Find your little heart place

Yesterday, a friend of mine who lives in New York City sent me a box of cookies from Levain Bakery. If you have never had a cookie from them, go right now and get one.. or two.

I’ll wait.

Aside of being the most delicious cookies in the whole wide world, what struck me the most is the label they put on every box and post card. Along the bottom, they draw the New York City skyline in pen. Toward the very end, they color in their bakery and float a heart above it.

Subtle, but the message is clear. Even in a crowded, dense city like New York where everyone is seemingly insignificant to everyone else, you find meaning, purpose and love in a little bakery in the middle of the chaos.

Slow down and find your little heart place.

Happy holidays.

I became an artist because I hate math

CMYK

During my stint at the Dayton Daily News, I used to do career day at local schools. I think everyone at the paper just wanted a day off from me which is why they always nominated me to go. That’s ok; give me an open mic and a stage and I’m all over it!

So I showed up at a Dayton elementary school to speak to a classroom full of fourth-graders. There was the usual collection of policemen with their uniforms and shiny badges and fireman in hats — with firetrucks parked out in front for the kids to climb on later — lined up ready to speak.

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Puppies of Mad Men

Midge drawing puppies for Gramdmother's Day in Mad Men

Midge drawing puppies for Gramdmother's Day in Mad Men

I was transferring some rather large iTunes libraries and one of those little buggers is bound to start playing in the background. Season one, Episode One Smoke Gets in your Eyes was the one that started playing.

By the time I figured out it was playing, it made it all the way to the scene where Don knocks on Midge’s door and she shows him the greeting card she is drawing for Grandmother’s Day. It was a puppy! I missed that scene.

Anyway, it got me thinking that if Mad Men started off with a puppy, there has got to be a ton of other puppy references throughout. So I am going to find them and add them here.

If anyone wants to join in on the project, just holler below in the comments and let me know which episodes you will be watching. Post the time dogs or puppies are referenced and we should have a list in short order.

Hey, it’s research!

Season 1, Episode 1, 3:42

Crowdsourcing bridges

In the past week, I’ve stumbled onto two major brands that launched crowdsourcing design projects they probably should not have. The first is the Barack Obama Reelection Campaign (MY poster submission is posted to the right) and the other is Moleskine. For obvious conflicting reasons, Obama should be giving young designers paying gigs instead of trying to steal ideas from the most vulnerably unemployable during this recession, but more unforgivable is Moleskine for poking their core audience in the eye with a disrespectful rusty finger. (You figure out the euphemism.. you’re all smart people)

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You were carried

Sacajawea dollar

A popular legend about Sacagawea was that she carried a baby throughout her stint with Lewis and Clark as they mapped the Western regions of the United States. That baby grew up, thinking he had discovered America. In truth, he was carried the whole way.

I’m pretty sure this is a stretch, but the point is not lost.

Walmart did not get big because Sam Walton was a retailing genius. Walmart got big because the Interstate highway system enabled him to move massive amounts of freight cheaply within a just-in-time system. While Walmart pays road taxes, those taxes are minuscule compared to the investment the previous generations put into the road system. Sam Walton took advantage of the Interstate system in ways it was never intended.

Walmart was carried.

The 53percent here think they have achieved everything through their own hard work. They did not. They were able to serve in an Army because a previous generation created it. They were able to attend college because previous generations thought it important enough to create, foster and preserve education. They were able to save enough money to buy a house because a previous generation fought for fair wages and working conditions.

The 53percent are being carried.

One of the oddest things I’ve seen recently is Herman Cain talk about his successes as if they were commonplace in a country that does not divide itself by race. In truth, he was able to have those successes only by the sacrifices and courage of those who came before him.

Herman Cain was carried.

You were carried. We were all carried. And as we grow into adulthood, part of our obligation as a member of the human race is to carry the next generation.

Yes it is.

