Category Archives: creativity

A Dog’s Tale

A Dog's Tail (DLG)

A Dog’s Tail (DLG)

Fleeing the heat and power outage in Washington DC, we threw our belongings into the car, and headed north to our lake-side cottage in the New Jersey Highlands. Although we arrived late at night, I knew my whereabouts, so familiar were the smells of the forest and the croaking of the frogs. All night long I paced from window to window, anticipating what the morning would bring.

At long last, the sun peeked over Sparta Mountain, slowly encroaching on the dark. I watched as it mounted higher and higher in the sky, casting a delicate glow across the lake. This was my cue. Out the door I raced to meet up with my friends Atticus and Lucy, who live next door, on the far side of the cove in the house on the hill.

But, whoa, what should I encounter there instead–a junior black bear meandering down to the water’s edge in search of a cool drink. Although I am part Plott Hound, bred to hunt bear and wild boar, I grasped the opportunity to retreat upon hearing my Mistress’s entreating call. The bear appeared to welcome the intervention as well, as he sauntered, as if he had no cares in the world, back the way he had come.

Sauntering Bears (courtesy of Wally Wentink)

Sauntering Bears (courtesy of Wally Wentink)

With safe passage assured, I scooted up the hill, there to be greeted by my friends, Atticus and Lucy. Atticus is a handsome dude, with enough character and charm to land him a spot in a Walt Disney movie. Lucy is much more reticent, but her urge to play overcomes her shyness. Rescued from the same part of North Carolina that I was, she is my look-a-like from head to toe.

my look-a-like Lucy (DLG)

my look-a-like Lucy (DLG)

That’s just the beginning of my day.

Atticus a Cool Dude

Atticus a Cool Dude

Life, here, is so full, it seems that the days of summer are flying by. Just imagine my routine.After breakfast, I accompany my Master and Mistress on their daily walk to the end of the road, where I encounter my other friend, the English Retriever Martha (Mudwallow)–so named because she loves to wallow in the mud.

martha and me (DLG)

martha and me (DLG)

Eager to play, Martha brings me a stick, which we snatch from one another as we race together down the road. Then, back home, we play a game of peek-a-boo, each of us trying to surprise the other as we sneak around and around the car. Then, to cool off, we dive into the lake, where we swim and nose around in the shallows.

Blossom's water games

Blossom’s water games

Later in the day I might romp again with Atticus and Lucy, as they take off into the woods in hot pursuit of the local critters of which there are a number– few–bears, coyotes, deer, chipmunk, otter, ground hogs, and a stray cat or two. When the dogs aren’t around, I play with the children. who are most accommodating. Sometimes we pretend we are pirates aboard a ship (a large fallen tree) lodged in the cove. Other times, I swim along as they paddle out to the island, where they play other delightful fantasy games.

Tired Dog (DLG)

Tired Dog (DLG)

By evening time, I am all tuckered out. As a finale, I enjoy the snacks during cocktail hour, and try to make out the grownup conversations, but then, as the the witching hour arrives, and the sky turns pink, I can do no more. As I succumb to the call of the katydids and the trumpeting of the frogs. I close my eyes and happily remind myself that I live the life of a dog.

Cultural Contradictions

In the primary madness of the Republican Party, much is made of the cultural divide between urban supporters of Romney, and rural supporters of Santorum. Meanwhile, an equally, if not more, consequential clash is occurring, which has received far less public attention. This is the growing conflict between cultural and economic values, a tension that sociologist Daniel Bell first pointed out thirty six years ago, in his classic book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.

I was first introduced to Bell’s work when working at the Office of Technology Assessment on the study Intellectual Property Rights in the Age of Electronics and Information. In fact, the ideas he discussed in “Cultural Contradictions” provided the basis for my analysis of how intellectual property rights might be affected by a changing information environment.

