Tag Archives: How to be happy

Creating the Future: A Change of Perspective

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. While a huge part of me is inclined to leave it as is—a chaotic, unfocused reflection of my own daily experiences, another part of me wants Ten Thousand Soapboxes to be more than a glorified personal journal. The blogosphere has afforded us an unprecedented forum, giving previously unheard voices a chance to speak their wisdom (and foolishness) into the darkness…and be heard.

The difference between a good blog and a great blog can be summarized in one word, “value.” What value is this blog offering to my readers? What value am I receiving from the production of these posts? In order to find value, one has to first discover need—what is missing, what is broken, that must be filled if our lives are going to get better?

The Missing Factor

I’ve taken a bit of time for recollection and soul-searching on this topic. There are so many topics I love, so many passions that drive me and make my world a brighter and more interesting place.

But there is one topic which affects every other aspect of my life, a topic so huge and overriding that it cuts to the core of my essence.

That topic is work.

When I say work, I am not merely referring to the 9-to-5 job most of us do Monday-Friday, although that is a huge part of it. Our Day Jobs™ affect so much of what we do, how we do it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Our Day Jobs™ influence our health, our attitudes, our relationships, our finances, even our perspective on politics, society, and religion.

But there is more to work than The Day Job™.

Every one of us—each of us with a pulse and a brain—has wondered why we are here, what is our purpose? The more existential among us have wondered if there is any purpose at all? Is there any meaning to our lives besides production and consumption?

Work, true work, can be defined as “what we are here to do.” Why were your mind and your soul and your talents and your passions joined together and placed in a carbon-based body with opposable thumbs and the ability to communicate? Were you just born to eat and sleep and waste time until you die?

Or were you born for greater things?

The History of Work

To figure out the future of work, we need to look at the past. Working for profit is a relatively new thing. For the bulk of human existence, work has been simply a by-product of the need for survival. Humans were inclined to survive, and to do that they needed food, shelter, community—the basics. Since these things didn’t just randomly offer themselves up, our ancestors learned to work. We hunted, we farmed, we built shelters, we sewed clothing for protection against the elements. Inventive as our ancestors were, they came up with “fixes” to improve their odds of survival.

  • Weapons to improve hunting.
  • Tools to improve farming.
  • Buildings to improve shelter against danger—both from the elements and from enemies, human and animal.

And with these fixes, our human ancestors found themselves with more time to think, more opportunity to grow and explore, to make better weapons, stronger tools, more impressive buildings.

We also learned to make art. We learned to enjoy pleasures and anticipate rewards.

When basic survival needs were met, we found we enjoyed the benefits of working. We liked the perks—comfortable homes, abundant food, music, art, colorful clothes, and the opportunity for peaceful interaction with others like ourselves.

Where It Went Wrong

Most of us have held a job at one point or more in our adult life. The majority of us did it for financial reasons—as a means to an end. But there’s more to it than just financial security. Anthropologist Michael Maccoby offered this insight in his 2010 editorial for The Washington Post:

Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.

So many of us focus on the “coinage” part, though, that we downplay our need to make sense, to discipline our talents, and to relate to the human community. In a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable, this doesn’t cause too much trouble.

But we do not live in a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable. We live in a world where, to our horror, we are struggling to make ends meet—despite “doing everything right,” at least according to the current rules of the game.

We go to school. We learn a trade. We create a resume, get a job, do our work, and don’t make trouble. We create value for our employers. We trade services for wages.

And yet, our lives don’t get better.

Our hearts don’t get stronger, our relationships don’t get more meaningful, our bodies don’t get more energized.

We simply get worn out.

The Future of Work

With the future of traditional work getting dimmer and dimmer, a lot of us in the workforce are realizing a change needs to come. And that change is not going to come from our bosses or HR or the government. The change is going to have to come from us. We, as individuals and as a society, are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re working, how we’re working, and how we’re going to move towards the future (rather than dying out like the dinosaurs).

Net guru Seth Godin, in his Time article, “The Last Days of the Cubicle“, put it fairly succinctly.

The job of the future will have very little to do with processing words or numbers (the Internet can do that now). Nor will we need many people to act as placeholders, errand runners or receptionists. Instead, there’s going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest.

My Moment of Essential

A while back, I wrote a series of blog posts called Joy in the Workplace, in which I explored ways to make the experience of doing your job more meaningful and joyful. Over the course of the next few months, I would like to dig deeper into that theme.

It’s not enough to get a job anymore. We must look inside, find our strengths, find our joys and passions, and find our value as human beings. Then we need to look without, and find areas where those strengths, joys, passions, and values are needed.

There are many areas to choose from.

  • According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, “16.4 million children in the United States, 22.0 percent of all children, lived in poverty in 2010. More than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four).”
  • A 2005 United Nations Report estimated there are approximately 100 million homeless people on the planet.
  • Like to read? 14% (about 1 in 7) of U.S. adults don’t know how.
  • In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infection diseases around the world.
  • Approximately 57.7 million Americans—1 in 4—experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
  • The Daily Green reports that “according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the (Exxon) Valdez spill doesn’t even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.”

And this list doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Where to Now?

So it’s obvious there is no lack of work to be done in the world. There’s so much work, in fact, that no one should be jobless.

And yet, we are jobless. 12.7 million of us are jobless in America alone.

We’re all looking to Washington, whether from the red side or the blue, asking “Where are the jobs?”

I ask you—where are the jobs? We’ve established there’s work to be done, so why are we waiting on the government to tell us what to do? When did we, as human beings, need permission from authority figures to do the work that needed to be done? When did we need permission to fix things, solve problems, make improvements?

No, we are born to fix things. It’s in our blood, our DNA, our brain structure. We’ve just forgotten how. More importantly, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to know how.

What I would like to do over the course of the next few months is explore this idea more fully.

  • How to assess our talents
  • How to find areas of need
  • How to fill those areas of need while earning a fair compensation
  • How to bring the best of us to our work, creating value as well as personal satisfaction

I will not lie to you—I am struggling like the rest of you. I am looking in the mirror of my worklife and asking, “Am I a dinosaur?” That being said, I won’t go down without a fight. It may take a while, but I fully intend to figure this out.

I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered in this series, I would be happy to hear from you.