A middle-aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

I’m a middle-aged mutt in this wasteland between the two coasts commonly known as Middle America. Most of the United States lives here, but we rarely — ok never — get asked about important things like politics and the economy. We are the gun-toting, Bible-banging, slack-jawed, under-educated, corn-fed, polyester-wearing yahoos that the liberal media like to make fun of and Wall Street dismisses.

That is a little harsh. Ok, fair enough. I’ve seen my neighbors in their natural habitat (Kroger during wine and cheese hour) so I get where you’re all coming from. But just because we are out here in your idea of Wastelands doesn’t mean we are any less important and informed as you are.

Try to keep up.

What I know by getting to middle-age
There never was a Middle Class in America. We only ever had two classes; the Rich and Those Who Expected to be Rich (ETBR). It is the American Carrot, that thing that gets dangled in front of us to keep all of us reaching for more. The Middle Class was always a nebulous scale of the lower Rich and the upper ETBR which ebbed and flowed depending on the economy at the time. The indicator of where you were was how much wealth you had relative to what others had.

Equity (or wealth if you want) is a very cold, harsh ledger. There are only two ways you can grow it; invest Liquidity or Time.

For example, if you buy a house, you can add equity only one of two ways: put more cash into the place to quickly reduce the amount of mortgage debt OR accept more mortgage debt and increase equity over time, holding your breath the entire time, hoping the equity will eventually exceed the amount of money you have put in. When the equity teeter-tots over to the asset column, you now have wealth. (Unless others around you get foreclosed on, but we’ll get to that.)

The same thing with those who financed a college degree. They expected that even though the degree cost more than most peoples’ houses, they would get a job and over time, not only pay off the loans but make more than the average salary. (They should have bought a calculator first)

It’s just not that complicated. Most people in the ETBR class have a whole lot more time than liquidity. They trade their time all day long for liquidity with wages, mortgages, three easy monthly payments, etc. The Rich class can choose liquidity or time, depending on the rate of return. A slow rate of return means they can use time. A fast rate of return, they use liquidity. The ETBR class does not really have that choice (or more accurately, the degree of choice is scaled depending on the ratio of liquidity to time one has.)

The lack of choice is mostly what pisses the ETBR off most. This generation thought they had time. They were wrong.

This “law of economics” is about as rock solid as the law of gravity. You can ignore it or deny it, but it is still going to affect you.

People without liquidity tried to accelerate time. People with some liquidity but — not enough — tried to expand the value of each liquid unit too fast. Eventually, the ETBR ran out out time before they had a firm grasp on equity and lost it all. When you are clinging to a rock face on a mountain by your fingertips, when you fall, you don’t just slip; you fall all the way down. It does not matter if you are ten feet up the mountain or ten feet from the summit. (Did you catch that? I equated laws of economics to gravity. Genius. I should be ruling the world by now. Roll your eyes if you got ’em.)

How this all ties into #OccupyWallStreet
I do not support Anonymous or Adbusters. I am not a big fan of the fist-pumping, kill Wall Street bankers rhetoric and other hippy crap like stuffing dollar bills in your mouth and marching like zombies. Sanctimonious hipsters with no life experience annoy me, too. It is unsettling to us out here that the OccupyWallStreet “non-leadership” has connections with these groups if only that they decide unilaterallty who is good and who is bad. I like steak, but the fifth “fact” in their Declaration gives me pause that reads, “PeTA is invited to join us.” All of a sudden, now my support for OccupyWallStreet means I support PeTA? Hell no!

Just because I lean to what this country defines as “left” does not mean I hang with the crazy-left. For the record, people claiming the right of human dignity is not a left-leaning principle. Groups that use terror tactics for good scare the hell out of me just as much as those who use them for evil. In the end game, “there is no good or evil; there is only power.

And she is very, very seductive.

To the middle-class middle America, if a group like Anonymous can target a big bad corporation, what is stopping them from concluding — unilaterally — a mom-and-pop business is supporting a big bad corporation (like Visa) for taking credit cards as payment? I understand how the affiliation is feeding Visa, but the rain nourishes the grass and weeds alike. It is incumbent upon groups like Anonymous to make sure the rain falls on the grass and not the weeds if they choose to pee all over my garden without my consent.

