Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our Own Back Yard

A Big Back Yard

We – my wife, Carin, and I – moved into our house because of a few words in a classified ad. It was longer but I remember it as, “Sale by owner… Nice house, big back yard, call Martha.”

It was that “big back yard” that got us to visit. When we came to look it was indeed a big back yard – not Texas big but New England Village big. Then came the kitchen with an island and gas stove. I heard there were 3 bedrooms and 2 baths but I was ready to move in after the back yard and kitchen. It was the tail of the last recession (like now?) and real estate prices had actually bottomed out, but nobody knew that yet. The next day we offered just a touch below the asking price. I remember making the offer from a pay-phone while I was on a trip. Two months later we were in the house we still own some16 years later.

This big back yard continues to feed my imagination. I think it feeds my wife’s imagination, too, who sits on the deck or in the grass and writes. And I see how this green space fills the wide eyes of our 2 kids, now 10 & 11, who have grown as they explore and play in it.

My kids were nearby a year or two ago when, in the kitchen, I turned on my cell phone, realized it had a camera I hadn’t used – I lived under the professional delusion that cameras go on your shoulder or a tripod and not in your hand – and clicked it to record for our series on climate change. The round red light lit up on the screen, and I thought, “Now what do I say?” and instant response, “Bald Guy on climate change here looking for the climate change solutions in my own back yard.” And that sent me on the journey that now continues. I see something similar in many people who draw creative inspiration from the very real problems and real solutions they see around their own literal and proverbial back yards.

Here’s an aspect of back yards: While property lines might be fixed, may even correspond to fences – we’ve got a nice white picket fence on one side – our backyards are connectors. They connect us to our neighbors and the commercial, civic and physical world and life around us.

As an example we’ve just got new neighbors. The Catholic Church, abutting on our west side, was sold to our own town with the thought it could be a great place for the local library. We are connected. And that building in our western view begs the question, is there a climate change solution here? Can we do well with the opportunity now presented? Not that we, one neighbor, get to decide. But we can engage the conversation. We can engage the opportunities. We can think of the solutions our back yards might inspire, if not contain.

A selling feature when we bought the house was the town or village that our back yard connected. Within a block was a post office, a grocery, a hardware store, some restaurants and other specialty shops. While the hardware and grocery have closed they have been replaced, eventually, by a new grocery and cool restaurant.

A little farther behind our back yard is our local elementary school. We share the sounds of T-ball on Saturday morning.

We’ve had many parties in our back yard: birthdays, cookouts, sledding, harvest, artists. You name the interest and we’ve got the lawn. While our back yard is ours, it is the buffer between the private and the public. There are things I would do in my house I would not do in the back yard. Back yards are permeable. Just ask the squirrels and birds.

When we began our project on climate change – originally called Now or Never and soon to be The Green Screen – our focus was and remains to be solutions. It’s not “The Solution,” but the many energizing solutions that people are creating, using, seeing in their literal and proverbial back yards. Because we can see the problem as well as its solution in places familiar to us.

What solutions are you seeing?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Joe Rogers Award 2010

Last night was the Work, Inc. Awards Night. It's an evening to honor the work they do serving people with disabilities. Their name expresses how work is transformative. I remember so clearly when I got my first job – in a restaurant. I remember so many of the other jobs, too: teaching at University of New Hampshire, being hired to write a screenplay for a bona-fide Hollywood organization; getting to make a documentary on America's first institution (I hired myself and then got a job in the form of funding from ITVS, WGBH and others).

It's both doing the work AND getting paid for it. Payment is for value received and there's nothing like that to reinforce the satisfaction on a job well-done.

I remember my Uncle Joe getting his paycheck and looking at it line by line; the hours, the withdrawals and the net. Oh, the net!

Sadly the paycheck might not go as long as needed. The film project lasts two years and the pay is for one. But then we are ready for the next thrill of endorsement in the form of value for services rendered. All over again. For in that paycheck is freedom and independence. Learned that from Joe Rogers, from my own experience and see it reinforced at Work, Inc.

Last night my family – the Rogers' Family – offered the 4th Joe Rogers Award for Independence. It went to Chuck Johnson. Here he is.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Losing Mark Gerchman

I don't know how many in our immediate area knew Mark Gerchman, but he was a world-class lens designer whose glass has been used for so many of the images that we know and admire. At his recent funeral service Les Zellan spoke of the work and friendship they shared. I thought his words a powerful way for many of us to get a look into the masterful work Mark created as a lens designer for Cooke Optics.


from Les Zellan:

Eulogy for Mark - April 13, 2010

My name is Les and Mark was my best friend.

