Friday, May 17, 2013

planning time...

Q: What do you do when your studio is in storage?

A: plan, scheme, write, think and plan some more. None of that costs anything, except time, and lets admit it... its a helpful thing to have decent thinking time every so often.

Quite automatically I've been tilling the soil, lifting up every stone I find to see whats hidden there ... and in the process a whole lot of fresh ideas began to introduce themselves, unexpectedly but repeatedly. Its kind of surprised me that I didn't need to force this rethink... it obviously was time and organically was set in motion by putting routine on hold.

An there I had been ... worried about how awful it would be to stall "progress" with this imposed break. Should not have lost any sleep over that I am reminded now.

If you visit this post at the studio blog you can read about the proposed new studio etc... whereas here I am pondering various new thoughts re what I wish to focus on from the new starting point when I set up again in July.

My business cards are almost out of supply and with new details to add maybe I'll wait to get a new one designed by... well.. moi, no doubt! I like to keep things simple.

I took my favourite large designer's pad out recently to get ideas down and attempt to bring together some disparate threads that I believe need to be in dialogue. Its amazing how tiring this is, well for me I have to say it is. One's brain and eyes seem to strain from the effort of sustaining focused thought whilst simultaneously trying to cook together a curious cocktail of tastes and textures... or more precisely ideas and values.

I've started sending little texts and requests to a few peeps asking "what do you think of such and such" and "about this...?"I like the fact that although much might stay pretty well as is... sometimes you can just simply tweak the angle of vision and effectively see the world differently.

I actually got new reading glasses recently... a slightly stronger script... and I think there's a metaphor there for what I am seeing now. The lenses have shifted ever so slightly and its a different view.

I love the fact that what I have put down looks quite clear and organised, yet meanwhile, in that brain of mine its a huge gale-force wind, the direction of which changes at a rate that make me giddy at the moment.
Anyone else finding this time like that? Life is a constantly changing weather pattern at the best of times... funny how when its too still we can get restless... ironically I am experiencing all this change and its making me only more restless. A bit of calm would be nice just now.

Anyway, enough with the carry on... all is basically fine here. The days have grown suddenly cold and I've needed to find sleeves and layered clothing and rugs and stuff. Just as well's prepared me for the cold south of this country where tomorrow I will go for a few days.

Go read more at the studio blog if you wish... more photos there!

but first I'll add a few pics here... I'm just getting used to an iPhone and I have to say I am very last century about mobiles. Have no idea whats doing much of the time!

Not a fab shot ... but ...  this is scheduled to be my new studio, fingers crossed no odd events intercept Plan A, facing the front door looking out to the street. My soon-to-be home is currently rented with someone using this front room as a reception area for a home based business. WHen I disappear the curtains and paint walls an off-white that agrees with the tiles I will be assembling my studio-come-showroom-come-call-it-what-you-will space here. Thing is... its a generous space... read more at the blog if of interest.

And to close...  this ferny grove below is a pocket of bushland not so very far away from the new house location ... I know there are places to discover that Ive not even heard of yet. So the list of things to look forward to is growing daily!

Have a good weekend all!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

life force

Definition of life force

noun [mass noun]

  • the force that gives something its vitality or strength:

  • the spirit which animates living creatures; the soul.

    well ... this post i quickly put together to share photos from a Design Files shoot that took my breath away. 
    Some of you know I spent a good part of this year to date
    getting my home ready to sell and then house-hunting like mad... well it was five months in all...

    ... and the good news is we have sold and also (virtually) bought... but more on that in the coming weeks or months.

    When I saw the images I wish to share here they are from the home of an australian artist who people tend to love or hate... or certainly have a position on.

    I must say it's his houses that always draw me in ... that and the sheer fact of his prodigious output... and the range of his mediums and pursuits related to the visual and often to the paintbrush.

    the photos bring focus to a new(ish?) marriage... and new baby... in a new (old) house... in a new town. When reading this Design Files post it reminded me a little of the way and artist like Picasso could fill a new home with new everything... including people... artwork of every kind going on in every corner of the space.

    I am quite drawn to the idea and evidence of abundance of creative spirit which seems to whoosh out in some creatives homes. Call me old-fashioned or pre-modern as opposed to post-modern...or whatever you will... I am not so taken by the contemporary habit of art being only what gets served up in the gallery and in the rest of the life there is little evidence of the creative spirit or a sense of aesthetics or joy de vivre  ...or risk!

    When house-hunting I felt sad at the frequent absence of plants, books and ideas being brought to bear on homes. I'm not after some text-book case of the designer, crafty, arty house... just perhaps a sense that the occupiers have a relationship to their space that might reflect their individual identities and values.

