November 25, 2012
The American Thanksgiving Tradition: Where Did It Go?
Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I never took lightly, mainly because it was the one holiday above all other holidays, where we sat down at a table together as a family...one massive large table. While this was also the plan at Christmas and attempts were made and often fulfilled, it wasn't quite the same as the tradition that we forced upon ourselves on Thanksgiving.
My family wasn't exactly "sitters." They didn't like to sit or really know how to sit, at least not for long, so it was remarkable that people showed up, did as they were told and handled hours of conversation on end.
I was born in the sixties, so after dinner, women did the dishes and men drank gin martinis and manhattans in a separate room far away from the kitchen.
Alternatively, the men headed to "the gazable" to smoke as it was famously called at my Uncle Edgar's house which was perched on a slope along a country road, one that had its fair share of pitfalls getting in and out of the driveway after a heavy snowfall.
While we weren't a family that piled on the dinner "grace" at the table, nor did we go around the table and share what we were grateful for, we were expected to talk about what we were "doing." I wasn't aware of how uncommon it was at the time, but my grandfather, father, and nearly all of my uncles and cousins ran their own businesses as did a couple aunts, so everyone was born with an instinctive entrepreneurial spirit.
In the 60s and 70s, that meant something a little different than it does today and all the men regardless of how many hours they put in during the day, also mowed, cleaned, scraped, painted, hammered and plastered during any other spare window they had.
With military men at the table who had toughened and roughened from far too many wars, the gatherings were full of far more alpha testosterone influenced flannel shirts than dresses with flowers and pearls. The men were men, the kind who wouldn't settle for anything but strong women who could conquer the world in case they couldn't one day.
One thing that bonded us during these holiday functions was games and we played plenty of them late into the night -- from cards to board games to charades. And, rest assured, no one believed that children would be messed up for life if they weren't tucked in by 8 pm every night.
Like all families, there was always a Great Aunt Hilda or Great Uncle Alton snoring in some remote room while another had a TV on that no one was watching.
Great Grandma Bert lived through at least four husbands (we lost count) and would always insist on an extra shot in her eggnog and that was after she yelled at any son who would listen to something in the world she wasn't happy about, which grew with age.
While every woman in the family baked something to contribute to the massive pile of food, there always seemed to be at least one white box of Russell Stover Chocolates on the table, the kind that cost about $3 from a nearby drug store and was brought be some lame man in the family who couldn't be bothered to spring for anything else. He figured because he could buy the box with a bow on it (they all included one around holiday time), he was safe from being completely embarrassed. Great Grandma Bert used to take a bite out of one of these highly sugared milk chocolate concoctions and if she didn't like it, she simply put it back in the box, not bothering to hide the indentation her false teeth made in the process.
As kids, our mouths would drop as she proceeded to do this to several pieces of chocolate. As a woman who was born in the 1800s, had thrown one husband out of the house and ran for some political office over the years, she didn't hold back any punches. Catching the glares from her great grandchildren, she'd pipe up and say to us laughing, "if you end up living close to a century old, you can do whatever the hell you want too."
She was always a source of amusement for her grandchildren and great grandchildren although her sons seemed to endure more than laugh, yet they all seemed to respect her strength and persistence despite how difficult she was to manage at times.
Thanksgiving memories included her boldness and directness, a symbolic force in all of our lives proving that even a woman born in the 1800s who was barely 5 feet tall could hold court and utilize her power.
I never got to ask her what the source of her strength was through it all because I was never old enough to understand that a woman had such a thing as a "source" until years later.
I sometimes wonder if she's not flitting around my garden disguised as a bird or perhaps the snarly cat in my neighbor's garden who while gets into night fights from time-to-time, seems to protect the houses in the neighborhood.
From her place of strength came confidence and the gift of the gab, not quiet Gandhi-like solitude. No one in the family seemed to be short on words and not unlike an old fashioned Italian family even though our heritage came from elsewhere, everyone talked and if there was a shy member of the family, I never met them.
If someone became aggravated, annoyed or bored, they'd simply get up from the table and go bark at someone else.
In between all of this chaos was a serious meal: turkey, mashed potatoes with gobs of butter (Aunt Jo made the best of the lot), stuffing, squash, homemade cranberry sauce, pearled onions, glazed carrots, and some thick casserole dish that was loaded with ingredients bound to destroy your arteries, but between the eggnog, chocolate, whiskey and cheese at the onslaught, no one was counting.
And somewhere, somehow between the bickering and the games, we sang. Music was always part of anything we did, whether that meant a family member playing the piano or an old fashioned record we played on a turntable that someone thought was grand enough to warrant repeating every year. Dancing often followed. All of it became a tradition even if it is a blurry mess of one that is hard to piece together it was so long ago.
This concept of tradition was something I took with me as I made my way out into the world even after nearly every family member died, decreasing the pool of gatherings over the years to the fragmented unrecognizable particles they are today.
For those who are still living, they don't unite as one, but as an independent separate families in their own homes. Small and isolated but familiar and safe, forever clinging to something fuzzy off in the distance that may bring them one smile from such a far away time that it now seems like its someone else's dream.
It's one of the experiences in my life that made me appreciate other people's cultures as I made my way around the world. When the Swedes would gather around a Christmas Tree at midnight the day before, and held hands as they circled the large fur, it was merely a Nordic replica of my own family's strangeness of playing particular songs as the tree went up, while men took on one role and woman another.
Children and children's children are often the catalysts that keep traditions alive and when fewer families have them or the great aunts who insisted on keeping traditional gatherings alive have passed, the tradition becomes a mere memory, one that shares little snippets and pieces to someone else in a weird, but sweet kind of way.
Since my family has become a smattering of black and white prints on a refrigerator door, rather than guests at a dinner table, I didn't want the concept of Thanksgiving as I once experienced it to become so blurry that I would forget the taste of that insanely thick casserole dish I can never remember the name of, or the smells of my Aunt Betty's kitchen before we polished off loaves of sweet breads freshly pulled from her 1930's stove.
OR, the wet smell of the orange and red leaves that were days away from being covered by snow. Then there was the taste of the icicle that hung from my Uncle Dick's house, the smell of our car as we drove home with leftovers after a long succulent day and the smell of my aunt's basement as we crawled our way through the dusty and dark nooks and crannies waiting for appetizers to be served.
Later, other marvelous things were added like the pumpkin and blueberry pies I baked, one of which won top prize in the New York State Fair, and my grandmother's unforgettable rice pudding with cloves and cinnamon. Food mattered. Conversation mattered. Games mattered. Bickering mattered. Being real mattered. And, most importantly, showing up mattered.
I'm astounded how many people don't bother with Thanksgiving at all. In the growing melting pot that we live in, it's not surprising. This year, I ended up having a late dinner with six non-Americans kind of by accident.
Family gatherings start early for most traditional American families and dinner is often served between 2 and 6 depending on the culture and part of the country, but rarely later. It was clear that it wasn't a yank who organized the dinner since the dinner reservation was at 7 at an Italian restaurant, one which oddly had a Turkey dinner special in honor of Thanksgiving.
The dressing of course was made with Italian sausage, the cranberry sauce wasn't homemade and there was no squash. My heart stopped a beat when I realized there wouldn't be squash at the table, but it wasn't quite as bad as the stuffed cream puffs that showed up for dessert. I looked around the room and sited families having dinner, and many tables had several looking down at their cell phones rather than talking to the people in front of them. I looked behind me and the cell phones were there too. To my left? Yup. To my right. Heads buried in cell phones everywhere all in lieu of a physical conversation.
The flow of that human connection is suddenly lost and the magic moments that you used to have thousands of are now diminished to perhaps one if you're lucky in an hour sitting.
Later on the train, I checked the news and was sadly reminded of another new American Thanksgiving "tradition": Black Friday, where Americans stand in long lines bundled in warm jackets waiting for a store to open.
This isn't to say that there were not plenty of American families eating dessert at the dinner table together at the same time, but it does mean that millions (not hundreds) forego that experience because "getting a deal before anyone else" has become a higher priority.
With Target and Walmart offering Black Friday deals earlier than ever this year, things got ugly: one man threatened fellow shoppers by pulling a gun while in line, another threatened to stab others waiting in a Kmart line and there was a scuffle that broke out over a cell phone deal at a Walmart.
