What do you do when you encounter something sad?

When you hear about a catastrophic earthquake in an already precarious country like Haiti? When you read a graphic novel about girls in Cambodia who become victims of greater forces because they dare to hope and because they dare to try? When you hear about the state of education in our world? When you think about global warming? Or even when you read about a stranger’s daughter experiencing the tumults of young friendship? When you see firsthand the tears of elementary students struggling to figure out what friendship means yet dealing with the meanness instead?

What do you do? Because sometimes I don’t know what to do. Lots of times I end up doing dishes with furrowed brow and a paperweight on my heart not knowing whether to embrace the sadness, search for remedies, push aside the sadness with thoughts of happy things instead, or to simply try and forget. It always takes time to get back into life.

I remember the night of 9/11, after sitting at the kitchen table and listening to my mom’s retelling of a co-worker’s walking journey through the crowds of an underground subway city surfacing to get home the only way they could, I retreated to my room. My brother remained in the living room with the news, the reruns of the crash footage, the moment. I had AP English homework to do in the quiet of my room, and even then, I remember being aware of the absurdity of that line of thought. Somehow, I knew 9/11 wouldn’t stand up as an excuse for not having my essay done.

Should it have been? Which route is healthier? Did it matter then? Does it matter now?

What do we do? What do you do?

Bend the Universe

Advice on “how to make the universe bend in your favor” from an inspiring philanthropic social entrepreneur and blogger who makes her homes in New Orleans and at The Causemopolitan:

2. Be Specific. The Universe doesn’t do well with “Let’s schedule something for sometime.” Or “I’m looking for a job.” Or “I’d love just once to have front row tickets to a game.” You have to say what you want. I know, I know, but what if it DOESN’T HAPPEN? My response? So what. Try something else. The crazy thing though is that when I am specific, what I want happens at a 4:1 ratio. I don’t even realize half the time I’m being specific until after. We can’t be in tune with ourselves all the time. But we can make something a habit, second nature, and then it starts to take care of itself. Treat your request to the Universe like invitations to a party with a specific day or industry or request. I know, it’s a lot of talk about the Universe, but I swear it all works.

1, 3, 2…

My brother has been sending a lot of good articles my way. On the surface, they are about game development, but the designers offer insight onto more general creative process. Here’s an interesting tidbit from Jordan Mechner, who designed Prince of Persia, in an interview on Gamasutra about inspiration and creation:

A good friend in another field gave me this piece of advice recently. He said that most people approach things “1-2-3.”

One is the first inspiration, the vision, the excitement. One is gold. One is touched with magic; everyone wants a piece of it.

Two is all the reasons it won’t work, or won’t sell, or could get screwed up; all the difficulties — technical, financial, logistical — that need to be solved.

Three is doing it.

Most people get stuck on two. My friend’s advice was to go in a different order: “1-3-2”. Skip two and go straight to three. I’d never heard it phrased quite this way before, but looking back, the things I’ve done in my life that I’m most glad of, I did them 1-3-2. So that’s my advice too.

…don’t dissipate the energy and passion of the original idea by becoming your own critic (which would be step 2) too early in the process. Instead, jump straight from step 1 to step 3 — start taking the necessary steps to turn your idea into reality, while you still feel the clarity and strong desire of that first inspiration.

Later, of course, you’ll start realizing what the problems and flaws are, and you’ll have to deal with them; but you’ll be able to handle them, because you’ll already have the momentum of a project that’s actually going forward. Whereas if you think about the obstacles in the beginning, you can easily end up talking yourself out of doing it at all.


Designing computers, systems, our world for the future means designing for trillions of nodes and connections. We’re at billions right now. We haven’t figured out how to do it yet, but nature already has because it designs for and with layered complexity.

I always love new representations of millions vs. billions vs. trillions because it’s so easy to forget the scaling.

  • Go back 1 million seconds = about a week and a half ago
  • Go back 1 billion seconds = mid 1970’s
  • Go back 1 trillion seconds = 30,000 years (yes, that’s right: Thirty thousand years)

Check out this other video from Maya Design about INFORMATION. And how we often confused the medium with the message when we’re thinking about information. Because we are constantly giving form to information, we start to confuse the form with actual information. Has implications for education, but I’ll have to rewatch it a couple of times and sit with it for awhile to really internalize it.