    Anyway... getting sidetracked here... I will post a number of Design Files pics here...but there are 21 images at the original post worth reading in full!

    Tell me what you think... what comes to mind about your own approach to home and living spaces and all things artistic therein?

    OK... SO here's the house of two creatives now living in Byron Bay, the most easterly point in Australia... and a place loved by visitors from all over! 

    the dining room looking into the kitchen...

    the kitchen...

    the TV room

    inside outside...

    bedroom with bath ...

    the favourite backyard studio .. with pizza oven.

    I wont spoil it and post anymore nor tell you more about who these people are... go find out if you have no idea.

    All I can say is over the years I have seen shoots of at least five homes from this artist and i always get the same feeling ... that he never sleeps at night and the artistic process is given over to the whole panorama before his eyes.

    Well... Ive stayed up too late tonight... so I am off now and back tomorrow to check my spelling mistakes!


Monday, May 13, 2013

In celebration of Grandmothers from around the world!

Being Mother's Day here this seemed such a fitting post!

At SLATE I read this wonderful post called Celebrating Grandmas and their cuisine from round the World.

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s grandmother said something similar to him before one of his many globetrotting work trips. To ensure he had at least one good meal, she prepared for him a dish of ravioli before he departed on one of his adventures.  
“In that occasion I said to my grandma ‘You know, Grandma, there are many other grandmas around the world and most of them are really good cooks,” Galimberti wrote via email. “I'm going to meet them and ask them to cook for me so I can show you that you don't have to be worried for me and the food that I will eat!’ This is the way my project was born!”

Marisa Batini, 80 years old – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy– Swiss chard and ricotta Ravioli with meat sauce -
The photographer's grandmother Marisa Batini, 80, Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy. Swiss chard and ricotta Ravioli with meat sauce.
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

The project, “Delicatessen With Love”, took Galimberti to 58 countries where he photographed grandmothers with both the ingredients and finished signature dishes.

To read the whole article click here and enjoy!

Normita Sambu Arap, 65 years old – Oltepessi (masaai mara) Kenya –– Mboga and orgali (white corn polenta with vegetables and goat)

Normita Sambu Arap, 65, Oltepessi (Masaai Mara), Kenya. Mboga and orgali (white corn polenta with vegetables and goat).
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

Delicatessen witInara Runtule, 68 years old – Kekava, Latvia  – Silke €“ (herring with potatoes and cottage cheese) h love Inara Runtule, 68 years old – Kekava, Latvia

Inara Runtule, 68, Kekava, Latvia. Silke €(herring with potatoes and cottage cheese).
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

Fifi Makhmer, 62 years old -€“ Cairo, Egypt– Kuoshry (pasta, rice and legumes pie)

Fifi Makhmer, 62, Cairo, Egypt. Kuoshry (pasta, rice and legumes pie).
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

Maria Luz Fedric, 53 years old – Cayman Islands Honduran Iguana with rice and beans

Maria Luz Fedric, 53, Cayman Islands. Honduran Iguana with rice and beans.
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

Julia Enaigua, 71 years old – La Paz, Bolivia- Queso Humacha (vegetables and fresh cheese soup) –

Julia Enaigua, 71, La Paz, Bolivia. Queso Humacha (vegetables and fresh cheese soup).
Gabriele Galimberti/Riverboom/INSTITUTE

Read more on RiverBoom Here.

Read more on Gabriele Galimberte

Another theme from his website I found interesting is this one on Couch-surfing:

Stories of 100 couchsurfers around the world
CouchSurfing is the act of trading hospitality, practiced by the over 2 million members of the CouchSurfing network present in 230 countries worldwide. A CouchSurfer will stay at the host’s house for a day or more, depending on the arrangement made between the host and the guest. CouchSurfers contact each other through the organization’s nonprofit website, which exists in 33 languages and boasts 20 million hits a day. The movement began in San Francisco in 2003, merging a utopian idea of a better world with the web 2.0.
CouchSurfing was created in order to allow everyone to travel and share the widest possible range of cultural experiences. CouchSurfing is always free, as one of the few rules is that money cannot be exchanged between members. It has become a truly global phenomenon, with couches available in more than 70,000 cities around the world, from Antarctica to northern Alaska, from Tehran to Washington, from the Maldives to Timbuktu.
Riverboom’s Gabriele Galimberti traveled around the world with CouchSurfing for more than a year in order to discover this young, diverse, multicultural, multiracial global community. He has CouchSurfed on all the five continents and has hosted dozens of CouchSurfers in his house in Tuscany. He has slept on a bed worthy of a 5-star hotel in a fairytale villa in Texas and in a room ten square meters in Sichuan, which he shared with 3 generations of a Chinese farmer family. In Ukraine he was hosted by a couple that welcomed him naked, informing him they are “house nudists” and in Botswana by a young man training to become an evangelical pastor. CouchSurfing gives rise to stories of sharing, of friendship and sometimes even of love. Most of all, CouchSurfing provides a way to get to know places and people in a more profound manner and that, after all, is the true essence of travel.

