Well, what do you know?

Passing it on – online

I’ve been looking around for opportunities to turn my “Landing Softly In Paris” project into a course, and over the weekend, I discovered Udemy — “the world’s online learning marketplace” which boasts over 5 million students, more than 12,000 instructors, and 22,000 courses. By the time I’m done, they’ll have even more courses than that — I’ve signed up to produce my first course by the end of March, and I’m looking to be on track.

I’ve been doing training, myself, for a number of years, now. I’ve trained many, many people in the different jobs I’ve had. And I’ve trained people independently, as well.I intermittently teach folks how to use Audacity, a free audio editor that’s quite powerful. It’s fun — but it can take a fair amount of juggling to sort out schedule commitments. And the retired individuals (who have been the folks I’ve trained) have had schedules that were even more packed than my own.

Anyway, the idea of time-independent training has appealed to me for some time. There’s a lot that I know about a variety of things, from travel to technology to finding a job and keeping employed over the long term. There are certain specific things I’ve discovered that really work — and not just for me. Sharing those things with others can only help, I’m thinking. In any case, I always end up chatting with people and sharing new information, just out of the blue, so why not put some structure to that and reach a wider audience? After all I’ve done and experienced, it seems a shame to not pass it on.

So, I’m building out a Udemy course for Landing Softly in Paris. The last sections of the book are queued up to publish on my blog over the next week (ah, the magic of WordPress and scheduling your posts for the days and times you want them to “land”), and I’m leveraging them for my course sections. And since I already have a structure for the work — and the book itself is very targeted and not that long — it’s a good place to start.

This is just the start, too. For this year, I’ve mapped out about six different courses I can build — some larger than others — in a couple of different topics. All of it is fascinating to me, and I love to talk about it and share with others. If all goes to plan, by the time this work is done, there will be a bit more happiness in the world.

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Paris on my mind

After many half-starts and false-starts… thinking and not thinking… reacting and resolving to not react… the words I would like to say about the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris earlier this week, just won’t seem to materialize.

Too many thoughts, too much talk in general out there… too much of the news cycle, too much that I’d like to say, but can’t in good conscience, because the gist of it is all still half-baked.

And yet, as someone who writes about Paris regularly — over at my site Paris: In And Out – and still feels a strong connection to that city, despite our frequent differences over the years… well, it almost seems incumbent on me to at least mention a little of what’s come to mind.

So, here’s my own small contribution to a conversation that’s been understandably heated, frenzied, impassioned, pained, and far more anguished than soundbites in news cycles will express.

Until this week, I may or may not have ever heard of Charlie Hebdo. I never followed them, and from what I’ve seen of their cartoons, I doubt I would have had much interest in doing so. People are free to say and draw what they wish, and I support their liberty to do so. However the tone of the caricatures on their magazine covers was so far from what I myself would say or draw, it was as if we existed in parallel universes, and never the twain would meet.

It wasn’t that I object to provocation and controversy. I’ve spawned a bit myself, over the years. It was just that the provocation seemed purely for its own sake — and for the sake, quite frankly, of pissing other people off and overtly antagonizing them. I am not French (not recently, anyway), so I can’t say what was truly in the hearts and minds of the creators of that content, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have lasted a week in a job there. I would have quit out of distress at how far they pushed things.

Of course, it’s always dangerous to tell the folks pushing out the limits of the collective margins to “back off”.  Because the creators living on the edge often make it possible for the folks in the center to live that much more freely. It’s precisely the antics and undertakings of those who are far wide of the center, which often make the center that much cozier. And safer. And more civilized.

A great example is in the gay community, which has been divided for many years about the role and presence of drag queens. Some say they’re too flambouyant and “out there”. How… embarrassing. Stone butches are often viewed askance as “ersatz men” by mainstreaming lesbians who desire with every fiber of their beings to be accepted as the couple next door and arrange play-dates between their kids and the neighbors. At the same time, those glitzy tassels on the fringe of the gay community were the very ones who took on the cops at the Stonewall Inn, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. Without their resistance and rioting, a lot of people would still be living in misery — both queer and the straight folks who love and care about them.

So, when it comes to either vocally condemning or supporting controversially in-your-face drama mongers on the margins, I’m reticent. I’m not so quick to add my voice to the #JeSuisCharlie / #IAmCharlie hashtag “conversations”. But neither am I all that eager to condemn their approaches. There are plenty of other folks who will do that, for now and all time. Some with bullets. Some with pen and ink.

Suffice it to say, my heart goes out to Paris. It’s no fucking fun living with the aftertaste of that horror, and who knows how long till things can return to normal– or if they ever will? The friends and colleagues I have there… I think of them often, these days, looking at how close to them all the action has been… I think about my Muslim friends in France, and I wonder if they are safe. And as for the people I know who are planning a trip of a lifetime to the City of Light, well there’s nothing that kills the mood like feeling like you need to look over your shoulder on a regular basis.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t agree with a whole lot that went on before, during, and since the attacks and subsequent manhunts. But who am I to judge? Who am I to say? All I can do is wish folks well and do my best to not harm others while exploring the outer limits of my own liberty.