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Digging Deep

Okay, so I’m reading Debbie Ford’s book. Honestly, I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve avoided it like the plague. Why? There is a wonderful Dana Ivey quote that sort of applies here. On the 80s television show Easy Street, her somewhat self-involved character Eleanor is struggling to show compassion and empathy for husband Quinton (played by the awesome James Cromwell). At one point, Eleanor shows her true colors:

“I know that in the past, I have not been very sympathetic to your needs. That’s because I didn’t want you to have any.”

Well, in the past, I’ve not been very sympathetic to my dark side. That’s because I didn’t want to have one. But, as Eleanor found out about Quinton’s needs, I do have a dark side and I do need to pay more attention to it.

Polarization

All you have to do is look around to see that our culture here in the west is becoming more and more polarized—Left and Right, Conservative and Liberal, Faith and Secularity. And while it’s lots of fun to play Us vs. Them, deep inside we know that all this divisiveness is not good for the country, society, or the world.

So why do we do it? Why do we insist on the illusion of separateness?

Last night, I saw this amazing video online that states that every single atom in our body changes about every five years or so. Atoms don’t go away (unless they’re split, with unavoidable repercussions). So what happens to all these atoms that are no longer in our bodies? They recycle, of course. Now, where on Earth do you think all those new atoms that you get every five years or so come from? Maybe I’ve got my science wrong, but I don’t think we’re constantly creating new atoms. Nope, our bodies are shopping at the Atom Consignment store.

We’re using used atoms for the construction of our own lives.

You are within me, and I am within you, and we are all connected to this Earth we live within, which is then connected to the sun that we depend upon, which is part of the galaxy that created it, etc., etc.

Everything. Everything is connected.

And that sort of makes the whole polarization thing kind of—well, for lack of a better word, stupid.

If we are all connected, all part of an enormous entity experiencing life together, how can we be polarized against each other? Do the nerve cells mount campaigns against the encroachment of blood cells into historically nerve-occupied territory? Are the arms afraid the legs are getting too many jobs and asking the brain for sanctions against new leg development?

Of course not.

But we, as humans, forgetting our connectedness, fight each other all the time.

Light vs. Dark

It only takes a hop and a skip to bring this argument to the battle of Light vs. Dark. We’ve been conditioned in our lives to seek Light and avoid Dark. I have, you have, the guy down the street has. The things in the Dark are scary, ugly, uncomfortable, and we all want to be happy, beautiful, and relaxed.

The thing is, what we push against pushes back, and becomes stronger with the effort. What we embrace becomes part of us, and all of us become stronger. As long as those of us seeking light and wisdom push hard against darkness and ignorance, those forces will only continue to push back (and grow stronger).

But what if we stopped pushing? What if we just said, okay, there’s darkness and ignorance and cruelty and inhumanity in the world? What if we stopped fighting and just started accepting?

I don’t know what the long run answer would be, but I know that in the short term we’d have more energy to focus on what we love. We’d have more energy to do what we feel is right and good if we stopped worrying about what The Other People are up to.

Inside Out

This is all good and fine for the outside world, but what about the inner world? How much am I pushing against what’s bad and dark and uncomfortable within myself? And by pushing against it, how much power am I giving it?

  • I’m stupid (sometimes)
  • I’m gross (sometimes)
  • I’m annoying (sometimes)
  • I’m ignorant (sometimes)
  • I’m petty and mean (sometimes)
  • I’m lazy (sometimes)

Ford tells us to look at the things that annoy us the most—the personality quirks that drive you crazy in other people. These are the shadow aspects of yourself that you are denying, pushing against, giving power to. And the Universe is going to continue to bring reflections of this shadow into your life until you embrace, accept, and even love that aspect of yourself.

So I’m digging deep. I’m watching my reactions to see who drives me the most crazy, and why? And then I’m turning it inwards.

It’s an uncomfortable process. I’m pretty sure I’m not enjoying it much. But I know at the other side of this, if I’m brave and persistent, I will find a sense of wholeness and peace I have not known for years.

So.

What pisses you off, FaFa? What annoys you the most? Do you have the guts to ask yourself where these traits reside within you? Do you dare look inside your own shadow and see what’s lurking there?

Hope to see you there!

Noticing small boredoms

Noticing small boredoms.

I think I should have this carved into my desk at The Day Job™!

Packing the Parachute

I have read What Color is Your Parachute? four times. It’s not something I’m proud of. As a Gemini and a borderline Gen-Xer, I seem to have gotten a double-dose of “What do I wanna be when I grow up”-itis. In the ten thousand years that have passed since high school, I’ve gone through a coterie of dreams, some realistic, some absurd, some barely coherent.

About ten years ago, I decided to just give up. The idea of finding a career, even settling on something that I like enough to pursue, had just become too overwhelming to even consider anymore. The decision to give up was simpler than I would have liked to admit. I went to work, got good at my job, earned my paycheck. I wrote and sang and pursued art for fun. My time was divided into two succinct, separate entities—work and life.

So it comes as more of a surprise to me than to anyone else that, here on the brink of my 46th birthday, the idea of career has come back to me with a vengeance.

The Day Job™

I joke a lot about The Day Job™ here and elsewhere. I don’t make a secret of the fact that I’ve spent the last 25 years as a corporate drone. File rooms, call centers, office work—when it comes to Customer Service, you name it, I’ve done it. It’s not where I planned to be when I was in school, but it’s where I am.

And you know what? I’m damned good at it. I’m fiercely good at it.

It’s a matter of pride to me. It matters to me on a deep soul level that I give the absolute best I can when I’m at work, provide the best service I can, and be the best employee I can be.

And while it’s not the end-all, be-all of my soul’s ambition, customer service is a passion of mine. I think it stands at the dead center of the solution to so many problems we now face as a culture. Customer service comprises so many qualities that are sorely in need today—accountability, excellence, respect, courtesy, honesty, just to name a few. I am convinced that these skills learned in sometimes menial jobs are of more value to me in some ways than my college education.

If you want to buy me a fancy-schmancy coffee one day, we can sit down and discuss my theory about how every human on Earth should be required to do some sort of customer service job for at least three years. Kind of like mandatory military service to teach people how to not be douchebags. And whether you go on to become a doctor, lawyer, ditch-digger or radio psychic, the skills you learn in service to others will help improve your performance in whatever field you choose.