GREEN TIP: Drip Drip

Steady subfreezing temps for the next few days in Austin had our apartment posting orange panic fliers on everyone’s doors: start those taps dripping NOW to prevent pipes from bursting!

For those in similar conditions, consider placing a bucket under your bathtub tap as you drip drip drip away the freeze. Use the accumulated water to flush your toilet (pour it directly and quickly into the bowl).

And if the worst-case scenario of multi-pipe burstages leading to mass water shut-offs should occur, you’re already set with emergency toilet-flushing water!

THINK GREEN: Stop Junk Mail

I like getting mail, but it’s pretty disappointing when all I find in the mailbox is ads, credit card offers, and catalogs addressed to previous residents. Most of it goes straight to the recycling bin, since I don’t have time to make diy plantable paper. It’d be best if all the junk would just stop coming in the first place. So I finally signed up for the junk mail purge that I’ve been thinking about intermittently all year.

I chose the latter. Arguably, I have some time on my hands, but not enough for me to want to wade through all that paperwork. Furthermore, 41pounds donates 1/3 of the fee to an environmental/community organization of your choice, you can add as many names as you want, and they guarantee their service for 5 years. Not to sound like an infomercial, but…what the hell: “All for the low, low price of $41!”

Frankly, I wish I had done it sooner.

[Being green means thinking green, and thinking green means creatively applying sustainable idea to your life in simple ways that make sense. “Think Green” will be about sharing stories, linking to resources, and brainstorming ideas to kickstart green thinking.]

Protecting Space for Reflection

I have been paralyzed by indecision for the past few months about which teacher certification programs and experiences to pursue. I woke up new year’s day brooding over the decisions and brooding over the fact that I was brooding. Why has this decision been so difficult to make, and why does my mind dwell in it even after I have decided on a course of action? What am I so afraid of?

Instead of staying in bed and working myself into a real funk, I got up and resisted the urge to get onto the computer to look up more details for my pros and cons lists. Instead, I did yoga, I ate oatmeal, I stayed off the computer. And I felt better.

I remembered that one of my recent goals (resolution?) was to defeat my self-defeating thoughts. I realized that all of the angst I was feeling toward my decision stemmed from the possible negative outcomes of choosing one “side” over another (traditional teacher education vs. alternative certification programs). I have made multiple decision trees, with myriad pros and cons and factors. But I realized on new year’s morning that all of my cons had their roots in my fear of failure, my fear of being underprepared to be an awesome teacher my first year in the classroom. Those were the factors I was dwelling on in my decision making, and they were the ones that kept nagging at me even after I had thought I had chosen a path.

Those negative factors are all self-defeating thoughts because I will most likely not fail. I have resources, past experiences, and support systems to draw from when I finally do get into a classroom. I must come to terms with the fact that I won’t be great from day one, and that even though I have a lot of strengths to bring to this new career, a lot of growth will happen through the experience of actually teaching. I have to accept that there will be factors outside of my control during that first year, but that I will be able to ask for help. I have to remember to have enough faith in myself.

I’ve thought a lot, and I’ve read a lot…and maybe it’s been difficult to keep perspective on things because it’s been so. much. information. And much of it feeds the self-defeating part of my mind that whispers things like, “you’re not ready,” “you’ll need years to absorb all of this information,” “you’ll need to know so much more before you start teaching,” “you WON’T be ready.” But you never are. Ready, that is. You can prepare, and you can study, but to do something for the first time is to do it for the first time. I’m not saying there aren’t important basics and necessary experience I need before I start. However, I’ll probably learn my best and most important and lasting lessons while I’m actually doing the thing I’m trying to get better at, reflecting on it, doing it some more.

