December 24, 2007
America Everywhere, Again
The sun cast a fractured shadow at the end of the pool. The shadows looked like lined-up carrots, each of them an oddly-twigged shape that lay side by side, row by row. The crystal blue water looked ten degrees cooler than when I had fallen asleep. How long had it been exactly? An hour, two, maybe longer?
I felt goosebumps along my upper right arm. I rubbed my eyes with the knuckles of my index and middle fingers the way a ten year child does after a nap. No, not a nap, after she wakes up from a long car ride on a lazy summer day.
I had been to Mexico before but not this far south. Despite my global escapades to more than 2,000 destinations, I had never ventured below Baja, as if Mexico didn't count as a foreign destination in my mind. Like Canada, it has always felt like an extension of America even though a Canadian or Mexican would shudder at that comparison.
It's not as if they are not extraordinarily different and ardently foreign in countless ways, but the notion of staying so close to American soil when you simply didn't have to always seemed so uninviting. By venturing outside of its borders and making the effort, you would somehow be rewarded with a life-changing moment, a richer encounter, and what I now refer to as an external 'jolt.'
What I really mean by this is a non-American jolt, what an old friend used to call a walkabout, a journey that, regardless of its length, would hit you over the head with bouts of creativity, insight, wisdom, and reflection -- all of which I was certain I couldn't gain at home.
It's not as if I haven't been deeply jolted by Montana's blissful nothingness, Idaho's surprising beauty, or inspired by the authenticity of a New England fall or a conversation on a New York City-bound train. All of it has both charged and moved me, yet that very important perspective (call it a gift) you only gain when you cross an international border can never be granted on your own soil.
This Mexico, this very developed, expensive and noisy Mexico, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, is known as a major tourist destination. Even with the dollar's decline (no surprise, but did you ever imagine it would fall below the Canadian dollar?), this Mexico is shockingly expensive, with average dinner prices at about the same or higher than San Francisco's mid-ranged options. Out-of-line prices but with a third world infrastructure that doesn’t match them in any way.
Active construction is everywhere you turn with tacky and noisy condos and complexes sprouting up on every inch of beach. It was yet another grass cutter that woke me from perhaps the only relaxing few hours since we arrived.
Grass cutters, lawn mowers, construction on all sides, hammers, saws, backhoes, traffic that hums at the same volume as LA on a Friday night, air conditioning systems, tractor-trailer jake breaks, New York-like sirens, loud music and shouts that carry themselves boisterously down the beach and in every common area imagineable. All that on top of the loudest household appliances I've ever heard. Welcome to this Mexico.
Noisy and expensive With both constantly hitting you in the face, you are at least welcomed by another consistency here: great people. Again and again, the authenticity of the people I've met in shops, on the street, the beach and in cafes have warmed my heart. Yet I feel as if this place has sold out to the yanks in ways that are sadly destructive.
If you ever dive into a conversation about what we as a nation have darkened or flattened, you may feel the air suddenly thicken. After years of trying, perhaps you simply avoid the discussion and go for a foreign jolt instead.
I thought about all of it and this Mexico when I began stirring after hearing yet another lawn mower and then a loud thump, not that dissimilar from the one that woke me up at 4 am the previous morning.
The shade was moving. I packed up my four-foot-long salmon-colored cushion and dragged it to the opposite side of the pool, the only area left with any sun. I turned back for my towel and bag and dragged them too, like the same ten year old who had just been woken up by some adult who told her it was time.
It reminded me of my teenage years in Arizona where our Saturdays that started with Casey Kasem's Top Forty, ended with retreating to the last unshadowed spot by the pool. There we'd apply more coconut oil and talk about boys. Now I'm a grown woman and my friends still talk about the 'boys' in their lives - their husbands, partners and children. All boys.
Now comfortable with the last of the sun warming my only slightly-tanned skin, I had a better view of what could be paradise had I been wearing earplugs so I couldn't hear the constant hum of some external force or machine imported from the states.
