Book Review: Gratitude

It’s a sliver of a book, but somehow, I saw the spine on the shelf at the public library. It was surrounded by many other, much larger, books, almost crowded out. I was just wandering. Not looking for anything specific. It was the word “Gratitude” that caught my attention. I pulled the thin tome out to investigate and I saw the writer was Oliver Sacks, which of course got me even more interested. I added the book to my pile.

Gratitude is a collection of just four essays that Sacks, the eminent poet-scientist whose stories of patients reminded us of the wide breadth of the world itself, wrote in the last year of his life as he was dying of cancer at age 80. The essays, each of which which first appeared in the New York Times, are reflective pieces on what a long life lived might mean for someone with the ability to ponder back, brought to the surface by Sack’s powerful and emotional writing. The essay connecting Sack’s life to the Periodic Table, and how he tracked his years with elements from the scientific organization chart, was perfectly written, I think.

I read the essays while waiting in a doctor’s office, it turns out. The room was quiet and comfortable. I was completely immersed in Sack’s voice as a writer and as a curious traveler of the world of medicine and humanity and stories.

I am grateful to have found Gratitude, and I appreciate this final gift that Sacks left us.

Peace (in the reflect),

Blackout Poems: Name Recognition

(I am using the New York Times interactive Blackout Poetry site for a few days to create Blackout poems. They give you some articles to choose from. You create poems of no more than 15 words. The interactive does the blacking out around your chosen words. It’s pretty cool. You can also read other poems built around the same articles. Give it a try.)

Blackout Poetry1

Process Note: This poem is created from an article about model Kate Upton and her attempt to move into acting. It’s also about what beauty is in the age of viral images. In this poem, I tried to keep my attention on the recognition of name in pop culture, and the transient nature of likes and thumbs-ups and more. That “no more than a cameo” is a good line. I also liked the floating off the page concept.

Peace (in what’s unsaid),

Kid, This is NOT a Timewaster


We were nearing the end of a two-hour hike in the woods. Three 11 year old boys. The dog. Me. The sun was shining, keeping the bite of Spring at bay. No bugs were bothering us. The boys had crossed a small river twice, scaling their way over fallen trees, calling out encouragement to each other. One even took off his shoes and walked through the cold water, balancing on mossy rocks. They had played Manhunt, hiding among the rocks and trees.

It was a Grand Adventure.

Then …

“Well, this has a been a Timewaster,” one of the kids told me. I don’t think he was jonesing to get back to his video games or anything. He was the one who took off his shoes to dip toes into the water. But I don’t think he is used to such lengthy unstructured “wanderings,” either.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Spending two hours out here” —  and I pointed around me at the beauty of the woods — “is never a Timewaster,” I told him. The dog looked up at my voice and then the trees, as if noticing the woods for the first time, too.

“Nope,” I added. “Time in these woods is never, ever wasted time.”

The boy (not my own, by the way) looked at me in an interested way, sort of nodded, and kept on walking. I followed. The dog was happy to keep moving, too. We all were.

Timewasting, indeed.

Peace (outside the inside),

EduJoy: Scenes from a Pop-Up Concert

I am the advisor to our Student Council, and the group just hosted the first Pop-Up Concert — a sort of unofficial concert of sixth grade musicians (including teachers) for an audience of sixth graders and anyone else who wandered into the cafeteria after lunch. We didn’t really announce it or anything.

I wrote a song for the event, and I was joined on the stage by my school technology friend and guitar player, Steve. The song is called One True Friend.

There was a sixth grade A Capella group who did a fantastic job (but not sure of permissions to share photos and videos) and then a few individual student performers, including these two gifted students who work with Steve on music on a regular basis.

Sara (on the ukulele, singing Riptide)

Gabby (singing a song she wrote)

It was a cool way to end the week before April vacation, and to showcase student talent in a concert that wasn’t all that stressful (although the students were still nervous).

Peace (in the share),

Slice of Life: Poetry and Image Collecting

I’ve been using primary source images from the Library of Congress to write poetry for the past few days and it’s been pretty interesting to get inspired by history. I gathered them all up here in a Storify as a way to curate the poems and images and reflection points.

Peace (in poems),

Disrupted, The Big Short, and the Great Unknowns

It’s just by chance that I finished Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble by journalist Dan Lyons (he, of Fake Steve Jobs fame, writer on Silicon Valley, and former tech columnist of Newsweek) on the very same day that we watched The Big Short for family movie night.