In 2005 contemplating 2 weeks travel in NZ, I found out about Couch-surfing. I didn't sign on but was fascinated. During the trip I ended up staying in the beautiful area west of Auckland with wonderful people through old family connections. Already acquainted this still was a bit like couch-surfing in that it was such an informal arrangement and with people I didn't really know. In the end it turned out to be a truly delightful experience and I stayed 5 days, longer than expected.

My hosts lived in this beautiful region in a place called Titirangi, overlooking Western Port. Taken exploring one day by Marina, a gorgeous woman of Tongan background, we went along the coast road to Piha where the views were spectacular and the experience memorable. 

During my stay I'd hired a car so was able to go in to the city where I remember at the Auckland Gallery seeing work by Colin McCahon, a painter I had long admired for his ferocious take on life and personal journey as an artist as well as powerful canvases. One of the McCahon works was painted on a cupboard door from his kitchen in a Titirangi house where he evidently lived for some time.

Titirangi was a place that really spoke to me and I left there with some regret as if some part of me desperately wanted to stay! 

Needless to say this home stay with a welcoming family was the highlight of my journey. There is something about hospitality and experiencing how others live in their homes that brings so much more life to travelling, especially when travelling alone!

When in London in late 2011 I used a Home-stay organisation suggested to me by lovely blogger friend Mlle Paradis to find accommodation for my 3 different London stints between travels outside of the city. 

Not only were all three homes well appointed and very appealing, their owners were wonderful characters and the first host, Suzanne I must say went completely out of her way for me when I arrived exhausted and not so well. This is her kitchen below. I was utterly charmed... and it was wonderful hearing her stories from her Drama School days with the likes of Anthony Hopkins in her year.

I stayed also with Hilary who'd recently served as Mayor of Chiswick, was still on the council there and readily offered  glimpses into other's worlds outside my own preoccupations.
These were brief visits and the last stay was over two weeks with a couple who let out a few rooms. 

All guests were so busy seeing london I never ran into them but the fact the three stays were in the one district of London, namely around Chiswick, meant that I gained some familiarity with this lovely location, was next to public transport staying in excellent accommodation with hosts happy to help out, and not far from Kew Gardens, all in such pleasant surroundings.

Because this was a working and research trip I liked being able to return to a comfortable home atmosphere. And it was ridiculously the far cheaper options for such quality digs!

Whilst there and wanting to make a quick trip to Paris, in my search I looked into Air Bnb which I was not familiar with and didn't take up in the end. Since then its seems to have become an increasingly popular option of travellers keen to find something less predictable and more homelike.

If you've not heard of it take a peek. When looking at what's available in my city I came across the home of a designer I met through facebook who lives somewhere really delightful and is offering accommodation that I would recommend to friends to take up... in part for the location and style of the Queendlander house... and in equal part for the lovely hosts. 

Travelling alone this becomes a wonderful option because the room costs when solo are the killer part of travel expenses often. And where once a back-packers destination might have seemed the exciting option those years are long gone!

Like with anything we can get lucky or have an experience we don't wish to remember... but that's life and I for one will likely continue to seek out the alternative options that come with positive ratings.

If your coming to Brisbane this could be your bathroom at one inner city option:

this bathroom opens on the pool and the bedroom.

                                                                      The sitting room next to the pool.

Worth exploring to see what comes up... there is a lot of variation on what is being offered and the role played by hosts... but where there are extensive reviews one can glean various things.

Well... this post started in praise of grandmothers and ends with something of a celebration of newer versions of hospitality ... but the themes are not so very removed really. 

From our Mothers and Grandmothers we learn about hospitality and sharing in all its most varied forms... shaped, or perhaps not, by cultural traditions and other influences.

What has come to you that defines your values around hospitality and sharing 'home' with others I wonder?

Have a good week wont you!

Monday, May 6, 2013

for Rohan

Some time ago at this blog I sent a message to Rohan...

