Sense Memory, Sense Emotion


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Smell is the sense that has the deepest and least conscious connection to memory, followed by taste. When we smell the perfume that our grandmother wore, we find ourselves thinking about her without really knowing why. For some reason, when the memory comes about below our consciousness, it has a tendency to drag a lot of emotions along with it, whether happy, angry, sad, or something in between.

Dogs have a sense of smell many times more powerful than that of humans. This led me to wonder if they have the same ability to recall emotions and even communicate by scent.

Our dog Patsy has specific spots in the neighborhood where she will sniff and pee with great predictability. She also has a schedule worked out, where she gets very stubborn about which walk we need to take that day in order for her to check her pee-mail.

My husband and I joke about it, because we both have noticed it. “She’s plotting the canine revolution with her co-conspirators.”

There is a type of grass that grows in just a few places in the neighborhood. When the grass matures, it sends up little helicopter-shaped stalks. For some reason, when little Patsy comes across that grass, she becomes obsessed. She sniffs and sniffs, grows excited, rubs her face in it, then tries to roll her entire body in it. Clearly, the grass means something to her.

I had a few theories. I thought maybe the grass has healing properties when rubbed on her skin, and our little Patsy is a shaman (or would that be shadog?)

Today, I had a deeper theory that probably attaches way too many human emotions to a canine, but it is the one I like best.

We got Patsy at the pound. When they picked her up on the street, she weighed so little that they actually told us she was a chihuahua. She is a beagle or something much heavier. She starved on the streets of Lincoln Heights for a few months, and it clearly traumatized her in lots of ways. She is extremely territorial with her food. She won’t go near water. She is obsessed with food at every waking hour. She even wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night to demand a treat – which she never gets because that is one behavior I dare not reinforce.

She is very happy with her family of people. She loves to be close to us. I am sure she lives a good life. But we cannot remove the traumatic stress from her memory. She is permanently affected by the months of starvation and street life.

So here’s my theory. I think that her mother used to nurse her in a field of that helicopter grass. It grows everywhere in that part of town. Smelling the grass brings her back to a time before she experienced want, pain, and constant hunger. It was a time when she felt safe, satisfied, and loved – without a memory of something terrible weighing on her.

It’s a pretty far-fetched theory, but I prefer it to other explanations.

When my mother died, I inherited a box of her towels and bed-linens. When I opened the box, I smelled her. It brought back many pleasant memories of her. So I’d like to think that Patsy has the same trigger for sense memory. I didn’t bother going to Google to find out the real reason why dogs roll in grass. I prefer my explanation, so I will stick with it.

Stay Focused

While enjoying an iced coffee at the Los Feliz branch of a gigantic corporate coffee provider, I spoke to my spouse about the dangers of doing too many things. I fancied myself a renaissance man in my youth, and so I wrote a novel, made a movie, formed a band and released an album, all the while slaving away at a variety of jobs in the hopes that someday my talent would be recognized and I could stop working and focus on my art.

Flash forward 15 years. I have not been “discovered.” My novel has not been picked up by a publisher, nor has the sequel. The band broke up and our album is not selling on iTunes. My movie didn’t get bought by WalMart so I only made enough to pay the lawyers for the frivolous lawsuit brought on by a ( no longer) cherished friend. I went to business school to see how to monetize my intellectual property, and had nearly every last ounce of creativity beaten out of me. I remain a husk, a hollow shell of my former self.

Drained of my energy, looking back on the whole process, I have decided that I fell prey to the lure of doing too many things. If I had remained focused on my corporate jobs, I may have done very well in that world. If I had allowed myself to be branded a writer, I might have written dozens of novels by now, one of which would be sure to have caught a publisher’s eye. I didn’t even mention the two screenplays I wrote when I first moved to Hollywood. They remain buried at the back of my bottom file drawer.

Film was a tricky and expensive art form. I still don’t know if I could have persevered as a director, producer, editor and marketer. There was too much business and not enough art. Music is the most beautiful of the art forms I embraced. Our little band made music that prompted small children to spontaneously break free from the arms of their mothers and dance with joy. That was a confirmation that we were definitely doing something good. It was also the most positive collaborative experience of my life. I detested being part of a “team” in the traditional sense, but belonging to a band was very rewarding.

But I did not stay focused on music, either. I went to business school. It was 180 degrees in a different direction.

Today I spent most of the day in bed. I missed going to a singing, and I missed going to a meeting at the Society of Friends. I did not sing or play an instrument. I did not work on my new novel. I definitely did not make a movie, and I didn’t check my work emails. I had plans to work in the garden, but I slept through them.

Paralysis set in. I was tugged in too many directions at once. This is the danger of sacrificing focus for the lure of doing too many things. My advice to the young poet – whatever your poetry might be, do not drop it in pursuit of a new form of poetry. Spend every available ounce of your energy focused on your art, and do not stray. Believe in what you are doing at the expense of other shiny new things. There are no guarantees that you will become a celebrated artist. If you divvy up your creative energy in parcels for different forms of art, it does not increase your odds of success. Stay focused until you have found success, and only then may you pursue whatever else tugs at your heart.