The Dreams that Never Go Away

I’m now going to reveal a secret to you. I did not choose my college major because I wanted to. I went three years towards a Journalism degree. In my third year, I had a run-in with a professor, a misogynistic, drunken fellow who blocked my path to all upper level journalism classes. Since it was a core class, I needed a C or above to move on to the junior level classes. (I had enough credits to be a senior, except in this branch of journalism.) And no matter what I did, how hard I worked, I could never please him. Since all his grading was subjective, I was at his mercy. And he didn’t like me one bit. The pretty girl in front of me who turned in stories filled with one-sentence paragraphs got As, but I got slammed.

I dropped his class twice (he was the only one who taught the class and it was a prerequisite for everything else in that particular discipline). The third time, I was determined not to drop out, no matter what, no matter how insulting he was, no matter how unfair his subjective grading methods were. I was going to stick it out and do my very best.

I got a D.

Now, I was not a D student. There were so many A’s on my report cards that it was silly. A sprinkling of Bs and the occasional C, but never in my entire career had I ever gotten a D as a final grade.

I remember it very clearly, the night I gave up on my dream of being a journalist. I was in my mother’s home. It was raining, and she was out of town so I was by myself in the house. I was in hysterics, because I knew I was never going to get through this guy’s class and consequently would never get my degree. The idea of quitting without my degree was unthinkable, but I was well and truly stuck.

As a Communications major, I took a lot of production classes. Radio and television workshops required massive amounts of time outside of lectures, from news-gathering to editing to hosting my own show on the campus radio station. To combat the stress of these classes, I used to take English classes for fun. After a week of putting together news programs using equipment that was a decade out of date and with coworkers who had varying degrees of skill and dedication, my idea of relaxation was attending lectures, taking tests and writing a couple of papers.

On that awful night when my whole future seemed to be collapsing around me, inspiration appeared in the form of my college handbook. It was there that I realized that all those English classes were providing my way out. Apparently, I’d earned enough credit from those “relaxation” classes that I could graduate in two semesters if I changed majors. In a heartbeat, my dreams of being a journalist were shelved and I was headed for an English degree.

Mind you, I had no idea what to do with an English degree. I didn’t want to teach and I had no interest in Grad school (I was deep in the throes of burnout by that time). But a degree in hand is better than no degree in hand, and I fully believed that if you had to have a meaningless degree, it’s better to have it in the liberal arts. At least you’re trainable.

Food for Thought

I’ve looked back at that decision many times in my life. And, depending on my level of mental health at the time, it’s occurred to me that I never once considered fighting the grade. Considering the teacher’s alcoholism (he showed up in class drunk or hung-over several times) and his obvious misogyny (the comments in class were offensive and discouraging), it wouldn’t have been hard to find a case against him. I remember at the time there were people who suggested I do such a thing.

But I didn’t. I was tired. I was discouraged. I knew it would be better to just give up than to fight, because at the time I didn’t have the strength to stand up for myself. I didn’t believe in myself, much less my right to resist unfair treatment by authority figures.

The secret to self-growth is to recognize patterns. And one of the recurring patterns in my life is this—I can stand up to adversity, I can stand up to ignorance, I can stand up to overwhelming odds. But when authority is held in the grasp of the undeserving or cruel, I tend to fold and walk away rather than fight for myself. I can’t tell you the jobs I’ve had, the bosses I’ve had, the stupid situations I got myself into, all because I couldn’t find it in myself to stand up to bullies with more control than self-control.

I’ve given up things that really mattered to me—jobs, friends, relationships. All because I didn’t think I was worth fighting for.

Where does that level of low self-esteem come from? How does a person who has so much on the ball, so much skill, so much talent and natural drive, develop the default reaction of running away rather than standing up for herself?

And now, with the 46th birthday looming ever nearer, I’ve come to an astonishing realization:

It doesn’t matter where it comes from. I don’t need hours of Freudian analysis to tell me this refusal to stand up for myself is hurting me. That’s obvious when I look at where I am in comparison to what I want. It hurts me when it causes me to superimpose the expectations of others over my own goals, obscuring my own vision and discounting my own inner wisdom.

Chasing the Wrong Rainbow

I considered myself a failure because I couldn’t sell a novel (even though I don’t even read novels very much anymore).

I considered myself a failure because I couldn’t sell a short story (I read them even less than I read novels).

But the first time I tried to sell a non-fiction article, I sold it. And I sold the next one, and the next one. Some 22 years after walking down the aisle to get that Bachelor’s Degree in English, I have come full circle back to journalism. What I wanted to do from the start.

When I took those English classes, I didn’t realize I was packing my parachute for when pursuing a Journalism degree became untenable. And when I was reading articles, doing online research, studying how others wrote by reading their work (and pretty much anything I could find about the craft of writing), I didn’t realize I was packing my parachute (no matter the color!) for a mid-life return to a dream I thought completely forgotten.

I won’t lie to you. I do not fully have a clue what I’m doing here. There’s a lot more to freelance writing than just knowing stuff (and how to put it into readable sentences). I am sure I will find out some things along the way as I stumble through this. I may even find some disappointments. But the joy of being able to pursue a dream again, one that isn’t just a reflection of other people’s ambitions, is worth the uncertainty.

As for The Day Job™, I’m still there. I am still fiercely determined to do the best I possibly can every day at work. And sometimes, I have to accept that the stress and demands of The Day Job™ are going to make pursuing my writing extremely difficult.

But not impossible.

I don’t think I believe in impossible anymore.

No Excuses

If I could, I would spend 40 hours a week on the Internet. Seriously, I need to find a way to make it pay enough that I can give up The Day Job™ and focus all my time on this amazing universe of information and communication.

If you had shown me this future when I was 20, I would not have believed it. From my 20 year old vantage point, this sort of global connectedness was reserved for the lucky few who lived in large cities like New York, London, and L.A.

Not fat girls from small Southern towns who were a mile away from the nearest neighbor and five miles away from the nearest library, and who didn’t drive.

Growing up, this was my reality.

Take away the paved road. Take away the nearby subdivisions that have sprung up in the almost 30 years since I left. Take away the cable or satellite television. Take away the Internet. Take away the freedom. (Oh, and the swimming pool is new owners’ doing.)