Let's put this into perspective. Sometime in the 1960s, some brilliant marketing genuis (aka idiot), decided that Black Friday should fall on the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to thanks, family and gratitude. Somehow along the way, we traded family reunion for retail, and togetherness and gratitude for spending money.
The term “Black Friday” was originally coined to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and somehow it has migrated into a kind of madness that derails people away from the core things that Thanksgiving represents, a far cry from how our ancestors celebrated this ancient November feast.
Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas like others who came off the boat in the 1600's, gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land. Others tout it as the annual celebration to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. How and why did retail take over a holiday focused on family, gratitude and giving?
Traditions are often there to serve as a reminder of what's real and sacred in a culture...in a nation. How did this country become SO far disconnected to what's real and sacred?
While I declined the cream puff whatever they were at the end of my Thanksgiving meal and quietly reflected how foreign the whole evening felt, I realized that 'of course' it would and should feel foreign when I was the only born and bred yank there.
I then smiled at how natural such an occurrence would be in my life having been a global traveler for so many years. It made sense that while the non-Americans at my table now lived in this country, they didn't grow up with a tradition I hold so dear. To them, they didn't know that squash should be on the table, that 7 pm is an odd time for a Thanksgiving meal, and that even if technology could be part of a conversation, that sharing was a very important part of the dinner.
They didn't grow up with this inherent tradition that houses so many beautiful and tragic memories for so many yanks across so many generations. How could they know I thought quietly.
Then I thought about so many Thanksgivings gone right and all the ones that went wrong over the years. What was constant was a bond that brought us closer together year after year.
There's a reason the words "thanks" and "giving" are in the word Thanksgiving. In fact, it's the only holiday we have as Americans that has such precious words, two words that depict the most sacred things we have: humanity.
And yet, the dismissal of this tradition was prevalent in so many ways this year, from the activities the night before, to the barrage of media coverage of Black Friday on the day of, to the next two days with a friend who spent more time on his laptop and cell phone than in a physical conversation, even during a visit from other friends while in the same room. Did we even make eye contact five times in two days?
My point here is not to beat up on my friend's connection to technology - I have my moments...we all do, especially for those of us who live in Silicon Valley. My point is how increasingly common this is becoming among friends and family and more importantly, how little we recognize the fact that this choice values a machine connection over a human connection. It has become so common that we no longer see it as "odd" or "sad" or "disrespectful" or "rude" or "distracted". What this pattern is not is present.
What followed was a failed attempt to share an old fashioned story with my friend. The story is from a record I have from the 1960s, a moment in time so lost that it is hard to find on eBay or other collectable sites today. The tale is told by a little fir tree who is looking for his true purpose in life, a story I carry with me into board rooms and other areas of my life to this day. It is a story that gives me strength.
The gift was lost: not separating from "a machine" for just a few moments in time is in fact a decision to separate from "a human" during those same few moments.
I lived in Amsterdam many years ago, a place I still hold dear to my heart. When I was about to leave the country, my closest friend who was a local, announced that he wanted to throw me a small farewell party at his house. The time of year was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the evening was over, he said it was time for my gift. What followed is one of the most precious gifts I have received to this day.
Hans was a doctor and while he was not a religious man in the 'traditional' sense, he did attend a Russian Orthodox Church where he sang in a choir. He had asked his group to join him in writing lyrics and music dedicated to me and my departure from Holland.
The song was written, the group had rehearsed and then, the voices sang out in four languages while a harp played, and then...the girl cried. She cried from a place of gratitude and "thanks." She cried because it was one of the most "giving" moments she had received in her life. It was a true Thanksgiving moment, one this girl will never forget.
I had wanted to give my friend "a gift of sorts" on that sunny Thanksgiving weekend day. It saddens me to think that technology can control our life so much that we can forego tradition, a childhood memory or the true essence of what a holiday means because of addictive distractions that remove us far away from our center.
I failed to communicate why this Thanksgiving tradition should mean something to all of us and why we should take the time to embrace humanity in honor of it. And so here I am attempting to do so in a blog window while the sound of cat fights echo outside my bedroom window.
As random people were starring down at their cell phones for most of their Thanksgiving dinner the day before, rather into their friend's and family's eyes, I couldn't help but think of all the gifts....all the magical moments they were losing because of it.
What we lose by glazing over tradition and its true meaning is thousands of potential magic moments that bond humans together and form friendships that last a lifetime. By not being present with each other whether its because of Black Friday, laptops and cell phones, the inability to share what is meaningful to us and what we appreciate about each other most, or simply not showing up, we stand to lose the very core of what makes us human.
Photo Credits: Hands: Human Connection Institute, Family shots: Renee Blodgett, Human Circle shot - Theadhikaris and Turkey photo: Stockbyte.
November 07, 2012
Science & Nonduality: Where Data & Consciousness Meet Puppets and Tea
After a few days filling my head for ten hours a day at the Singularity Summit, to then spend a few days filling my head with discussions on nonduality had a weird rewiring effect on my brain. This happens often however given I'm such a sponge for all things 'possible' and both groups believe that all things are possible. One believes that technology will make all possibilities happen and the other is a bridge to "it," but with spirituality leading the way. Sort of.
Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.
I recently had the opportunity to attend an event that integrates both worlds: the SAND Conference or its longer known name: Science & Nonduality Conference. It's tagline: The Nature of the Self of course.
An annual event stateside and in Europe, it is held in San Rafael California in October and in the Netherlands in May. Nonduality is the main thread throughout however within that eye's view, people from all walks of life come together to discuss 'its' meaning and explore what is emerging in consciousness.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the conversation is a rich and rewarding one.
I spent ten days or so in Fiji a few years back learning the 'ins and outs' of the "oneness movement" (some people see it as a cult) and in the process, I became certified as an official Deeksha Blessing giver.
What does that mean exactly?
A Deeksha Blessing is a direct transfer of intelligent sacred energy and in this "transfer," people may cry or laugh as their heart opens in small or big ways. Inside this opening, everything from small shifts that can modify the dynamics of a relationship to transformations that can alter lives forever, erupt.
It can also bring about clarity or quiet a busy mind in a similar way that meditation achieves. What it doesn't promise to do, but can do, is open the door to higher states of awareness and initiate awakening...an awakening where there's a feeling of oneness and not a sense of separateness.
Their goal is to raise the level of consciousness globally through a "ripple effect that goes out to all of mankind." My personal experience with it was mixed.
In both giving and receiving a Deeksha Blessing, I did experience higher levels of awareness and it was evident to me at least, that a powerful energy exchange is not only possible, but it can move you into a different state.
In most cases, it's a purer stage of being where your awareness is elevated and your heart is more open. I saw some powerful things happen as a result of this energy exchange over time...in Fiji, and later in the states.
That said, I believe most of our spiritual growth comes from within ourselves, deeksha blessing or not, as powerful as it may be. It happens when we let go of our fears.
A feeling of oneness in its truest sense comes from a place of unconditional love for everyone around us, not just our immediate family. This includes self love, which more people have a hard time with than loving others.
It's also about getting out of our own way and most importantly, letting go. Letting go, silenting the mind and being present is when I go to a higher level of consciousness and the beauty about it, is that its consistent.
When I truly turn off the brain and stop my over processing which I do often (aka a state of being paralyzed by "thought"), then magic begins. This is hard work or so we think it is. That's the paradox. Once we stop fighting our mind's paralyzed state, then things move as smoothly as a light airy tube flows down a river.
Once we are transformed ourselves, we can transform people around us, including the planet.
The cool thing is that while spiritual teachers and philosophers have been writing about the concept of oneness and higher consciousness (and living it) for centuries, western scientists are now arriving at the same conclusion:
"The universe does indeed comprise of a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being - consciousness - subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean."
Eastern Mysticism is now meeting Quantum Mechanics. If both the left brains and right brains are starting to agree that we're all drops of the same ocean, why is it that we beat ourselves up and continue to live our lives from a place of fear rather than love and acceptance?
Like so many, I'm often hard on myself (note: that's "thought" speaking) and so it was no surprise that I was hard on myself several times throughout the weekend. This was the kind of conference where you 'shouldn't be' hard on yourself, I thought. (there's "thought" speaking again).