This home below.... which looks out on a beautiful garden... Rohan's father slowly, painstakingly worked on over years to take it from a small cottage to comfortable family home. Rohan's mother, a very dear friend, generated a home full of love and friendship over the years and when I left Melbourne in 2000 I was more than sad to say goodbye and missed my visits here... a place of great warmth, honesty and hospitality.

The garden grew in the two years following these photos so when last there it was just glorious and so memorable ... like the people who live in this home. 

I know I have more recent photos than these which tell of the beauty of the garden when it had developed much further. Where have I stored them I wonder? So easy to lose photos and regret not taking enough!

Yet... many of the best images I have from this home and the people in it are in my minds eye... never recorded. They are images of mid-winter with all of us curled up on cushions in a room with the fire going and my friend peeling oranges to share with us all.

These are tiny momentary snapshots... staring into the fire... the smell of oranges being peeled... someone yelling at the TV as their footie team had done something to cheer over or lament... dinner at the table, bits of conversation, other times... letters arriving with tales of holiday camping trips, photos of special events, rowing teams, graduation, snaps in school uniforms...

...and in all those treasured memories, photos and letters there were the unsettling moments, sadnesses shared,  stories told and then one time, news that Rohan was ill.

But not just the one-time kind of illness. Rohan went from athletic, high achieving, scholarly first born son and student... into the work place and too soon afterwards... to dealing with major illness.

One that was rare, didn't let go and has kept him fighting and making all kinds of life changes and adjustments with no time for complacency. 

Rohan talks of not having taken to a spiritual view of the world earlier on... but in time the illness demanded tough reckoning and new doors to open. An Ashram became a critical point of departure ... on a visit there with his mother I experienced the quality of life and encounter with spirit that came to sustain Rohan over the years he has been dealing with an illness that has come and gone and returned too many times. 

Life shifts immeasurably through this ... lots of things cease to matter ... as many of you know only too well. Two nights ago I wondered about writing this post. I wondered if it was too personal to open a window to Rohan and his story in a way I certainly didn't last time I sent a message through this blog to him. But I decided tonight I wished to share the short film that his friend recently made for an ABC 3 minute documentary competition.

I watched it on Friday evening...
            dwelling with it to appreciate both the film as an artwork and representation of mindfulness on the part of the creator... and then again as Rohan presents himself in this piece...  the young man Ive known since he was a boy and seen though many phases over years. I marvelled at his journey and the absolute presence of mind and grace he brings to us. 

It is tremendously humbling to be reminded so calmly and clearly of what letting go is... at the end Rohan talks of not holding on to anything anymore and I am so touched by this because of knowing that to arrive at this for a person as active and driven to do all he could to heal and live as well as he has  that this is such a powerful thing to be able to say.

His calm and his grace is, in my book, a very special expression of beauty. His honesty and commitment make me think a great deal and wonder at the distance we ordinarily live from quiet truths and essentials. I watched water drip into a bowl of water as he talked and thought how suffering teaches us to see and to feel if we can allow it to without closing down... to see even the smallest, most humble things... and the person who grows wise before his time is offering a very special message not to be taken for granted.

This film titled "Grace and Suffering" was made for an Australian ABC 3 minute documentary competition and is included in a series of short films which you can view here .

TEXT FROM VIDEO:  Suffering and Grace is a personal exploration of a young man who's lived experience as an adult has been one of constant confrontation with survival and existence. Diagnosed with a aggressive and rare cancer of the knee when he was 20, Rohan Erm has drawn on his own intelligence, resilience and discipline to fight the disease but at this stage has not succeeded. Now, as the cancer has spread to his lungs and chest area, Rohan reflects on his life and meditates on mortality. This is a hauntingly honest portrait of a young man in uncomfortable yet universal human emotional territory.

Not sure I managed to say what was most on my mind in this post ... the work I believe a "true" artist must grapple with are the big questions... sometimes its the giving up some worldly things in order to situate oneself somewhere to gain some insight and wisdom.

Something larger and more potent is forged through rigorous effort, sacrifices made, sensitivities worked through to still oneself in order to distill something from this life is really an ultimate task for the artist... 

and maybe what I see in Rohan is the same journey as the artist's journey only the tools are different and the form of the work looks different.

The film enobles this journey beautifully!

I hope in sharing this here you will appreciate my deep desire to celebrate with Rohan and his family the exceptional person he is... 

with much affection,
Sophie x

Looking across the pond towards Mata Pita

nb: at 11am monday, may 13th, Rohan gave his last breath after developing pneumonia on friday, 10th. His family were by his side all through from friday till this afternoon, day & night, and his friends from the Ashram came also to his side on the weekend to chant and offer blessings. He is much loved.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

There are tens of thousands of teachers out there in every corner of the world that you did not even know you had.

