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Don't discard. Keep all your pieces in play.
I’ve been thinking about that Margaret Atwood quote I posted, “You’re supposed to do one thing. If you do more than that, people get confused.”
It’s not just that other people get confused — you yourself get confused. You love all these things, but you feel like you’re supposed to pick one.
The best talk I ever heard/drew on the subject was Steven Tomlinson at TEDxAustin in 2010. He told this story: he was going around trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his life, so he decided to visited a professor named Will Spong, who had a reputation for being a no-nonsense hardass. Steven went to his office and explained how he loved business, he loved theater, and he loved the seminary, and then he asked Spong to tell him which one he should choose to pursue. This is how Spong answered:
This is the stupidest question anyone has asked me. You’re telling me that there are three things you love and you want me to tell you which two to cut off…so you can limp along on the other one? This is not how things work. The advice I have for you is: don’t discard. Find a way to keep all three of these things in the mix. We’ll find out [what you should do for a living]. Right now, what you do is spend 2 hours a week whole-heartedly engaged in each of those 3 things. Let them them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen in your life that is unique and powerful.
He went on to explain, “You don’t need a career, you need a calling. And right now, you’re listening.” Here’s Steven:
Now, it’s interesting how he framed this puzzle: that there’s this technology for finding your way that doesn’t involve making some bold sacrificial commitment, but rather, being determined to keep all the pieces in play, and trusting that there’s some wisdom in that, that’s going to start to burble up into something you’re looking for. This is perhaps what the theologian and writer Frederich Buechner meant when he said, “You find your calling where your deep passion meets the world’s deep need.”
The thing is, you can cut off a couple passions and only focus on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain. I spent my teenage years obsessed with songwriting and playing in bands, but then I decided I needed to focus on *just* writing, so I spent half a decade hardly playing any music at all. The phantom pain got worse and worse. Luckily, about six months ago I started playing in a garage band with my friends every Sunday. Now, I’m starting to feel whole again. And the crazy thing is that rather than the music taking away from the art, it find it interacting with the art and making it better—new synapses firing, new connections being made, etc.
So, yeah, it’s a lesson I constantly have to re-learn: don’t discard. Keep all your pieces in play.
Rumspringa of the mind: part 1
In other news, a theory:
‘Compounding’ is a term of increasing interest for me, at least as far as it regards composition. I have layers of blockading theory here that I am trying to strip away…but to me composition is the art of putting together disparate pieces of information. Simple composition is linear, sequential, uni-directional. “A” may lead to “B” and then “B” to “C” but at this point “A” is no longer consequential. This is also a very mechanistic method of composition. According to Bergson (and Dewey), human experience differs from mechanistic experience because it “endures.” We have the ability to allow “A” to endure in the composition so that while “B” may lead to “C” it does not mean that “A” is forgotten. Compositions become more complex the more and longer they continue to endure. This to me is compounding. The very symbols in the chain are each compounded, as well. Each word in an essay potentially holds multiple meanings and connotations. Masterful composers craft their work in such a way that we sense the depth of the words individually as well as how they cohere to the words around them. Different methods of compositional organization allow for deeper and deeper levels of compounding. Simple sentences need less “compounding,” compound sentences more, complex even more so, etc. Cause and effect creates a direct relationship between two ideas; hierarchies trump this by creating one to many relationships, which may be subsequently embedded in grander one to many relationships. Compositional theory, then, is about recognizing how ideas may be compounded and made to endure —if this is the goal. Or, it can be about how ideas may be stripped bare compositional detritus and made more directly representational; after all, sometimes a lack of compounding is sought after and needed for clarity of composition.
Mathematically, I envision composition as the art of moving from a point to a line, from a line to a space filling curve, from a space filling curve to a plane, from a plane to folded space and back to the beginning. Graphically, I see a bifurcation tree. Biologically, I see a rhizome. Educationally, I see the process of teaching chess. What we are doing when we are teaching effectively is helping students learn not only how to compose, but to de-compose, and not only how to compose externally but also internally…we should be teaching how what they are currently learning can be compounded with what they already know or how what they are currently learning might de-compose some of what they already thought they knew. The story of Columbus comes to mind.