I first met Mark by phone in 1997. I wanted him to join me at Cooke Optics. Being conservative and mainly not expecting I could make a go of it, he politely turned me down.

A year later I sent him our first year’s financials and this time drove up to Keene to again make him the offer to join Coooke. I am sure that after consulting with his wife Lisa and his two girls and with their full support, he decided to follow his heart and he joined Cooke.

He told me at the time he would only stay a few years and then he intended to find a teaching job. Well a few years turned into 11 years. He so loved what he was doing at Cooke that I do not believe teaching ever entered his mind again. In fact he often said he loved what he did so much he was amazed he got paid for doing it.

Mark was Chief Optical Designer at Cooke. In the 117 year history of the Cooke brand only 3 other men held this title. He succeeded giants in the optics field – H. Dennis Taylor, Arthur Warmisham and Academy Award winner Gordon Cook. He distinguished himself in his position with his originality. During his years at Cooke Optics, he and his team designed the S4 Prime lenses, the CXX zoom lens, the new 5/i Prime lenses, and the new Panchro lenses, all for motion picture work. In addition, he designed the PS945 and XVa Triple Convertible lenses for large format still photography. Mark was honored with a Technical and Engineering Academy Award, Technical Emmy and CINEC Award from Germany for the optical design of the S4 lens. He even joked that winning the Academy award was an obituary changing event.

Mark was an easy person to like. Our relationship quickly grew from co-workers to friends to best of friends. We generally talked daily on a host of work and personal issues. His intellect and friendly personality made him not only a valuable member of Cooke but more importantly a invaluable friend.

There was much I admired about Mark.

Mark was not a halfway kind of guy, he always put 110% effort into everything, whether it was his design work, his golf game, his dart games in the Cooke lunch room, his music, or, his dedication to friends and love of his family.

Some people have many acquaintances and few real friends. I was always in awe of Mark because he was just the opposite; he had many real friends everywhere he went, not mere acquaintances. That is evident by the people here today as well as the people around the world that wish they could be here today.

When it came to his family Mark was extremely proud and he had every right to be. He and his wife Lisa raised two daughters, Liddy and Sarah. They have shown themselves to be strong, poised, courageous and graceful.

I wish I was more eloquent because my words just can’t express the loss I feel over Mark’s passing. He is loved and he will be missed.

St Bernard's Church
185 Main Street
Keene, NH 03431

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bode Miller: Orpheus

Before the Winter Olympics in Torino the New York Times featured Bode Miller as the cover story for their new sports magazine, Play. They led their story as we had in our film, Flying Downhill – a film which we had given them a week or two prior – with the avalanche. Bode at age thirteen is caught in a press of cascading snow and nearly suffocated in the airless mass of tumbling snow and ice at one of the East’s steepest and most extreme skiable faces: Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. Yet Bode emerges, shakes off the snow as his head pops out, climbs out of the compressed snow and skis down to his family; relief, hysteria for all. A typical day for Bode? Clearly, no, but a day nonetheless. Yet in analyzing this opening moment the writer got the myth wrong.

The myth the Times references is Icarus and Deadulus, the flier and father/inventor. Icarus dies by falling to his death after he flies too close to the sun with his dad’s waxen, delicate wings. So this story goes: learn from Icarus, stay away form the sun. Be measured. And we know the results from Torino.

As if following from the lessons of this myth four years ago Bob Costas lectured Bode and America of the virtue of flying right. On the cover of countless magazines? You best deliver, son. And without proper attitude and altitude your sentence is media death. “You don’t care about us, we don’t care about you.” We don’t care = media death.

But the myth was wrong. Bode was never trying to ski into the sun in a singular flash of brilliance. This was in spite of the braggardly magazine covers and provocative Nike commercials of Bode SIPPING TEA (in a commercial! Ahhhhh, the arrogance!!). Yes, he was (and IS) trying to find the very edge between carve and crash, but he is always trying to find that edge and learn from the phenomena that experience affords. This PROCESS is absolutely dynamic and alive. It is the very essence of human existence. It’s what babies and kids do all the time. It’s spinning until you fall down. It’s diving through deep snow to find an amazing way down a steep pitch. It is learning from life. And, in Bode’s case, it’s a profound mental ability to risk failure to find success. The corresponding myth is not Icarus but Orpheus.

In his myth Orpheus must venture to the underworld – land of darkness – to return again with his life’s love and passion, Eurydice. There are a couple hitches (hitches make for good stories). He cannot look at Eury on his return. But he’s human, tempted by a nagging question. Is SHE the one? And he looks. And that leads to next hitch, by looking…

he must do it again and again, every season he must prove his mettle (and earn any medal). Being human means never being done. It ain’t over till its over. And even then, maybe, just maybe, we can try, try again. That’s what the myth of Orpheus is about: an eternal struggle between life force and failure.