Two weeks ago I assembled this post one day when deeply immersed in research for my next project. It followed on from the post Rethinking everything written April 23. I wonder what your thoughts are on this... if you have a moment... do leave a comment!

To find where this post's title comes from... you'll have to read through if you really wish to know... its a little obscure otherwise!


            A Life Among the Shamans: Wade Davis

When researching on seeds this morning I came across this TED video I've linked below which stopped me in my tracks. 

Despite the brilliant stuff to be found at TED I generally dont make time to watch their videos. But this one I will share with you. Pictured below is Wade Davis...

Wade Davis
A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”

Wade Davis is a writer, lecturer, film-maker ...some of you may know his work through National Geographic or reading his books. 

In the video he introduced his central ideas on what he terms the Ethnosphere: 
  1. " the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.”
  And... " the ethnosphere is humanity’s great legacy. It’s the symbol of all that we are and all that we can be as an astonishingly inquisitive species.”

As a visual artist I'm critically engaged in ideas of authenticity, having the courage to forge an art practice that is  reflective of one's own voice, ideas and 

And another powerful idea that really speaks to me in the way it is totally linked to Biodiversity loss and some of our most pressing issues today....

“Genocide, the physical extinction of a people, is universally condemned, but ethnocide, the destruction of people’s way of life, is not only not condemned, it’s universally celebrated as part of a development strategy.”

More info can be found here at  TED SpeakersWade Davis: Anthropologist, ethnobotanist 

I like that he sees his work as that of a story-teller. I'm convinced that no matter what the field of endeavour nothing else serves so well as story-telling to bring an unfamiliar realm of thinking to life for others.

I've posted on the loss of languages before... something that Davis discusses in the video... so intrinsic to sustaining diversity on the planet. 

“Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind,” says Wade, but half of the world’s more than 7,000 languages are no longer taught to children. 

This got me thinking again about the "Noosphere" which I posted on at this blog in 2011

The NOOSPHERE denotes the "sphere of human thought".[2] The word is derived from the Greek νοῦς (nous "mind") + σφαῖρα (sphaira "sphere"), in lexical analogy to "atmosphere" and "biosphere".[3] Introduced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1922 [4] in his Cosmogenesis".[5]  

Teilhard argued the noosphere is growing towards an ever greater integration and unification, culminating in the Omega Point, which he saw as the goal of history. The goal of history, then, is an apex of thought/consciousness.

If you are wondering why all the diversions in this post I must apologise... this week the book I've been promising to write was started... you can read more at the Studio blog about this. I'm finding back-tracking through past posts is revealing some ideas I wish to sift and filter into some more cohesive form in the book now on the agenda.

Anyone who actually reads this, and manages a comment, is doing me a big favour whilst in the filtering process. I read comments on the National Geographic website where the photos above come from ... someone left tough criticism about the origin of the images, whether permission was gained from the subjects and so on. 

One thing I realise is that writing a blog post where people are pretty polite and forgiving is a lot different to getting a book published and hoping for positive response from a potentially broader readership than if it were just aimed at an Art audience.

Returning to the real point of this post ... Wade Davis updates a blog at his website where I tracked down a lecture he gave earlier this year. Ive decided to share his speech here knowing most wont have time to read it... but in the light of the recent posts here its in keeping. 

I've highlighted a few parts of this... so take a look if you wish to scroll down.