And there you have it—isolation coupled with clinical depression and a fear I would never do or see or be anything in my life.

Perspective is Key

This is not one of those rag on my childhood posts. In many ways, I had a wonderful childhood—great siblings and plenty of cousins, a nice house to grow up in, animals and nature and music and art. A focus on education. A focus on self-improvement.

For most kids, it would have been enough. For most kids, it is enough.

But for such a long time, I felt isolated, ignored, and this dread fear that the world was going on without me.

Looking back on it now, I am amazed at the loveliness I grew up in. I took it for granted then, hated it actually. It’s only through the perspective of three decades gone that I can now see its beauty. As a child, it felt like a prison. Even looking at it now, I get a tiny twinge of it—that fear, that closed-in feeling, that desire to run as far as I can any direction but home.

You see, I always knew the world was an amazing place, so much bigger and more intricate than cane fields and shell roads and church fairs and Homecoming games. I dreamed of living in a city, the bigger the better, and meeting erudite, eclectic people with oddly-spelled names and experiences that should might have seemed ordinary but in fact weren’t ordinary at all.

And the first opportunity I got, I ran.

Looking Back

Looking back on it now, I could have done it better. You see, I never ran to anything in my life. I’ve always run from things—from home, from problems, from fear, from shame. My running has taken me to many places, most amazing and fun and filled to the brim with good memories.

But I’ve always been running from.

I think I’ve been doing it since the day I was born, if not on the outside than always on the inside.

I don’t remember many specifics about growing up. It’s probably because I wasn’t there most of the time. My body may have been in school, on the marching field (sweating and getting sock tans), keeping my head low in social situations where I was more often than not the butt of the jokes. But my mind was elsewhere, always a million miles away.

I had an amazing fantasy life. In my head there was a village, peopled with characters from stories and television who came alive in my imagination. I played with my thoughts like dolls, telling myself stories and living adventures in faraway places, healing my wounds internally while my body grew deader and deader on the outside.

I went through the motions of life, living and loving and interacting with those around me, but never actually there.

In retrospect, I feel guilty. In retrospect, I see the disservice I did myself and the people I loved by never being present in my life. I have memories of interactions—wonderful times with my siblings and cousins, quiet talks with my mom, singing with my dad, and that amazing group of friends I managed to find along the way. But I was never really there, never fully present, never engaged in the process of being alive.

Looking Forward

Fast forward thirty years. I live in another state, far from my family, but I have more contact with them than I have had in years (thanks to Facebook and Skype). I’ve been places, done things, met people who were erudite, eclectic and often had oddly-spelled names.

And that village of friends inside my head? They’re still there. But now, instead of watching their lives like some fuzzy 8mm film inside my mind, I can call on them as a sort of Council, my Jungian guides, archetypal expressions of traits and strengths I always had inside of me, but never believed existed. They were my best friends in childhood, my constant companions and champions, the ones who loved me even when it felt the whole world hated me.

Even when I hated myself.

Good news is I don’t hate myself anymore. I haven’t for a while now. And even though I still feel like the butt of the joke sometimes, I’m working on that whole “being present in my life” thing. It’s a good place to be.

And the best thing is? I’m not alone anymore. I’m not isolated anymore. In addition to having Fey, the best wife anyone could ask for, my family, and some of the best friends in the world (you know who you are), suddenly that big world I always have wanted to be a part of has come to me!

The world, if you look at it from the right perspective, is changing and growing and becoming an even more vibrant and amazing place. Look around you—really look. People are opening their eyes. People are waking up. People are communicating, sharing ideas, inspiring passion in each other.

The passion to learn. The passion to change. The passion to discover.

In his book A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born To Do, Thomas Moore writes about finding your daimon, that creative spirit or force that drives a person to their purpose in life. For years, I had no understanding of my daimon, no touchstone with which to communicate with this spirit so strong in us all.

I wasn’t alone. Most people don’t know “what they want to do when they grow up” either.

But the search for and respect of the personal daimon is possibly one of the most important journeys we can undertake, more important than college, or grad school, or the first job, or the first house…

Without a purpose in life, without that creative powerhouse sending fire through your veins, we are all isolated. We are all ignored. We are all walking around in a fantasy world, cut off from reality and barely connecting with what life really can be, the butt of our own cosmic joke.

I believe, after forty-five years of sleep-walking through life, that I am finally beginning to recognize my daimon. She is like me—quirky, gluttonous for knowledge and experience and communication, brave and silly and reckless at times. And she’s sick of playing second-fiddle to the other voices in my head.

She is coming in strong, and I don’t know how my life will ever be the same.

She is showing me my life, the good and the bad and the locked-away-never-to-be-discussed and the fearful and joyous and downright ludicrous. She is forcing me to face myself, in all my imperfect glory, and she’s not letting me turn away in shame or despair.

We’re going on an adventure together, my daimon and me, far more thrilling and dangerous than any I ever concocted in my little stories.

I’d like to invite you along for the ride.

Better yet, why not find your own daimon? Find that fire inside of you, that passion for whatever truly inspires you, and give it a voice. Let it sing or shout or laugh hysterically. Then bring it over to meet mine, and we’ll have a grand old time.

Oh, and my daimon filled me in on a little secret. You saw that picture earlier, of where I grew up? Here’s a picture she showed me, of where I live now.

Pretty good hunk of real estate, huh? And the best neighbors you could ask for!

Peace to you all, my fellow travelers.

My True Life Purpose, in Bullet Points

It’s no secret that I’m a personal development junkie. Hay House Radio is my favorite place online (so much so that Fey bought me a membership so I could enjoy the archived shows). If there is a test I can take, a book I can read, or a meditation I can do that helps me understand this world and my place in it a little better, then I’m on board.

I suppose this addiction comes naturally—I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a questioner. You know that annoying habit two-year-olds have of constantly asking “why”? I never outgrew that. Believe me, society tried to break me of the addiction. You see, “Why?” is a very uncomfortable question for most people. “Why?” does not allow you to abdicate responsibility. “Why?” forces you to examine the reasons and motivations and hidden prejudices that might not lead to the most comfortable insights.

Why are we here?

Why is there suffering in the world?

Why do some treat others cruelly?