Ever have one of those "be damned" conversations inside your head that goes nowhere?
Ginu Yu writes in a blog post on nonduality: "nondualists often resort to the metaphor of a movie that's being projected on an infinite screen. Even though the characters and the scenery appear to be separate and interactive, the only thing that's really real is the white, seamless screen that's accepting the melodramatic and illusory story that's being projected upon it. Nondualists claim that, instead of you being just a small and limited character playing a part in your life's story, that, in truth, you're actually the entire infinite screen itself. From their point of view, you are the very context in which ALL of life itself is showing up in."
There are obviously people playing and working at various levels of consciousness and when you find yourself face-to-face with a really quiet soul, you become even more aware of the chatter going on in your head. This happened to me on a number of occasions at the SAND event including the brief exchange I had with Francis Lucille, an Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) teacher, who was respected by pretty much everyone I spoke to.
Even when we know its absurd to compare our states of being with others around us, it happens. For a moment in time, we return to a high school mentality and create a reality that may or may not be true.
Most of the time, the reality is in our heads and when we create that reality, the world mirrors that reality back to us. And so, suddenly what is a perceived illusion does in fact become a reality of sorts, something we have the power to change instantly...in the moment of "decision."
Rather than be effected by the noise, become the noise, let it diffuse around you as you become 'it' and suddenly the voices of that unremarkable high school playground will eventually disappear.
One of the things I loved about the event was the diversity of minds at the table...when science gets a seat at the spiritual table and both sides can respect each other and move mountains together, then oneness starts to take on a new meaning. It becomes Global. Cultural. Intellectual. Spiritual. Psychological. Scientific. And all of it ends at the same place: nonduality. We are one.
On the path to a so called golden age for humanity like everyone else there, I found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Although the sessions were led by respected speakers who flew in from around the world, it was the conversations in the hallways that moved me the most, sitting down in a circle, listening, asking questions and then just not doing anything at all. Well, maybe nothing at all over a cuppa tea.
I was taken in on more than one occasion with welcoming smiles by two guys obsessed with tea more than life itself. Almost. There were two round tables set up with short backless chairs surrounding them.
They led tea ceremonies all day, every day and to participate, all you had to do was take a seat at the table. It was called the OmShanTea Lounge.
Sitting was always a treasure because it meant meeting a new soul every time; sometimes it was someone at the middle of his or her journey who was struggling with one thing or another and sometimes it was someone you felt never had to struggle at all. Miraculously, they had arrived on this planet inherently and quietly knowing all the answers by the age of ten.
When we let go of our stories, I find that just when I think I'm the teacher, I'm actually the student and vice versa. More often than not, we are both in every encounter. Awareness of that exchange even if we don't necessarily understand it, is such a beautiful thing. And, the whole conference was a bit like that.
There were too many sessions and speakers to list since the event is four days (and nights) long but you can get a glimpse of this year's schedule here. Topics I expected to see included sessions such as: The Practice of Selflessness, The Self and Non-Duality in Sufism, Closing the Gap Between "I" and my "Self", The Art of Being Present and the Poetry of Infinite Belonging.
But, there were also sessions on health and disease, spiritual ecology and a response to our present ecological crisis, getting the same result through magic mushrooms and meditation, psychedelic research, revealing the self through Kabbalah & Alchemy, theta consciousness and the heart of quantum phsyics. John Hagelin gave an inspiring talk on Higher States: The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment.
A few sessions I missed but would have loved to be sitting front row center for, included the Yin-Yang Theory for Transformation: Applying Feminine and Masculine Principles for Awakening by Mukti, An Integral Approach to Dreams by Fariba Bogzaran & Daniel Deslauriers, Unmani's Unravelling the great pretence of who you think you are and Adyashanti's Mystery of Being.
Since I am so physical and being in a creative state through my body is at my core, my favorite sessions were those which involved elevating 'self' through movement and music. They had daily activities in a space they referred to as the Experiential Room.
Other opportunities included the energy of sound and Shamanic Practice, African drums, TransDance with Heather Munroe Pierce and a very cool session called the Fusion of Opposites in the Circular Portal, a hoop-dance exploration with Stefana Serafina.
I also had a lot of fun meeting (and then kissing) Puppetji, a puppet who enlightens you through simple reminders of what's real, and Meriel Gold's drawing class.
Muriel's drawing class seemed to be popular since it was sold out when I arrived. Graciously, a man gave me his seat and announced he was off to carve pumpkins with a two year old. I didn't know anything about her except that she had an English accent, was from Scottish descent and had that dry sense of humor that only someone who was born there or who has lived there can truly appreciate. I loved her energy immediately.
Scrolls of large paper hung off long wide tables and next to each sitting space was a round block of brown clay, a feather, and a couple utensils that could be used to scatter wet clay or ink on the paper.
Since I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I didn't realize until after I soaked my hands in water and bathed them with clay, that I'd be drawing nudes, but without my eyes. Well, sort of.
Her intention was for us to draw with our hands while feeling what we saw rather than putting 'thought' into what we saw. As my creative busy brain started to take over, Muriel came straight for me, grabbed my hands and softened them over the paper as they were but an airbrush and the paper was but a cloud.
Alas, I "get it" Muriel, I "get it." Pure, simple, musical and divine, my hands don't want to think as much as my brain doesn't want to really think. "Thought" so often gets in the way of us doing our best work....our most divine work.
I didn't want to leave the room but eventually afternoon turned into evening and I found myself covered in wet clay from head to toe. Little did I know that I'd still find clay stains on my body and clothes days later even after showers and laundry.
Senegalese musician Youssoupha Sidibe is a Kora player who performed for us. His music fuses traditional West African sounds on the Kora, with the Sufi devotional chanting of the Senegalese Baay Faal community. (see video)
Films also played throughout the conference including Kumare, Neti Neti, Nataraja (The Dance of Life), The Unknowable Reality of Things, and others.
Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo produce and run the conference and being around them is pure joy. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their events, I'd strongly recommend it.
If you want to transform your life, engage with some of the world's leading thinkers and nondoers in the world of consciousness and join a community that bridges the best of the spiritual world with the best of the scientific world, SAND is an incredible journey.
Besides, where else do you have an opportunity to sip transformative tea, kiss a puppet guru, meditate, do yoga, and African dance in the same morning? OR, watch spiritual films, finger paint and grow from some of the most respected spiritual and scientific leaders today in the same afternoon?
Thank you to Maurizio and Zaya for an opportunity to spend time with so many beautiful souls, Ginu Yu who introduced me to their world and Nick Day for his patience and support while I went off target, back on target and then off target again.
We are all on our own journey. It's important to recognize this and move the needle forward one step at a time until we are free from the thought (and thoughts) that bind us from living a remarkable life every minute of the day.
Photo credits in order of apperance, IAwakeBlog, HolyBooks, BeforeGlow, Unknown, Unknown, Renee Blodgett (Francis shot), Lands of Wisdom and Renee Blodgett. For more on spirituality on WBTW, go here. Read my latest tweets @magicsaucemedia and @weblogtheworld.
March 19, 2012
Austin's Scene & #SXSW in a Nutshell: My Summary of Sorts...
SXSW aka South-by-Southwest, the event that takes a week of my time every year in Austin, Texas, seems to get bigger and bigger every March, not to mention more global.
Refer to my blog write-up on its international diversity here.
For example, Ireland had the most number of start-ups they've ever had at SXSW (30 in total representing film and interactive).
Also in my international blog post, I covered the sheer volume of brands who had tents (Nokia, Microsoft and others), threw parties (HP, Pepsico and others...I lost track) or carted folks around town (Chevy).
On the interactive side, there was so much activity between the dozens and dozens of panels to the after parties, all of which I couldn't keep up with despite my social media apps buzzing me every ten seconds to tell me what was happening and where. Foursquare remained a popular app for check-ins and to see where your buds were - that said, the private parties were off the grid and frankly, had to be, for the intimacy of the "old SXSW" to prevail, a necessary for those of us who have been going for a decade (or more).