A Message to Young People

On February 16, 2013 the Washington Post reported that half of recent college graduates have jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. Student loan debt exceeds a trillion dollars. Facing a 13.5% unemployment rate, 1.7 million women and men between 20 and 30 have stopped looking for work. Nearly 20% acknowledge that they suffer from depression and 52% report that they are kept awake at night by stress. Half of this age cohort did not bother to vote in the last national election. Nearly a third claimed that it did not matter who won because none of the candidates understood or represented their interests.
My daughters Raina and Tara are 21 and 24 and facing the same challenges that confront all of their friends. When I wrote this commencement address for Tara’s graduation at Colorado College I was thinking not just of her and her classmates but also of an entire generation that grew up in the shadow of 9/11 in a country that has only known war and economic doldrums in their lifetimes. Often students write me asking how they might escape convention and find lives that allow them to be creative, innovative and free to find and follow their own passions. I answer every email and often attach a copy of the commencement address that I gave for Tara and her friends. I have found that it provides at least for some both inspiration and hope. Here is an excerpt.
A generation that sparkles with such creativity, such lightness of being, deserves to hear a few remarks that veer somewhat away from the conventional. So I promise you from the start that I am not going tell you how messed up the world is, as if you didn’t already know, and then lay on you the obligation to go out and fix it. What generation has ever come of age in a world free of troubles?
Commencement addresses always remind me of a Colombian farewell, a despedida. I lived for a long time on a farm in Medellin with an old campesino, Juan Evangelista Roja. For a Colombian there’s no such thing as a casual leave taking, and for Juan, it was inconceivable that I might depart on expedition without a long afternoon in the local roadhouse. Each of his sisters and brothers- and one would discover at such moments with stunning clarity just how many there were- would wax eloquent about the prospects of the journey, its promises and hazards, with each prognosis followed en sequida by a stiff shot of trago that brought the soft hues of sunset alive at midday.
The afternoon grew charged with threatening earthquakes, impossible rapids, train wrecks, sorcery, and volcanoes, floods of rain, horrendous unknown diseases, and sly deceitful soldiers with the demeanor of feral dogs. Thieves lurked at every crossroads except on the north coast. There everyone was a thief. “Life is an empty glass” Juan would say, “It’s up to you how fast you fill it.” Inevitably Rosa, his twin sister, would then begin to cry. That was the signal. One had to get out fast or make new plans for the night.
Let me tell you a story that begins on a ridge in Borneo, close to dusk with thunder over the valley and the forest alive with the electrifying roar of black cicadas. I was sitting by a fire with an old friend, Asik Nyelit, headman of the Ubong River Penan, one of the last nomadic peoples of Southeast Asia.
The rains, which had pounded the forest all afternoon, had stopped and the light of a partial moon filtered through the branches of the canopy. Earlier in the day Asik had killed a barking deer. Its head roasted in the coals.
At one point Asik looked up from the fire, took notice of the moon and quietly asked me if it was true that people had actually journeyed there, only to return with baskets full of dirt. If that was all they had found, why had they bothered to go? How long had it taken, and what kind of transport had they had?
It was difficult to explain to a man who kindled fire with flint and whose total possessions amounted to a few ragged clothes, blowpipe and quiver of poisoned darts, rattan sleeping mat and basket, knife, axe, two dogs and three monkeys- a space program that had consumed the energy of a nation and, at a cost of nearly a trillion dollars, placed 12 men on the moon.
Or the fact that over the course of six missions, they had travelled 1.5 billion miles and indeed brought back nothing but rocks and lunar dust, 828 pounds altogether.
Asik’s question provoked the timeless answer. The true purpose of the space journeys, or at least their most profound and lasting consequence, lay not in wealth secured but in a vision realized, a shift in perspective that would change our lives forever.
The seminal moment came on Christmas Eve, 1968, when Apollo 8 emerged from the dark side of the moon to see rising over its surface not a sunrise but the Earth itself ascendant, a small and fragile planet, floating in the velvet void of space. This image more than any amount of scientific data showed us that our planet is a finite place, a single interactive sphere of life, a living organism composed of air, water, wind and soil. This revelation, only made possible by the brilliance of science, sparked a paradigm shift that people will be speaking about for the rest of history.
Almost immediately we began to think in new ways. Just imagine. Thirty years ago simply getting people to stop throwing garbage out of a car window was a great environmental victory. No one spoke of the biosphere or biodiversity; now these terms are part of the vocabulary of school children.
Like a great wave of hope, this energy of illumination, made possible by the space program, spread everywhere. So many positive things have happened in the intervening years. In little more than a generation, women have gone from the kitchen to the boardroom, gay people from the closet to the altar, African Americans from the back door and the woodshed to the White House.
What’s not to love about a country and a world capable of such scientific genius, such cultural capacity for change and renewal?
Like many of you my politics run right down the middle. I tire of those who fuel the flames of fear as much as I tire of those who speak of American conspiracies. I’ve never met an American who could keep a secret let alone mount a conspiracy.