What can I say? I am worried about our whole financial system now, and I can’t tell if that is because Michael Lewis’ tale (The Big Short is adapted from his book) of how the economy crumbled in 2007-2008 is merely an alarming precursor of “here we go again” on the horizon of technology start-ups instead of the housing market. The movie certainly reminded me of not just the weakness of underlying factors but also exposed yet again the ways in which banks and Wall Street and the business world stack the deck in their favor. Every single time.

The world crumbles, millions of people lose their jobs and homes, and the leaders of Wall Street walk away, rich as hell with the taxpayers bailing them out. (I know this is simplistic understanding but it’s what I got right now). This is why Bernie Sanders resonates with young, nervous voters who see the system as corrupt and stacked against them. Even the characters with some moral undertones in the movie get rich — by betting that the entire American/Global economy will fail.

In Disrupted, Lyons writes about his time as a 50-plus-year-old unemployed writer trying to find his way into the Dot-Com world of Boston after being laid off by Newsweek. He does get his foot in the door at a growing technology company, only to realize, as Lewis showed, that everything in the business world is stacked against the average person (and against anyone over the age of 4o … ouch) and that what he sees runs counter to the logic of business understanding. Start-up technology companies don’t make profits — they make IPOs, and the average worker does not cash in. The CEO and executives do.

What I found most startling, if Lyons is to believed, is the near-cult-like culture that he finds in the technology start-up world. The place is teeming with 20-somethings, fresh out of college, and taking low salary for long hours of sales, sales, sales. Whole rooms are crammed with young marketers, pitching products on the phones. They follow every lead by every click on their websites (yes, web cookies track you and every free ebook you download is an invite to get a cold call). Unrealistic quotas drive the company dayafterdayafterdayafterday. People get fired, with no notice. Wait — the language is not “fired” but “graduated” to something else. The vision from the top is not on the technology that will transform the economy. Instead, the narrative is on the “company story” that will fuel Venture Capital and investors.

These young people seem to buy — hook-line-sinker — the endless rhetorical nonsense of the company leaders about the value of hard work for low pay, all in the name of the good of the company and unity and some touch-feely acronym world. Some of what Lyons shares seems like something right out of Orwell or Kafka.  The whole notion of these tech start-ups is the not the product itself, but the sales numbers that will convince investors in a public offering to pay more for stock on the possibility (and only a possibility) that someday, down the line, the company might make a profit.

Maybe. Possible never. (That’s what they write in their IPO, believe it or not. Profits may never come.)

Yikes! That’s akin to realizing there are whole ghost town subdivisions in Florida that are nearly vacant because of mortgage problems and defaults. It’s the canary in the coal mine. When the folks in The Big Short see those subdivisions with their own eyes — hundreds of empty houses — they realize the tragic reality: It’s the bubble about to burst.

There’s a strange epilogue to Distrupted, too, in which some of the top executives of the company where Lyons worked get accused of hacking their way to gain access to a book being written about their company (Lyons assumes it is his book that is the target of the hack). Some get fired but not the top dogs of the firm. They come out just fine. And they get rich when the IPO happens.

Of course, they do.

My oldest son is off to college next year in the Boston area. I’m passing him Lyons’ book, just in case he has some illusions about joining the burdening start-ups in Boston (one of the hot spots in the country). It may not stop him when he reaches that decision point of his first job in a few years, although I would try my best to convince him otherwise. Wish me luck.

Peace (in the markets),

Library of Congress Poetry: Radio Signals

(I’m exploring poetry through images by tapping into the extensive collection of the Library of Congress on Flickr. There are some amazing images shared with the public and more coming every month or two, it seems. What can inspire you? Be sure to cite where you got the image from. Use Alan Levine’s Flickr Attribution tool and your life is a breeze.)

flickr photo shared by The Library of Congress with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

Imagine the noise
if you stood
inside this antenna
and opened your ears
to the world.

Close your eyes
and listen, if you can,
and be patient, as your mind
puts frequencies into

Somewhere, out there,
in some far-off place,
someone else is listening, too,
and all you need to do is

tune in.

Process Note: What I noticed first with this image is the wide open space behind the man and his radio device. Also, the large box antenna pulls in radio signals. I tried to move the poem beyond the man and his radio apparatus … to more of the idea of all of us, slowing down and listening to the world.

Peace (in all frequencies),