Speaking of Foursquare, they had a private bash where the security was so intense that a friend of mine got 'bounced' before he even made it up the stairs despite the fact that he was buds with 80% of the attendees. "Kids" (early 20-something year old geeks, marketers and wanna-bes) seemed to be clamoring to get elbow time with Dennis Crowley and get into events like this all over town and frankly, it was just not worth the fight, even the ones where I was on the VIP list, because VIP list or not, the lines and wall-to-wall rooms were still maddening.
Some late nights, I retreated to The Driskell which has become a little too crowded as well, but at the very least, you're likely to run into some industry buds who are more in the mood for a quiet drink amidst moose and deer on the wall and antiquated brass and iron statues that mesh the culture of Texas with England somewhere along the way.
The below was taken on my iPhone at some random 3 am hour in the Driskell lobby.
Other nights, after the official invitations of music, film and interactive wore me out, taking in a dive bar where you could take in some off-the-beaten path music was the way to go.
TED decided to have a 'showing' at SXSW this year (aka TED@SXSW) and blocked off a couple of hours two evenings in a row for speakers in a private room at The Driskell. The line-up included folks like TED Fellow Jose Gomez-Marquez, JP Rangaswami, Ayah Bdeir, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Ping Fu, Baratunde Thurston (who always has me in stiches), Steve Daniels and others.
Film...so many great ones! I wrote about a number of them earlier in the week, which you can scroll through in the Arts/Austin section here. So many worth listing but since I tend to cover things from a global and international perspective, a few call-outs worth noting include: Sunset Strip, The Taiwan Oyster, Bay of All Saints, Eden, The Black Balloon, Trash Dance, Wonder Women and a handful of others. (see the list of winners for 2012 here). Also see our Scottish Films overview here and Israel at SXSW here.
Songster from Mowgli, the first music-creation social fame on Facebook launched at SXSW this year. CEO Marshall Seese, Jr. came to the table with a recording artist background and says their design is with "everyone’s inner rockstar in mind."
Players follow the compelling storyline of a fledging musician working their way up through the ranks of the music industry. From playing gigs at frat houses and proms, to launching a worldwide arena tour, players can make great music, while allowing their creativity to take them through all levels of the game.
I tweeted up a storm about the on-stage love for Google+ with Vic Gundotra, which was more of an informercial than it was a fireside chat. If he used the word "amazing" one more time, I thought, even the newbies who are eating this up, would have to see through Google's sugar coating. Hey, I'm a Google+ user, not a prolific one, but I'm on the system and giving them tons of my data and creative energy just like I am to Facebook without a whole lotta benefit (yet).
I'm not saying what they're trying to do isn't useful or great online canvas for photographers to share their work or industry celebs like Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble to up their social status without even trying to, but for mainstream folks, it's just not there yet. (not in this cats humble opinion anyway). Just saying - I had enuf with "amazing this and amazing that" after the first 15 minutes.
Kelly Carlin performed again in a breakout room in the main convention hall and although I've seen her before and like her energy (I totally resonated with the 1970s family TV and dysfunctional family of the 1960s jokes), there was something that put me off slightly about her stint and I couldn't figure it out until near the end.
For those of you who don't know the Carlin name, she's the daughter of iconoclastic comedian George Carlin. As a one woman show, she uses storytelling, classic video footage, and family memorabilia, to chronicle over forty years of her life with her famous father.
While she's amusing and gives us countless insights into George, it f-g feels like its all about George. I'm thinking as someone who's only slightly younger than Kelly and had a lot of the same reference points, what about YOU? I'd love to hear more about YOU!
I walked away still not knowing and it was the second time I saw her perform. I just felt that using her dad as a vehicle for her 'show' and 'persona' may have perhaps run its course and what I really wanted to hear was her voice without Dad in the background (or at the very least so prevalent) so I could better learn who SHE was as an artist and more importantly, as a person.
Who didn't have an event? On the music front, B and C listers were all there, Bruce was there, Gary Vee called all wine afficiandos to a so called 'private' venue immediately next to another so called 'private' party I was at and the line was ten miles long by the time I walked outside. Really? Is that really the way to engage with folks? A great way to get SXSW publicity so from that perspective, stints like that really work, but they're far from "real" or intimate. I just wanted to say 'hey' without a thousand pushes and shoves. For the record.
The XPrize folks also held an event and it was invite only and really felt like "invite only." Not a publicity 'stunt' in any way, everyone I met was top notch and showed up because they had a vested interest or cared about the kinds of things they cared about. Quality conversations where people weren't looking at their watch or Foursquare check-ins to see where the coolest cats were hanging next next. A welcome relief.
If you're not famliar with their work, go here: their mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Below, an XPrize team shot: (I love these guys and btw, Peter Diamandis has a new book out entitled Abundance).
My favorite part of SXSW of course is the randomness of meetings at film and music more than interactive, for at the former, there still seems to be more spontenaity, largely I think because of mutual passions rather than a race for check-ins or being 'seen' at the right party and telling the whole world about it on Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, yadda yadda yadda.
I'm not saying that politics and social klout doesn't run rampant in the film and music world, but passion for the 'art' still stands tall.....maybe not dominant in Hollywood, but at SXSW.
As for the social bit...of course I tweet at these events. I'm in the biz - who doesn't, but the feeds at SXSW are so much about where I'm at and who I'm hanging out with than providing value. It's hard to tell the difference anymore, and sometimes I even get confused by why I do what I do on social media even when my intensions are pure. The addictive nature of it all just 'ain't all that healthy' in my opinion. I have talked about this before but can't emphasize it enough.
The blogger lounge is on the top floor where it always is, around the corner from the press lounge, which had massages this year. The blogger lounge has occasional 'acts' and social media gurus of sorts popping in and out. (a little red badge gets you into it if you're a blogger).
This was more of a 'center' in previous years, but today, less so. It doesn't mean you can't still show up and meet up with old buds, converse with folks in the biz you haven't seen in awhile or folks you still haven't met, but things are so spread out and there's so much 'more' grabbing our attention that "hanging out" in the blogger lounge seem to be few and far between.
Below: Renee Blodgett, Angel Djambazov, Liz Strauss, Hugh MacLeod
Then there are a hundred or so other folks I'll keep under the radar, except for of course Jeff Pulver & crew who co-hosted a great 140Conf party (if you haven't been to their events, check 'em out), with the textPlus folks. (never enuf time Mademoiselle Heather Meeker).
Below is a snap from the Nokia Innovation Lab, a massive tent set up a few blocks from the convention center, that housed more than fake snow as you entered.
While travel wasn't a big representation at SXSW and I was struggling to find serious foodies, some of the usual suspects were hanging about. American Airlines had a down-to-earth event with fabulous peeps (closer to town or IN town next time PLEASE :-).
To the left (lighting wasn't great) is American's head of Mobile products Phil Easter talking about their latest and demoing some nifty stuff on an iPad that we can't quite talk about yet. Exciting stuff! Other call-outs worth mentioning are Stacey Frantz (corp comm), Dawn Turner (Entertainment Marketing), and Jonathan Pierce & Jon Bird (social media & video), among a handful of others.
The photo to the right has a combination of woven yarn, paint, and wire among other materials.
While the booth was creative and the Canadians fed us French toast, strawberries and homemade maple syrup, the Irish shamrock tattoos that Enterprise Ireland dished out had to be my favorite giveaway. (Sure, I'm biased but it's the truth). A lot more fun than pens, pads, stickers, drives and balloons.
The Cool Sculping guys who were parading around town for days, tried to demonstrate that 'getting naked' can be a positive thing if you own one of their "suits."
The below very 'blurry" image of pianist Eric Lewis, a favorite 'musical' experience by TEDsters who saw him perform a few years back in Long Beach, was taken at a Mashery Party at Sandra Bullock's Austin restaurant. The "blurr" gives you an idea of his energy and personality, therefore is untouched. It's "Eric" in every way. The party was of the classier events held at SXSW this year. Well done Oren!
As always, Blumberg Capital held an incredible meet-up for their start-up companies & friends. Flow, drinks, conversation, networking was top notch. Well done to David and his team.
The below is a l'il local bar and street scene music action, albeit blurry...blurry is in some ways more 'suitable' for SXSW, despite the fact that I had my Canon 7D and 2 good lenses with me.