If I am to defeat my self-defeating thoughts, I have to turn things upside down and air them out a little. I have to base my decision, not on my fears, not on the cons, not on the negative possibilities, but on the positives, the pros, all the good that can come out of any of these programs. And here’s the thing — these are all really good programs, and they all have their strengths and benefits. I am going to be a teacher, (and I daresay a good one) no matter which route I take to official certification. Regardless of how much “training” I receive from my slated teacher education program, I will continue to learn, develop, reflect, and research on my own because that is my nature.

These realizations were refreshing, and I felt a lot lighter new year’s morning. I managed to stay off the computer, and I even convinced the boy that he should stay away from the screens, too. We went for a long walk at Pease Park instead.

I also realized that if I had jumped onto the computer, I would have stayed muddled and anxious all day. Which led me to my other new year’s lightbulb moment: we all need time and space and silence to truly reflect on our lives. This is becoming more and more difficult given the ubiquity of media and things that seemingly need our immediate attention. Sometimes it’s non-stop, and sometimes my mind just needs a big ol’ break. I’ve been finding myself more and more lately craving the silence I can get during a drive or a bus ride if I don’t turn on the radio or take out a book (respectively). When I’m surfing the internet, I’m multitasking as it is, and my brain has stopped wanting background music to accompany the noisy webpages. When I’m stuck in line at the post office, I just stand and wait and stare whereas before I might have tried to get through maybe a half a page of an article. My mind now craves the stillness, the silence, the calm.

I say all this at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, but I am not issuing a blanket indictment against all things that go beep. But as with all things, we must stay mindful instead of accepting the status quo as inevitable. We must become cognizant of how the ways we ingest information are shaping our lives and minds. As our synapses adapt to processing more and more information at quicker and quicker speeds, we also need to figure out how reflection might happen in these new technologies. I don’t know if it does yet, but I have noticed that when I’m drawn to my GoogleReader (even during those times when I really need a break from technology), the posts I choose to consume are those in my folder labeled “sweet.” Not those about the environment or those introducing big ideas or those written by educators or even those fancy modern design blogs. I browse instead those authors who share beautiful things, those who dwell on the sweet moments of a family’s life, or those whose posts are merely intended to bring a smile to the reader’s face. Maybe others’ reflections on their lives helps me reflect on mine, similar to how a good book or movie necessitates processing time afterward, how a good story can give pause and provoke new thoughts…?

In any case, on new year’s day, I even managed to stay away from my GoogleReader, so I was able to stay very present in my here and now life. I cooked and I hung out with my boyfriend and I read just a little. Some of my thoughts for 2010 are to walk/bike more even without destination, to single-task more, and to give myself a break from those self-defeating spirals of negativity. I never really call them resolutions because I find myself assessing, reassessing, reflecting, sometimes overthinking, and giving myself challenges all year round. Making (and breaking) resolutions has become an item on society’s to-do list as a holiday ritual to ring in the new year with promises to do better — and resigned sighs, que sera sera, when things/people end up staying pretty much the same.

The other day, I shared a link to this “Resolution Generator” on GoogleReader. I guess at the time I thought it was clever, or I found it amusing to find some of my thoughts mirrored in this coded web meme. During a new year’s eve hike with my brother, I asked him if he had any resolutions for 2010, and he said that yes, he had generated one: Sing out of tune.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized how silly this was, yet it also proves a sign of our times. Ideally, individuals have enough time, silence, and space in their lives to reflect on their lives and make commitments to improve — with resolve and gusto. But we are able to fill our minds and spaces and attention with ever more stuff…and so we do because we can. It’s certainly easy to allow myself to be swept along by the momentum of others’ ever-updated stories (webcomics, Netflix streaming, book series, and movie sequels), but it is when I sit in my own life and experience its discomfort, when I identify those areas that need work and then find ways to work on them, it is really only then that I grow.

Each day since new year’s, I have once again found myself dwelling on some negative thoughts. It turns out self-defeating thoughts aren’t so easy to defeat, but then again, growth isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s what resolutions aspire to be: commitments to growth. And a commitment is a practice in consistently making good choices again and again. With time and work and mindfulness, it’ll get easier. But then we’ll be onto the next challenge. Such is life. Happy new year.