I believe the 1% are and have been exploiting their advantage of liquidity to enhance their fortunes. I also believe the 99% have been exploiting their victimization caused by their unwillingness to learn and adapt to the law of economics stated above.

Money finds the path of least resistance. It is what keeps corporations from innovating, what keeps individuals from having to make changes and politicians from reforming their cheating ways. As we used to say when I worked for The Man; cash hides a lot of sins. The only people entirely unaffected are those who are so rich they could not run out of money if they tried and those so poor they don’t have a hope of becoming a member of the ETBR ever in their lives. The rest are gaming the system in almost every way they know how.

I didn’t buy more house than I could afford nor did I refinance on the house equity I had to finance a non-asset like a college education or vacation. I did not take out or encourage my kids to take out huge student loans so they could attend a swanky out-of-state university. The social contract I had with you, the 99%, was that you would not purchase more than you could afford so that your house would not be foreclosed on or your kids would not be recklessly in debt. We were supposed to be in this together. Without your participation, colleges would not have been able to raise the tuition rates. Banks would not be offering 0% loans if nobody took them.

You broke that social contract by always needing more. I kept my end of the bargain.

I expect the 1% will work tirelessly to extract wealth from me until my last breath. But this much I know also about the 99%: They will not be there to help me guard the gate from the Barbarians. They will be busy guarding their own gates.

What I want
What I want most is my own space that is warm and free from the prying grasp of government tax departments, the whims of landlords, the perils of curable illness and disease or the selfish and short-sighted lust of those in power. Owning my own home is none of these things. Even if I were to get to pay the last payment of my mortgage to the bank, I could still lose my home if I could no longer pay the property tax the county continues to demand. Or lose my freedom due to the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty. Or suffer health problems that deplete the wealth I used a life-time of time to build.

The Barbarians will always be at the gate. This season’s Barbarians are the Wall Street bankers and politicians on the take. Next season, it could be drought and famine. The next could be the City of Englewood deciding that my house sits on a patch of land they want to turn into a park. Or Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield increasing my premiums 38% or denying a treatment they pre-approved. The list of Barbarians are endless.

As I move through middle-age and into old-age, I know that my ability and desire to fend off the Barbarians will become less and less while my desire and need for security and warmth will become more and more. I can already feel the fear and rage creep into my bones when some punk-kid behind me in traffic does that dodge-and-weave thing, trying to pass me as I am not speeding fast enough for him. I feel it in the deep sighs of a younger generation who mistake patience for inaction. I know it in my heart when young women no longer look at me with anything less than pity.

What fears me the most, though, is knowing I will not have enough time to build the wealth needed to construct a gate strong enough to keep the Barbarians at bay. I fear they will destroy me before it is my time to go.

*I don’t think the percentages are split 1%-99% but that is a heck of an effective way to market the movement. My use of the numbers are just a short-hand convenience; no more, no less.

You may find this interesting.
And this.
And this from @Karoli who started me thinking down this path, culminating in this here blog post. Blame her 🙂

Niggardly

CatDog

Yeah, that’s right. I said niggardly*. Did you gasp?

How about niggling**? Does that also make you squirm?

If you are not gasping, squirming and looking about you nervously, congratulations! Your education has paid off.

If you have no idea these words mean anything other than what they sound like, crack a book.

Recently, Pete Williams used the term Obamacare on air. He was not the first, but he is the first non-FOX News journalist who caught my attention doing it. After years of the right-wing of America hammering that term as a derogatory slam on the president, it is starting to take hold in mainstream media. Eventually they will all give up and start saying it.

The right-wing has warped good words into things that sound bad. Like “compromise.” They use the term compromise as in “we will not give in.”

No!

Any third-grader learns that a democracy only works when both sides compromise — as in working together with mutual respect. If the right really wants to compare government spending to a family budget, it is impossible to do so without compromising.

