Tuesday, March 31, 2009

C-5 Galaxy

Making good progress on the latest flying vehicle model, the C-5 Galaxy. My son chooses the plane, plans the design, picks the materials, and I am co-structural engineer and fabricator. The game is about keeping the design simple, working fast, not cutting yourself, and relying primarily on Elmer's Glue and cardboard for structural integrity. It's so fun.

The materials cost 90 cents at SCRAP. Leo had the idea for how the wings attach and it was smart. They are solid. The C-5 opens from the front and we're working on that too.

Then we all paint it together.

If you have a kid, or a nephew/niece, try this. You will love it. It's the funnest thing ever.

Off to go have coffee with Fredrik Averin. We're working on a couple of projects together.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Up here at Mt. Angel trying to hold onto something from my two plus weeks in Mexico. The bells are ringing as I get out of my car and that means midday prayer is about to begin.

As I walk up the long path towards the church, I think about what Fr. Michael, the old retreat director, once told me: this is the path the novice walks when he joins the monastic community, and it is his final path when he is carried out to the cemetery by his brother monks. Heavy!

Different bells in the tower start to ring now as it gets closer to noon. The pitch changes, like a countdown.

What are these bells calling the monks to? What are they calling me to? What are they calling us to? What does it mean to surrender to the bells? How is this place relevant to how we are trying to get by in the world, right now? What is it telling us about what it means to be a human being?

It is a short service, maybe fifteen minutes. Thirty or so of the monks stand in the wooden choir stalls on the both sides of the altar. The liturgy consists mostly of them singing the Psalms and other songs from the bible. In the congregation, a dozen or so of us follow along, most silently, seminarians and a handful of visitors.

I am thinking of trips I took with my father to Gethesemani, the Trappist monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. My dad loved that place. He drove up there frequently to sing and pray with the monks. It swallowed him up, participating in the music and the myth.

I don’t think I know how to participate in the same way, but I recognize that something special happens at this place too, and I accept the invitation of the bells as an opportunity to go inward and ask questions and see what happens.

I ask: What is this thing about? Why are we here?

In Sayulita I picked up a book at an odd little English bookstore run by ex-pats. It was a used copy of Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, discarded from the Rye, NY Library. It had been checked out twice. I find Vonnegut easy and comforting to read and listen to. He holds the tension between optimism and deep depression. In the tragic gap!

Vonnegut was once asked to deliver a commencement address on the Meaning of Life, and he was so stumped, he asked his son for help. The dedication in Bluebeard was taken from his son’s response.

Besides Why are we here, I ask: Why am I here? What is my role?

A lot of people are asking this. Purpose. It’s a big piece of this thing that’s happening right now, this re-evaluation, the new assessment that’s happening to our country, our culture, ourselves.

The monks are singing now and the sound is echoing in the church like a bathtub. The chant has a medieval quality, ethereal and mournful and hopeful.

I find myself asking Mexico questions too, questions that come from being immersed in a culture so close but so far away from the way we are doing things. Questions like: What is the best way to live a human life? What is a wealthy, prosperous life?

I am confronted by the crucifix at the center of this place, and I ask questions about this, too. How is the Christ story relevant to us at this moment? How does it fit into our modern, global, ecumenical spiritual perspective? What is Jesus’s significance among Buddha, Moses, Lao Tzu, Mohammed, Yoda?

Joseph Campbell changed my perspective on the Christ story and the mystery of the crucifixion. Campbell grew up Roman Catholic but fell in love with other spiritual cultures and stories and became a leading scholar on Comparative Mythology. Campbell identified the common story in so many world stories as the Hero’s Journey, and the Christ story as a beautiful telling of it.

Campbell emphasized the story's power as metaphor, in contrast to history or theology. As he said in the wonderful Bill Moyers/PBS interviews recorded the year before his death, he was interested in “its con-notation, not its de-notation.” The Christ story remained Holy to Campbell, if not in its catechism, in its poetry.

I grew up Catholic, and we read the death/resurrection myth somewhat metaphorically, but sort of literally-metaphorically: Christ’s physical death mirroring our own physical death as Christians. Campbell asks what the story might mean for us now, while we are still alive, as Christians and non-Christians.

He believed that the story is filled with mysteries and clues that call us forward to adventure, and illuminate our journey.

Something about dying, but not dying? Why does it ask us to confront death? What sort of death does it point to? What/why are we afraid of dying/losing? What does it mean to embrace powerlessness? What does it mean that part of our self dies and a Higher Self rises to live on? When happens when you really let go, give up, have faith, surrender to the bells? What might Heaven on earth look like?

Beyond what it might mean for us individually, would could this story mean for us collectively, as a culture? What do we have to let go of in order to discover a higher version of ourselves?

The service ends and the monks slowly file out through a tunnel at the back of the church into some unknown place.

The church is almost empty now. Two women sit silently in a pew several rows in front of me. One comforts the other. They seem to be silently suffering through something together. The silence in the church magnifies the enormous silence. When one of the women walks to the lobby, the creak of the heavy oak door blares like a trumpet and echoes. She returns to sit beside her friend, and hands her a cup of water.

Monday, March 9, 2009


The family and I are off to Mexico for the rest of the month, sin computadora, so I'll leave you a couple of things I'm chewing on.

First, all the current interest in our hyperinstantconnectedness has me thinking about what this ability will mean for us going forward? To assist my ponderings, I drew a copy of the tetrad that organizes the way Marshall McLuhan examined the effects of a new medium on its culture, and I put it on the wall.