Daniel Bell (courtesy of us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com)

Daniel Bell (courtesy of us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com)

According to Bell, society consists of three realms–the political, economic, and cultural–each governed by differrent values and norms, or as he put it, axial principles. Looking ahead, he predicted that, as electronic technology enhanced the value of information in each of these realms, they would be brought into increasing conflict. Looking at how these conflicts might be played out in the policy arena, our OTA study concluded that:

The resolution of these issues in an information age will be more problematic. . . .Given the variety of opportunities that the new technologies afford, the increased value of information, changing relationships among the traditional participants in the intellectual property system, and rising expectations about the benefits of these technologies, the number of stake holders with disparate interests and competing claims on the system will be greater than ever before. In such a context, the granting of intellectual property rights, instead of mutually serving a variety of different stakeholders may actually pit one against another.

This theme has been developed from a variety of different angles over the last several years. For example, in his book, The Cultural Economy of Cities, Allen J. Scot, lays the groundwork for further discussion, describing how the economic and the cultural realms have converged: as he points out, today, economic products now have greatly enhanced semiotic value, whereas cultural goods are increasingly capitalized for sale. Taken together, these products comprise a rapidly growing portion of the nation’s economy, and–as Daniel Pink contends in his book Whole New Mind:Why Right Brainers Will Rule in the Future, they are the new source of America’s competitive advantage. Richard Florida would presumably agree, having argued in The Rise of the Creative Class that today’s creators now constitute a class in their own right.

Ironically, the predictions about a culture/economic clash would seem to have proven wrong. What has happened instead is the colonization of culture by the economic realm, a point that I make in my paper, Creativity: The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. Whereas I make my case based on shifts in the architecture of the creative landscapes that allow economic actors to assume a defining role in the cultural realm, Lawrence Lessig draws a similar conclusion arguing from a legal standpoint. In his book, Free Culture he points out that, given the growing economic value of creative products, the danger today is that the laws governing the economy will come to encompass norms and activities associated with culture and creativity.

The Proof of the Pudding is in the public silence. The only place where one can see contention is in the Republican primary, where Santorum carries the banner of culture, while Romney touts economic profits.

Republicans in Wonderland

Alice_in_Wonderland  (Wikipedia)

Alice_in_Wonderland (Wikipedia)

Following the Republican Primary I feel that I am, much like Alice in Wonderland, trapped in a fantasy world full of bizarre happenings, none of which make any sense. “Curiouser and curiouser” is all I can say!

Like the unpleasant characters that Alice encounters along her way, the Republican candidates appear consumed by their own sense of importance. They contort their appearances, much like the Cheshire Cat, as they obfuscate and twist facts to suit the audience of the day. As Alice said to herself: “[They] look good natured, but [they] have very long claws and a great many teeth.” So behind the masks, Ron Paul the libertarian glad-hander is an angry bigot; Mitt Romney the conservative businessman is a closet social engineer; Gingrich the intellectual genius is unable to tell the truth; and Rick Perry the Christian preacher has forgotten about the word Love. Clearly, the candidates must have met the Duchess along the campaign trail, and taken her advice when she said:

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Cheshire Cat (Disney)

Be what you would seem to be, or if you would like it put more simply–Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would appeared to have them to be otherwise.

Now then, how do we know where the truth lies? Certainly not by whose winning and losing. For just as Alice, upon drinking the potions and eating the mushrooms and cakes, vacillated abruptly from being ten feet tall to two inches small, so too the candidates, when imbibing the nectar of success, have had their sudden ups and downs.

The Queen of Hearts has the solution. A caucus, or better still a trial, she said. On the condition that there be no judges, Gingrich concurred. Quoting the Fury’s invitation to the mouse, he proposed:

Let us both go to law; I will prosecute YOU. . .Come I will take no denial; We must have

I'll be judge I'll be jury

I'll be judge I'll be jury

a trial; For this morning I’ve nothing to do.’ Said the mouse to the cur, Such a trial, dear Sir, With no jury or judge would be wasting our breath.’ ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury, Said cunning old Fury: ‘I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’

Such nonsense can be very irritating, indeed. Like Alice I hope to wake up soon from this bad dream. Fortunately, Alice shows us the way out. Reaching the limits of her patience, Alice regains her true size and stature, and then, standing tall, she speaks the truth to absurdity.