Every subject could be taught, then, in terms of its compositional requirements. Art? How to compose a meaningful line, a collage, a video mash-up. Science? How to compose an experiment. Math? How to compose a formula, how to compose a proof, or even how to compose a solution. (Think about this for a moment. Math could be taught so that problems were interrelated and the solution to one would lead to the discovery of the next, which would require a completely different dimension of math to be applied in order to find an elegant solution. Instead, it is drill and kill.) Dance? How to choreograph movement. Music? A song. (If someone had shown me when I was young how practicing scales would lead to my being able to improvise and write music, I may have stuck with the piano, instead of thinking that scales were stupid warm-up exercises.) History? Well, obviously it is similar to English…but how is it unique? Compositional theory should suggest that we teach history thematically…so we can see how themes endure and compound, instead of teaching chronologically, which causes recurrent themes and lessons to get diluted and only recognized by happenstance.
This leads us to English… For my deeper theories on my subject of most interest… you will have to wait. But in my mind compositional theory begins with the end product. Where are we heading? And, when we get there, what should we be able to produce? Our high stakes testing notions limit this to a 5 paragraph, formulaic composition. That is the ultimate goal of English in New York and throughout the country. One very limited type of composition with little purpose beyond the context of the classroom. Students write the same essay from seventh grade to twelfth. Very rarely is hierarchical structure explained to them. Very rarely are connections made to other disciplines: writing as collage? writing as mathematical proof? writing as scientific experiment? writing as musical composition? writing as dance? Contrapuntal voices in writing? Purposeful choices in sentence composition(Simple? Complex?) Diction? Appositives? Oxymoron? Metaphor? These things are all treated outside the realm of composition as objects to diagram or terms to memorize and maybe to identify in another author’s text, but when are they integrated into compositional usage? When are students shown how to compound meaning within meaning with all these tools? Instead, everything is piecemeal and learned by rote in exchange for a token reward (a grade) and hollow promise of a better future. Here is a Skinner video that relates:
Our students are pigeons, kept hungry in boxes, and asked to perform knowledge. Take them out of those boxes and feed them and those pigeons won’t know their “peck” from “turn” or even care about what those words mean. It is interesting to note that at the end of the video, Skinner has absolutely no use for agency.
Well, that’s just writing. There is also talk and its relation to composition, as well. Thinking in terms of compositional theory should change our concepts about what and how to read, too.
And so begins a grand theory that may never leave obscurity.
While some compositions may be planar or non-linear (art, science, even contrapuntal pieces in writing/music,) all compositions are perceived linearly…due to the constraints of time and focal ability. I think this is important, but I have no clue why.
making the most of liminality in interdisciplinary enquiry
In 2009 I helped design a series of four sessions as part of a working enquiry into Challenging History, a manifesto for change in the way museums and heritage sites engage with contentious and sensitive histories. David Gunn and I submitted an abstract for the conference coming up in February 2011 and I thought it would be interesting to post it here as a start towards moving from abstract to the experience we’ll actually work on with people, most likely more workshop than research paper.
Exploring the nature of story and history in the liminal spaces between art, business and the third sector.
Over the past 2 years, Sparknow LLP and Incidental have been exploring inter-disciplinary collaborations that combine narrative practice in organizations and public institutions with the techniques of sound and participatory art.
This has included: collaboration on a substantial narrative practice project for the Asian Development Bank, threading interview extracts with sounds of the Bank at work; and a workshop series for the World Health Organisation exploring participatory approaches to meetings and artifacts.
In each case these projects seek to question assumptions of what constitutes a particular history, process, ritual or convention, and to invite individuals, teams or institutions to between understand the complex interplay between images of the past, present and future.
These experiences sit alongside Incidental’s more direct engagement in “difficult histories” – such as their ongoing work in Cambodia, working with local artists to find ways to respond to, and overcome, the cultural devastation of the 1970s and 80s.
This session would use excerpts from our individual and collaborative projects as a means to draw analogies and comparisons between commercial and artistic spheres, before working with participants to explore a range of areas including:
- Finding ways to move away from static representations of history and cultural towards a process of continual “becoming” - ongoing re-invention and re-evaluation of the nature of culture and narrative.
- How to address “positionality” within a project – finding processes that recognize and leverage the fact that consultants are active, subjective participants in an emergent process, rather than neutral, objective “experts-in-airplanes”.
- Challenging static notions of community/history. In particular, the importance of “temporary communities”, or even the significance of “temporary histories” as a means to enable groups to explore contested aspects of community, organizational or national history in safety.
New interdisciplinary surgery hours
Given complaints on spine, joints, extremities as well as head, nerves and vessels, our new interdisciplinary surgery hours can help the plagued patients.
Spine, joints, extremities
Head, nerves and vessels
Exhibition Featuring Postcards for Lara
My newest work is being featured in an interdisciplinary art exhibition. Come say hello at the opening on Friday.
Here’s a sneak peak:
More can be seen in the Postcards for Lara section of my website.