Why are so many people unhappy?

The Big Picture

One of the most unnerving and unrelenting questions that plague me (and most of my cohort, I think, if they slow down long enough to consider) is this:

What is my true purpose in life?

Now, people have been searching for the answer to this question since the dawn of time. As a species we’ve sought answers in religion, magic, science, sexuality, wealth, good deeds, philosophy—anything that makes us feel like something more than eating-shitting-reproduction cycles wrapped in an organic shell. Everybody wants to feel they are more than a biological consumption machine with a limited shelf life.

I don’t know if everybody is like this, but I’ve always felt there was something big coming in my life. Maybe I was Mayan in a former incarnation and got a good long look at the calendar. Or maybe I have delusions of grandeur. But even as a small child, I would dream of things coming—floods, fires, changes both amazing and terrifying. The Katrina floods, in particular, horrified me because I’d been dreaming of them since childhood—right down to the people walking on the freeways, trying to escape the carnage. I don’t like to talk about such things, partly because they freak me (and others) out and partly because it sounds like I’m making claims that I am not really making.

I don’t claim to be psychic or to be able to see the future. What I claim is a connectedness that, try as I might, I was never able to shake. A feeling that this is all meaningful, and things are going to happen that seem awful in the short run but are truly cleansing in the long run. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, opened the world’s eyes to the dangers faced by the coastal region, woke us up from our slumber and showed us that we no longer have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand about climate change and the vulnerability of all human life.

This connectedness I feel has not always been the easiest of things to live with. First of all, it’s rendered me almost completely susceptible to depression and despair. For someone who’s had an overabundance of empathy most of her life, my shields (as Fey so colorfully puts it) aren’t worth shit. I can’t even look at suffering in pictures or see it on television without having a visceral, negative reaction. I used to turn away from it—as a child, seeing someone humiliated in a sitcom would churn my stomach to shreds as if it were happening to me. Schindler’s List practically killed me.

Facing Life Head On

In recent years, I’ve discovered I just can’t turn away anymore. It’s hard, and it hurts, and I resist seeing what’s going on out there in the world. But I know that ignorance is not the answer. This wonderful article by Steve Pavlina helped me out a lot—a perspective-changer that allows us to look at the bigger perspective without ever losing sight of the fact that everything we do (and do not do) has an effect on ourselves and on humanity as a whole. His article dovetails with realizations I’ve been making on my own over several months.

These last few weeks especially for me have been a revelation. It’s as if all the seeds of change I’ve been planting have begun to sprout simultaneously. I have let go of some things I’d been holding on to for a long time. I’ve embraced things I never wanted to face before, things that repulsed or terrified me.

And I survived. My life, my work, my love, and my spirit have already begun to see the benefits. I no longer feel like a frightened cat, claws hooked into the screen door holding on for dear life every morning when I head out the door. I smile more, worry less, and I’m sleeping better at night. Things aren’t perfect yet, nor will they ever be. There is still something big and scary on the horizon, something I cannot avoid. I know this now with everything within me.

But it’s okay. It’s okay because we are all one. We are all part of the same fabric, the same essence, and in the end, it’s all good.

It’s all good. The pain, the joy, the fear, the hatred, the love, the gluttony and generosity and fear and enlightenment—all of it. It’s all good. It’s all a part of the scheme of things, an intricate pattern that looks like chaos to us, but makes perfect sense when looked at from a distance.

Personal Responsibility

Now, I know this may sound a lot like abdication of responsibility. After all, why try to create a better world, why do good deeds, why practice compassion and patience and kindness when, in the end, it’s all the same thing?

There comes a point in everyone’s life where they realize for the first time they are mortal. It’s a big blow, realizing the very act of being born carries with it a guaranteed death sentence. In fact, the very idea of mortality pisses some people off. Why give us life only to take it away? The existential puzzle makes Sudoku look like a Cracker Jack maze.

On a cosmic scale, it’s easy to get discouraged, too. Why bother with loving-kindness and ingenuity and decency and curiosity and patience when in the big picture, it really doesn’t change a thing?

Why teach your children to speak and walk?

Because no matter what happens at the end of their life, it matters now. Here. It matters to you, and to them, and to society, that your children learn to speak and walk.

It matters to you, and to others, and to society, that you are kind and decent and curious and patient. We are tiny specks, quarks in a giant universe that isn’t even aware of our individual existences. But we are also that universe, every one of us, self-contained and beautiful. And how we treat each other is how we treat ourselves. And in the end, whether it matters or not, wouldn’t you prefer to have a peaceful, compassionate, happy existence? Wouldn’t you prefer your treatment of others, the planet, the universe (in other words, yourself) to be based on love and understanding?

When we think in terms of isolation and separateness, life is frightening and discouraging. When we begin to understand that we are life, we are the future and the past and the choice and the choosing, everything falls into place and we experience a profound spiritual shift. We discover peace.

The Bullet Points

So, armed with that new perspective, I’ve decided to tackle once more my Ultimate Question: “What is My True Purpose in Life?” I nabbed this easy plan from Steve Pavlina (How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes) and decided to give it a go. Below, you will find my unedited responses. I don’t know what it means, and I’m not sure it matters. But I’m excited to get started.

Here’s what to do:

Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).

Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”

Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.

Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.

What is my true purpose in life?

•    To help others

•    To help humanity

•    To understand the nature of reality

•    To have fun

•    To experience love

•    To experience life

•    To bring people together

•    To make a difference

•    To experience the universe

•    To be strong

•    To be brave

•    To be wise

•    To be kind

•    To be smart

•    To be curious

•    To fly

•    To crawl

•    To grow

•    To sleep

•    To dream

•    To choose

•    To discover

•    To break through boundaries

•    To walk through walls

•    To make my life important

•    To make my life meaningless in the context of a greater importance

•    To empower myself

•    To empower others

•    To give

•    To give more

•    To be the universe

•    To be all and to be nothing and to be singular and complex

•    To live greatly and love freely

•    To understand what it’s all about

•    To honor the past

•    To honor the future

•    To laugh, a lot

•    To see fairies in the garden

•    To look at the stars and have my breath catch at the enormity of it all

•    To learn about string theory and how to make vinyl chairs and the political history of salt and any other random thing that catches my fancy

•    To do all these things, and still wake up in the morning excited about what new adventure I am going to have this day.

