Monday, December 2, 2013

Billboard thoughts

Passed this billboard on the way to work this morning.

Isn't it from some conservative organization? Who knows.

Why did they put up this billboard? How are they asking me to think and behave like Nelson Mandela? Do they want me to go to prison for 30 years in defiance of my government and then return to lead the people? Or is he a symbol?

What would be this moment's cultural equivalent of Nelson Mandela? What would it be like if a portion of us behaved like Nelson Mandela? Is that what Occupy was? Where did that energy go? What's next?

Will getting health care for all be remembered as Obama's space program? Isn't it a logical step towards wellness for all? How can we return to wholeness/planetary awareness?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Association dinner

Heather Hawksford invited me to be speaker for the third dinner in her Association series. She asked me to speak about purpose.

There were a small group of us, 40 or so, eating family style in a beautiful setting at Union/Pine. I spoke for about ten minutes between courses, and then gave everyone a little conversation game on the topic for the rest of the meal. At dessert, everyone switched tables and started conversations with different people, many of us making new connections. It was spirited and lively and lovely, and most everyone seemed to really enjoy it.

I started with a visual aid, a scale-size earth and moon, connected by twine at the appropriate distance. Reed Harkness helped me stretch them apart.

It's a great reminder of our inescapable and inexplicable situation: we live on a blue ball, circled by a small white ball, lit and warmed and kept alive by a larger ball much further away, and surrounded by billions of other balls, most of them very, very, very far away. What does it all mean? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do with the short time that I am here? What is my purpose?

The nature of the cosmic experience is one of expansion and growth. An upward and outward spiraling. We participate fully in the experience by participating in our own expansion and growth. We are pieces of Universe and that's what Universe does.

Purpose is about seeking and discovering and living our potential. Purpose comes from pro pos, which means to put forth. I think of an acorn putting forth an oak tree, and then thousands of more acorns. What do we put forth? That's how we participate in what's unfolding. And what we grow into and put forth is exactly what the world wants and needs. It's a beautiful thing.

After sharing my thoughts, I left the diners with these little spinner games and let the conversations do the rest.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks to Heather and everyone who worked so hard to put together this wonderful evening. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Final thoughts on fluoride

My point of view on adding fluoride to Portland water began during the mayoral campaign when I asked candidate Charlie Hales about it and was satisfied with his answer. His was the same as Jeff Smith’s: adding fluoride to water is a no-brainer based on the science and numbers, but putting it to a public vote – Jeff was particularly adamant about  this - is the right thing to do.

Later a friend and colleague asked me to get involved with the Clean Water Portland people, and I said I’d be happy to talk but that I didn’t agree with them.

I had a bristly phone call with Rick North, a volunteer on the leadership team of Clean Water Portland and a 30-year veteran of grass-roots political campaigns. 

Personally, my wish is for the best outcome for my community,” I wrote to him afterwards. “Neither side has convinced me, but so far ‘Flouride-Good; is in the lead. I certainly don't want another nasty political war - I'd like a meaningful dialogue leading to the best decision. My wish would be for you to make that happen, but it would take some cooperation and shared intent from your "opponent" as well.”

Rick told me not to hold my breath.

That was January. I’ve spent the last few months learning as much as I can about the issue from both sides, having conversations with friends, both on- and off-line, and finally hosting a conversation in my studio with two of the leaders from both sides, including Rick. That was a couple of nights ago. We just posted it.

“Well? What’s the answer?” my friends have asked, including some of the attendees of the conversation, who were as cloudy before our couple of hours together as they were before.

Here’s where I’ve come out:

Fluoride is good for teeth. It remineralizes teeth and prevents decay. The CDC called dental fluoridation one of the great health achievements of the 20th century.

Dental health is a foundation of overall health. Dental problems can lead to greater and greater health problems, even death. Everyone deserves good dental health.

Fluoride is one piece of dental health. Others are access to dental care, healthy food, an effective dental hygiene program and preventive measures such as dental sealants.

For lower income people in our community, particularly children, some people believe that fluoridated water might be the most effective way to provide some access to fluoride.

If we were to add fluoride to the water, since very little is actually consumed, most of it would be wasted and deposited elsewhere, as much as 99% of it.

Some people are sensitive to fluoride and would be forced to drink it or buy bottled water. There are legitimate concerns about the safety of the fluorosilicic acid itself.

Globally the rates of cavities and dental decay are going down, and those trends are the same in countries that fluoridate their water and ones that don’t.

Most of Europe has chosen not to fluoridate its water, due to safety, ethical, and effectiveness concerns.

Portland has been resisting fluoride for years and years. We are the last big holdout in the US. We’re either idiots - crackpots who won’t listen to science - or people who believe that our ethos demands that we ask deeper questions and create our own solutions and processes to accomplish our shared goals.