You ask for this outcome when you fly to an overpopulated tourist destination during the holidays, yet pickings were slim for what I was looking for this trip. The spoken Spanish and tiny corner supermarkets with products wearing the same packaging they wore in the 1970s at home were at least reminders that I was, in fact, away.
Away, far away, but with everything American following me at every turn, including the wifi extender I purchased to stay connected because today's world requires it. The Colorado-based couple who owned the condo we rented even furnished its interior with Crate & Barrel look-alikes.
How comical that one of the books I brought with me was Anne Tyler's Digging to America. Cynical about many of the same Americanisms that show up here in this Mexico, she tactfully weaves back and forth between the things that make us both shudder and smile.
She initially thought it was going to be a novel about the stark differences between two families living in Baltimore's suburbs: an all-American couple she names Bitsy and Brad, and an Iranian couple who have assimilated themselves into all the things that it means to be American.
Her ability to bring these characters alive in her story of both couples' adoption of Korean babies is astonishingly real, in that kind of way that authors rarely achieve. It's in this kind of writing, this artful way of storytelling, where the characters remain with you for weeks if not months after you finish the last page.
In the end, the book is about belonging and how hard it is to feel like we ever truly belong anywhere. I can see that at home and most certainly can see it here in Mexico, especially this Mexico. Americans out of place, Europeans out of place, Canadians out of place, Mexicans out of place.......all looking for something familiar and comfortable to grab onto, relate to and ultimately connect with.
A Joyous Christmas All!
Happy Holidays to all from Mexico!!
December 22, 2007
Ode to Beethoven
Last Sunday was Beethoven's birthday. Listen to his Ninth Symphony. It was written less than three years before he died, long after he had gone completely deaf. More than an hour in length, it is best known for the pealing Ode to Joy theme of the final movement (scroll to the bottom of this link for the sound file), and the first two movements have much of the thrust and momentum for which he is famous, but the heart of the symphony is in the third movement adagio.
He gives you all this forward motion and then after the big BAM at the end of the second movement he opens up the third with a wide, calm canvas on which he places a series of single notes from the woodwinds, separated like stars in the night sky and that the violins then tie together with a long, peaceful sash. After all the racing that came before it is as if he stopped in an eternal meadow at night to give us a stunning glimpse of the entire universe, a musical firmament that extends below the horizons, guiding us to the far edge of our spiritual capacities, in the way that only music can.
Beethoven's later works are unlike anything else in classical music. His last three piano sonatas, the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the final string quartets. The composers who followed him (Schumann and Brahms come to mind ) took their cues from Beethoven's middle period works, leaving his last works as the most sublime cul de sac in all of the arts, unable to be followed.
It is as if his deafness, rather than limiting him, allowed him to cast aside the restrictions of the ear, so that he could write from the mind and especially his spirit.
When was the last time you stopped for art? Take the time and clear the space, turn off your cell phone and the lights, and be transformed.
December 13, 2007
Grieving over Marc Orchant's Death
Horrible news of a death in my inbox this morning. It is the second time I've learned of a friend's death late. The first was a week after 9/11 when I called a fellow PR colleague to offer him a gig. Only on that call did I learn from his business partner that he was among the unlucky ones who boarded the wrong airplane six days earlier.
Due to a project I'm buried in, only today, did I discover the news about Marc Orchant's death. The news came from a former client who assumed I knew and like we always do when we hear something we don't want to hear, we go to the "disbelief, tell me its not true place" first.
Others have written about his work, his ethics and his loyalty. I can vouch for all those things and more. I'm still shaken as I write this but feel the need to pour it out on a page, any page. "Why Marc?"
He was not only a loyal friend, but a really caring one. This, my friends, is a rare, rare quality, particularly in a world where so many around us are running around frantically, often spend more time with technology and work than loved ones, and frankly don't take enough time to hug and listen on a regular basis. Marc always did.
Over the years, Marc would patiently listen to any client pitch I'd throw his way, fire really smart questions after every demo and always -- always -- offered insight on what he felt client X could do to raise the bar. Perhaps one humble man's opinion, but his advice was always thoughtful, heartfelt and caring.