Some time ago I was part of a year-end panel on a national news program, supposedly discussing all the problems the country faced in the coming year. I say supposedly because the four of us were essentially foils for the celebrity host to play off as he whipped the broadcast into a frenzy of hysteria. When the topic turned to immigration, he invoked every conceivable cliché before pouncing on me like a hawk for a solution to the crisis. What should Americans do, he asked. I replied, learn Spanish.
But let me share one other amazing revelation of science. It’s the moon shot of your generation. It too will be remembered for a thousand years. Indeed nothing in our lifetimes, yours or that of your parents, has done more to liberate humanity from the parochial tyrannies that have haunted us since the birth of memory.
It too came about at the end of a long voyage of discovery, a journey into the very fiber of our beings. Over the last decade geneticists have proved to be true something that philosophers have always dreamed. We are all literally brothers and sisters. Studies of the human genome have left no doubt that the genetic endowment of humanity is a single continuum. Race is an utter fiction. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth, all descendants of a relatively small number of individuals who walked out of Africa some 60,000 years ago and then, on a journey that lasted 40,000 years, some 2500 generations, carried the human spirit to every corner of the habitable world.
But here is the amazing idea. If we are all cut from the same fabric of life, then by definition we all share essentially the same mental acuity, the same raw genius. So whether this intellectual potential is exercised through technological innovation, as has been the great achievement of the West, or through the untangling of complex threads of memory inherent in a myth, a priority of many other peoples in the world, is simply a matter of choice and orientation, adaptive insights and cultural emphasis.
There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no Social Darwinian ladder to success. The Victorian notion of the primitive and the civilized, with European industrial society sitting proudly at the apex of a pyramid of advancement that widens at the base to the so-called primitives of the world has been thoroughly discredited. The brilliance of scientific research, the revelations of modern genetics, has affirmed in an astonishing way the essential connectedness of humanity.
The other peoples of the world are not failed attempts to be us, failed attempts to be modern. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question. What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked that question they respond in 7000 different voices, and these collectively comprise our human repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species even as we continue this never ending journey.
What this means for you is very simple. There are tens of thousands of teachers out there in every corner of the world that you did not even know you had.
You can sail with Polynesian wayfinders, navigators who can sense the presence of distant atolls of islands beyond the visible horizon simply by watching the reverberation of waves across the hull of their vessels, knowing full well that every island group had its own reflective pattern that can be read with the ease with which a forensic scientist reads a finger print.
You can follow the Tendai monks in Japan, who as part of their initiation run 17 hours at a stretch every day for seven years, wearing out five pairs of sandals a day.
You can join a caravan of blue robed Taureg in the searing sands of the Sahara, or hunt narwhal with the Inuit in the light of the midnight sun. Sit by the side of a Bodhisattva in a Tibetan cave, or study medicine at the foot of an Amazonian shaman.
Or you can pursue completely different avenues of adventure and discovery, in science, the arts, social justice, engineering, medicine, the military or the clergy. No generation has had so many options, or shown such promise.
All these grandiose sentiments aside, many of you may be thinking. Yes, but tell me honestly what good is my liberal arts degree? What has it prepared me to do? I know the feeling. When I graduated I had studied anthropology and travelled two years in the Amazon. My mother called, “What now?” I told her I had no idea. She screamed, “You’re 23 years old!”
I took a job in a logging camp, no doubt driving to distraction my father who had spent half his savings sending me to college. I later worked as a park ranger, a river guide, and at one point applied to law school and graduate school in botany, as if they were the same thing. My father had to wait nearly ten years to see any return on his investment. He died with a copy of a review of my first book in his pocket.
That year in the logging camp actually turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. When battles over the fate of Canada’s temperate rainforests raged a decade later, it gave me an authority that few on either side of the conflict could challenge.
A career is not something that you put on like a coat. It is something that grows organically around you, step-by-step, choice-by-choice, and experience-by-experience. Everything adds up. No work is beneath you. Nothing is a waste of time unless you make it so
The months I spent in that logging camp and later working as a hunting guide were as formative in my life as the time I spent in the Amazon studying with shaman, or the many years I was at graduate school. An elderly cab driver in New York may well have as much to teach you as a wandering saint in India, a madman in the Sahara.
Many of you are understandably concerned about finding employment. After all last year 70% of graduating college seniors in the USA failed to land a job. Perhaps it will make you feel a bit better to remember that the word job is derived from the 16th century French word, gober, meaning, “to devour”. My father had a job all of his life. He called it the grind. I used to think as a young boy that he went into the city every day and returned a little smaller.
Fortunately I have never had a job, at least not in this sense. Actually I have never really had a job at all. And knowing what I do about the spirit of your generation I don’t imagine many of you will find a single slot into which to plug your entire existence.
But what you will do is work, and no doubt as ferociously hard as I have all my life. The word work has a better ring to it. It comes from the old English, meaning action and deed.