Portland drives me crazy in a lot of ways, but I love that about it. Oregon too. We do things our own way, always thinking there’s a better way to do something: the Bottle Bill, Beach Bill, tearing down highways, light rail, etc. I believe we're resisting fluoride because we know there has to be a better way of creating shared dental health than turning our wonderful water into a drug delivery system.

I want to get fluoride to kids who need it. I want all of Portland to have good dental health. How do we do it safely, effectively, efficiently, in a way that is fair to all the people of Portland and that honors the treasured resource of our wonderful water?

That is the work we have to come together and do ahead.

First, I am going to vote no on Measure 26-151.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TEDx redux

I recently spoke at TEDx Bend. Afterwards I felt a little ‘eh.’ You know how TED works - you have less than 18 minutes, you stand lit-up on a stage with a head mic and try to say something that will transform someone’s life. It’s a minefield, and you try to stand there in a way that’s authentic, vulnerable, and packaged. It was difficult.

I remember two moments on stage where I really felt connected and centered. One was when I admitted to feeling nerves, and expressed my fears whether what I was presenting was good enough to share at a TEDx event. I asked the audience whether they had ever experienced fear or self-doubt. I expected to see lots of hands, but I didn’t anticipate their hearty laughter. Of course we’re all scared and full of self-doubts! Ahhh. Good. Then I’m fine.

The second moment was when another heart-felt remark also received a big and unexpected laugh. I shared that I’d been seeking my own purpose for forty years, since I was a four-year-old, at least, when I remember thinking: What the hell is going on? What is the world asking of me?

Afterwords a woman waited patiently to speak with me. She had a note in her hand. She walked up and said, “I have the name of your book. I’ve tested it around the room.” It said: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? By Jelly Helm. 

What the hell is going on. Boston? More than Boston. Everything, the flux. The sense that we have lost a shared plot, or realized that our old plot is not serving us any longer. What's next? Surely not more of the same. And there's nothing we can 'go back' to either. Clearly the way is forward. What does that look like? How do we get there? What are we supposed to do now? 

The map that is most reassuring to me is this one, the spiral dynamics map. It's based on the idea that humans are developing creatures, with much potential ahead. This model not only articulates those potentialities, but presents a path to get there.

According to adherents of this model, developmentally, globally, we are at the "What the hell is going on" stage, as significant numbers of people move into the yellow stage, representing not just an advancement on the previous stage, but a fundamental shift in the foundational ideas that have informed all the stages up until now. We are moving from Tier 1 to Tier 2 thinking. 

The What the Hell moment is a result of having to not just think in new ways ourselves, but living with the tumult as we collectively rethink all of the systems and structures built on old ideas - how we think about wealth, food, education, security, the planet, family, each other, etc. 

We've had explorers in this realm living among us. Buckminster Fuller had particularly acute vision of what is ahead.

So what do we do, now? What do I do? I am not Buckminster Fuller. I have a family to feed. I have a mortgage. I live in a world of old systems that I know are broken, but I still have to live with them, yes? 

In my tidy Ted talk, I said the answer was simply to connect with your purpose, and offered three ways to do it, so neat that it fit on a button.

Today, despite the button, despite the intellectual certainty that Buckminster Fuller - and other yellow and beyond visionaries - are correct, this morning I am feeling a little what the hell. What the hell? 

Parker Palmer called it the Tragic Gap, the place of tension between what we know is not working and what we know to be possible. We hold this spot, sit with all the discomfort, and seeming paradox, and all the unknowing. Hold this spot. It takes courage to stay here. I think of courage as not lack of fear or bravery, but doing something even if you don't want to, even if you feel afraid. That's how I feel sometimes.

And we press ahead. The faith walk. With excerpts from two poems to lead the way.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The sort of thing I'm posting on FB

Thanks to the people who've migrated over there. Sorry to the folks who followed the blawg who don't do FB. I like being over there because the conversation is more participatory, no anonymous comments, either - everyone is as exposed as me.

And here's the article I linked to. Thanks for looking into this issue.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Social/blawg update

I looked at my analytics and saw that I still have a reliable few people who check out this blawg - thanks, loyalists! I've sort of moved my activity/conversation over to Facebook. I've also been playing with Instagram, and that's probably lessened my tweeting. You are welcome to follow me over to those places, though I have been not accepting any more requests on FB unless I know the person. So if you friend-request me, say "I read your blawg" and you can join the fun. Thanks.

Social media/digital/mobile still fascinates me. Have spent the last year working with a client who is in the top 3 - maybe first - of "social" brands, and their sophistication and fluidity, combined with speed of technical advance and adoption and integration by people - it's mind blowing.

