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Philosophy Tuesday

May 9, 2017

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

A few years ago*, I wrote about what I termed “The Tyranny of Talent.”  A good (re)-read, and it still rings true for me.  Perhaps even more so now, in that I think it dovetails nicely into my more recently created “Olympic Distinction,” specifically in the area of the arts, hobbies, or other areas of self-expression.  Even more specifically, in the ways that we shut ourselves down from playing in those fields of self-expression.

Briefly, the Tyranny of Talent (ToT) noted that our wonton use of the word talent is problematic on two fronts, the second of which is of import here:  that because talent has the association with innate ability or aptitude, when we see someone performing something with great skill we all too easy can fall into the pitfall of “I wasn’t born with it like you were, so I’ll never get there.”

The thing is, where is “there?”  Is there an Olympic level of performance?  If so… why do we need to be in the Olympics?   Or on stage performing to millions of people?  Or in a prestigious gallery?  Or in a stadium chasing down a championship?  Or a bestseller?

It’s a double whammy we give ourselves.  “I wasn’t gifted with talent, so I’ll never be all that good,” and “I’ve got to be good, because this example here is what people expect/is right/is what it takes to look good/is the only endgame.”

Self-expression is self-expression.  It’s not about making a living (or just making money), it’s not about fame, it’s not about accolades**, it’s not about winning that prize.  It might be about putting something out into the world that you want heard, but it also might not.  At its core, self-expression means something that arises from your authentic self and manifests into the world in a way that lights you up.  It is a way of being and acting that calls to you and you put forth into the world.  An audience may be nice, but it isn’t always necessary.  Dancing alone in your apartment could totally be a self-expression.

I do get there is a dilemma if the self-expression does include sharing with or involve others, especially in this day of the internet.  For that is the most readily available and easy place to share, and many have gotten so used to sharing what they had for lunch that it’s automatic to post that which we want to self-express.  And certain folk on the internet are not always kind to beginners, to non-Olympians.  And it readily bleeds into daily life too.  Take up soccer late in life with little experience, and depending who you play with you may not be treated all that well. ***

Insults, harshness, recriminations, they all can all to easily push us back into the dual contexts of “I’m not talented (and I never will)”**** and “You gotta be an Olympian to do this “right” and/or to show your face” leading to the very logical “Since I’m not talented, I’ll never be an Olympian, and so should never show my face/work.”

There is mindfulness to cultivate here.  To remind ourselves that our self-expression is for us.  We paint because we enjoy painting, we practice kung fu because we enjoy practicing kung fu, we jam out beat poetry and elsewhere because we enjoy jamming.

There doesn’t have to be an end game beyond that. We can share our work within a small circle, we can practice and play only with those who share our unhindered fun, we can send work out into the world anonymously, we can dance in the dark.  We can practice, play, grow, learn, learn some more, and just enjoy the pure joy of the activity.

Does it make us feel alive and fulfilled?

If so, then we’re doing it right.

 

* Already??

** And boy, is the number of likes or accolades or comments ever seductive in its own right.  This too is a whole other inquiry, how we’ve collapsed likes/accolades with “I am loved and worthy of love and belonging.”

*** Why people are this nasty is a whole other interesting inquiry in of itself.  For here, though, it’s quite interesting to consider that the same tyranny and Olympic ennui can manifest itself as harshness to assuage the pain of repressing one’s self-expression…

**** More rightfully put as “I misunderstand how skill and aptitude is developed, and I fear it is magically assigned at birth and I got skipped over so I’m screwed.” ******

****** That’s not to say it will be quick or easy to develop the skill, of course.  We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and there tends to be a lot more to do in a day now…

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Architecture Monday

May 8, 2017

Shopping malls, on the whole, tend not to be paragons of design quality, and have propagated worldwide with little thought, period, let alone thought for the local culture, climate, or conditions.  Which means that often they don’t serve the needs of either the shoppers, the community, or even the shopkeepers.  They can increase cost to the store owners and decrease sales, rather than provide benefits to all who need to use it.

This project in Ethiopia does.

The above diagram, well, diagrams it all.  In elegant ways this new “mall” incorporates sustainable initiatives,  inviting spaces, and local charm to create a shopping mall born of a specific place.  It’s much more than the traditional strip ‘o shops with a fancy pediment.

There’s a whole bunch I like about this building, starting right from the get go with the expressive outer shell.  It’s concrete and it’s expressively pierced with a pattern adapted from the traditional local fabrics.  This means all at once it diffuses and controls the harsh local sun, it allows for passive natural ventilation, and it’s a thermal mass to help control the heat even further.  And as nice as it is on the outside, inside it is absolutely gorgeous, especially the amazing surprise that is the coloured bits of glass that sparkle like jewels.  Simple, clever, and good looking.

The building is also a shortcut between two adjacent busy streets, with a diagonal path carved along the ground floor that, in turn, becomes a diagonal atrium that expands upward and opens to the sky.  This acts as a chimney, letting hot air rise and the natural ventilation keep the building cool.  It’s also an internal street, letting the floors communicate with each other rather than be isolated pancakes.  The roof is also no isolated pastry*, it’s a large umbrella-filled patio.  That also happens to collect rainwater that is then stored to use for restrooms and irrigation.  Oh, and the umbrellas also serve double duty as photovoltaic panels.  Air, water, light, electricity… all thought of and integrated into this lovely box.

