorites, and the favorite of most all of my students. Even kids who hate reading will bring it back after reading it all night and say, "If more books were like this, I'd read more."

And I agree.

Sherman Alexie is not only a brilliant writer - in the conventional sense - he is also a brilliant writer - in the emotional and humanity sense. Which, perhaps more than anything, makes him an exceptional writer that can connect with kids and adults of all ages, from all around the world.

This article, which first appeared in the June 2017 issue of BookPage, is a beautiful example. I don't know many people, if any, who do not struggle in some way with forgiveness. I know I do. And I think we can all agree that, in the midst of these difficult relationships, there is the "constant funeral" feeling Alexie describes.

We may not experience the same depth of pain and "crimes" that Sherman Alexie did, but we can for sure appreciate his response and attempt at reconciliation. Then, maybe, just maybe, we can find a similar sort of peace.

And hopefully, before it's too late.


Sherman Alexie doesn’t yet know if writing a fierce, wrenching memoir about his deeply troubled relationship with his beautiful and abusive mother, Lillian, has been cathartic.

“I performed the audiobook a couple of weeks ago over the course of five days, and it was hard. Hard,” Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian and award-winning author of 26 books of poetry and fiction, says during a call to his home in Seattle. He lives there with his wife, an administrator at Seattle University who was born on Turtle Mountain Reservation, and their two sons, ages 19 and 15. Usually he works out of an office he describes as “a studio apartment that looks like a bookstore exploded.” But today he is at home, anticipating the publication of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.

“What I’m realizing now,” he says, “is that the writing of the book was just the first half of the ceremony. Now I’m entering into the second half of the ceremony, bringing it to the public, starting to talk about my mother, and hearing the stories of other people’s mothers.”

Lillian Alexie died at the age of 78 in 2015. For the previous 20 or so years, whenever possible, Sherman avoided visiting her at the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, where he and his witty twin sisters grew up in poverty. He believes he inherited his bipolar disorder, diagnosed in 2010, from her. She was a complicated woman—generous to many, withholding or worse to Sherman, loved or despised by family members and neighbors. She was a brilliant quilt maker who wouldn’t sleep under her own quilts (“Quilting was her philosophy,” Alexie writes)—or teach her native language to her children. In a heartrending chapter Alexie decided to include only at the last moment, he writes that he has not worn a pair of moccasins in 40 years because of her behavior at a powwow in Arlee, Montana.

“That was an incredibly traumatic experience,” Alexie says with some anguish. “I find myself wondering, what do I do as an Indian when some of our most sacred moments—like a powwow—aggravate my PTSD?”

Lillian’s death unleashed a torrent of poems. “They came first without bidding and without structure. They just came. I would just write and write and write,” he says. He thought the resulting work would be a book of poetry. “Then I realized that I had more stories to tell, stories that needed to be told in nonfiction form. I thought the structure of the book was going to be framed by the first chapter of her being diagnosed and the last chapter of her dying. I just assumed it was going to be a much more traditional structure. But as I started writing the nonfiction, it started arriving in much more improvisational fashion. And I realized that the way my mother and I lived our lives, and the way our tribal culture works, and my mother’s cosmology and our own mental illnesses, shared and separate, that the very construction of the book—this back-and-forth in time, back-and-forth in emotion—was going to match the way it felt to be her son.”

Alexie’s approach to the structure of the book results in an emotionally powerful read. His skills as a poet may go unacknowledged by some, but they are evident here.

“One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed is that the forms that use repeated lines, repeated phrases, sound tribal. They very much sound like our traditional songs and ceremonies. And in grief ceremonies in all cultures, repetition is omnipresent.”

Alexie’s improvisational approach also allows him to write meaningfully about the context of his and his mother’s lives. Reaching back into the history of his tribe, for example, he writes about the impact of the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, which cut off his people’s access to wild salmon, an essential element of the culture. “The loss of wild salmon for us, the environmental destruction for us, directly affected our souls. Often this doesn’t get addressed.” Alexie also writes that on the reservation, loneliness is a natural cause of death, endemic to reservation life. “I think we live in a constant funeral,” he says.

