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Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.

Categories
Books Living Music Photography

Life is a Contact Sheet

Happy New Year! Let’s work towards better outcomes in 2022 than we had in 2021! Like most I’m looking forward to leaving 2021 behind and excited about what the future could bring! Now onward to my first post of this new year!

While away for the Thanksgiving holiday I started watching the Beatles’ Get Back documentary on Disney+ while in a garage in Sonoma county. We had gone away with family and this spot was a great escape for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sometimes the place where you watch a TV show or read a book becomes it’s own memory riding alongside the show or the book in your mind.

Get Back is the remastered version by Peter Jackson that looks and sounds really good – especially given the vintage of the film that it’s based on.

Recently I was on a morning walk listening to the Holiday Special edition of the In The Hive podcast with Joe Hagen and Emily Jane Fox. Joe hosts a great segment talking to Don Was of Bluenote Records about the therapeutic beauty of listening to jazz music (especially in these Covid times). Don commented about the Beatles’ Get Back documentary – about how fascinating it was to see the Beatles working through their creative process – oh so many takes! – before they get to their final result. It was quite interesting to see them working and collaborating together – and just how much time and effort was involved in their creative process.

While I was listening to Joe and Don talking about Get Back, their comments brought to mind that Get Back is really just another metaphor for what photographers know as a contact sheet – the capture of all of the images which are winnowed down to get to a final image choice or two – or sometimes none at all.

Here’s an example of a photographer’s contact sheet:

Magnum has a wonderful book of contact sheets from many of its great photographers. When you leaf through that book you realize just how the creative process takes to work and image and reach the photographer’s ideal result.

But isn’t that process of iteration fundamental to any creative pursuit? Writing, photography, music, you name it. And, isn’t that iteration process what living itself involves? Once in a while we see the iterative steps in action when artists like the Beatles or the Magnum photographers share a behind the scenes look at how they got to their final work product. Those are special learning opportunities worth paying attention to!

Watch Get Back and you’ll find it fascinating but also a bit frustrating to see just how many steps can be required! You can see the same kind of process when you browse through Magnum’s Contact Sheets!

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

Dale Carnegie

Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders.

James D. Watson
Categories
Family Living Memories

Carl J. Loftesness – 100 years

My Dad was born on Dec 31, 1921 – exactly 100 years ago today. He passed away at the age of 88 but left us with so many great memories of good times shared with all our family. It’s a great day to remember all he did for us along the way as we keep him in our hearts.

This photo is one of my favorites. I was too young to remember the moment but I will always remember the bike and my Dad’s joy in getting me to ride it so many years ago!

Carl and Scott Loftesness

Categories
Books Living

Life in these United States

woman in white long sleeve shirt standing near white and gray house during daytime
Photo by Julian Jagtenberg on Pexels.com

A couple of commentaries I read today really brought home to me some of what’s happening to life in these United States. Both of these articles strike me as like the other:

Zen and the Art of #VanLife Influencing

The problem of getting old is an old problem, which means there are plenty of established ways of coping. The new problem, the one harder to deal with, is the diminishing possibilities for our species. Settling down means something different now, because there is no long term. The best one can hope for is a temporary pocket of equilibrium, to be enjoyed while it lasts, and then mercilessly abandoned. …

I grew up in Portland, and I love it. Here’s why I’m never moving back, even though I can work from anywhere.

…what links the vanlifers, the influencers and the get-rich-quick kids isn’t laziness or dreams of going viral, but rather a sense of precarity that they see all around them, whether in campgrounds filled with the homeless, in the ongoing climate disasters and now in a pandemic that has isolated them from their friends. …

In other news, I’ve recently discovered Ted Kooser (thanks to the By the Book profile of author William Kent Krueger in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). Kooser’s known for his plainsong poetry about the Great Plains. I’m really enjoying his prose – in particular his great memoir about life in rural Nebraska: Local Wonders. Highly recommended – his evocative sentences are a real delight to read!