Okay, that one got me wibbling. But not crying yet. Onward.

•    To let go of my body and my cell walls

•    To understand the true nature of my being

•    To learn not to fear greatness

•    To learn silence

•    To learn peacefulness

•    To learn humility

•    To learn compassion

•    To learn not to fear my power

•    To abandon shame as an unnecessary thing

Pensive moment. Taking a second. Still not crying. Onward yet again.

•    To remember

•    To understand

•    To believe

•    To have faith

•    To act

•    To dream

•    To inspire

•    To forgive

•    To let go

•    To move on

Another pause. Not crying yet, but I feel rather quiet about all this. Allons-y.

•    To connect

•    To sing

•    To create

•    To cry easily

•    To enjoy myself

•    To face the future without fear

•    To never ever forget who I am, or who I can be

You know, I don’t think I’m going to cry tonight. Oh, well. It’s okay. I don’t need to figure out my life purpose at the moment. I can always come back and try again. I’ve got a great list to start from.

So. What about you? Do you want to find your life purpose? Can you reach that purpose that makes you cry? Can you find that one truth beyond all others that resonates with you and points you in the right direction to fulfill your destiny?

If you gain insight from this exercise, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you discovered. Until then, peace to you all. Remember—you are life itself. There is nothing wrong with you. Blessings.

The Gamer’s Guide to Life

Games have rules; everybody knows that. There are certain acceptable ways to play, certain strategies that have stood the test of time, and certain rules you just don’t break.

Uh, yeah.

Recently I’ve come to a conclusion watching Fey demolishing pixels on City of Heroes, an extremely popular MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) she’s been participating in for a couple of years. Fey, being Fey, has never been a cookie-cutter type of girl. Even her cookies aren’t cookie cutter.

Like pretty much everything in her life, Fey approaches her game the way a chef would (or a good scientist). While she is aware of the recipes others have suggested for success, she is more interested in learning about the component parts and figuring things out for herself. Each skill set, each defense, each attack protocol, has its own characteristics—much like an herb or spice has a particular flavor and reacts differently in various combinations.

Fey’s approach to City of Heroes (and cooking) is to think about the component parts and explore the potentials they have in various combinations. And just like in her cooking, she has an almost uncanny ability to predict which combinations will produce just the right effect.

But Defending Paragon City from Evil is Not Baking Cookies…

Certainly baking and online gaming are not the same thing, but it does bring up a point that I’ve been considering lately. In both disciplines, there are two main styles of play.

The Rule Follower: The Rule Follower is that person who wants clearly delineated guidelines for success, straightforward steps to follow that will guarantee the outcome they desire. The Rule Follower wants order (usually enforced from the outside) and structure. Mostly, they want a definite brand of Right and Wrong. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• That’s not the way we’ve always done it.
• Nobody can possibly make that work. It just isn’t done.
• I don’t want to rock the boat.
• That’s not my job.
• Nobody told me I was supposed to_____.
The Rule Follower is not bad, nor is he or she a weak person. So much of civilization is driven by the Rule Followers. These are the people who pay their taxes and work their jobs and live their lives according to the accepted rules of society, and they are the bedrock of civilization.

The Alchemist: The second type of player is one I call The Alchemist. Now, The Alchemist is no less addicted to order and structure than The Rule Follower. Order, after all, is what makes the Universe tick. The Alchemist, however, cannot and will not accept an arbitrary system of order that is imposed upon them from an outside force. The Alchemist must find this order for themselves. They are the misfits, weirdoes, geniuses, revolutionaries, and explorers. Life for an Alchemist is rarely typical. In fact, many of them experience great difficulties fitting in to a society that glorifies the average and predictable. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• How can we do this smarter?
• I wonder how this would work out…
• But their way makes no sense!
• If you take this and add this…
• I don’t care how many people do it; it’s still wrong.
The Alchemist is not obstinate, nor is he or she a purposefully contrary person. It’s just that The Alchemists simply cannot resist their overwhelming curiosity about life, ideas, people, and things. Where The Rule Followers are the bedrock of civilization, it is The Alchemists who fire the imagination and quite often are the impetus for cultural burst of evolution.

We Can Work It Out

As you would expect, the two groups rarely play nice together. The Rule Followers consider The Alchemists to be dangerous radicals would wouldn’t know common sense if it bit them in the Mensa ID card. And The Alchemists often see The Rule Followers as mindless sheeple blindly following the status quo without ever putting forth an original idea.

Well, they’re both kind of right. And they’re both very wrong. As with everything in nature, society depends on balance if it’s going to have any kind of longevity. It is the combination of tradition and innovation that keeps a culture thriving; rule out one or the other, and you’ve put that culture in danger of stagnation or unraveling.

So the trick is to find a way to honor the styles of both sides—the traditionalists and the progressives—without either group having to sacrifice their views and values.

Steady as She Goes

Fey, my gamer Alchemist, does not reach the high levels of gameplay by ignoring common sense and tradition. She is actually very much a follower of rules…if they are practical and make logical sense. She believes in consistency and accountability and all those other things Rule Followers so adore.

But she has discovered that if when you do what everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. It’s much more interesting and challenging to look at the game as a series of components that can be combined in various sequences to create a vast array of different experiences.

My life is like that, I think. I’ve spent years looking for the right recipe, the right skill set so that I could Be Happy™. Go to the right school, take the right classes, get the right job, learn the right skills…all these lead in the absolutely unshakably perfectly right direction of Right.

But in life, as in cookies and MMOGs, if you do whatever everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. My dear friend is a New York Times best-selling romance writer. To all external criteria, she has the life I want. Bless her, I wouldn’t trade with her for a moment. Not that I don’t want to be a professional writer. But that is her path, which is blissfully perfect for her, but would be a nightmare for me.

Fey has taught me a good lesson with all of this City of Heroes she’s been playing. Life is a series of component parts, ingredients we put together to create the life we want. There are guides and rule books and recipes for putting those ingredients together which will produce predictable, and these are wonderful things.

But sometimes, if you want a life designed specifically for you, not a copy of someone else’s life, then you have to break things down into their component parts. You have to put things together and take them apart and risk getting messy or bad data or the occasional exploding hard drive.