How about “entitlements” as in “he thinks he is sooooo entitled that he just jumps to the head of the line and takes.” Sounds like someone is getting something for nothing that he doesn’t deserve. The only problem with “entitlements” like Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance is that we have paid for them. We really are entitled to those benefits! The Left should maybe start calling them Citizen-Funded Benefits (CFBs)

What really makes me scratch my head is when groups redefine terms that are mutually exclusive, like “Obama is a Hitler-loving socialist.” That’s like calling me a cat-dog. Physically impossible, linguistically silly.

Some words lend a degree of specificity to language that allows us to communicate a feeling or connotation that their synonyms don’t. I mourn the loss of my ability to use words like niggardly in public simply because it communicates a deeper level of cheap than “cheap.” It has a more visceral feel. It causes me to say the word and clench my fists, further punctuating its meaning (I’m half French.. we talk with our paws.)

I suppose the most effective way to warp the meanings of common words is to keep the masses stupid. Maybe we can do that by vilifying teachers and cutting education budgets. Just a thought. I look forward to the comments I’ll most assuredly will be getting from members of the uneducated masses.

Now quit masticating your breakfast, get off your homo sapien butt and learn some new words. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can castrate today.

In the meantime, Oswald Bates for president, y’all. Or Rick Perry. Same thing.

*niggardly: cheap, mean, miserly, parsimonious, close-fisted, penny-pinching, cheeseparing, grasping, ungenerous, illiberal; informal stingy, tight, tightfisted.

**niggling: a trifling complaint, dispute, or criticism.

Was it live or was it Facebook?

Is it live

Yesterday, @damnredhead tweeted:

“Hey baby, did you show up in my ticker last night or was I just dreaming?”

I chuckled quickly and shook my head slowly from side to side like most of her readers probably did. I got the double entendre.

But then I got to thinking about it a little more deeply. Will the timeline really get us confused about where we are, what is real and what isn’t?

I found myself sitting in a Starbucks yesterday waiting for my daughter to finish class at the local college. Her car had broken down on the way home from school the day before and it was in the shop. I was her ride for the day. I had scooped up my MacBook and MiFi to get some work done while I waited. (I got nothing done, but that is an aside… I should not have told you that.)

As I was tapping away on the twitter and Google+, it occurred to me that even as I was sitting somewhere else, the view of my world did not change as long as I was staring into the laptop that I work on in my office. My world was the same 1900×1600 screen. Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes. I’m not usually one to make a metaphorical reference of Facebook to a dog’s butt, (ok, I am) but in this case it was the perfect metaphor.

I hope we don’t start losing touch with whether or not something happened in real life or on Facebook. Studies show that people recall the experience in nearly the same way, whether the experience was offline or online. (I heard it on NPR, but their site is so bad at curating that I couldn’t find it. If someone does, drop the link in the comments.)

That is what Facebook knows and hope you will never ask of yourself — Was that live or was that Facebook? (I stole that from the old Memorex tag line, “Is it live or is it Memorex?“) The timeline feeds us real-time information about what our friends are doing. Many of us will not be able to look away. Many of us will feel as engaged with the timeline as we would in person. Really.

In a generation or so, when media starts asking, “Where were you when…?” I wonder how many of us will be confused about whether we were there in real life or there virtually? I wonder what a memoir of the future will read like?

*As an aside, I don’t think I have ever written a blog post with so many parenthetical references or blatant commercial linking before…. or have I? And is this really an aside or germane to my theory?

Mercedes Benz shoulda hired an English major

This is the latest commercial for Mercedes Benz:

Ouch!

I’m not sure how much money they spent on the special effects, CGI or any of that, but they should have spent more on copywriting. The only copy in the commercial is painfully grammatically incorrect.

It should have said “fewer doors” not “less doors.” Of course, they could have said “less door space.”

While the misuse of “few” and “less” is grating and painful to my ears, I’m sure few others noticed. But if Mercedes Benz is a premium brand that buyers trust to handle all the small details on the car, shouldn’t they also handle the details of their commercials with the same care and fanaticism?