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I have this stuck to my fridge at home. It’s true.

The holidays are in the proverbial rear-view mirror of my daily life, and the New Year is just around the corner.

I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a very good year.

2014 wasn’t so shabby. I’ve been looking back on the year behind me, feeling very, very grateful for everything. Literally, everything.

It hasn’t always been easy, and there were some losses along the way, but that’s pretty much what happens when you stick around and show up, so that just comes with the territory.

And I realize… hey, you know what? I’m pretty happy. No, not just pretty happy.

I AM happy.


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Do happiness and enlightenment go hand-in-hand?

Question – Does enlightenment / awakening / personal improvement automatically lead to more happiness?

I’m reading “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy” by Eric G. Wilson, and he makes some good points about how happiness is just a bit overrated… and chasing it for its own sake can lead to a somewhat vacuous, one-dimensional life. Melancholy connects us with the rest of life, the flow, and it makes us more creative — and more interesting — people.

I haven’t finished the book, so I may get something else out of it before all is said and done, but it’s got me thinking.

One thing he talks about, is how Christianity used to be trained on the idea of suffering, but now it seems all about God wanting us to be happy and prosperous and abundant. The “man of sorrows”, as Jesus has been described, is now a personal growth advocate who just wants you to live the good life.

I think the author’s onto something there — again, I haven’t finished the book, so I may change my mind by the end of things. And the idea that’s been looping through my brain has been, whether enlightenment and awakening and spiritual advancement are necessarily all about happiness.

Looking around online, there are a lot of websites that make that connection, using “happiness” and “awakening” and “joy” in their urls. As though becoming more conscious is going to impart unbridled joy — and the true mark of a spiritually elevated person, is that you’re never sad, never suffering, never un-happy.

And I’m not so sure about all that.

It seems to me, there’s a much greater likelihood of unhappiness, when you’re conscious of what’s really going on around you. I mean, seriously, there’s some pretty nasty stuff going on in the world — always has been, it just changes the type of nastiness as time goes on. Suffering, pain, all that…

Of course, there’s plenty of joy, and keeping sight of that is every bit as enlightened, in my opinion, as being aware of suffering.

To me, there’s a flow to it all. And the whole enlightenment thing seems more about being able to roll with it… to see it all, but not get sucked down into the abyss. Getting stuck with others in feeling their suffering, for the sake of what you think is solidarity, is not my idea of enlightenment or awakening — for anyone.

But this is just me talking, mortal and all.

It’s actually a beautiful day, so let’s all go find out what’s going to happen today.

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To be fully here

Here, there… was, will be…

When I was a kid, I usually had my head in a book — usually fiction or anthropology.

My tastes in reading have swerved into lanes of philosophy, autobiography, memoir, and most recently emerging studies of the mind/brain/body connections.

I’ve morphed into a sucker for a good research paper, a scholarly discussion of double-blind tests with standard deviations and all that jazz, but in terms of reading for the sake of reading, I’m much more interested in notebooks, these days, than just about anything else. Camus. Nietzsche. Snippets of insight into the minds behind the words. They link the authors to the flow of life around them, and they smack of the everyday, which absolutely begs to be explored.

The mundane… the blessedly fascinating mundane.

Moments interest me these days, a lot more than hours and days… and beyond. Moments of life — real life. Wherever it may find itself.

And each individual moment seems packed full of every other moment that led up to it. To the point of being dizzying with its density. No matter how fleeting.

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by moments — the everything that fed into the particulars of an instant — and that fascination has endured. Through the years of day-jobs, through the moves from one place to another, the shifts in relationships, the changes of fortune… through the years of genuine struggles, the boring rote required routines, through the years of sorting things out, piece by piece, till things all came together.

In the midst of it all, are our moments.

And the NOW — fleeting as it may seem — is anything but.

It is everything we have ever been — individually and collectively.

It is everything we will ever be.

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Oh, Lord… Brainpickings will be the end of me

My latest vice: brainpickings.org – a regularly updated site, bringing you all sorts of tasty bits about awesome books, inspiring ideas, and art that deserves to be seen.

You should visit the site, bookmark it, follow it, dive deeply, and explore. Now.

And return frequently for more.

At your own peril, of course. Don’t blame me, if you lose more time than planned, by following links, reading and thinking, thinking and reading some more.

It’s causing serious disruption to my life — more than Facebook ever did. No offense to any of my FB friends, but the steady stream of heady info that comes out of Brainpickings is the kind of stuff I want to invest in. Voluntarily. In detail. In depth. For hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Every waking moment, on some days.

So many ideas, so little time.

Brainpickings, thanks for everything.

And nothing.

:) :(

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A writer’s first obligation

It’s October. It feels like time to go back to school in Germany. Every now and then, when the weather starts to turn, a part of me that remembers that sense from almost 30 years ago, when the shortening days and chill in the air meant that classes would be starting again in Tuebingen, and it was time for me to get everything in order, so I could start the school year right.