His editorial coverage of all of these companies was honest and insightful. Whether the topic was productivity or another Web 2.0 tool, you could tell that Marc took the time to really understand what he was writing about. His work could be trusted and made blogging reputable.
Whenever I had Outlook issues, which was often, who could I count on to bail me out regardless of what deadlines he had on his plate? Marc. Always Marc.
Marc was an amazing listener. He's given me advice over the years about too many things to list, ranging from blogging and email tips to relationships and love. Those who have felt and known Marc's presence know that his heart went into everything.
We had talked about the New Mexico balloon festival, how I'd make it to the next one, that I'd grab Murray Gell-Man who also has a house there and we'd all picnic, drink wine and talk till the cows came home. There, I told myself, I'd tell him that he is like the brother I always wished I had.
My heart goes out to Sue, who I adore and Marc's family. Marc touched SO many. Marc, I know you can hear this - thank you for all that you gave and for being the really wonderful friend and brother you never knew you were to me. You were and remain loved by countless people. I miss you.
Above and below are a handful of shots I took at a few industry events in recent years
December 12, 2007
Host of Comparison-Shopping Sites Emerging
The focus is on a host of comparison-shopping websites that are emerging and the timing couldn't be better - two weeks before Christmas. Says Peter Barlas of their site: Retrevo is among a new breed of companies that help consumers navigate the Internet's vast cybermall — while trying to snag a piece of the growing multibillion-dollar market for selling products online.
December 11, 2007
AltSearchEngines Debate on Consumer Electronics
December 07, 2007
More On Insanely Confusing Web 2.0 Names
David Pogue writes about useless Web 2.0 names, ones that no longer make sense, are hard to spell, say and remember.
He notes that, "these days, startups take the lazy way out: they choose goofy-sounding nonsense words. They think they're being clever by being unclever." Then he goes on to list websites that have hit the Web in the last year or so: Doostang. Wufoo. Bliin. Thoof. Bebo. Meebo. Meemo. Kudit. Raketu. Etelos. Oyogi. Qoop. Fark. Kijiji. Zixxo. Zoogmo.
I get new business leads every week that are similar - they all start to blend together after awhile. He says, "these startups think that these names will stick in our minds because they're so offbeat, but they're wrong.
Actually, all those twentysomething entrepreneurs are ensuring that we won't remember them. Those names all blend together into a Dr. Seuss 2.0 jumble."
He also lists a handful of names that Name Generator (at Dotomator.com) brought up: Cojigo. Roombee. Kwiboo. Trundu. Oobox. Ceelox. Myndo. Ababoo. Vible. Yambo. Eizu. Twimba. Yanoodle. I can pronounce a few of them but try to get me to remember how to spell them!!
I wrote about this earlier this year picking on a handful of vertical search engine names that were so Dr. Seuss jumble-like, that even I, baked into the heart of this business was miffed by.
Of those names, my favorites from the Dr. Seuss jumble include: Ajaxwhois, flickrstorm, FundooWeb, Whonu, similicio.us, KwMap, Mnemomap, Ujiko, Tagnautica, Omgili, and Xcavator.
You get his point.
December 05, 2007
All Things Change & It's a Great Thing
If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying, there is nothing you can't achieve.
New & Old Media Shifts
Two other big changes from folks who have in the same gig for awhile: industry pal Rachel Konrad at the Associated Press (who actually lives in my hood), has decided to leave her journalism gig starting December 21st and MSNBC's Gary Krakow has joined TheStreet.com as a senior technology reporter.
Amazing Things Happen If You'd Just Listen More Often
I adore Rich Oppenheim's writing style and his logic. A reporter (who is also an accountant btw) who I have known and worked with for well over a decade continues to make me smile. He writes about communications troubles in a recent blog post. (goes hand in hand with information overload troubles I might add)
In addition to a bunch of other great points, he notes that, "perhaps we can start this communications process with the recognition that we need to learn really good ways to communicate in this technological world of ours. And one of the lessons has to be that when there is nothing to say, we can just shut up and listen." Frankly, we don't shut up and listen often enough.