And yet, You Don’t Have to Say You Loved Me and the reservation life it portrays bubble with humor. In conversation and on the page, Alexie is often quite funny, disproving the stereotypcial view of Native Americans as being closed-mouthed stoics. “I think my whole life has been based on people being shocked by my personality, what they expected to see versus who I am,” Alexie says. “To this day, people often think that I am an anomaly—the way in which I’m loud and emotional and funny and profane and dirty and unabashed. But that’s the culture I grew up in. The stoic part about Indians? That’s our armor. I always tell white folks if you’re around Indians and they’re not making fun of you, then they don’t like you. In our culture, we are incredibly verbose and funny. And constant storytellers.”

Returning to the subject of his mother, Alexie says, “I don’t know that I forgive my mother for her crimes against me. But I think I’ve come to a place where I understand them. I can’t forget what she did to me as an individual. But in terms of the lives of Native American women of her generation, I can completely understand why it happened the way it did. So if not forgiveness, I certainly have empathy. And for me to be empathetic toward my mother might be the bigger thing.

He adds, “As I say in the book, even though the book is negative, very negative about her in parts, she would have loved being the subject of this. Oh gosh, she would have sat right beside me and signed the book."  (via)

You can read this open letter about his mother which is . . . so. friggen. good. And hard. I love it.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Chris Paul forgives the men who killed his grandfather  :  Pablo Escobar's son is building peace




10 Free hours of Mountain Sounds

For their wonderful Real Happiness Project, the filmmakers of BBC Earth and creators of the incredible nature documentary Planet Earth II have repurposed ten hours of footage from their travels to create a soothing visual soundscape of relaxing mountain from around the world.

. . . we want to take you on a journey through some of the most stunning mountainscapes on earth. Fly above the peaks and immerse yourself in this elevated, sky-kissing habitat. All footage used was filmed by the Planet Earth II camera teams whilst out on location.

I'm kinda digging the mountains lately, so this project just might find a home in our home. I'm thinking of playing this on the TV, with the surround sound turned up, and letting it play for the day. 

But then again, I don't have a TV or surround sound, or a home, so the Mac will have to do. For now.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The Mountains have a Way  :  Planet Earth II Full Soundtrack



Breaking Routine : Building Life

I've watched this video a few times, because it's fascinating, and because I don't think it's wrong, just incomplete. 

Which, for me, is exciting, because that means I get to spend way too much time breaking down something that probably was only meant to be enjoyed and watched with a simple, "Huh, that's interesting."

But what's the fun in that?

"I had this fear of building this routine in my 30's and suddenly this decade is gone. And so I promised myself that I would do something radically different. I'm gonna do something that scares the crap out of me and see if that changes my brain chemistry."

For almost twenty years, stories like this have floored me. Stories of Chris McCandless heading to Alaska pulled and twisted my gut; Jack Kerouac traveling . . . everywhere, inspired me to hit the road and live dangerously, spontaneously, so that I could "discover myself", through radical and unchecked living. 

But, the thing is, I still love these types of stories and still believe in them, a little. Mostly I don't because, now, these stories seem selfish and empty. Hitting the road for weeks or months, or even years, at a time is, in all honesty, easier than staying at home. Quitting a job and living alone while walking away from commitments, family, and responsibility, is easier. It is. Because to wake up each morning with something new and different, instead of sticking it out - instead of enduring - and finding beauty in the mundane, is simple. 

Because, often, it's easier to be a stranger than it is to be known. As a stranger, people see what you want them to see. When we're known, people see what we are.

To live radically one does not need to fear routine. 


"The routine is the enemy of time. It makes it fly by."

And that, I agree with.

Kind of. 

Every how-to-live-creativily blog or book or article I have ever read talks extensively about how the magic of creativity is not a single explosive moment - a lightening bolt - but rather, it is the long rolling thunder of a distant storm. It takes time, routine, and consistency. 

However, routine can be the enemy, maybe not of time, but for sure of life, or at least growth, because, when the "Brain has figured out the pattern of the way the world works." Once it "establishes a routine, it stops", and "the alertness goes away." 

The alertness of people, of beauty, and of opportunity. 

To me, this becomes most predominant in things like politics, religion, race, and relationships. Most all of these have strong and deeply rooted routines of thought, and our brain have therefore stopped. Stopped considering, questioning, and, worst of all, listening. Because we know what we know. And what we know most of all, is our thought routine.


