July 31, 2006

First Impressions of London

Once again I feel very American. There's just something about being American that stands out here - we're more demonstrative, animated, loud (in comparison), and assertive.

Started out doing all the touristy things, such as taking the double decker tour bus around central London. Stephen’s idea – and it was great. Photos to come when I get a UK cable adapter. London Bridges, Tower of London, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace.

The streets are dizzying. It has taken me a good 48 hours to see past the people and actually notice the buildings and shops. So many good restaurants (Thanks Dave for all the suggestions – more places to try!), clothing shops and theatres.

Found ourselves in the gay pride parties in SOHO yesterday. Everyone is beautiful. Like The Castro but with more fashion. Everyone was people watching – even those being watched. Countless men holding hands. I thought San Francisco was the official gay Mecca.

Getting ready for an interview tomorrow with an arts and culture consulting firm. Their office is one block from Stephen’s and just five blocks from our hotel. Fingers crossed. I think this is more of a “let’s hear her exotic accent” kind of meeting. But as Stephen says – work it.

July 28, 2006

Off to London Today

Tonight I fly off to London and arrive at 8am tomorrow morning.

New posts to come - in the Queen's English.

July 24, 2006

Specific, Concrete, Winnable

During the final hour of the final day at the residency portion of my Americans for the Arts research fellowship my supervisor gave me some interesting feedback. We were reviewing my draft report and she said that I write my arguments like how I talk. She explained that once she read it in my voice she could understand what I was getting at. What I do is back into a point. Each sentence is a setup with a point at the end.

Intersting observation. I reflected on her observation and realized that it is true. Arguments begin with a long setup and then the actual statement, as though I am creating a pillow on which it can land. For the type of writing we are doing on this research my points need to be direct, sharp and immediate. The readers, who are staff and potentially funders, have to get an understanding clearly and quickly.

Now I’m not sure if it is because the research is new and the conclusions I’m drawing are still raw and therefore the points are still a bit amorphous. Or, if I need the setup to protect me from potentially looking stupid in making a point that has no backup. Perhaps it is that I am afraid to make a direct statement, bold and powerful and therefore I dance around it. Another factor may be my extroverted brainstorming approach to new ideas. I’ve found inspiration in Senator Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father. He too had to find his voice. At first Barack doesn’t know what he wants to say and then when he finds inspiration he has to learn to say it. A boss tells him, “Issues have to be made concrete, specific and winnable.”

As a young activist, Barack’s work is fuelled by frustration and anger. I too felt the same way when I began this research on midcareer leadership. Things had to change. But as I’ve worked through the interviews and research, creating my situation analysis and then making recommendations for change, I have a deeper and more mature understanding of the issue.

My supervisor said, “every time you get to a comma in your writing, see if you can make it a period instead. Get to the point.

July 21, 2006

This Ain't No Muni

You've seen my review of the Metro rail system - put it aside and make room for the Metro bus system. It is wonderful! Unlike the San Francisco Muni system, which is a lesson in humility, the DC Metro buses are a pleasure to ride. The drivers are friendly, make eye contact, speak to you, OFFER you a transfer and make small talk when you enter and exit the bus.

Yesterday I wandered around Dupont Circle in search of a D6 bus stop and got myself lost. Like a beacon of light the D6 bus appeared from around the corner. I wasn’t close to a bus stop but I took a chance and waived at the driver. He not only smiled through the window but stopped in traffic to pick me up. I apologized saying that I didn’t know the location of the closest stop and he said, “oh, don’t worry about it.”

By the time I got to my stop in the Palisades, where my brother lives, the bus only had a few riders remaining. I noticed they were all young women. It was interesting how we were all doing the same commute and depending on the kindness and guardianship of this driver.

This morning I was at the stop heading in to work and waived down the driver as he approached. You know how Muni is – you’ve practically got to jump in front of the bus if they don’t feel like stopping. Well, the driver pulled up and said, with a big smile, “you thought I was going to pass you, didn’t you?” See, they are looking out for us.

July 19, 2006

This Ain't No BART

A surprising link between DC and the SF Bay Area is the Metro system. Modeled on BART it has the same trains. But that seems to be the end of the similarity. The drivers run these poor trains with a heavy foot. Passengers are gracelessly bumped forward and back as trains randomly stop midstream or approach a station. Sorry, but Bay Area riders would never put up with this. DC riders just hunker down and read the paper.

July 17, 2006

Smithsonian Insect Zoo

Want to see living creepy crawleys such as cockroaches up close and personal? Visit the Smithsonian Insect zoo (or my house in Houston). Housed at the National Museum of Natural History the zoo is ironcially sponsored by O. Orkin - the extermination "pest control" company. They even have a helpful replica of a house that highlights where you can find pests in your home. How lovely. It was like a flashback.

These are shots of my brother Matthew volunteering at the Smithsonian. We visited him at work and watched as children and adults from around the world reacted to his critter friends. People watching was much more fun than bug observation.

My sister Marlene is giving Matt the funny look as he hands her the giant grass hopper. Don’t worry, they don’t jump or bite but they do poop on your hand. I of course did not touch any of the wee beasties – which were much larger than wee, we and me.

Vote and Win!

I've heard folks say that more people vote for American Idol that in an average state election. As a voter on this game show you are directly impacting the reality of the contestants by participating. How exciting to see the results of your votes.

Getting people to vote is taking a lot more than the power of selecting the next American pop star. Arizona Voter Reward Act is proposing that state election voters are automatically enter in a lottery to win a million dollars. Frankly, I think they could have lowered the amount and people would have still elected to vote.