Two fun 'street scenes' very late at night. Or morning. Or whatever.
There was also an interesting demo on the show floor of Vinyl Recorder T-560 -- analog stereo recording on 5", 7", 10" and 12". A pricey option but for serious audiofiles, an option? The 7-560 starter set includes a stereo clutterhead fuse, heated diamond stylus, 19" main unit with RIAA encoder, groove controller and stylus heating regulation mono microscope, a lamp and all cables and adapters. The price? E3,200 (yes, that's Euros).
The week can be a bit exhausting (okay, very) even when you're not trying to race from event to event. Below is a taste of just a day and a half and a few of these bands fell off. And, all the film stuff was equally thick hanging around my neck.
As a complete aside and for kicks, refer to my insanely hard-to-follow post on "how to stay healthy" in Austin during SXSW if you have the strength to avoid all the free beer and Texas ribs.
March 19, 2012 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Blogging, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Spirituality, On Technology, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 28, 2011
If You Only Had One New Years Resolution....
If you only had one New Year's resolution, it might be to recognize where this statement applies and do something about it. I'm sure it will lead to countless things you cannot even imagine until you start writing them down.
"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation.
So does inaction sap vigor from the mind."
-- Leonardo da Vinci.
AND I'd add to this....it also saps vigor from your life.
December 19, 2011
Steve Jobs Life Lessons: How Do They Play Out In Your Own Life?
The 600 page Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson isn't one I've picked up yet but Lance Ulanoff recently finished it and wrote a piece on Mashable about lessons learned -- aka insights -- from the man who was mysterious to so many of us, being described as creative, driven, intense, mean, focused, innovative, entrepreneurial, masterful, and a genius.
He has been ranked up there with Einstein and by others who are either bitter, anti-Apple or who worked with him and just didn't like the man, as lucky albeit smart.
Below is the list of so called lessons gleaned however for Lance's take aways, read the original blog post, which also includes a page of fabulous inspirational quotes, one of which includes this reminder, "don't settle." I think about that phrase today more than ever.
As we get older, we realize that we have less time to "settle" and live an extraordinary life. When we're really young, even if we subscribe to living a life far beyond "settling," we don't have the wisdom or years behind us to know how fast the decades march on. We often live in the moment which is a beautiful place to live, yet the perspective of time has little meaning.
Next to each lesson learned below, are my own reflections and experiences of working in the technology industry, many of which reflect back to Steve's decisions and mindset. Also refer to my "so long Steve Jobs" blog write-up here,
One of the most frustrating things I deal with in working with start-ups with small budgets is how many compromises need to be made on a consistent basis. It has also made me and the entrepreneurs I work with learn how to become more resourceful along the way. That said, I think about the "one chance to get it right" more often than not and this means stepping up to the plate. Work the long hours, hire the right people, don't undervalue marketing or positioning, get the product out there before your competitor jumps ahead of you...the industry just moves too fast.
Make Your Own Reality
My take away from this is connected to "not settling." It's also about building a better life by not accepting the reality you've been given, for you almost always have the power to change a current reality. Sure, you can come up with every excuse in the book: I don't have the money, I don't have the access, I don't have the education, I don't have the resources, yet Gandhi didn't let don'ts, even if they were different ones, get in the way of his success. Steve Jobs didn't either. I say this to teenagers whenever I get the chance: Don't let someone else write your life story or dictate how the chapters should unravel. This one still keeps me up at night sometimes.
Control Everything You Can
This is counter to so much of what the social media afficiandos and purists believe, which is centered around collaboration and giving up control. The latter is also something I see as a new "American" behavior even outside the technology industry where parenting is often about collaborating with your kids rather than disciplining them.
Control helps keep things on target, your vision in tact and products on schedule but it also can result in alienating people around you, not allowing others' creativity to flourish and the inevitable...once you're out of the way, what happens to the company and its products?
Control can deliver great things - look at Picasso's paintings and Steve's iPhone. Yet, those I talk to give Apple three years with Steve gone. I'm not sure that I agree, but you get the idea.
Own Your Mistakes
This is probably one of the hardest things to do, particurly when a bad decision negatively impacts a large group of people. But it's also PR 101: when you do a "dirty," whether it was intentional or not, own it, apologize, commit to fixing it and move on. If Clinton had done that earlier and embraced his actions from a place of leadership, perhaps we wouldn't have spent so many cycles focused on blowjobs more than the state of our economy. Europe trivialized it and we behaved like high school children, including "some media."
I love this one. Sometimes we know ourselves but don't "give" ourselves what we need and so I'd add to know thyself, trust thyself. One of my favorite quotes and it isn't a Steve Jobs one: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic
Is it fantastic or is it outstanding? I prefer the latter because it takes us beyond fantastic. Fantastic is an experience, which Steve Jobs certainly created for us again and again, but outstanding is a way of living, a way of being.
Don’t Hold Back
Ahhh, is this one of the reasons I love Italian culture so much? Or why people like Steven Spielberg awes us time and time again? Don't just give it to them baby, but give all of it to them. As big, as great, as dynamic and as extraordinary as you can.
Surround Yourself with Brilliance
This is a general lesson for great leadership. Outstanding leaders do this time and time again. Choosing and "curating" the right team for a project is a skill of a master. And, rather than be afraid that who you surround yourself may just be more brilliant than you, you embrace it.
Build a Team of A Players
Ahhh, mediocrity. There's nothing that drives me crazier than mediocrity, particularly in business. And "real" A players I'd argue don't waste time trying to convince you that they're A players; they just execute.
Sure, this largely applies to person-to-person contact, whether it's about managing your team or being ethical with your board and calling the right shots. That said, when I see this statement today, I think about truly being yourself amidst a world of cluttered voices on the web.
When I see a tweet, I think "are they doing this as a way to game the system and up their Klout score aka "perceived influence" or are they doing it from a centered, balanced place? aka "this is who I really am and what I really think".
Or, are they trying to deliver an aura or image of what they think is respected by their peers, some of whom haven't been behaving so well lately?
Scrambling to get respect from the gate keepers is all around us and some of the conversations I'm hearing and part of behind closed doors is astounding.
I think to myself again and again, "are we really having this conversation? Is sucking up to X or Y influencer while burying who you really are worth it? It's a game not worth playing because it's a life not worth living. And, yet it's happening all around us. In politics. In technology. In life.
There are some people who you would build a moon for even if 1,000 people in a row told you a moon couldn't be built. Steve Jobs had that gift which resulted in outstanding products that changed the way we live our lives. Richard Saul Wurman had that gift when he developed the TED Conference concept. Tony Robbins has that gift when he stands in front of thousands of people. Obama has that gift through his calm and articulate embodiment. Being persuasive by being "real" and "intentional" is the most powerful gift you can give.
Show Others the Way
We all need mentors whether we think we do or not. Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes the student and sometimes when we think we're the teacher, we end up being the student. I would add to this that the real talent in showing others the way is finding out how people learn and showing them the way in their modality or language. Some teachers only know how to teach from their own modality which leaves a huge percentage of people either bored, pissed off or simply confused.
While it may seem like an awkward aside to raise here, it feels right as I write this. I wish women would stand up for women in business more than they do. I know a lot of incredible women who help, inspire, nurture, fund, and more, however what I haven't personally experienced is women taking risks to help pave the other for others in their peer group. (risking a powerful relationship behind closed doors by speaking up or making things right, speaking up publicly or simply taking the time to encourage in a deep and meaningful way).
By the latter, I don't mean sharing. As women, we do this well. We listen, we share and show our girlfriends we "understand them."
I get some of the reasoning behind why we say no: we're already overspent and don't have the time or energy, we want to reserve that energy for children and family when we're already doing so much, we don't want to risk tampering with a connection that has been instrumental in getting us to our current positions because quite simply, it ain't an easy compromising ride to get there. And so on. That said, the majority of people who have "shown me the way," have been men.
Trust Your Instincts
Steve Jobs was a master at this and most great leaders are too. Women btw are really good at this in their personal lives and we need to know that its an incredibly rich asset in our professional lives too. The best leaders are strong enough to go to a place of solitude when the noise of external voices telling them what to do becomes so loud that they can no longer hear their inner voice. Our inner voices always lead the way.