Contrary to what out-of-state tourists might tell you, Nebraska isn’t  flat but slightly tilted, like a long church basement table with the legs on one end not perfectly snapped in place, not quite enough of a slant for the tuna-and-potato-chip casserole to slide off into the Missouri River. The high end is closest to the Rockies, and the entire state is made up of gravel, sand, and silt that ran off the front range over millions of years. …

Categories
Books Living

More Book Recommendations…

After writing yesterday’s post including my book recommendation for Falling, I realized there were two other books that I really enjoyed reading in the last couple of months – and wanted to share them.

The first is Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, the 21st book in his long running series about Gabriel Allon. Silva rewrote a lot of this book after the events at the Capitol on January 6th. He lives in DC and is married to a CNN correspondent – so he was right in the midst of those January events. He masterfully weaves that story line into the end of The Cellist. There’s a great interview online with Silva talking about this book that’s worth watching.

The second is the The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. This is their second collaboration – I also enjoyed the first (The President is Missing) but found this second one even more enjoyable. Patterson’s use of plot twists along with Clinton’s “spice” of realism regarding the presidency and post-presidential life add a lot to this story. There’s also a great interview of the two of them with Lee Child that’s well worth watching.

Both of these books – along with Falling – are great summertime reads!

Categories
Books Covid-19 Living

Stuck in Neutral

Back in May, I wrote about re-emergence – that feeling of coming out of the pandemic and “getting back to normal”. If only that had proven to have been true!

Instead, what’s happened is the “Delta relapse” – as this new Delta variant has demonstrated again that viruses are clever and have a “mind” of their own. A more contagious mutation – causing “breakthrough infections” even among dual vaccinated individuals – has thrown a new damper over those good feelings we had back in June.

For me personally, that’s meant staying closing to home again – avoiding group contact, etc. But it’s also been good in some ways – as I’ve added a new regular daily walk to my morning routine. That’s help me drop a few more pounds in weight – a very good thing – and provided a daily photography opportunity.

We’ll see where we are as we get through August – as schools try to re-open, traffic picks up again, and “normal” life tries to re-emerge again. Delta curves in India and the UK provide some hope that the US will see some stabilization and recovery soon. We also expect to hear soon about the need for a booster shot this fall for vaccinated individuals – wouldn’t it be wonderful if that got combined with this year’s flu shots?

Life goes on – just another roller coaster ride!…

Book recommendation: over the weekend I read Falling by T.J. Newman. It’s right at the top of my list of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read this year. Definitely not recommended for reading on a flight but otherwise it’s a great escape! I finished it in one day – a great example of a “page turner”!

Categories
Living

A Profound Shift…

From a commentary by Marc Andreessen:

This is, I believe, a permanent civilizational shift. It is perhaps the most important thing that’s happened in my lifetime, a consequence of the internet that’s maybe even more important than the internet. Permanently divorcing physical location from economic opportunity gives us a real shot at radically expanding the number of good jobs in the world while also dramatically improving quality of life for millions, or billions, of people. We may, at long last, shatter the geographic lottery, opening up opportunity to countless people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in the right place.

Categories
Covid-19 Health Living

Re-Emergence II

Yesterday, the US CDC came out (at last!) with newly updated guidance for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In essence, masks are no longer needed for protection (for either you or people around you) if you have been fully vaccinated.

The right column in this CDC “Choosing Safer Activities” graphic makes the point for “Fully Vaccinated People”:

It’s been a difficult 15 months during this pandemic. Yesterday’s updated guidance from the CDC does feel like we’re emerging from the deep, dark tunnel we’ve been in. It’s almost hard to believe – we have been so accustomed to this weird way of hermit-like living. But here we are.

Thanks especially to all of the scientists and miracle workers who so rapidly developed the vaccines that deal with this nasty virus – and to the many healthcare workers who dedicated themselves to trying to save every life they could among those who became infected.

Categories
Libraries Living Portola Valley

Re-Emergence

One of my favorite things to do is to visit one of the great local libraries in our area and just hang out. Browse the new books, look at some old classics, read the latest magazines, and just chill.

Since the start of the pandemic over a year ago all of our local libraries have been closed. They’ve continued to support their communities through drive-up pickup service and online ebook checkouts – but the quiet beauty of just being in a library space hasn’t been available.