Life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. But there is a joy to it, when you remember that it’s just another sort of MMOG– massively magnificent organic game. No matter how you choose to play it, the game is always challenging, creative, and lots of fun.

Goofing Off for Good

In my pursuit of a bigger, better, faster brain, I have done some weird things. I’ve also done some smart things. But, quite often, I must admit, what I’ve done the most of is wasting time. No, I’m not talking about Angry Birds or Farmville or other, standard time wasters. But I have logged more than my share of hours on YouTube, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Tumblr. And I enjoyed every moment of my mindless fun, while still feeling enormously guilty.

This week, however, I discovered a place where I’m not only proud, but thrilled to spend my time wasting there. The place is called Zooniverse, and it’s a site where common shlubs like me can participate actively in some pretty cool science research.

A New-Fangled Barn-Raising

The idea of crowdsourcing is not a new one. In the old days, folks in a community would get together one Saturday afternoon, bring lots of food, Old Jim would play the banjo, and everybody would build Farmer Sven’s new barn. Thanks to good old-fashioned teamwork, a process that would normally take a few days (or months, depending on what contractor you hire), could get done in the space of a few hours.  Habitat for Humanity is keeping this tradition alive around the world (minus the banjo, I think), providing homes for families who would otherwise never be able to afford a house of their own.

Not everybody has a Velcro tool belt at the ready, but we have all participated in a form of crowdsourcing. The office potluck is a great example—everybody brings a little of something, and the whole group eats better than if they’d dined alone.

Technology has blown the roof off of the concept of barn-building and potlucks. With Cloudservers and dynamic websites and a host of other previously unheard of tools, we can take the idea of a shared workload to a whole new level. Sites like Blogmutt.com provide a forum where businesses (for a monthly fee) can connect with bloggers (who get paid) who will gladly write content for their blogs. The business puts out a concept, the bloggers bring their best stuff, and the winner (the blog entry the business likes best) gets paid. It’s a good way for business to get content and bloggers to get experience and (possibly) a bit of cash.

Wasting Time for a Cause

There are no small number of ways in which business will be able to score and score big on this new technology. But there is another factor that can benefit for this, and that’s where Zooniverse comes in to the picture.

As I have mentioned more than a few times in the past, I am a science junkie. I love the stuff, am fascinated by it, and have spent quite a bit of my adult life lamenting the fact that I just don’t have the chops to pursue it in any meaningful way.

Zooniverse was made for people like me, chock full o’enthusiasm, but without the requisite skill to do anything more than drudge work. Happily, there’s lots of drudge work out there that needs to be done, and Zooniverse connects labs and universities with a coterie of willing drones to help them with their research.

It All Comes Back to Science Channel

Yeah, thanks television once more. I learned about Zooniverse, obliquely, through Science Channel’s Are We Alone Month. Lots of programming on aliens, interstellar research, and of course SETI. For those of you who are not total geeks, SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. The non-profit SETI Institute has been around since 1984 and houses the Center for SETI Research, The Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, and the Center for Education and Public Outreach.

One of the things SETI does is catalog radio signals picked up by their Allen Telescope Array (ATA) to determine if those signals originate on Earth, on satellites, or possibly have a non-terrestrial original. Trouble is, there are a lot of radio waves, and only so many SETI scientists with so many hours in a day.

Introducing SETI Live, where volunteers (“Citizen Scientists”) can sign up, get a bit of training, and assist with cataloging signals from the Keplar Field. There is a community where volunteers can ask questions, receive guidance, and learn more about the research.

SETI Live is part of a larger organization, called (you guessed it) Zooniverse.org. SETI research is just one small part of this. At Zooniverse, you can help translate and measure ancient Greek papyrus scrolls (I suck at it), catalog whalesong snippets (I’m okay at it), and even search for solar storms or search for alien planets. The site makes a game out of it, and the absolute least you can do is learn a bit about science.

What’s In It for Me?

When I wax eloquent about this site, I get a lot of the same reactions. First reaction is, Yeah, but if you do find alien life, somebody else will get the credit for it. And to them, I respond, scientific curiosity is not about credit or fame. It’s about the desire to know and learn about the world around us. Anything I do, even in the smallest way, to further the knowledge of mankind is reward in itself.

The other response I get, even more frequently, is “You have wayyyyy too much time on your hands.” To these critics I ask the following question: What did you do last night?

Did you watch TV?

Did you work crossword or Sudoku puzzles?

Did you spend hours on Twitter or Angry Birds or FoxNews.com?

The bottom line is, when we look at our lives in a cold, clear manner, we find that we do have time. What we value determines where we spend our time, like where we spend our money. And while there is nothing wrong with television or Sudoku or Twitter (jury’s still out on Fox News), there are very worthwhile things we could be doing that are just as much fun with a better bang for our time.

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up TV or Facebook or YouTube. But from now on, I’m going to carve out just a bit of my online goof off time and give it to science. Whalesong, solar storms, alien signals? Yeah, that beats a bunch of angry birds any time, in my humble opinion.

TED Talks, Sonic Rebirth, and the Theory of The Bag

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time around me is familiar with The Bag. As a woman in Western civilization, one of the requirements of membership is the acquisition and maintenance of a bag in which to carry your stuff. It’s an odd cultural thing, this idea of the Bag. On the surface, it’s such a small thing—what bag are you going to carry? But underneath, it has this amazing cultural and psychological meaning.

You see, your bag is like a tiny, portable extension of your home that you carry with you pretty much wherever you go. It is that place where, no matter the circumstances you encounter, you can be pretty sure to find a solution. And since practicality insists you can’t take the entirety of your belongings with you every time you go out to the corner grocery, the act of carrying a handbag requires some soul searching.

What do you need to carry with you that could, at any moment, be called upon to aid, assist, entertain, enlighten, or rescue you out in the vast wilds? What you put in that bag reflects the kind of emergencies you think you will have, the kind of solutions you think you will need, and the things that will make you feel an overall sense of safety and preparedness.

You can truly tell a lot about a person by the kind of bag they carry. If you want to get to know about someone in a quick, fairly superficial but oddly accurate way, check out their purse.

Do you carry money or credit cards? Do you carry makeup and hair styling tools? Do you carry a phone or notebook computer? Is your bag stylish, utilitarian, funky, designer, or expensive? Is it well-organized or cluttered with old receipts, grocery lists, and (in my case) last year’s Christmas wish list for your significant other?