Silicon Valley is great at taking risks and it all started with the guys at the forefront, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak being instrumental in the early days. One of the things I see with companies outside the U.S. is that risk taking is less embraced because it's not part of their culture.
There are always exceptions of course: great products are great products, and great leaders are great leaders. That said, I have seen hesitation and uncertainty first hand in working with start-ups and entrepreneurs now from France, Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and others. If you truly believe in something, there's no room for fear and doubt. Trust, believe and take the risk because if you don't, someone else most certainly will.
Follow Great with Great
When I read this, I thought of what those who have been to the top know all too well, "you're only as great as what you've done lately." That said, there are entrepreneurs in the Valley and elsewhere who had a successful exit and never "created" anything else. Yet, they're still part of the conversation, at all the VIP dinners and are even funding other startups because they have the money to do so.
You know the drill: you get access when you have one of the following: power (connections to people or things other people need), money (you can buy that access), position (you hold a title at a major company or in government and can use your influence to help), in the inner circle (are part of a prestigious family, went to college with or are buddies with someone of influence and so the latter three are automatically waived).
What's truly remarkable is when none of those things matter, you push them all aside (or simply ignore them) and just consistently keep building great things that benefit people. Steve Jobs showed that he was capable of that with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Pixar. Other "greats" do the same.
Make Tough Decisions
Tough decisions often make you unlikeable, at least to one group or person. I had a reflective conversation in a long cab ride recently with someone who worked with Steve Jobs in the very early days. He attended a small gathering of like-folks after his death somewhere in Silicon Valley.
A question was presented to another person in the group who also worked with him: did she "like" him?The response was one of silence and no one said a word. A lot of people didn't like him. A lot of people didn't like Picasso.
I'm not suggesting being an asshole is a formula for success but some great leaders who are also artists are often unliked. Steve Jobs was an artist and while he was unliked by many, he was also a visionary who created great things, including inspiration for others to find their own genius inside of them. A gift. Making tough decisions is part of that gift.
Presentation Can Make a World of Difference
It's amazing how many people still rely on traditional Powerpoint slides for presentations. Boring ones. Frankly, I hate speaking in front of large groups and feel "more secure" about my delivery when I use visual aids. Quite simply, its a crutch that helps us move the presentation along when what we should be doing is telling a story from our heart and life experiences that educate, inspire and ultimately move people to action in some way.
Some of the greatest TED talks have used some visual aids, even a slide or two, but 80% of their presentation is about flow and about story. If storytelling isn't the essence of what you deliver, then it most likely isn't an outstanding presentation.
Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity
I would add to this since balancing your intensity isn't the whole picture; balancing your life is what you need so you don't burn out and can find peace with what you signed up, aka your career. If you're not working part-time or gave up a job to raise a family, you're probably spending more time in your work life than any other thing you do. Striking a balance is critical to sustaining happiness and peace with that decision. Life is a long road. Balance sets you free.
Live for Today
Steve Jobs was much more able to go to that place after he learned about his terminal illness. While intellectually we know that we should live for today even when things are going our way, very few people do.
Isn't living for today just another way of saying "be present"? And yet, even if we've hung out in Buddhist temples, spend quiet time on yoga and meditation mats, it's hard to live a very present life all the time. Our brains aren't wired that way. At the core of our decision making, even important ones is our lizard brain, a pretty unevolved part of our bodies. Refer to my post on Linchpins, lizard brains & getting uncomfortable.
While there are people who share their wisdom and bring others up with them as they themselves rise to the top, I see sharing explode when people hit their forties, whether or not they have children. Something happens when you've reached a certain plateau -- call it wisdom, call it inner peace -- where the race no longer matters. Sharing matters more and for some, it's the only thing that matters.
For the original once again, go here as it was my inspiration for this variation...
September 21, 2011
How We Need to Teach Our Daughters and Sons to Think & BE
A man who views her as property-and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her-and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women-and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man. And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."
The above was posted by a friend of a close friend. Thought it was "spot on" and wanted to share.
September 20, 2011
The Pope & the CEO: Lessons in Business Leadership Shared
Out now is a new book with a quirky and enticing name: The Pope & The CEO, written by someone I used to work with at an East Coast software company: Andreas Widmer.
It's one of the few books written by collaborators and close, personal witnesses of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s life, as Widmer draws on his experiences as a Swiss Guard for Pope John Paul II. Through this experience and years in the technology industry, he shares his lessons in business leadership.
The Pope & The CEO outlines nine principles for business leadership including: Know who you are, Know what’s right, Know how to choose what’s right, Know where you are, Know your team, and Practice detachment as a handful. Each lesson includes a how to guide and exercise.
Widmer highlights some of his personal interactions with John Paul II, providing insight into the little known culture of the Swiss Guards, and draws on his experience as an entrepreneur and advocate of the free markets within the international development community.
On a parallel front, the current economic and ethical crisis evokes an openness to fresh models of leadership and trust.
Left disillusioned by long-respected institutions and supposed business-hero icons, many people and organizations look for leaders and frameworks in which to place their trust. The Pope & The CEO translates some of Pope John Paul II’s legacy into business leadership lessons that respond to this gap.
August 22, 2011
The Music Doesn't STOP in Budapest!
I feel as if I'm about ten, have just come back from music camp and my life is full of endless possibilities. It's as if I fell upon a candy fountain oozing with different vibes and rhythms from around the world, and they're firing out rainbows of melodies, each one asking me to be part of its creation.
This isn't a mash-up and I'm not even online. All day, I wandered the streets of Budapest getting fed, not with food, but with song. The soul is so full after a day of song that it forgets about food, even with plenty of it around.
With Vienna only a couple of hours away, I felt as if I could have been within its walls, the music permeatration was so intense. Yet, it's not Vienna, but -- some would say -- its less cultured cousin, Budapest, split by the Danube River so that Budapest doesn't even call its city its own entirely - one side gets Buda and the other gets Pest.
My first and only memory of the place was in the mid-eighties and music was first and foremost in my mind, even in an era when East Europe was mostly gray and full of restrictions. I was very young and had not yet been exposed to composition -- REAL composition that is, despite the fact that both art and music teachers had tried. We were in some traditional old world restaurant eating goose & duck and drinking Cabernet before I knew you could have orgasms on the stuff. Around us swam violin players who played throughout the entire meal, one which lasted six hours long and ended with a $25 bill including several deep, luscious reds.
I remembered the violin because both players were so damn good. Every form of expression, whether it be on the keyboard, or on a blank white canvas, happens for me at a visceral level. Back then however, I wouldn't have known a great violin player from a good one and yet, I was stopped in my tracks.
The musicians forced me to stop eating and pay attention. They forced me to understand composition. They forced me to cry at their nearly perfect musical offering. They forced me to hear their texture, whether I was in the mood or ready to understand it or not.
Exceptional talent forces great things on you when you're ready to listen, which I almost always have been, other shortcomings aside.
Exceptional talent stops you in your tracks and then somehow, you're fundamentally changed because you listened and because you heard what they had to say.
Budapest spoke to me all day, starting with folk music at the top of the hill in some enclave within Buda Castle. It was "okay" (better than average), most definitely 'local' but more than anything else, the musicians were committed. God, I love that word. (it's probably because I live on the west coast of America now where I feel as if I'm swimming among the least committed people I've ever settled down with and that's after spending time "settling" in 11 countries).
After the "okay but very committed" folk music performance, I fell upon traditional music which included the top Hungarian dancers from around the world, each one doing a chosen number within a three hour period. All of them were, yes...you got it, committed.
Each in their native custume attire, they flew out on stage ready to perform, none of them fearful or worried about people shooting them with a still or video camera, none of them caring where their "performance -- their committed performance" would show up.
In the states, where the Internet and social media reign, its amazing how much performers care about the potential publicity a 2 minute clip would lose in revenue despite how much publicity and connection it would generate. Then there's their publicists, agents, handlers and middle men.
The Hungarian performers said "bring it on," as their committed selves showed up and played 200% in front of the camera and when the light was no longer green. I get that Hungarian culture doesn't embrace entrepreneurship and so you could argue that their lack of loving green paper has kept them behind socially and economically.