The Scenic Route

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

Would you believe it? After ten years teaching at Georgetown University, I got lost, yesterday, on my way to graduation. For some, being lost is not a major issue. Not so for me! Suffering from a mild form of dyslexia, getting lost instills in me a momentary sense of panic, as well as embarrassment, even at my stage in life. It is only recently, and with hindsight, that I have come to view the architecture of my brain in a new, and more positive, light. Now I realize that, while others, with more disciplined brains, may go straight to the quick, I meander along the scenic route, gaining serendipitous insights and experiences along the way. Graduation day was a reminder for me.

Let me say first that it is very easy to get lost on the Georgetown campus, especially if one veers off the beaten path. For, as the photograph below shows, the university buildings are nested on a hill, so that each appears to sit atop the others, as in a honey comb. In between, there are many nooks and crannies, connected by long staircases, which appear seemingly out of nowhere. When joined, they form a very elaborate maze. In such a 3-D environment, negotiating the landscape requires spacial skills as well as a good topographical map. Neither were at my disposal on graduation day.

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Graduation has always been a rather straightforward, well scripted event. Absent rain, it has traditionally taken place right in the middle of the campus, in front of the main hall. This year, however, it took a different form; instead of one ceremony, in which both Masters and Doctors walked across the stage to the accolades of all, there were now two. The first, which celebrated the PhDs, took place as usual on the main campus, while the second set of ceremonies, featuring the Masters candidates, was distributed, according to degree, in different locations throughout the campus.

It was on the way to the ceremony for the Communication, Culture and Technology Program that I lost my way. The event took place in a large tent, situated on one of the terraced areas at the bottom of a long staircase. Locating it was problematic–at least for me. According to our instructions, we were to find the spot by following the faculty procession as it exited the main campus. However, even though the faculty members were clad in an array of brightly colored robes, within moments their two continuous lines dissipated, and blended into the crowd. Not knowing where to go, or how to get there, I meandered around asking directions, but to no avail. At last, I found a sign pointing to the disabled route, which–under the circumstances–seemed quite appropriate for me. Following the sign, I entered a main building where some very helpful people, although unfamiliar with the site, were able to trace out my destination on a map, and set me on the right course.

So it was that I arrived at the second graduation ceremony, and in time. The effort was well worth it. Not only was I delighted to see all of my students pass in front of me across the stage; I also relished the comments of the speaker, Ed Seidel, Assistant Director at the National Science Foundation, who talked about complexity, and the future challenge that it presents for our brains! According to Seidel, in the future scholars will be overwhelmed by so much data that they can only make sense of it with the help of computational tools, and–as importantly–the collaborations of multiple scholars from widely diverse disciplines. As he said, solving the problems of tomorrow will require a community.

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

At this point a light went off in my head. In such an environment, people who are somewhat dyslexic may be at a considerable advantage in addressing future issues. For, their brains do not simplify. To the contrary, the pathways that a dyslexic brain follows are highly complex. Moreover, the dyslexic brain actually resembles a collaborative community, such as that described by Seidel. Working up to four times as hard as normal brains, its neurons interact and share information across a myriad of sources, creating in the process a holistic and, therefore, more realistic picture of the world. For those of us who follow circuitous routes such as these, the key is not to get too caught up in the scenery.

Who Turned Out the Lights?

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

My father could not abide waste. To encourage my sisters and me to consume each and every crumb on our plates, he not only told us about “all the poor starving children”; he went much further, instituting the Clean Plate Club. Each time we finished a meal, we received a badge of honor–that is, a medal that he made by wrapping the cap of the milk bottle with tin foil. Sadly, the scales testified to the success of my father’s endeavor.