Its brand promise of “the best or nothing” to their customers insists it does.

From my point of view or yours?

Church Steeple

I saw this church across the parking lot of a Morris furniture store in Dayton. I was being dragged to go shopping for a new sofa that I didn’t want and I don’t really need, so I was in a somewhat goofy frame of mind. It’s how I handle my reality when I’m in a situation I don’t want to be. Everything gets funny.

As I looked up at this really sharp, point steeple and mused, “From God’s point of view, that is a thumbtack on a chair.”

But when the funny wore off, I started to think a bit deeply about why people build steeples on churches. It occurs to me that the best church would be built around this really cool-looking garden sanctuary so that when God looked down, he would see a place that invited him in instead of poking him in the eye… or the nether regions, depending on which direction he was facing at the time.

People build churches in God’s name, but everything about them satisfies their needs, not His. They reach toward the sky with steeples in hopes of being closer to God; they put the tower bells up high so that God’s voice can call to them. They line the inside with statues and gold candelabrae. (Lutherans also make sure there is a kitchen for coffee and donuts after the service. But they also put roosters on top of the steeple, so I don’t know what that means.)

I wonder if God looks down at us and thinks, “these people sure are a selfish bunch.”

This post isn’t really about God or religion or any of that. (If you comment about religion below, you are warned that I am a cantankerous Recovering Catholic and you should be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of an unfiltered opinion.) It is, rather, a introspection on the relationship we have with one another. When we extend out an invitation, do you point the thumbtack pointy end out or in? Do we see ourselves from the other person’s point of view? Should we?

I don’t have the answers, but I now have the questions. I suspect that is a lot more than most people get looking up at steeples.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Thumbtacks To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Look ma, my books report are done #letsblogoff

big pile of books

There is no one best book, so I’m not even going to try. In fact, the best books aren’t even the best books, but only contain best parts of books. But I’m sure if you put all the best parts together, it would make one really crappy book.

So, at the risk of writing one really crappy blog post, I am going to put some of the best parts of my favorite books together below and tell you why. However, I warn you that for you to understand why all these parts matter, you will have to read the books in their entirety.

You have the rest of the summer. Labor Day is this coming Monday.

I’d get crackin’

Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 3 — John Steinbeck
For illustrating the greatest human attribute is tenacity and by writing a skillfully metaphoric narrative about the indomitability of the human spirit.

The Awakening, Chapter 28 — Kate Chopin
The medium is the message. Chopin’s chapter illustrates how the desire once attained is almost always anti-climactic to the anticipation and thrill of the chase. Stay thirsty, my friends.*

The Secret Sharer, Chapter 1 — Joseph Conrad
For teaching me the importance of dotting the i and crossing the t. Because small details like typos can sink a ship, they matter immensely.

The Scarlet Letter, all of it — Nathaniel Hawthorne
For showing me that even in the most austere conditions, the human spirit seeks out the aesthetic. Read the book again (because you haven’t since high school) and pay attention to Hawthorne’s use of color. Genius.

Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 8 — Mark Twain
Steer the boat that is your life with what you know in your heart, not what you see with your eyes. Most things seen in the present are merely illusions or the product of wishful thinking.

I was going to dig into some contemporary books I read recently, but maybe those will be more complete book reports. The classics above is enough reading material for you get through before Labor Day.

*I borrowed that from Dox Equis beer commercials and the most interesting man in the world. Seemed appropriate.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What’s the best book you’ve ever read? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

When we fail as readers, we fail as writers

I read this article in the NY TImes this week about e-books adding music to the “experience.” Champions of this technology justify it by saying it adds to the experience, enhances imagination, meets readers where they are, blah, blah, blah.

I have not yet worked out all the feelings I have about this, but I am down to one thing: Parents and teachers need to teach young readers how to hear the sounds that words on the page produce through the ear of their own imagination. Readers need to be able to create the characters and the settings in their minds through imagination. They need to learn how the cadence, rhythm and rhyme of the words produces the “soundtrack” that propels the reader through the book.

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