That feeling is back again. It comes and goes, but this year it’s especially strong. Of course, it’s moot — I have a job and a house and a much-loved life here in the U.S., and I’m long past the point of heading back to school as a part of an annual routine. I have deadlines to meet, a mortgage to pay, a life to lead, right here where I am.

And yet, there’s something in me that’s intensely hungry for the kind of experience I had when I was going to university in Germany from 1985-87. It was a much simpler time, Cold War angst notwithstanding. The Berlin Wall was still up. There was still a clear East and West in Europe. There was still a definite line between The Evil Empire over there, and the God-given rights of Americans to live as we pleased over here. The September 11 attacks had not happened. You could buy a one-way plane ticket from Philadelphia to Zurich for $500. And very few everyday people in continental Europe spoke fluent English.

A different time, for sure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about one aspect of cultural life there, in particular — the distinction between creators and the people who made a study of what they created.

I was meeting up with a study group in a university hall, and I was scanning a collection of flyers posted on the walls around me. There were notices of upcoming lectures about writers and literature, and it occurred to me that none of the people presenting were actual authors, themselves. They studied and taught about the authors, but they weren’t the writers, per se.

I was surprised and remarked (probably a bit dismissively) to my German peers that it seemed odd that there were no actual writers giving presentations on writing. My German counterparts seemed puzzled that I would expect to be any other way.

“Lectures are given by professors who study the topics,” they said. “Writers should write. Teachers should teach.”

At the time, it seemed odd. And I wondered if it were even possible for a professor to adequately explain the meaning and intent of a work of literature — especially when the author was still alive. But over the years, watching the increasing commercialization of arts and literature, and the encroaching commoditization of artists’ and writers’ private lives (you have to have a following to get noticed, after all, and people tend to follow people they feel they know personally), it’s occurred to me that there’s something to the idea that:

Writers should write. Teachers should teach.

I might add “Marketers should market.” But that’s another rant for another time.

In the world we presently inhabit, where people become famous, simply because they are well, famous… and where the line between public and private is so blurred, so voyeuristic, and so opportunistically invasive, the spoils tend to go to the people with the biggest personalities, who have the most followers on Facebook and Twitter, who produce one video after another talking about (or doing)… whatever. The more intimate and revealing, the better. And in the publishing world, where the obligation to accrue followers falls to the writer, the author, the creator of objects of commercial desire, the pressure to peel yourself open like a can of sardines is no small thing.

It just seems so strange to me, that writers — who so often take to the printed word, precisely because they’re not all that keen on interacting with everyone directly — are expected to do all the heavy lifting for marketing and outreach and promotion. What’s even stranger, is that publishers — who don’t actually own the printing presses anymore, so WTF dude, what is it that you bring to the publishing equation, nowadays? — think they can reasonably expect writers to do all that promotion work, and do it well… while continuing to write.

How odd.

This puzzlement is such a common complaint/conundrum, it seems cliche, and I suppose it is. We can bitch and complain about it to our hearts’ content, but that isn’t going to change the situation.

That’s just how it is.

And it’s not how I want to write or publish or frankly make my living. I want to write, yes absolutely. I want to publish, to be sure. And I want to do both with my only allegiance and obligation being to my craft, the language, and the meanings we derive from the whole of a fully lived life.

Once upon a time, I had not one book contract, but two, and both fell through for business reasons. It was a heady, awful time, and it really threw me for a loop. But the thing that did the biggest number on me and my Work was not losing the contracts and being relegated to the commercial scrap pile. Rather, it was the focus I put on my work being commercially viable, “delivering value,” and actually altering much of my original vision(s) to meet the expressed and rapidly changing wishes of my publishers.

That shift in priorities — away from the language, the meaning, the exploration, and towards the economic viability — was killer.  And it occurs to me now that — after sitting relatively fallow, publishing-wise, for over five years — I can probably go back to doing what I wanted to do before, without angst, fear, and agitation. I’ve had the whole book deal experience — not once, but twice. And it almost ruined everything for me, my writing, and my vision as an author. I lost my focus, I lost my primary intention, and I wandered way off track.

For what? Nothing, ultimately.

So, this is probably the start of something new. I’ve actually been writing a lot, over the past year or so, with tens, even hundreds of pages ending up on my laptop. Some of it may turn out to be interesting to some folks. And I suspect precious little of it is going to be of any use to the established order of things. I haven’t got the pedigree, I haven’t got the CV, I haven’t got the degrees and certifications to actually qualify as a “real writer” in today’s marketplace. No writing workshops under my belt, no creative writing degree, no recent appearances in nationally recognized presses, either large or small. In the world of literature, I’m nobody. Less than nobody, actually. And if I stopped writing tomorrow, who the hell would notice or care? Maybe a handful of people, tops.

And that’s fine with me. I’m writing anyway, and I’m publishing as well. Bigger things await.

More to come. As I see fit.

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