Having an entrepeneur spirit myself, there's no question when I saw a tent loaded with interesting pottery created by the Secondary Technical-Vocational School of Folk Arts and Secondary Academic Grammar School, that I was annoyed that the art was not for sale when every other tent was collecting money for their 'creations.' Let them sell I, I thought. "Teach them entrepreneurship. Profits from their pottery could go towards a future dream," I said to the late thirty-something very blue-eyed woman who struggled with my response. (Below, their beautiful masterpieces)
I knew she understood some of what I said but also knew that my plea was one that would be noted but not transferred into something actionable in the next 60 days, and so I made my pitch, told her the work was stunning and moved on.
From folk to traditional to guitar (one called the ZITHER, which had me mezmorized in the same way that the Indonesian gamelan does does), to world music and Mbaye Ndiaye & the Afro Magic Band, which has its roots from Senegal but did a nice job blending African, reggae, jazz and global fusion together.
Within the hour, I was up on stage dancing with their lead drummer (solo btw) and shortly thereafter dancing with Gabor stage right, a blue-eyed Russian, who while may have been adorable, had so much alcohol on his breath that I had to politely decline after our first attempt at a cha cha to a slow-ish African jazz number.
The performers went out of their way to bring the children on stage and coach them on not just how to dance, but how to move by feeling their way to the rhythm simply by listening. It was fascinating and I loved every minute of it.
I was sorry to see Mbaye Ndiaye pack up...their energy and spirit only made me crave more of it. And so, I meandered over to another area of the massive hill which houses the castle only to discover more folk dancing and guitar, soon to be followed by traditional Gypsy (also spelled Gipsy) music which carried on for another 3 hours.
While it may be hard to dance on uneven cobblestone ground that is well over 500 years old, it was even harder not to try. I ran into a Scientologist who looked like Joseph (yes, Jesus' Joseph) who was selling corn on the cob while simultaneously trying to convert me in VERY broken English, all while tapping his foot to the Gypsy band.
I had already gleefully become ten again and full before I left the castle, when I suddenly fell upon more live music. I was on a search for one of the old world bars, bistros, cafes or restaurants recommended by my host, friends and a bunch of online pals who sent me great suggestions via Twitter and Facebook.
I had crossed the chain bridge, hung a right looking for the decadent chocolate stand on the street (she must only set up on Friday and Saturday nights I quietly cursed), knowing that I had been thinking about that dark chocolate pistachio and cranberry creation for half the day. I asked for directions from a local cafe to two different locations and was told it was a 25 minute walk.
The backpack was heavy with camera lenses and a fabulous set of hand-painted coasters I picked up with a local artist along the way, yet I was in it for the haul, so re-adjusted my bag and foot bandaids (necessary for any Europe trip where you're wearing sandals and plan to do a lot of walking) and began my journey towards my Hungarian bistro on the other side of town.
And then I heard it. Clapping. Voices. Cello. Violin. The violin...ahhh, it purred. This was no ordinary violinist, something I could tell from four blocks away. I was told to scout down Lakatos and hear him play if he was in town for a performance but little did I know that I'd get a surprise I hadn't anticipated: Zoltan Maga accompanied by the Vac Symphony Orchestra, playing outside the Szent Istvan Bazilika, a church named for Saint Stephen I, the first King of Hungary.
Imagine the scene: a gorgeous, ancient white-stoned church named after a Hungarian King on a warm summer night.
The moon was out, glistening over hundreds of people sitting outside, sprawled on chairs and the ground while an orchestra of cellos, violins, tubas, saxophones and clarinets played. Zoltan Maga's passion was addictive as his talent for the violin led the way, together with the conductor and nothing -- I mean nothing -- could have distracted you from the two hours of musical joy.
What I failed to remember is the influence of Austrian music greats at the time when Hungary used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Because of that, people appreciate classical music and embrace it. The country combines composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn) coming from Austria/Germany with strong Hungarian folk and gypsy blends.
AND, Hungary has its own greats, the most famous being Liszt, followed by Bartok, two of the all-time greats. Kodaly is probably next followed by Kurtag and Ligeti, who are two of the most prominent classical composers from the last 60 years -- both Hungarian.
To top it off, they have an amazing number of top-rank conductors: Ormandy, Szell, Dorati, Solti, Reiner, Kertesz, and Fischer. And then there's their pianists: Kocsis, Schiff, Fricsay.
Crikey, it's no wonder I felt like ten, that the world has endless possibilities and that incredible talent was following me around the city all day -- and night.
Thanks Budapest for the incredible memories and the musical talent, all of which was infused with so much passion and commitment that it made me dream of practicing piano again and the idea of searching for a saxophone teacher as soon I got home.
Below, Zoltan Krulik and the Makam Band!
July 07, 2011
Meet Google+: Curate or Die!
Google+ has been "out" in limited beta for close to two weeks now -- give or take -- and I finally found a window to explore. I waited of course for the same reason I waited on Facebook when it was new...an early version of anything means I'll lose a days (weeks) of my time. Testing early products is a time sync yet if you're in the technology industry, you waste a lot of time in front of big and small monitors alike, hour after hour after hour. We've all been there.
Because it's Google, you can't really ignore it. Unlike the zillion other social media and so called "productivity" apps I get pitched on a regular basis, Google is the giant Big Brother we all hate and love and bottom line, if you don't know what they're up to at an intimate level, it's hard to walk tall in Silicon Valley.
And so I dove in like a lion who hasn't eaten in two days, the same way I dive into all apps...it's one of the reasons product management and UI gurus love me if I actually commit to the time, which is becoming harder and harder to get me to do.
After four hours, I had the same reaction after spending time on any new "tech tool or service" that takes me away from time in the physical world. Do I really need another social network that glues me to a monitor and in this case, weds me even more to Google's world than I already am?
Of course I get why Google is doing this and would do the same thing if I were them. Facebook is the closed wall garden giant that has millions of us couped up inside their massive restricted "room" and there are so many things they do wrong, why not take a stab at it if you had the budget the size of Google?
On the surface, you might think this is Facebook with a Google UI, but without the apps and bells & whistles since its still so new. But Google has other plans and those who have worked with them on partnership deals know that they cross their t's, dot their i's and have nothing but a leadership position in mind.
What intrigues (and also exhausts) me more than anything about people's behavior whenever a new "platform" comes to town, is how consumed early adopters are, myself included.
By consumed, I don't just mean getting an account and inviting friends into your new "system" (like we all need another "system of people" to manage), but the hundreds of comment threads speculating whether Google+ is going to be the platform which will kill Facebook for good. (all 700 million Facebook users that is).
How many comments posing questions have you seen which ask: how much time have you spent on Facebook and Twitter since you started using Google+? Of course, the early adopters are spending all their time on Google+ because it's still a novelty and part of it, dare I say, is the curiosity to see who's on it early, what they're saying and doing and to score some points or badges we don't even know about yet. "Oh yeah baby, I'm an early Google+ user and that makes me a cool cat." Remember that Buzz Lightyear was glamorous and hip compared to Woody when he first arrived on the scene but it was Woody who Andy had the hardest time giving up at the tail end of Toy Story 2.
Yet, we all flock to the new glamorous platform (aka toy) in hopes that they'll do a better job than Facebook and then we'll spend massive amounts of times (weeks not days) rebuilding our network on ONE more place on the web. And of course Google unlike Facebook won't be a walled garden or use our private data for any other purpose than for the value and usefulness of their customers.
Google+ is more than just another new social network and you can guarantee Google is thinking far beyond what we see today, yet we're all spending a helluva lot of time in it. BTW, I think it's shocking that Google Apps don't currently work with Google+, something you think they'd sync up before their launch, beta or not.
What is cool is the ability to select and toss people in circles. It's also fun and addictive, far too addictive in fact to be healthy. The UI is sweet, however it is still too cumbersome to add people to categories, especially when you want to add someone to more than one, which I do often.
Note that while my geekier friends tell me tagging is enuf, I want my damn categories - it's the way my brain thinks and works, so having a "circle" that is geographical as well as topical is important to me.
The + seems to be the key thing here, but in order to use it, guess what? Your profile needs to be public. The "wear your life on your sleeves and in every corner of the Internet" folks always say to me, "give it up Renee, privacy is dead" yet perhaps some of us still want just a little corner of privacy we call our own after hours of being public public public everywhere, all the time. People forget how valuable our check-in and content contributions are to Google, Foursquare and big brands.