But life is "about getting out of your routine."

Truly. That is, if we want to truly and deeply live; if we want to "be aware of every day {we are} alive."

David Foster Wallace says it this way:

After work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. The supermarket is very crowded. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak. It's pretty much the last place you want to be. And who are all these people in the way? Look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones. Look at how deeply and personally unfair this is. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of life.
But there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. You can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. If you really learn how to pay attention, it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't (pg 109). 

Seeing people beyond what we know, deciding and choosing to admit possible fault and to "choose to see ordinary things differently" gets us out of our thought routines and walks us to a point where we might be saved.

Kevin Ashton describes this through a study by William Syrotuck.

William Syrotuck analyzed 229 cases of people who became lost, 25 of whom died. He found that when we are lost, most of us act the same way. First, we deny that we are going in the wrong direction. Then, as the realization that we are in trouble seeps in, we press on, hoping chance will lead us. We are least likely to do the thing that is most likely to save us: turn around. We know our path is wrong, yet we rush along it, compelled to save face, to resolve the ambiguity, achieve the goal. Pride propels us. Shame stops us from saving ourselves (pg 90).


If we are able to do that, we open the possibility to "Learn something new, learning something astonishing."

I've often wondered about the lives of the men and women who go on these "do something radically different" types of adventures. More specifically, I've thought of what happens after the journey. Because the making of the video or writing a book and talking about life and lessons and the breaking of routine sounds truly romantic and fully enticing. But what happens when they get home? Do their daily lives change, or do they fall back into old routines? Do they find themselves heading on another adventure, eager for another fix, and anxious to escape life? Or are they truly changed?

How many of them die, alone, in a bus somewhere that is filled with books and journals and ideas of life and living and the glory of the open road?

How many make it to 85 years of age?

I love adventure stories because I love adventures and freedom and the wild, wild unknown, and I love the lessons that getting out into the mountains can teach me. But I also love home, being known, and learning something new and astonishing in the people I know and love.

And I love routine. Of waking up in the dark hours of the morning to fresh coffee and a good book. Of conversations with good friends who strongly disagree but trust and know and choose to stay because that too is a routine, and it's beautiful. I love routine and the safety and creativity it provides. It isn't something that destroys. Rather, it is something that provides.

This notification, literally, just popped up on my phone: "On Writing Tweeted: The mere habit of #writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write. - Gabriel Fielding"

Doing something radically different in an effort to break routine and turn our brain on is a right and good choice, but it doesn't have to involve long journeys that stretch from our front door. If we are alert, if instead of assuming, knowing, and condemning we question, consider, and empathize, we will embark on a journey that will scare the crap out of us, and others, and our brains will not shut off. It will explode.

Then, hopefully, when we are suddenly old and gray and trying our hardest to blow out 85 friggen candles, we'll look back and wonder where the years have gone, and how it was they went so quickly by.

But then, when the candles are out and the cake is cut, we'll look around the room and remember the faces of the many men and women who have come to celebrate, and the room will dance of stories and memories and the same old conversations, and it will be beautiful, because it will be routine.

And our hearts will be perfectly exhausted. 


To read more about Jedidiah Jenkins and his 7000 mile journey from Oregon to Patagonia, click here.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Life Lessons from 100-Year-Olds  :  On Living



The Mountains have a way

Get Out More

Four weeks today, Judah and I arrived in the states.

Four weeks today, we began our process of transition.

It hasn't been terrible, but it for sure has not been smooth. For any of us. Our kids want to know where they will be going to school and when they'll see their friends again. I want to know where I'll be working and if I will see China again. Josey wants to stop living out of suitcases and random boxes and wonders when life will ever have routine again.

We all want a little bit of clarity but seem to be getting none. Each answer only muddles the future; each day adds more questions, more doubts.

So, we went camping. And, as expected, the getting out helped.

One morning, while sipping coffee and listening to the kids play, I asked Josey what she was thinking. "About the mountains," she said.

"What about them?" I asked.

"I don't know exactly," she looked around, at the kids, the trees, and the snow-covered peaks, "They just have a way about them." She thought for a moment more, "A way of clarifying, ya know?" 

I did, and I didn't. So I grabbed my journal, because I didn't want to forget her words. "The mountains have a way," I wrote, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

The mountains have a way . . .