If the person carrying the handbag is male (knapsacks and the like do count), this is especially impressive. Men, for some reason I cannot begin to fathom, have been excluded from the bag requirement by Western society. Maybe it’s because for so long the job of maintaining home and hearth has fallen to the woman. Maybe it’s because, aside from carrying a wallet and a condom, many men have been exempted from taking responsibility for the day-to-day running of the culture. So to the enlightened, murse-carrying New Man, I say kudos. Welcome to the world of grownups. Welcome to the world of personal responsibility. Do you have a pen I could borrow—mine just ran out of ink?

The Evolution of The Bag

My personal bag history is long and convoluted. I’ve never been one about designers, nor do I particularly care about the look of the bag. My values are strictly utilitarian – what do I need to have in any situation to keep my world running smoothly? Obviously, the wallet is there. My keys and medicines are there, as well as my badge for work. I think I have a Chapstick in there, and for a while, I even had a Tide stick for eating mishaps. (No, I never mistook the two—chaos!)

But aside from these very normal things, my definition of a good bag has always come down to this question—can I carry a book in it? During school, it was paperbacks. Since I didn’t drive until about three weeks before my twentieth birthday, I spent a lot of time waiting for rides. Books were survival, my shield against the cultural stigma of being a teenager who didn’t drive. When you’re sitting for forty-five minutes alone outside of an empty band room or school building, it starts to look odd. Having a book in hand not only staved off unwanted intrusions by “friendly” strangers offering lifts, but also kind of lifted my outward appearance from carless loser to oddball intellectual. Of course, it had the added benefit of keeping away boredom and loneliness.

I still carry books (yes, you read the plural correctly) with me. My perfect bag is actually a big black knapsack—yeah, one of those school bags from grade school with the different pockets and a clip for your keys. Fashionable. But it works. I have at my fingertips whatever book I may be reading at the time (could be pop psychology, could be history, could be a Star Trek novel I found at the Book Nook at work), a couple of ink pins, a notebook for scribbling down ideas, and my MP3 player in case I need to tune out the world. Because, apparently, to me there is no emergency situation that can’t at least be made more bearable by a good book and some tunes.

Your Portable Values System

I come to this reflection on the cultural value of the handbag after a long, lazy morning of listening to MP3s on my cute little red MP3 player that isn’t really an MP3 player. (It’s more a flash drive that can play music. No bells, no whistles, just a place to carry muh tunes.)

An MP3 player is kind of like the new, technologically-advanced generation of purse. You can fit so much onto it—what do you choose? What mood, what desire will you need to fill? The first things I put on my MP3 player were music, of course. Indie songs I would never hear on the radio, oldies, classical music and folk songs that would be similarly rare and exotic in this day and age of cookie-cutter commercial playlists—the basic building blocks of a comfortable life, no matter my location.

After a while, though, I began to realize that my MP3 had the potential for quite a bit more. Thanks to the miracle of the Interwebs, I could download books, lectures, TED Talks, meditation tapes—pretty much anything that could be converted into a sound file and saved digitally. A logical connection surfaced between the books I was reading and the MP3s I was downloading.

The book I’m currently reading is The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell. Of course, that led to lots of Mozart downloads including his Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major. The book also discussed the pioneering research of Alfred A. Tomatis in the effects of music on patients with neurological disorders.

One of the procedures Tomatis developed early in his career was often referred to as a sonic rebirth—therapy where womb sounds were combined with the voice of the patient’s parents to produce well-being and improved psychological development. Of course, I had to look into this phenomena and maybe try it out for myself. My YouTube search led me to this video and many others. I listened to them and the effect was about the same on my body as the first time I took Prozac—a feeling of balance and calm that has eluded me for much of my adult life.

After listening to this comforting music, I was inspired to use more of my Saturday morning to listen to a bunch of TED Talks I’d downloaded.

The Bag as a Metaphor

I won’t go into whole list of links on the TED Talks I listened to until the very end. But I will tell you something I learned. Like a handbag, a life is pretty much what you want it to be. You put into it the things you value, the things you think will help you in times of trouble, the things you think will make your time on this planet not only bearable, but meaningful. Technology has placed us in a unique position in history—for the first time the human race is exposed in a profound and relatively inexpensive way to the ideas of thousands if not millions of other individuals. For the first time in our racial history, we can come together to act globally as a community.

The way we use this technology, like the way we use our handbags, will ultimately reflect our values as individuals and as a society. We have an unprecedented opportunity to change the fabric of the way humans do culture. We also have the potential to do major serious damage.

The bottom line is of course, personal choice and responsibility. If we are making the world up as we go, what kind of world do we want to create?

TED Talks

Jill Bolte Taylor – How it feels to have a stroke

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding

Jennifer Pahlka- Coding a better government

Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open? Coder and activist Jennifer Pahlka believes it can — and that apps, built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments — and their neighbors.

Julian Baggini – Is There A Real You?

One of the best known philosophers in the UK, Julian will ask the question ‘Is There A Real You? He will draw on the research supporting his latest book ‘The Ego Trick’ and challenge our audience to reflect on their understanding of the ‘Self’.

Susan Cain- The power of introverts

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Clifford Stoll- 18 minutes with an agile mind

Clifford Stoll could talk about the atmosphere of Jupiter. Or hunting KGB hackers. Or Klein bottles, computers in classrooms, the future. But he’s not going to. Which is fine, because it would be criminal to confine a man with interests as multifarious as Stoll’s to give a talk on any one topic. Instead, he simply captivates his audience with a wildly energetic sprinkling of anecdotes, observations, asides — and even a science experiment. After all, by his own definition, he’s a scientist: “Once I do something, I want to do something else.”

So much accomplished in a single day.

As of this time yesterday:
1. I did not have a new car (okay, used and bought from the MIL, but the windows and AC work and it does not have a deer-dented front hood).
2. I had not submitted a story to MZB’s Sword & Sorceress 25.
3. I had not organized my queries (read: rejections) on QueryTracker.com
4. I had not sent my first new query letter in weeks.

I’m feeling so much love for myself right now. I think I’ll go have breakfast.

Booyah.