And you’ll find that the work you do is just a lens through which to view and experience the world, and only for a time. The goal is to make living itself, the act of being alive, one’s vocation, knowing full well that nothing ultimately can be planned or anticipated, no blueprint found to predict the outcome of something as complex as a human life. If one can remain open to the potential of the new, the promise of the unimagined, then magic happens and a life takes form. This, I promise, will happen to each one of you.
Let me tell you about three remarkable friends.
Steve graduated from college with a liberal arts degree, having no idea what to do next. So he went to India, where he stayed for four years, living in a cave. He knew it was time to come home when the local people started bringing him money and food. So he came back to the States and meditated for 65 days, trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly he had a flash. Vegetable protein!
Now the person who told me this story was driving me to the airport, and he turned to me in a conspiratorial tone and whispered, “You know how hard that is.” I had no idea what he was talking about. But Steve had figured out that the problem with soymilk was not the product but the container, which relegated it to the weird food section of the grocery store. So he changed the name, soy and milk becoming Silk, packaged it to look like milk cartons and placed it beside the milk in the dairy section. Five years later Steve sold his company for $295 million.
My friend Matthieu grew up in a life of privilege in Paris. His father was France’s most illustrious philosopher. His mother was a famous painter. Their home was filled with intellectual celebrities. Matthieu learned photography from Cartier-Bresson. Stravinsky taught him to play piano. He discovered anthropology with Claude Levi Strauss. Matthieu himself became a molecular biologist, studying at the Pasteur Institute in the lab of a Nobel Laureate. But at some point he realized that there was no correlation between fame, wealth, and happiness.
So he returned to the Himalaya, the one place he had found contentment, and became ordained as a Tibetan monk. For a dozen years he served as the personal attendant of a revered teacher Khyentse Rinpoche, sleeping on the wooden floor of the lama’s chambers. When Rinpoche passed on, Matthieu returned from Bhutan to Katmandu. One day his father came for a visit, and they decided to spend a week at a teahouse talking things over. Encouraged by a publisher, they taped their conversations. The result was a book The Monk and the Philosopher that went on to sell more than a million copies. Matthieu today is a confidant of the Dalai Lama, personal advisor to the president of France, and author of scores of books, including one simply entitled, Happiness, which has been the top selling book in France for more than a year. No mean achievement given that the French don’t even believe in the notion of happiness!
And finally there is Martin, perhaps my wildest friend. He graduated from college and decided to paddle the Río Piraparaná, a remote tributary in the Northwest Amazon of Colombia. He stopped at an Indian hut, and was curious to see an old treadle sewing machine. He was more surprised to discover that the elder had bought the thing from a rubber trader some 30 years before and was still paying off the debt. So Martin decided on the spot to start a rubber company, undercutting all the competition by giving the Indians fair and just prices. He was adopted by the Tanimukas, and ended up getting his doctorate in anthropology, having spent three years learning the language, understanding the myths. Everything was achieved because of the power of his heart.
Martin came to the attention of the Colombian President, Virgilio Barco, who told him to do something for the Indians. In five extraordinary years Martin as Head of Indian Affairs, did more than something. He secured legal lands rights, encoded in the 1991 constitution that gave the Indians title to an area of the Amazon the size of the United Kingdom. The result was a cultural rebirth unlike anything ever seen in South America.
So what do these characters have in common? First they could all have been graduates of your school. They are inspired, imaginative, playful and original. They are all three opportunists. Not in the sense of being schemers. They simply learned to put themselves in the way of opportunities.
Hemingway once said that the most important preparation for a writer is to have led an interesting life, to have something important to tell the world. What Martin, Matthieu and Steve all discovered is a universal lesson. If you place yourself in situations where there is no choice but to move forward, no option but success, you create a momentum that in the end propels you to new levels of experience and engagement that would have seemed beyond reach only years before. Creativity is a consequence of action, not its motivation. 

Do what needs to be done and then ask whether it was possible. Orthodoxy is the enemy of invention, despair an insult to the imagination.
To parents I say please be patient. The best of things come out of those incapable of compromise. It takes time for an individual to create a new world of possibilities, to imagine and bring into being that which has never before existed, the wonder of a full and realized life.
And to the graduates, please give as much thought to the person you will become, as to the vocation you will pursue.
When I was your age, living in the mountains of Colombia, a Kamsa Indian told me something I have never forgotten. “In the first years of your life,” Pedro said, “You live beneath the shadow of the past, too young to know what to do. In your last years you find that you are too old to understand the world coming at you from behind. In between there is a small and narrow beam of light that illuminates your life.”
If you can look back over a long life and see that you have owned your choices, then there is little ground for resentment. Bitterness comes to those who look back with regret on the choices imposed upon them. The greatest creative challenge is the struggle to be the architect of your own life.
 So be patient. Do not compromise. 
And give your destiny time to find you.
Read more..Monday, February 18th, 2013