I like to participate in it, but feel the tension, too. How much is too much? How many Instagram photos do you have to take of the Lego show before you start being less-present at the event, or to the people around you?

Overall, I think it's interesting and full of possibilities. I enjoy seeing how people are using it.

So, perhaps I'll see you over at Facebook, or better yet, in real life, working with you, speaking at your event or classroom, having coffee if we're friends, and we'll talk about what all this social/digital/mobile connectivity means to you. 

Thanks -


2012 CUSP Conference

One more thing. These are a few slides from a presentation I gave last year. Mia Nolting designed them. The theme of the conference was "The Design of Everything." I talked about how designers and artists share the responsibility of observing the world and looking for order.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dr. Barry Harris at Jimmy Mak's: Portland Jazz Fest

Well I've been looking for a review of the Barry Harris show that opened the Portland Jazz Festival at Jimmy Mak's Friday night, and I haven't found a thing, so it looks like I'm going to have to write it myself.

Dr. Barry Harris is a jazz giant who has been performing since the '40s with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd and Charlie Parker. He is a proponent of old-school jazz, bebop. He is a pianist and teacher.

For Friday's show, he played with two other jazz greats, bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Mel Brown, both currently living in Portland.

Harris played two shows, and I went to the second one. I was somewhat bummed that the best place I could find to stand was in a tight passage to the bathrooms. Oh well. Then the bathroom door opened, and out walked Dr. Harris himself, accompanied by drummer Mel Brown. I took this quick shot as he entered the room.

Dr. Harris is 83-years-old, small in stature, and slow moving. It took some effort to make it through the crowded club to the stage. "I'm coming, I'm coming," he repeated, as the crowd parted to let him through.

He stepped up to the stage one step at a time and slowly rotated himself behind the piano, he looked frail. The crowd was quiet and his two fellow musicians watched carefully to see what he would do. It was a somewhat melancholy moment. I expected him to launch into a swinging jazz number to brighten the mood.

Instead he slowly began a sad ballad, the song of an old man, an elegy to life's final season. It was deep and sad and beautiful. Touching, and surprising, and perfect.

Then he picked it up, launched into a standard, what was it? I didn't start taking notes until later, after I realized that I wanted to remember everything he had to say between the songs.

"No lip synching here," he said during the first song break. "Sometimes mistakes are very beautiful things."

Early in the evening, we wrote a song together, and performed it together, the trio playing while the audience sang along. "Seven six four three," was composed on the spot, the numbers shouted out by the audience, then composed into a melody by Dr. Harris, who added a bridge, "five, five, five, five." Then he coached us into singing it together, and we all sang as he played and the drummer and bassist joined in. Then they improvised for a while, turned it into a real swinging number, and we closed it out together by singing along the last verse.

"See, Jazz can be fun," he said. And it was.

He lamented how Jazz was fading away, how he didn't have regular gigs anymore. "To find out who you are, you got to do regular stuff," he said. "So I take lessons." His teacher is 90 years old.

He talked about the first time he went into a jazz club, and heard the music for the first time, and felt tingles from his toes all the way up through his body. "It was orgasmic. It was the world."

He thought, "'Please, somebody, give me that feeling," but over time it became more elusive.

As a young musician, he thought, "Maybe I have to give that feeling to myself. And maybe then I can give it to you."

"Sometimes, I can make myself get a feeling like I'm about to cry. And I thought, maybe that's it. Maybe that's the way I have to do it. I can make somebody have a little tear in their eye."

He wished more kids were exposed to the music. "I feel sorry for them, they haven't been given the opportunity to dig us. And they would, because we're beautiful."

Did anyone else see that show? Wasn't it beautiful? I think my favorite part was watching how Mel Brown listened to Barry Harris.

At one point, Dr. Harris got to the heart of the matter, and introduced a song he wrote for all of us there that night. It was a love song, he loved us all, and he invited us to sing, and come along in his ship "on a trip to Paradise."

Thanks Jazz Fest for bringing Dr. Harris to Portland. His first appearance, too? What a great show.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


We grew up in my family believing thirteen was lucky. Quite a few family members were born on the 13th and that was evidence enough.

Later I heard that 13 is a good omen because it means a death is coming, metaphorically. Some aspect of us needs to die in order that we become our perfect (12) self. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Began the year with a nice walk, suggested by Rick Nichols.

This is the labyrinth at the corner of NE Stark & 47th in Portland. Have you ever tried a labyrinth walk? It's been described as a walking meditation, and is used as a tool to help us contemplate and connect with our own path - narrative - purpose - story.

What a wonderful sunny day to walk a labyrinth in Portland.