Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is Happiness Overated?

Many years ago a doctor gave me a prescription to help with depression after a family tragedy. I took the pills for three days. Yes, indeed, they made me 'happy'. I was content with everything, so I did nothing with a big smile. For me, if there's no edge, nothing gets accomplished. In my life, the worthwhile changes have sprung from unhappiness. As Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games, "Only that which can change can continue."
Eric Wilson writes about the creative force of melancholia in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
I for one am afraid that American culture's overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society's efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scrollworks' Goal--Help them make it their own

From Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph:
it's a pity that McMaster didn't have the courage to point out that most art is culturally highly specific and aesthetically focused, and that what matters more than dragging people into to art galleries and opera houses is inspiring and encouraging them to create their own art,­ be it am-dram or bhangra.

The Power of Music

This says so much about what is possible. Very inspiring.

Garcia . . . enforced an exercise regime that in the past year evolved into dance classes.

Garcia said that what had been weekly outbreaks of violence have subsided, inmates' health has improved and recidivism rates are down dramatically.

He only went the YouTube route, he said, because his attempts to draw public attention to these changes were ignored. "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country," said Garcia, citing one of his favorite passages from the Bible.

More videos.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gustavo Dudamel talks about the community of the orchestra

Keep the Continents Drifting!

As a geologist and the daughter of a geologist who was electrified when the idea of continental drift began reshaping the profession (Oh, that makes me feel old: "I remember when continental drift was discovered."), I think we need to switch our focus from stopping global warming to re-starting continental drift:
...the inexorable drift of Earth's tectonic plates isn't inexorable at all. In fact, the planet could be headed for another pause in continental drift, with uncertain and possibly ominous consequences.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Love and Leaf Piles

I just took my dogs for a walk. One corner house had several huge piles of leaves along the street. All three dogs joyously waded into each pile up to their chins and bouncily crunched through. It made me laugh to see them obviously having fun.

Awhile ago I read in Scientific American that scientists were beginning to change their view that animals were mere machines running on programs of instinct alone. They might actually form thoughts. Clearly these researchers had never spent any time with animals. My dogs enjoy a good joke, get embarrassed, and empathize with each other, me, and even other species. They aren't human, but they certainly aren't instinct machines. Tesla is the guardian and enforcer of the Dog Book of Rules, Libby is always scheming for Tesla's job, and Darwin, well, he's a big, sweet doofus.

I see aspects of personality and thought among the birds at my feeders and even the fish in my aquarium. I have conversations on some level with them all. (I talk to plants, too, but, in their case, I do think the conversation is in my head.)

The universe can be a 'small world' network. We can connect with everything if we're willing to look for the way. And the way is love.

As Hugh MacLeod says: the end, only love matters. Success and fame and wealth and even health all fade in time, and in the end all you have is love. And love is what matters.

The Jargon of the Heart

While this post may have good information, I just don't like the tone and terms. I don't want what happens at Scrollworks to be reduced to industry formula and jargon. If I ever think of getting people interested in what we're doing as 'donor acquisition and retention', it's time to quit.

Scrollworks is about people connecting with people through music. We passionately believe this can improve our community and our world. We're collecting an ever-growing group of like-minded people, equally passionate. It's growing organically, almost magically, despite (or because of?) our ignorance and naiveté.

Ever exploring for new information and like minds, I've found tiny pockets of wisdom. But I start gritting my teeth when I have to wade through clouds of pointless words: white paper, ratings, nonprofit executives, data mining, trend, transparency.

Where are the people? Where is the part where one person really listens to another person, looks them in the eye, reaches out with heart, mind, and hand?


From The Cluetrain Manifesto:

We die.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad. Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.

"Life is too short," we say, and it is. Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success. Too short as well for worrying whether we bought the right suit, the right breakfast cereal, the right laptop computer, the right brand of underarm deodorant.

Life is too short because we die. Alone with ourselves, we sometimes stop to wonder what's important, really. Our kids, our friends, our lovers, our losses? Things change and change is often painful...

...We long for more connection between what we do for a living and what we genuinely care about, for work that's more than clock-watching drudgery. We long for release from anonymity, to be seen as who we feel ourselves to be rather than as the sum of abstract metrics and parameters. We long to be part of a world that makes sense rather than accept the accidental alienation imposed by market forces too large to grasp, to even contemplate.