Okay, there are going to be people upset with this incentive but I think it is a great idea. Now the question is how to educate the voter so that they are involved in WHO they vote for. Ad campaigns, debates, glad handing – all these techniques just aren’t working. Maybe candidates have to be put on an island together and we can watch their ability to partner, lead and strategize!

July 13, 2006

DC is Young!

You may think that aged politicians are the major demographic here in Washington, DC. Think again. This city, or is it really a district, is filled with folks in their twenties and thirties. I imagine that many work for national nonprofits, service agencies and other types of support organizations. Others are aids for politicians, interns, students and like me, research fellows.

Men dress in suits and somewhat less casual outfits and women are in everything you can imagine. Remember, it is hazy, hot and humid here (but not like Houston) so almost anything goes for ladies - including hair which is frizzified.

On this bus this morning I sat next to two guys who must have been in their early twenties. They had California accents (dude, cool, hay) and pierced eyebrows. How were they dressed? In suits!

July 12, 2006

The Big Picture

What is wonderful about being at Americans for the Arts as a research fellow looking into Mid-Career Leadership Development issue is the ability to look at the big picture nationally. Although I have had an industry-wide focus on this issue I now see it in terms of policy initiatives.

Is it possible to impact the field at large? Is the sector’s learned business culture too pervasive to recognize and accept change? Should solutions and approaches be made within the context of an organization or industry that is not functioning at capacity or should it be set towards an ideal or maybe incremental change allowing for current, mid-term and future advances?

All along I’ve been thinking in terms of small organizations – budget, programming and staff sizes being skeletal. Now I’m thinking about the issue across the industry. How can we advance new ideas, investment of resources, programming and… attitudes? At the same time we can’t be too academic or we may alienate a large portion of our constituents.

What I’m finding amazing is the calibre of students coming out of the arts administration and public policy graduate programs. These folks are well read, well versed and have had the internships and fellowships to advance and solidify their ideas. The field was shocked with GenXers – how is it responding to GenY and Millennials?

July 11, 2006

Junkfood for the Brain

I confess. It is true. While I'm working away on the Fellowship research I take hourly breaks to check out two horrible celebrity gossip Blogs. It is like reaching into a bag of chips. I can't get enough. What better way is there to relax your brain when you need a break? Kind of like a mental cigarette. Plus, it makes me feel so normal compared to their crazy lives.

Here they are:
Pink is the New Blog
The Superficial

Everything you need to know about Tom, Katie, Nicole, Paris... and all the other celebrities and their wacky lives.

Do they have a withdrawal program for these kinds of addictions? Maybe instead of a nicotine patch I can get an eye patch.

July 10, 2006

Some People Call Them Grease Spots But I Call Them Ugly

Today’s theme is grease. Not the musical or the stuff you find in cars but grease that your body generates.

I’m in DC riding the bus to my first day of the Americans for the Arts Fellowship and I grab a window seat. This is the best way to see DC for $1.25 and also make sure that I don’t miss my stop at K and 15th. Dead center in my view is grease spot. You know those weird window grease sports – are they caused by hair, someone’s face, food? Whose hair is that greasy?

I get to the office and the next grease spot is on my face. How in the world can I still be getting pimples at 37? Make it end. This one is giant and near my chin. All day I imagine people are looking at me thinking, “she’s good but look at that pimple.” It is a scabby one too. To assess the situation I constantly look at other people’s faces to determine if they too have a scabby gross pimple on their face. In fact, most do.

Finally, grease on my skirt. You get out of the house, hope for a wrink-less outfit and then notice a greasy stain that didn’t come out in the washing machine. It is up there with deodorant stains.

Well, all is good. I survived the first day, grease intact, and am invited back again tomorrow. The people here are amazing and the work environment is friendly and supportive.

July 5, 2006

Whose Bringing up Baby?

Babies, babies everywhere! I realized, over the past two weeks of being at “home” with my folks, that the universal discussion topic is babies. Whose having babies, whose expecting babies, whose making babies, whose buying gifts for babies, whose who is who? From celebrities to friends and relatives, bring on the babies.

Living away from home, babies are not the topic. The majority of our friends are people who have houses, cars, bikes, wine collections, art collections, but not babies.

My life makes even less sense to folks here because we keep moving and traveling and doing projects but not having babies. "Your husband is in London and you're here and then you're going to be in DC and then you are going to be there..." pregnant pause, thought bubble when are you going to make babies?

Medicinal Drugs for Cats

Today Tika was very down. She could barely raise her head up. Sometimes the kitty cancer gets the best of her. But then my mom walked in and said, “mail call! Tika has mail!” (This is the benefit of being home for the summer and living like a college student.)

You’ve got mail Tika. My brother Matt sent her a get well soon card with a bag of fresh green cat nip enclosed. Here are some photos of Ms. Tika perking up and licking the bag of illicit meds. After fifteen minutes of a licking frenzy she is now laying on the bag of kitty weed and dozing. Next she’ll pull out a guitar and start singing like Bob Dylan.

July 3, 2006

Mianus River Gorge Preserve

A photo I took of the Mianus River Gorge Preserve just over the Connecticut border in New York. My dad and I ventured out to convene with nature. I love the stone walls that farmers built when the last was first settled. This hike was filled with them.

More info on Mianus at http://www.mianus.org

Tika Cat

A portrait of Tika the cat. She seems to like Connecticut. Her favorite 6am activity is to jump up on the desk and cackle out the window at early morning critters. Since she's not as brave or agile as she used to be each night I build her a little staircase to get to the top of the desk. The only foil to my setup is that her wimpering meow at the wildlife just beyond her reach, wakes me up.