My father’s campaign to induce us to turn out the lights had far less impact, however. Exasperated by our failure to respond to his admonitions, he resorted to bribery. Leave it to a banker!

My father as a young man.

My father as a young man.

Leave it to a banker. He offered us a deal.

Here was the deal: If my two sisters and I would only turn out the lights, he would give us the difference between what the electricity bill was, and what it would have been had we simply clicked the switch. A no-brainer to be sure. My father’s efforts, however, were to no avail. Speaking for myself, it wasn’t a disregard for financial rewards, nor for that matter laziness, that fueled my resistance. No, at an age when one’s imagination runs wild, I found it reassuring to be ensconced in light.

Today, I feel the same way. Wherever I look, there are dark clouds overhead–the depressed economy, the BP oil spill, the war on terror, the rise of the Tea Party and the mid-term elections, and, oh yes, the slaughter of the bears in my beloved New Jersey. It’s time to turn on the lights!

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

However, having absorbed my father’s penchant for efficiency, and my husband’s concerns about the environment, I certainly don’t advocate wasting electricity. No, my recommendation is far brighter: a performance of the Washington Revels. A yearly event in Washington, the Washington Revels have used song and dance to reenact, according to one traditional narrative or another, how mankind has, over generations, endured the Winter’s darkness by celebrating one another in a spirit of good cheer and benevolence, as they await the return of the light.

So too, in our own lives today. Accompanied by a glass of good cheer, my husband Brock and I, rejoice in in the song Drive the Cold Winter Away. Verse seven is most enlightening, as well as one of my favorites. We’d be happy to have you join in.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer,
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet;
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the youth doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away.

Gone Fishing

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

My blog has been so dormant over the summer, one might wonder where I have been. To borrow a term from Tom Sawyer, I would simply say that, this summer, “I went fishing.”

The place was our family’s summer cottage on Hawthorne Lake, a community in the New Jersey Highlands established by my great grandfather, H.P Dillistin, together with his friends and relatives. Dating back, in fact, to Mark Twain’s days, it shares much in common with St. Petersburg, Mississippi, the town along the river where Tom Sawyer had his adventures.

Grandaddy Dillistin

Grandaddy Dillistin

Like the people in St. Petersburg, Mississippi, we have lived together in close proximity for over five generations, experiencing good and bad times, intermarrying, sharing common lore, befriending and sometimes feuding with one another, as in one big, extended family.

My own recollections of Hawthorne Lake are very vivid, dating back to the Second World War, when we spent the summers together with the wives and children of my parents’ male friends who were off at the front. So sparsely populated was the Lake at the time, we shared the waterfront with deer, beavers, muskrats and otters. And we children were much like Tom Sawyer and his friends, preoccupied with the adventures of exploring, frog hunting, cooking mud pies, turtle trapping, and looking for hidden treasures, totally oblivious to the raging events around us.

As in Tom’s case, one special past time was fishing; for the lake is home to many good fish–bass, pickerel, perch, and the sunnies that nip at you as you dip your toes in the water. As a young girl, I often accompanied my father fishing, rowing the boat as he wound reel and cast his line. It was a way of sharing with him, drawing him out, and perhaps getting hints about what was really going on in the world beyond the Lake. But my father was reserved with his children, and said little, as he waited for the fish to bite. I sat there patiently, watching the ripples wrap around the oars of the boat. But–not liking to eat fish, much less to skin them–I secretly hoped the fish would not take the bait.

No wonder I have come to believe that fishing is not so much about catching fish, as it is about capturing our thoughts and our daydreams as they float on by. So this summer, even though I was not sitting on the river banks, as Tom was inclined to do, I was fishing for ideas as I sat with my husband, in our wicker chairs, on our screened in porch, observing the world around me. Energized by LIFE, I am–as we used to say–now ready to roll.