And this longing is not mere wistful nostalgia, not just some unreconstructed adolescent dream. It is living evidence of heart, of what makes us most human.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Game

I gave Harry Miree a copy of "Finite and Infinite Games" at MYO rehearsal today. That prompted him to explain The Game:

1) If you think of The Game, you lose.
2) If you lose, you have to tell everyone you lost, and explain how it works to those who don't know.
3) Once The Game has been lost, a 30 minutes grace period is allowed before it starts up again. During this period The Game may be discussed.

I've been pondering this ever since. He's right. It is an infinite game.

Friday, January 4, 2008

News about Katelyn's Brother

Received this email this morning. We'll take up a collection at the bowling party and rehearsals.
Hello friends. As many of you already know, Christopher was diagnosed with thyroid cancer before Christmas and is recovering well from his 2 surgeries. Thanks be to God!

The next phase of the treatment will be in late Jan/early Feb and will consist of a 2 day iodine-radiation treatment where he will be in an isolation room at UAB for approx. 48 hours. After that, he cannot be around ANY other children for 5-10 days. (Misti cannot be with him either, as she is still breastfeeding Jack.) When Misti mentioned the fact that she has 7 other children at home, the doctor simply said, "Well that certainly poses a problem", but offered no suggestions.

The Yaeger family has looked into lots of alternatives on places for Christopher and his dad to stay-- The Hope Lodge, Ronald Mcdonald House, even local shelters, but all those places have shared kitchens, etc. where other children may be present. Misti called a few other places and is waiting to hear back from them and is considering taking the other 7 children with her to South Florida to stay with her parents, but that would be extremely difficult to travel that far without Mark, etc.

Ideally it would be great if Mark and Christopher could stay in a hotel close by their house, but this would be another added expense to an already high medical bill. And Mark is having to take a good bit of time off of work for all these treatments. We are hoping that those who are able could help make a donation to help defray some of the costs that go along with a hotel stay, meals, etc. (We will combine all the money received and send a card with everyone's name signed, so they would NOT know how much each person gave) Any amount big or small would be greatly appreciated and help alleviate the burden on this family. We all know how humble and gracious they are,and they would never dream of asking for anyone's help. They do not know we are doing this.
Also, if you or anyone knows of an apartment/condo or alternative lodging possibility, please let them know.

If you would like to make a donation send it to us at:
Gary and Laney Gagnon
5155 Colonial Park Rd.
B'ham, AL 35242

You can either make a check out to us, or send the $ in a sealed envelope if you prefer. We would like to get this to them within the next week or two if at all possible.

Feel free to forward this letter to anyone else you think might be interested, as we have a limited e-mail address list. If you aren't able to donate at this time...please continue to lift up this sweet family in your daily prayers!
God Bless you and your families
Gary and Laney

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christmas tree vs. Julia Set

At the Scrollworks staff meeting last night we had a long discussion about letting the students guide the curriculum. There will be required learning and required progress, but we will let the students' interests and needs shape what we offer. We would also like the passions and strengths of the adults involved shape the organization. We would like to look less like a Christmas tree and more like a Julia set. Same for fund raising. We would like to cut the process to the bone. Everything we're doing will be open for examination. Look at what we're doing. If you like it, please donate.
From the Donor Power Blog:
"...nonprofit scandals have made many donor suspicious and untrusting of the nonprofit sector, and they aren't willing to leave their giving to chance.

The easy old days of trusting, duty-driven donors are fading away. Every day elderly old-style donors are passing away and being replaced by new donors who want proof that their giving makes a difference, and simply aren't going to give without it."

We are feeling our way and looking for examples. In the New York Times review of Gary Hamel's book, “The Future of Management”, William Holstein provides some reassurance that we might be on to something:
As insightful as Mr. Hamel’s book is, it’s surprising that it has attracted so little attention since being published in October. One part of the explanation is that it represents an assault on business schools, which obviously specialize in training managers who go on to enjoy rich salaries. Mr. Hamel has the audacity to point out that some of the best, most innovative ideas in business these days are not coming from business schools, but from people who never went to B-school. Every hierarchy, it seems, scorns fresh thinking.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My week for 'oops'

My mom and Mrs. Lewis pointed out that I carelessly neglected to edit out an offensive word quoted from Violent Acres this morning. I am so sorry. I corrected it around noon, but apparently the emails had already gone out. It's not usually an issue with those I read and quote.