Doubling up on those Pomodoros

Well, this seems true to me– the Daugeim group conducted a study that shows that the most productive workers spent an average of 52 minutes focused on a task, with 17 minute breaks. It sounds like smokers are the ideal worker!

I am constantly annoyed when the Pomodoro timer goes off at 25 minutes. I am going to reprogram it to do this 52 minute stretch with 17 minute breaks to see if it helps with my productivity.

Read the article here
New research reveals exactly how much downtime you should be taking. by @WriteLisaEvans via @FastCompany

The New Silk Road

He who controls the spice controls the universe! – Frank Herbert, Dune

The Alibaba IPO is moments away as I write this…in fact, I may be able to cite the opening price before I am done typing. It is a good moment to pause and reflect on the nature of trade. In my childhood, it was a point of pride that our automobiles were built in America. Now it is nearly impossible to buy a part made outside of China. In 25 years, China has grown to become the world’s factory. A business that doesn’t take advantage of global prices in parts and labor is destined to fail. And now Alibaba, the B2B equivalent of Amazon, is going public.

Alibaba has empowered ‘the little guy’ to take part in the global merchant trade. Instead of buying from American wholesalers, the small business can get its merchandise directly from China, without having to build a factory there. The merchandise gets added to containers that make their way to ports and onto ships sailing in every direction. The American silk road traverses the Pacific Ocean, landing primarily in Los Angeles, the busiest port in the nation. But the road goes in all directions…unlike the Silk Road and the Spice Trail. The 21st century has witnessed the birth of a new kind of road…made of fiber optic cable and copper wire in one direction, and water in the other. Just as all roads once led to Rome, now all cash flows to China!

The latest indication is 88-90 dollars per share for the Alibaba IPO, which means that the company will raise well over 200 billion dollars some time today. The outflow of capital continues…the US is about to hit their credit limit. Made in America labels are going the way of the pay phone. These are truly interesting times.

Past my bedtime

I am up past midnight, fretting about how I am going to get more people to read this blog or buy my e-book 5150. It’s cheap as heck, and a superb read.

I wish I had more time, know-how and energy to work on viral marketing campaigns. I wish I could afford to pay some junior publicist to put the book in the media spotlight.

The book is a thinly disguised autobiography focusing on the time in my life when I suffered a break from reality. I want the mentally well to understand how mental illness feels…so I wrote the book in first person present tense. This forces the reader to follow the narrator through the mouth of madness. Very few people go that deep into psychosis and return to write about it. I think of it as a visitor’s guide to mental illness. Does anyone want to read it?

So far, I have sold six copies. This is after ten years of writing, work -shopping, polishing and editing it into a perfect story. This is after sending the manuscript to 125 agents and receiving 125 rejection notices. This is my deepest self-revelation…deeper than my homosexuality…deeper than my addiction. And it gathers electronic dust at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and a few dozen more outlets.

So I am envisioning Oprah reading my book. What else can I do? I used to envision Dolly Parton listening to the Acres album. Another artwork that is gathering a virtual 1930’s Oklahoman level of e-dust. Oh and that movie I made about Mexican Wrestlers that finally broke my artist heart and made me turn my back on art in general to pursue material comfort. That one was for rent on Netflix and then one day disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. I used to picture Dana White (UFC) watching it and hiring me to do docs about his fighters.

Dust in the wind. Or, as the Lady Chablis says in her autobiography “Hiding My Candy” – two tears in a bucket, motherfuckit.

Why reality TV can’t hold a candle to the Cinematic Arts.

In the semi-fabricated world of the Kardashians, if a story needs to be told, it will get told with on the nose dialogue in a whiny voice, with cutaways to interviews with different family members adding their opinions. It hurts my ears and my eyes.

Compare that with Milo’s Forman’s masterful use of the cinematic image to tell a story in the musical film “Hair”. The last five shots are essentially a silent film with music. George Berger, wearing the uniform of his friend Claude Bukowski, disappears inside the gaping mouth of an army plane. Claude chases the plane, but it is too late, the plane has taken off for Vietnam. The next shot shows the rows of white graves, with the backs of Berger’s friends assembled singing in powerful irony, “Let the Sun Shine In.” Then, avoiding the dreaded ubiquitous “screen direction” error, the camera cuts to a close up of a grave with George Berger’s date of birth and date of death. The last shot before the giant be-in shows the friends from the front. Woof and Jeannie hold their baby, answering the question “whose baby is it?” Hud holds his child, standing behind his fiancée, who now wears her hair long in an Afro. This symbolizes that they have met each other halfway, as Berger would have wanted to see. Claude stands next to Sheila, implying that their romance is born out of the tragedy–again as Berger would have arranged it.

What a difference! Let me revisit the concept of screen direction for a minute. Anyone who went to Film school has this drilled into them. There is a line of sight and an arrangement of left and right that, when violated, causes a character to appear to be looking in the wrong direction…look it up. I am too tired to do the concept justice. Reality TV violates screen direction as a matter of course. To a cinephile, this is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. The term is sometimes called “crossing the line.”