Imagine a world where every human has an iPhone-like device. What will this hyperinstantconnectedness enhance?

What will it make obsolete?

What will our hyperinstantconnectedness retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?

And what will it flip into when pushed to extremes?

All of the economic stuff also has me thinking about wealth. As a planet, where is our wealth? As a country, where is it? Individually, where is our wealth? It's not in my 401(k) anymore. So where is it? How do I grow it? How do we grow our collective wealth?

Alright then. Back at the end of the month.



Portland Antique Show

Found a few lovely things at the Portland Antique Show this weekend. It's pretty neat that I can scan these things and instantly share them. Sort of changes the value of the objects in an interesting way.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Oh my Gosh

After you watch it play, take control of the slider in the Quicktime, and move it back and forth.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Answer

For the opening of his art show last night, Stacy printed a short run of books with plates of all the paintings and a short essay by James Frey, co-owner of the Half Gallery. My favorite painting is this one of Allen Iverson.

He has a few books left and is offering them for a $50 donation to a cool nonprofit called Harlem Children's Zone. Contact rubina@imperial.tv.

Bathroom at Half & Half

By Scrappers. Camera couldn't quite process red on pink. Worth a visit in person.

No takers yet

Monday, March 2, 2009

Summary/Fave #4

Five months ago to the day I left my job and moved into this little studio to take a sabbatical. Sabbatical is an idea that comes from a farmer resting his field every seven years so it can return to producing fully.

What I like producing is story, and connections. I like connecting people to good ideas. My skill or purpose or joy seems to be in listening for the good and retelling it or presenting it so other people connect with it.

I say good because nourishing ideas are the only ones I see standing a chance of success in the 21st century, and because they are the only ones I have the passion to work on.

Writing this blawg has been helpful in giving me the discipline to express how I think and feel about some of these things. Discipline is the right word. Its root means to take apart in order to understand. In that, this blawg’s been clarifying and valuable.

Regular readers know that the topics I am most interested in taking apart are story, connection, technology, and especially, the Big Idea that is moving us forward right now and also behind all the chaos we are experiencing. Namely, that we are one people, on one earth, and we must co-exist.

This idea - radical, confrontational, reevaluative, hidden in plain sight for years in our children’s books and pop songs and movies and Sesame Street skits - is now emerging to a degree that it is beginning to tip, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it.

Anything that supports this idea, or that is working towards its essential truth of wholeness vs. separation, I would describe as nourishing. The other qualities that nourishing things share are openness, tolerance, compassion, humility and hunger for truth. (The economic meltdown is, I believe, is a symptom of the larger transformation - a result of our desire to dispel illusion and return to what is real.)

There are countless people and organizations whose work is aligned with this vision - the Obama administration, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle's Infectious Disease Research Institute, the Oregon Council for the Humanities, to name just a few. My work is in helping those people and institutions tell their stories.

It's a joyful and exciting time, full of questions and possibility. I’m aware that people are suffering, but I also feel we as a world are heading in a healing and positive direction. It’s not a foregone conclusion, and it will require our work. As my friend Rick said, “It’s gonna be close.”

I believe part of the emerging pattern involves each of us living in the tension of a deeply-rooted, centered, specific, local existence while cultivating a unified, global mindset. Being here and everywhere at once. This is not a new idea, but it feels more relevant and attainable than ever.

These are some of the conclusions I’ve come to during the last few months while sabbating and writing this blawg. But as some of you have noticed, my posts are becoming less frequent, and I wonder if this vehicle hasn't run its course? I'm less interested in sitting at the screen and typing about the world, and more interested in experiencing it directly, living it.

I've been working on several interesting projects, both personal and professional, reading loads of interesting things, from The Watchmen to McLuhan to David Foster Wallace, L. Frank Baum and Tracy Kidder. I will never get tired of good stories. I’m blown away by Twitter (Renny, and Gaia, I get it now!) and other ways technology is connecting us, and even more interested in the new friends and people doing interesting things I’m connecting with in the real world.

I'll continue to share interesting things when I hear about them - Stacy's art show this week in NY, these incredible aerial photos of Venice - but I expect I'll be doing more of it from Twitter. Please follow me there, if you'd like. And you can always write me@jellyhelm.com.

The only unfinished blawg business I can think of is sharing the last in my list of world-changing books.

While I was living in Amsterdam in the mid '90s, I read a wonderful biography of Joseph Campbell called Fire In the Mind. [That book's not it, but it easily could be #5 on my list.]

The authors wrote about a chance meeting that Campbell had with a beautiful Indian boy while on a transatlantic ocean voyage in the 1920s. The boy was Jiddu Krishnamurti, protégé of Madame Blavatsky and C.W. Leadbetter, and soon-to-be worldwide leader of the Theosophical Society. [His first act as leader was to disband the society, because he believed wisdom is to be experienced directly, and not understood dogmatically through a figurehead or guru. Rad!]

Shortly after reading about Krishnamurti for the first time, Dan Wieden, my boss at the time, shared a book that he said had most significantly challenged his view of the world when he was a young man. It was Freedom From The Known, first published in 1969, and perhaps the most clear and succinct distillation of Krishnamurti’s thinking.

It's not for everybody. I found this book to be an ice-cold glass of spiritual water. Sometimes I sipped it, sometimes it felt like it was being poured on me. If you end up picking it up, I'd love to hear about it.

So, that's it for now. Thank you to all the readers who’ve accompanied me on this part of the path. Many of you are friends and colleagues, so I look forward to seeing you soon in the real world, and maybe having a conversation about some of these things.

Best regards to all of you -