Also, somehow the invitation to the bowling party on FaceBook did not go to just Birmingham, it went out to the 1200 members of the group--and all of those invited to join the group, which is several thousand people all over the world. So I've been getting RSVPs from odd corners saying that they appreciate the invite but can't make the event. Saturday should be interesting!!!


From Violent Acres:
Excuses drive me mad simply because I can’t stand to listen to you people insult yourselves. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you make excuses, too; make no mistake about it. Every time you whine about your lack of time or resources or what... ever, what you are really saying is, “I’m not organized enough or smart enough or creative enough or ambitious enough or determined enough to accomplish my goals.”

Last night I watched "What the Bleep Do We Know?" (Thanks, Lauren!) I know some of the science is questionable, but the message is still valid. We make our own world, choose our own lives. I realized that, while I may have doubts about my abilities or what will happen today, I do not have any doubts that Scrollworks will be a success. It's too obviously the a good thing, the perfect thing for Birmingham. And I know it will go beyond Birmingham.

Last night I heard an interview with a woman who, in her 40s, gave up a good job to pursue a career as a jazz singer. She said that while she pondered the change, her brother kept urging her, "Jump, the net will appear!"

I believe it.

So, come on and hold our hands while we all jump. The net will appear.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Robert Sapolsky and a Culture of Peace

In Greater Good Magazine, Robert Sapolsky has an article on peace among primates that supports our belief that Scrollworks can change the culture of Birmingham for the better:
Test a person who has a lot of experience with people of different races, and the amygdala does not activate. Or, as in a wonderful experiment by Susan Fiske, of Princeton University, subtly bias the subject beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group, and the amygdala does not budge. Humans may be hard–wired to get edgy around the Other, but our views on who falls into that category are decidedly malleable...
...The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the 17th century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility. Humans have invented the small nomadic band and the continental megastate, and have demonstrated a flexibility whereby uprooted descendants of the former can function effectively in the latter. We lack the type of physiology or anatomy that in other mammals determine their mating system, and have come up with societies based on monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry. And we have fashioned some religions in which violent acts are the entrée to paradise and other religions in which the same acts consign one to hell. Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible? Anyone who says, "No, it is beyond our nature," knows too little about primates, including ourselves.

Allan Kozinn on 'Drive-by' Music Education

Allan Kozinn has a must-read opinion piece on music education in the New York Times. I wonder if there is a backlash building against the inefficiencies in the processes of the non-profit/philanthropy industries. I am reading Writing for a Good Cause by Barbato and Furlich. It has helped me understand more about the process, but it still grates on me that so much of a non-profit's resources are spent on this process rather than the project.
That’s what arts organizations are worrying about publicly. But the fact is that Project Arts and grant programs like it have become a dependable gravy train for these groups. In the absence of the teachers and the budgets necessary to offer comprehensive and coherent arts courses, the schools, encouraged and financed by such programs, have formed partnerships with performing groups, charging the ensembles with the task of creating arts programs for children.

Typically that means a few performances for each participating school, dressed up with classroom preparation sessions and specially created handouts. They often include discussions with musicians, who are not usually members of the “partner ensembles” but young “teaching artists.” They are paid fees equal to, and sometimes considerably more than, a classroom teacher’s hourly wage (but a fraction of what a unionized orchestra member would receive).

Sometimes the ensembles offer regular repertory; sometimes composers are commissioned to write dippy children’s pieces, in the mistaken belief that children don’t know when they’re being condescended to.

All involved in these programs understand that they give schoolchildren little more than an inkling of what music and performance are about. If challenged, they say that it’s a start, and that something is better than nothing.

But a decade later we are still at the same starting line, and the organizations have grown complacent. Or worse. Not incidentally, the grant money that drives these programs finds its way directly to the arts groups, and it’s easy to see the inefficiency at work. Although most ensembles and concert halls have long had education directors, now they have expanded departments that oversee the writing of grant proposals, preparation of classroom materials and coordination with the schools.