I want to give a much-deserved nod to the editors of what is arguably the world’s best reality show, “Small Town Security.” They have learned how to tell a story with images, not whiny voices. They understand that a close-up of a pair of hands can both avoid the screen direction problem and further the story by highlighting the anxiety or exasperation contained in those hands.

Still, if you want to feast on powerful imagery, then watch a film by a master director. Reality TV is seldom more than visual bulimia.

Email Insight


I discovered today that if you send an email promising an attachment, but you forget to attach it, you’re far more likely to have a real interaction with the recipient. Today, I was using a mail merge in Word to send out a friendly reminder to about 85 people at work that I didn’t know. I asked them to do a simple task, and to follow the attached instructions, which they had received a couple of times already but chose to ignore,

Of the 85 people I contacted, I got 30 emails saying “Hey, where’s my attachment?” I learned that 10 people had left the company unexpectedly. Another 15 found their old instructions and signed up without bothering to engage me.

Now this was the third time they were asked to do this, so it was surprising to me that 55 out of 85 recipients were checked off my list, leaving a short list of people who would do well to take my time management class.

I really connected with the 30 folks who wrote back. It was a chance to wish the sick people a get well soon, and to say goodbye to a few people who were on their way out.

It was unexpectedly productive to withhold the needed information on the third go round. Food for thought.

Powered by Faith…Running on Fumes


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Faith has powerful connotations in the vocabularies of each person. It is a strongly religious word, and yet atheists and agnostics can have faith in their own beliefs or lack thereof. Faith, to me, is a combination of trust in a higher power and a trust in the natural cycles of birth, growth, decline, death, and decay. It is faith that allows me to endure long, crippling bouts of depression, knowing that it is no more than a warped perception of my present circumstances. Faith allows me to continue to do my very best work and accept less than stellar recognition or reward for my efforts. It is an enduring belief in a greater good, as real as gravity or magnetism, but just as invisible.

My faith has been tested a lot in recent months. A series of unfortunate events have collided in the month of June and continued into July. My beloved dog nearly died, but was saved with some very expensive medicine. My husband’s truck conked out and needed a big repair. My back gave out and requires expensive treatment. No bonuses are given out at work, and raises are a specter in the far off future. Marrying my husband caused our tax return to go way down, and my student loan payments to go way up. These are “tests of faith.”

The thing is, to take the test, you need a sharpened #2 pencil. My pencil feels like a stub, sharpened with a buck knife, and the lead is about to fall out. I wrote some great songs, and wrote a couple of books, made a few great films…but saw very little monetary gain for all my efforts. I have spearheaded projects at work that saved the company millions of dollars, but I am still at a low salary relative to my abilities. Faith moves mountains. Faith is a renewable resource. When my pencil finally breaks, the proctor will give me a new one. I hope.

Next entry will be about “Grace.”

Microsoft Cutting 14% of Its Workforce, Stock up 2%


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I went to Business School, so I know the deal…fewer employees create higher profits and larger dividends to shareholders. But I still carry deep-seated humanist tendencies, instilled by my working class family, that cause me to experience grief upon hearing this news.

18,000 people are losing their jobs. 18,000 people are looking at their last paycheck and feeling real fear, dread, depression, anger, helplessness. 18,000 people have to deliver bad news to the people they love.

The coverage on the financial news channel contrasted sharply with my emotional reaction. The anchors had big smiles, focusing on the good news for Microsoft shareholders. They interviewed an analyst who actually stated that he was overjoyed with this move by Microsoft. He felt that the Nokia acquisition was a bad move, and this was a good exit strategy. A huge portion of the people being let go are former Nokia employees.

My inner worker is shocked by the soulless-ness of the situation. Big corporation Microsoft turns its greedy eyes towards a shiny manufacturer of outdated products and screams, “Mummy, I want that!” Mama Board of Directors says, “Okay, but don’t break it.”

Greedy corporation swallows the shiny jewel and it comes out the other end as a stinky turd.

I guess B-school didn’t manage to brainwash me enough, which is why I am facing huge loan repayments with no change in my station in life. If I could just convert my depression into sociopathy, I could afford those crippling payments.

The Hand You are Dealt


This is perfect illustration of the playing card communication channel that is opened up for me…

Originally posted on SUCCESSTROGEN:

On a fashion website, “Jacks and Jokers”, the creators celebrate an American icon, the deck of cards.   Playing cards have been in America over 100 years and provided us with much entertainment.  Most of us  would have to admit that we played  countless games of War and  Gold Fish as children, solitaire as teens, hearts as college students, and perhaps Bridge or Gin Rummy in our adult life, all with a deck of cards.   Teachers use them as a  sorting activity for pre-schoolers,  casino dealers use them to entice us to put our money on the table, and magicians use them to wow us with their ability to guess the card we thinking of.

Beyond their entertainment factor, the deck of cards has also played an important role in our history.  During World War II, a U.S. playing card company  secretly worked with the U. S. government ro make special decks to send as gifts to American prisoners of war. When these…

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