Of Simplifying:

Get Out More

A simple fire, the smell of pine, and the birds' morning songs. The sky roles from black to deep blue, to sky, and the fire cracks and pops and spits. Coffee brews. 

Kids knuckle sleep from their eyes, the tent-flaps skip and dance to the morning breeze, and slowly, the day begins. More coffee is brewed.

There is little care for the rest of the day, just play, in the land where fallen trees become giant dragons. Where knotted sticks turn to swords or guns or simple things that only a wooded magical dragon could need. Because, in the maze of trees and grass and twigs and dirt, opportunity of imagination is endless.

So scrape your knees and get dirty and yes of course you can climb that tree or turn that patch of dirt into a Nature Town because that's why we're here, to simplify. To rid ourselves of the things that bind us, that hinder us, and that distract us from what matters. 

Because the mountains have a way. 


Of Stripping Away:

Get Out More

For the past four weeks, we've been reuniting with family, applying for jobs, waiting to be called by hopeful employers, rearranging boxes and suitcases, and trying to move forward but unable to do so because we don't know where we're going to live, because I have not been able to land a job. 

Get Out More

But in the mountains, with my family, these concerns slip away - if only for a short while - because instead of checking the inbox or checking missed calls, we're on a hike, sliding down glaciers and watching fish feed on the bugs of the mountain lakes. We read in hammocks and write in journals. I teach my son how to swing an ax and smile when he cuts his first log all the way through - something he never had the chance to do in urban China. The girls laugh and play and cry and talk because the land of dragons is big and dangerous but Mom and Dad are just there, sitting by the fire, so what is there to be afraid of?

We eat simple dinners and sit around the fire, talking, and watch for shooting stars. 

Josey and I, for the first time in months, talk about our move from China, because it's quiet, and there is little else that needs to happen. Because the mountains have a way of doing that.


Of Reminding:

Get Out More

I wear a vest that is not my own. It's an old JC Penny vest that is too small, even though the tag says, "XL" - being washed and dried for almost twenty years will probably do that to any vest. I also have two massive green Coleman sleeping bags that have mallard duck print on the inside. They're 100% cotton and each weigh around fifteen pounds. They're terrible for hiking, but perfect for camping. Especially family camping, and they have been for as long as I can remember, because they were my dads.

Get Out More

On one of our many fishing trips, I remember telling my dad that he was different there than at home because he was "more fun. More relaxed." And he was. Some of my favorite memories of my dad came with camping or fishing or splitting wood or racking leaves, and in most all of those memories, he's wearing this vest. 

This past weekend, it held my son's pocket knife and carried Zion' rocks. 

I haven't camped or fished with my dad in over twelve years, and I miss those times, almost daily. Sometimes, the memories attached to this vest are more than I can bear, because they're some of the best a boy could have. 

Which is why I wear the vest and carry the sleeping bags, because even though they are fully imperfect, they're perfect for camping and chopping wood, for cold nights and searching for constellations (which I can never find, minus the Big Dipper).

This vest and these sleeping bags are made for mountains, for camping and making memories, and for family.  Because that's what my Dad used them for, so it's what I'm going to use them for. Because the memories they carry are more than I can bear. And I hope, someday, my kids will struggle beneath its beautiful weight. 


Of Giving:

Get Out More

Five weeks ago, Judah and I hiked and slept on the Great Wall of China, and the lessons we learned were foundational. This short trip reminded and encouraged us of a few of those lessons. Judah dealt once more with fear, this time of bears, and I wrestled again with feeling expendable. The bears never came, but I needed the voice of my wife and son to get over my pride. Both of them, on separate occasions, considered how we as a family might bless someone outside ourselves. Both of them mentioned our camping neighbors. The day before, they had wondered into our camp. He was from Colorado and she was from Montana and they, along with their little three year-old daughter, Ellie, were planning on staying for several more nights.

"Can we leave a pile of firewood for them?" Judah asked. I looked to Josey and smiled because she had mentioned the same thing a few minutes earlier. 

"Of course," I said, "that's a great idea!" So while Josey and I packed up the van, Judah and the girls piled a large stack of wood next to the neighbors fire pit - Eden making sure it was stacked with care and purpose.