On Thursday this began to change as the local libraries that are part of the San Mateo County Library system began re-opening – taking their first baby steps to re-emerge from the last year of forced isolation. Yesterday I stopped in at one of my favorites – the Portola Valley Library – just to get reminded once again of what a great place it is. A cheerful staff member greeted me as I walked through the open front door – both of us fully masked up of course. A delightful breeze was wafting through the place – keeping the air moving.

I took a few minutes just to browse the new books and to take a look around at the physical space. Much of it was still off-limits – including the lovely reading area near the front with its wonderful big leather chairs – but the study desks were reopened (with only one seat instead of two). You’re limited to a maximum of one hour inside until restrictions ease further.

But it’s a wonderful first step towards getting back to normalcy – and seems aligned very nicely with the spring season. I’m looking forward to heading back again, and again…

“It wasn’t that time stopped in the library. It was as if it were captured here, collected here, and in all libraries—and not only my time, my life, but all human time as well. In the library, time is dammed up—not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.

Susan Orlean, The Library Book
Categories
Living

A Sunday Morning – Late Summer 2020

I’m feeling a bit melancholy this morning – aren’t we all in some way?

But it’s a lovely day shaping up outside – the local lightning-caused wildfires are gradually coming under control, the air quality is slowly improving and the sun is bright.

But my mood is not so bright. Brad Feld shared his feeling – asking “Are You At Your Best Right Now?

Everyone I know is some element of tired, stressed, anxious, frustrated, or just running at maximum speed trying to keep it all together. People are short-tempered, irritable, irrational, and lashing out or thrashing around.

And he shares some good advice:

Give yourself a break and acknowledge to yourself and your loved ones that you are not at your best right now.

After reading Brad, I came across the latest from Ming Thein. He’s been a long-time inspiration for me in photography. In “Full Circle“, Ming writes:

“If things are starting to take on a tone of finality, that’s because this is the point at which I confirm the suspicions you’ve been having: MT the writer and mingthein.com are both going into retirement.”

My friend Doug Kaye and I took a San Francisco street photography workshop from Ming back in 2014. We spent a couple of days walking with him on the streets, watching him make his images, and benefiting from his critiques of ours. He proved to be perhaps the most challenging “coach” I’ve had among the many photography mentors I’ve had along the way. While he’s stepping back for now, I’m hoping it won’t be long before we are inspired again by Ming and his work.

Picking up this morning’s Sunday San Francisco Chronicle to read at breakfast added to the melancholy mood of my morning! With headlines like: Understanding 2020’s confusion, As workers at big businesses stay home, downtown SF’s small businesses suffer, and Willie Brown’s latest column Burning and looting in the name of justice will hand election to Trump.

And then there’s this: Chadwick Boseman helped us understand our history. His death shatters our hearts. Reading the news certainly doesn’t help swing one’s mood back to positive and out of the melancoly!

But setting the news aside, there are lots of positives to see and feel if I just pause and reflect a bit. Things like the wonderful creativity of people like Craig Mod, the inspiring work of the creators on KickStarter, the wonderful photography of my friend and teacher Cira Crowell.

Craig has it right when he talks about the benefits of walking:

“Those walking are almost certain to have clearer minds than those sitting at home or standing around with guns. Long walks may not solve all problems, but over time they have unquestionably activated groundbreaking insights of scientific reasoning, creativity, and philosophy. And have unlocked equality in the eyes of the law and the world.”

And

“It can be difficult to sometimes remember, but there is a lot of good still out there. Look well, look closely.”

Such a great reminder! I find it helps even more if you think about using your camera in those moments to slow down, breathe in and just see!

Sunday is a day for remembering the best, not dwelling on all that melancholy trying to wave over us. And, just maybe it’s just another perfect day for taking a walk…

Update: Oh, one more cheerful thing – it’s Warren Buffett’s 90th birthday today. Bill Gates shares some memories and makes him a birthday cake! And quotes some wisdom from Warren:

“You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. So it’s important to associate with people that are better than yourself. The friends you have will form you as you go through life. Make some good friends, keep them for the rest of your life, but have them be people that you admire as well as like.”