Having a public profile of course makes our posts more useful to everyone else in your network, but that info is more useful to Google and all the vendors and brands who want to sell something to you. Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of human curation as an integral and wedded partner to search in order to improve the experience we have today, but at what point do you sit back and ask how valuable your time is? When will companies start giving something back? And, I don't mean making me mayor of Hooters and giving me a free coffee every tenth check in.
Google says of +'s value and having that public profile: "this helps people see who recommended that tasty recipe or great campsite. When you create a profile, it's visible to anyone and connections with your email address can easily find it." They do note that your +1’s are stored in a new tab on your Google profile which you can show to the world, or keep it private and just use it to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web. Here's a link to their video which takes you through the why +1 and how to start using it.
I'll admit that the latter is very useful as a curation tool and the UI is definitely more consumer-friendly than predecessors and others in its league who have been trying to make some headway for years.
While we're on the topic of UI, creating a comment from the upper right is annoying. Perhaps its just that I'm so used to being able to do it from a box in front of me but it "feels" like an extra step. Also when I post a comment in Facebook I simply hit return and it posts automatically whereas in the Google+ window, I have to physically hit that green post comment button.
I'm also not a particular fan of the UI for uploading photos. People take their photos personally, whether they're amateurs or a prosumer shooter like me. There should be a way to organize your photo albums the way you want with a customized display you want your readers/friends to see. And btw, like Facebook, does Google own your photos & everything else you post in its growing social garden? Just curious. You should be too.
The photo feature I do like is the photo display from others in your network - see below: (though what would be much more valuable is to choose what photos you'd like to see and not see from your network - quality vs quantity please. I'd much rather see more of Thomas Hawk and less of a friend who shoots underexposed shots from their iPhone for example).
Other schtuff: there's a cool incoming feature which allows you to see posts from people who are following you, making it a compelling way to interact with friends and fans without having to follow them back (Twitter model...though lists and streams within Hootsuite make this very doable for me and it is like reading 6 newspapers from across the world every morning -- I don't mean streams here, I mean accounts...yeah I have that many). Sigh.
This would be an appropriate time to beg the Hootsuite development team: Add Google+ to my dashboard tomorrow please - we're all far too busy to manage one more tab, one more window, one more stream.
YET, here we are playing in all these networks and spending a lot of time doing so. It's astonishing to me how much time we spend sharing and consuming in these walled online gardens. Sure, there's value for us or we wouldn't be doing it but my point is that there's more value for brands and marketers and we don't get a financial high five back for our time: our valuable contribution of content time. And in Google+'s case, our valuable human curation time. (see Steve Rosenbaum's book: Curation Nation).
The personalization and recommendation aspsect of Google+ clearly isn't new (Yelp, StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook likes, retweets, #FF's, the list goes on), but coming from Google, the massive Silicon Valley giant that knows how to exude its extraordinary power in the U.S. and beyond, we are all getting sucked into building yet ONE MORE SOCIAL NETWORK.
I saw someone post a comment suggesting that they might replace their Tumblr blog with Google+. Really? So, who owns that content? ...Your content? If you don't have the domain, aren't you placing your valuable contributions and ideas (visual, audio and other) into Google's hands?
I still think there's huge value in a site that you create from scratch - your own design, look-and-feel, personality, font, photos -- all of it. It comes from you and you alone and there, the world can see a more holistic view of what you're about and what makes you tick. It doesn't mean that you can't and shouldn't push some of that content out to Google+, Digg, Facebook or Twitter, or wherever your fans, customers and readers spend their time, but it should mean that you think about what content is relevant for what platform and be discerning about what you share where.
And now, because I make my living inside the technology industry, I have no choice but to lose time inside the bowels of Google+ observing the every growing circle of people who sign up every day, ensuring that I'm part of a new ecosystem that I can't afford not to be part of even if I really don't want or need another network to manage.
Why dive in if you resist it so you ask? It's like not going to that god awful high school party that the tacky cheerleader hosted at her house. More than anything you hated going, but not to go meant that you were left out of the conversation and being left out of the conversation is death in social media. I was one of the rare ones who was found at the football parties, the artist parties, the late night on the rock parties and the druggie parties and there was very little overlap between the four. But man, did I have perspective because of it.
People had their communities just like they do online today and even though there is always some overlap, you pick a tribe along the way and there you stay. Choosing more than one tribe makes you a great observer of behavior, a great marketer and a great curator but it also means you may not be quite as immersed as those who only choose one and have no interest getting to know or understand another.
In spending hours on Google+ observing behavior of a few of my tribes, one of the things I have noticed is an obvious one: the overlap in "friends and contacts" between people I've known for over ten years is larger and our social graph tends to be more alike despite the fact that our tastes and jobs are very different and have even changed along the way.
The other thing that I noticed is just how fragmented my networks are, something you can see within Facebook, but it's not as visually obvious as it is inside Google+. And, despite how many people I know around the world, Google+ even in its early days is a reminder how many people I don't know, which left me thinking about something I refer to a lot lately: "we don't know what we don't know."
It could be interesting to try a new exercise: join a new tribe, one which has an entirely new set of contacts from any of your former tribes just to see what it feels, looks and tastes like. If you're an artist, choose science contacts, if you're an academic, choose business management ones...(only). Try to play in and engage with that tribe for awhile to see what kind of data you get, the unique distinctions you pick up along the way and what your own contributions and perspectives mean within the textures of a whole new world, a whole new tribe. I digress, but it's something to think about...
I'm putting on my anthropology and sociologist hat on, the results of which would be nothing short of eye candy for someone like me who has lived in 11 countries and thrives on learning new shit from diverse cultures.
While all of this is interesting, I see the value of the brand spanking new Google+, like the UI and its potential, here's my point:
- Do you ever wonder whether you'll wake up one day after spending thousands of hours building and rebuilding yet a new social network and commenting to endless threads of fodder, that it will all seem rather pointless even though it was highly addictive and "felt" important at the time? (note that most successful CEOs I've talked to always emphasize the difference between important and urgent when making decisions of how to spend their time)
- Do you ever wonder that despite social networks' usefulness in connecting us with others from around the world (trust me, I GET this value as someone who has friends on every continent), that the amount of time and energy you spent trying to keep up with it all (never mind managing your Klout, PeerIndex and influence scores on a daily basis - am thinking high school scrambling to be more popular than the next guy behavior), meant 100 less hours with your kids in a given month or not having that coffee, dinner, or hike with an friend?
- And, knowing, understanding and relishing in the fact that these tools give people who wouldn't normally have a voice a megaphone (many stories that will make you cry), in ten years, will you wonder how much you could have created or built with the time you were spending commenting to threads and reacting to Twitter feeds just so you could continue to be part of a whole lotta fragmented conversations? (Refer to my blog post on Seth Godin's Linchpins where he talks about "creation mode" & how creation can't happen from "reaction mode" which is what we're in when we're glued to Twitter, Facebook & now Google+ streams).
I love what we have been able to do for others (individuals and nations) because of open social networks -- have met some amazing people through Twitter and my blog -- but I only ask that in the midst of more and more being thrown our way to "manage," to not lose sight of the magic in a human connection and to make sure we don't get lost touching hundreds of people through our now Google+ circles when someone close to us wants a physical hug.
Perhaps that's a bit too deep for the end of a Google+ post, but I don't think so. Hopefully you get my point.
Perspective and balance people. Perspective and balance.
July 7, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, On People & Life, On Spirituality, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 20, 2011
Supernatural Mentalist Lior Suchard Entertains 3rd Annual Israel Conference
Entertainer and magician, or whatever you prefer to call him, Israeli Lior Suchard showed up in Los Angeles in early June to entertain at the annual Israel Conference, now in its third year. He calls himself a supernatural mentalist, a word I happen to gravitate to...perhaps its my obsession with where the brain meets the mind and where both of them struggle with meeting the heart.
In Lior's presentations, he delves into your innermost thoughts, reading minds and coming up with numbers, names and thoughts before you say them aloud. Below is a two-part video I shot on-site.