This is great stuff.  From the dramatic arched entryways to the spiraling road and shops that lead to the terraced roof, it elevates the experience of shopping while honouring its surroundings and thinking deeply about sustainability.  Lovely work.

Lideta Market by Vilalta Arquitectura

 

* Sorry for the tortured metaphor…

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Jedi Thursday

May 4, 2017

I was done teaching.  It was time for some extra practice.  Only one thing would be appropriate for tonight…

How could I not?

Happy Star Wars day!  May the Fourth be with you.

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Wonder Wednesday

May 3, 2017

The littlest grapes

Peeking their way into the world

Soaking sunshine

Sipping water

Dreaming of wine

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Philosophy Tuesday

May 2, 2017

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Our lives are full of inflection points.

Life happens.  Things happen.

When something happens to us, or around us, we get very active.

We make decisions about things.

We make decisions about ourselves, about others, and/or about the world.

These are powerful decisions.

They form statements, certainties,  declarations.

They shape our view of the world and of reality.

In effect, they are reality.

We have little distinction otherwise.  They are the truth.

We therefore act and behave in a way that is fully consistent with that reality.

We touched a hot stove and we got burned: hot stoves are bad to touch.

Now we no longer touch a hot stove, and we’re even cautious around something that looks hot.

That’s pretty clear.  That makes sense.

We made a mistake on an art project as a kid and we didn’t do it right and kids laughed:  we are not good at art.

Now we no longer try to do art, and we avoid being creative.

Hmm.  Less clear.

“I suck at art.”  That’s one possible interpretation.

So we stopped practicing art, we avoided art, we never practiced, we don’t do it.

Today, if we try to create some art, sure enough, we continue to suck at it!

So much proof now…

Blam.  An inflection point that set our course of life.

Yet.

What happened was that we made a mistake.  That happened.  Plain and simple.

Nothing more.  Nothing less.*

That inflection point, however…

That was us.  All us.

Not the mistake.  The inflection was us.

We made the decision.

A decision that influenced our view, our experience, our capabilities, and reality.

“I suck at art.”  That’s one possible interpretation.  But only one of a million possible interpretations.

And for all these years, we’ve been living the decision we ourselves made.

How fascinating!

We can return to that moment and re-evaluate things.  Choose a different interpretation.

We can re-inflect.

We can refresh ourselves back to that point, clear the canvas, and start anew.

We gain freedom.  We can create.

We can transform, build forward, develop abilities, and become who we want to be. **

Let’s play.

 

* And what is a mistake anyway?  Who defined the failure?  In the arts (including life, which is an art), what is really a mistake?  Or error?  Or failure?  Or good?  Or bad?  Who sa(ys)(aid)?

** This does not mean new skills and abilities will miraculously appear***.  It will not wipe out 40 years of not practicing, developing, learning… the work still needs to be done.  But it’s work that now can be done.  The barriers have been removed, the road is now clear.  And, inside of that clarity, the speed at which the skill develops can be fast indeed.

*** And sometimes it will feel as though new abilities have miraculously appeared.  Freed of the constraints the decision and the resulting inflection imposed on your life, inside of that new freedom, new capacities of performance for existing skills get blown wide open.****  The true extent of your skill can fully be expressed.

**** This includes interactions, conflicts, relationships, courage, conversation, perseverance, productivity, excitement, wonder, compassion, empathy, creativity, joy, peace of mind…

 

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Architecture Monday

May 1, 2017

Poetry comes in many forms, including sometimes being wrapped in what at first glance may appear to be the most mundane of shells.  Tonight’s project is just like that, a humble building built with straightforward and inexpensive materials, and one that presents an ordinary visage to the world.  It is not a terrible visage, to be sure.  It is well proportioned, it is in dialogue with the surrounding buildings, and there is a hint that something different is going on inside.  It is an unassuming face that it presents to the world.

Inside, it is the space – that which makes architecture, architecture – where poetry erupts.

The main hall within is canted 13 degrees to align with the qibla, immediately creating a bevy of sculptural ancillary spaces.  Used to great effect, they function as entry courtyards, apses, and towers, narrating the way from the outside to the sanctum within.

Inside, the hall is squat and expansive, compressing the space horizontally.  At first thought, all that brick and concrete, coupled with a low ceiling, may seem like a recipe for an oppressive experience.  Yet every corner blows upward in shafts of light, every side is a portico emblazoned with sunshine, and the ceiling features a burst of luminous dots that cast their rays onto the floor in an ever-dancing pattern.  And the finely honed and polished floor, contrasting strongly with every other piece of the building, calls attention to itself and to the relationship of the body and the ritual to that floor, and to all those around you who stand on that special surface.  The space radiates with intimate connection, both to your neighbors and also to the greater universe at large.

Architecture is about craft of space, the merging of purpose with form.  Rough and tumble materials in mundane locations are not hindrances.  When the intent burns bright, and the creative fire is unleashed, powerful and moving spaces are always possible.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque by Marina Tabassum

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Wonder Wednesday

April 26, 2017

This is Steve.

A ribbon of hot flowing gas traveling about 6km per second.

Like an aurora, but separate,

hanging still,

a pillar of light,

pointing the way.