Because after a few nights in the beauty of the mountains, the perfect "thank you" blesses others, not ourselves. A lesson I'd have forgotten, if not for the mountains.

My wife was right, the mountains do have a way about them . . . a way larger than any word I can write. Which is probably why we go back. Because, like Whitman wrote about the stars, " . . . When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them . . . How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and . . . Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."

The mountains have a way. And all I can do is stand and look up at them, in perfect silence. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Simple Living  



Some things are hard to forget.

Tom Sitter won The Moth in Madison StorySLAM at the High Noon Saloon February 13, 2017. Tom scored our first ever 10 with his winning story tonight. The memory of the girls he carefully selected to give his five valentines to in 1933 was strong enough that 84 years later he still knew their names.
The Moth StorySLAMs are open-mic storytelling competitions. Storyteller hopefuls put their names in a hat. During the evening ten names are picked, and one by one, storytellers take the stage. The ten featured stories are scored by teams of judges selected from the audience. Each StorySLAM generates a StorySLAM winner. After ten SLAMs, the winners face off in our GrandSLAM Championships.

I think we can all remember some of the first girls or boys that stole our hearts, or distracted our minds. Unfortunately, some of us even have names burned into our memory that we'd like to take for walks, next to busy intersections.

I don't have any such names. But sadly, I think I am several people's name.  

And that's pretty embarrassing. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The Moth  :  Real People



Radiolab : a fifteen year celebration

"15 years ago the very first episode of Radiolab, fittingly called "Firsts," hit the airwaves. It was a 3-hour long collection of documentaries and musings produced by a solitary sleep-deprived producer named Jad Abumrad. Things have changed a bit since then" (via).


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Podcasts on how Russia saved the word . . . three times


If you're not already a subscriber, scroll down and subscribe now!

I will be sending an email soon of some great podcast stations and favorite podcasts.

Infographics say more than what they say.

Sometimes, I get lost in the world of infographics because they tend to take huge ideas or concepts or large chunks of time, and allow them to fit in my pocket - so I can carry them around much easier than a textbook or World Atlas.

These one's are pretty interesting, and a little disturbing. At least, the "History's Most Significant Journeys" one is because, apparently, outside of the 1965 Civil Rights walk, no non-white male made any sort of significant journey, anywhere in the world. 



This one, too, seems to be a celebration of the white man's accomplishments. No doubt these men were responsible for the innovation of the world, but on whose backs did they stand upon? Whose labor completed their dreams? 

The title reads, "The People Behind the way we live." Was there no woman contributing to the way we live, behind the inventions? Or were they only consumers? Sitting quietly, distracted by the "internet society," just waiting for someone better, more educated, and more capable to invent something bigger and better?


Why are these books banned? Because they challenge authority - because they ask people, regular people, to think and consider something other than what they know or believe to be true. And, for the most part, beause they challenge the leadership and ideals of white men.


Sometimes, I get lost in the world of infographics because they tend to take huge ideas or concepts or large chunks of time, and allow them to fit in my pocket - so I can carry them around much easier than a textbook or World Atlas.

Right now, my pockets are full of white men. 

And that's a problem. For several reasons.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Maps that will change the way you see the world :  World Languages in simple infographics



Michel D'Oultremont : More than a Photograph

The following video, and Michel D'Oultremont's works, are breathtaking. But, hidden in his words and disguised by the beauty of the film, is something bigger, something beyond photography, that I can't quite pin down. It's there, gnawing, scratching, and unrelenting, like a thorn, buried in the flesh, that won't go away.

I've watched it several times, till, finally, I watched it with my eyes closed, substituting people in for animals. Then, some truths for life come into focus (see what I did there? Clever!).


Truths like:

"I tried to put more distance between me and the {people}, to have more breathing space in the image, to have something more constructed . . . I tried to put more importance on the environment or the play of light, rather than the {person themselves}."



"Patience is one of the most important things to have. Without patience it's not possible to see {people}" because, "When challenges accumulate, they shouldn't hold you back, they should be an extra motivation. Because the next day, everything might change." But only if we're patient, and if we're there. 



"I think this kind of project is really important for our future, for all of us really." 

Perhaps the most important of it's kind.



For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Faces of Humanity  :  Photography  :  Humanity