Which brings us to Whistler. And yesterday’s GS. In spite of not getting an objective (automatic because of the rules) starting spot in the GS US Ski Team admin gave Bode such a spot (would have been stupid not to). And it gives us a chance to see Bode’s human effort. And, as in Torino, he was giving it his full measure of effort. And maybe trying TOO hard. He was fast at the top, but couldn’t keep the speed inside the gates. He really is trying to get to the bottom of the run with an extraordinary performance. Yes, he’s trying to create the absolute fastest turn and the fastest way down the mountain, but he is also trying to make it through ALL the gates. He’s not trying to fail. And he does care about results – I think sometimes more than he knows or can admit. But he’s willing to sacrifice mediocrity for brilliant failure. The problem is that brilliant failure often looks like mediocrity in a ski race. That is, unless it is part of a frightening crash. If the goal is ONLY to win, and not to perform in an extraordinary way, then anything but winning is mediocrity. Can we look a tad deeper. Can we also look at our own substantial disappointment. In case you missed it, Bode lost the race – skied off in the first run of the GS at Whitsler. Bummer.

That’s another point of Orpheus. He’s not entirely alone in his journey. While he is the only one taking the steps to the underworld there are others along the way. And his journey is connected to another, to Eurydice. And he’s got these judges looking over his shoulder making sure that he doesn’t look at her (and making sure he gets through all the gates). And WE are looking on at every moment wondering how he’ll do. In 2006 Bode’s response to the enormous pressure brought to bear on him was to say “It’s your expectations, not mine.” I was shocked, while not surprised how self-centered he came off in Torino. Because though he couldn’t let “us” in he wasn’t alone. For better and worse. Yet he retreated to a stoic public isolation which led to a storm of sentences of media death. It was a trap. Manufacturers of “The Hades Game” design it that way. Win or die.

But simple truth, Bode did not excel in Torino. He made it out with Eurydice, but they took separate vacations after the games. It was not a happy time. And it was not success. It was simply survival.

Now there’s Orpheus, 2010 style. It was helped by the newest US Ski Team member, coach of the Combined team, Mike Kenney. Let it further be said that Mike is Bode’s uncle and, as we said in our film, “The closest thing to a mentor that an independent thinker like Bode could ever have.” Mike also arrived at Whistler and look at the results: Bode’s gold was joined with Ted Ligety’s 5th and FASTEST slalom time, followed by Will Bradenburg and his 10th place finish and second fastest slalom. Followed by Andrew Weibrecht’s 11th place finish punctuated by his heroic fall over the finish line as he dove through the last gates of the slalom.

You see in our world Eurydice is the ski race. In my case Eurydice is a movie about a ski racer. In his wonderful essay, The Gaze of Orpheus, Maurice Blanchot, talks of how the artist (or inventor or ski racer) needs to unify two opposing forces. One is the inspiration of the moment. The other is the need for completion and result.

In our film Mike Kenney responded to my question of the notion of time and how it is fundamentally connected to ski racing. Time is the objective judge of results. Mike commented on how the Greeks (those fun folks who told us of Orpheus) had two notions of time. One is chronos and it is the ticking of the clock. It is, in Mike’s words, how’s my technique, how are my edges, where’s my body in space. The other sense of time is kairos – time that jumps out of time. “Ah, what a time that was!” It is inspiration, intuition, creation. It is time that transcends the second or minute or hour or day that contains it. Bode’s always been long on inspiration, but technique and a mastery of chronos and the discipline of time has been an ongoing training exercise. “If Bode can master these two notions of time then he could be a great ski racer.” That’s the setup for the race on Saturday.

One of the aspects of the races we’ve seen at Whistler that Todd Brooker commented on is how much more controlled Bode has appeared. Another aspect of these games, and Bode has spoken of this, is how Bode has raced with emotion. He saw himself as emotionally distant in Torino, but now sees he is racing with a motive. Yet with that emotion has come a mastery of technique. And when it happened it was an absolutely beautiful and inspired performance.

And on Saturday at the slalom it begins again. As great as Bode Miller was on Sunday in the Combined it is a new day. And, like it or not, we will be there with him.

Bode has shown his true character already. He showed up in Whistler and he has thrown himself at something worthy and monumental. It is the deep quest to perform in a way that startles, that unifies kairos and chronos, technique and inspiration, preparation and momentary brilliance. His is a great American success story, made poingnant and significant by the struggle that has come before, a connection forged with all of us, his struggle inspiring us in ours.

That journey continues.