Techno dreams and cell phone addictions

I had a dream last night that I was being attacked. I was in an airport restroom and four or  five tough-looking teenage girls surrounded me and started insulting me. I realized they wanted to hurt me. For what reason I don’t know. Just then, one of the girls took pity on me and lifted me up and carried me out of the bathroom. Somehow though, one of the girls managed to steal my purse on the way out and there was no way I was going to go back and get it. I strode down the airport corridor quickly to find my family. Feeling safe again I started to get angry. Someone needs to arrest those girls. What right did they have to threaten an innocent person? Soon though, I panicked. They had stolen my phone as well. That was the worst part of the whole thing. My phone was missing! Was the data saved? Would I ever get it back? Suddenly I woke up from the dream, wondering what would happen if I ever did lose my phone. That was worse than being threatened.

What does it say about me that my worst nightmare is losing my phone? Have I become too dependent on it? Only a few years ago I was a cell phone hold-out (hence the sign prohibiting cell phones which I placed in my house). Now, I can’t imagine life without my phone. Most people I know feel the same way. Is there any remedy for us who are addicted to devices? I think there is, but I’ll get to that later. First, a story about my friend Bruce.  

Recently my friend Bruce Wydick, a professor at the University of San Francisco, conducted an experiment with his college students in which he asked them to give up their phones for two weeks to show solidarity with the poor. For every student who gave up his or her phone a donor would give $50 to a non-profit organization working with the poor. Out of a room of 30 people, Bruce got about half to give up their phones. As you can imagine, the results were interesting. One student caved in after the first day and said he was going crazy without his phone. The rest of the group, including Bruce, lasted the two weeks and reported a mix of experiences. Some felt liberated without their phone and more engaged with real-life situations. Others felt more dependent on people and less “cluttered” in their thinking. Everyone seemed to miss the conveniences of their phone. One student, for example, had to make a collect call from a pay phone and found out that collect calls cost $25. Another student overslept without his cell phone’s alarm clock. Bruce got stuck in a bad traffic jam without the ability to use GPS.

While it’s certainly an admirable experiment to give up your phone for a period of time, most of us won’t do that willingly. Instead, I think we need to make an extra effort to spend time each day on low-tech hobbies, things that slow us down and make us appreciate life, like music or art. Maybe it’s been a while since you simply listened to music without also looking at your phone. When was the last time you leafed through an art book? We can also just observe our surroundings, wherever we are. For me on this January day, that means looking out my kitchen window and being dazzled by the white flowers on my ornamental pear tree. I take a moment to be thankful that I live in California and get to see a blossoming tree in the middle of winter! Out of another window I see my neighbor on top of his roof clearing leaves out of the gutter in anticipation of another storm. I’m thankful again for the abundant rain we’ve had so far this season. Slowing down our thinking means noticing our surroundings, appreciating the changing seasons and pausing between activities.

For a longer pause in the day you might try meditation, though in this age of constant communication that is a challenge. Sitting quietly without using a phone or other device is difficult. Another alternative is to engage your body while slowing down thoughts. I tried yoga for the first time last fall with a sense that I simply wanted to do something physical. Now I understand the popularity of yoga. You are in a room for an hour, concentrating simply on your breathing and following the instructions of the teacher to stretch your body this way or that. For that hour I am not thinking of worries or concerns or things to do. I can leave the outside world behind and enter a space that feels outside of time. I feel my muscles clench and tighten. I look forward to a particular pose. I wish we could skip another pose that is difficult. Am I getting better, more limber? Occasionally I get distracted by another person next to me, but then I come back to my own body and the teacher’s calm, soothing voice. Of course, my cell phone is turned off the whole time I am in yoga.

My kids are the first generation to grow up with smart phones as a staple of life. I wonder how life is different for them. I wonder if they notice everyday things in nature and the environment less. I wonder whether they would have given up their phones for two weeks if they had been in my friend Bruce’s lecture. Would they have simply replaced the phone with more time on their computers? Maybe the better experiment would be to go with no technology at all. Just about the only time that happens now is if we are on vacation in a remote place, which is very rare. Even last summer when we were camping, the campgrounds all had wi-fi.

I had another disturbing dream last night after the dream about losing my cell phone. (I guess it’s true you work out your anxieties in your dreams.) In this second dream my son, who is now 15, was a baby, and we were in a large modern art museum. I was holding him in my arms as we stood looking at a large room filled with undulating worm-like cylinders. The cylinders were lit from inside with flashing neon lights. My son got overstimulated by the lights and began to gag so I hurried away. Perhaps this was some kind of dreamlike warning to me to avoid technology? In any case, I’ll put my phone and my Ipad away a little earlier tonight and hope for better dreams.


From Miró to Hawking: Finding inspiration all around

What inspires you? We all have things that inspire us to create, dream, acheive and hope. Have you thought much about what brings you inspiration? Do you take the time to cultivate doing these things? This is a subject I think about from time to time as I seek inspiration as a writer and human being. In fact, as I write this I realize that just thinking about inspiring times brings me inspiration. It is a powerful emotion.

For many of us, great works of art inspire. There is something about seeing a beautiful painting or reading a well-constructed novel or listening to music that gives us the desire to craft our own art or at least feel a sense of well-being and hope. It is certainly very individual. I remember 20 years ago, on a trip to Barcelona, standing in the Miró museum and feeling an incredible sense of both peace and excitement. Here in this beautiful city was a museum filled with striking modernist paintings of bright blues, yellow and reds. The subjects were simple. “Woman and bird.” The canvases were large and filled with color and the museum itself was bright and cheerful. To someone else, Miró’s works might seem too abstract and simple or even silly, but for me the paintings were both elegant and whimsical. I felt buoyant as I passed through the halls and wondered if I could ever achieve such beauty. Sometimes I remember those paintings when I need a boost of creativity.

Often times we are inspired by someone’s personal story, especially if it is a story of overcoming the odds. Last year I read the autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and it’s no surprise it was on bestseller list. In the book, Sotomayor, the first Latina to join the court, recounts her journey from living in the projects in New York city with an alcoholic father and absent mother to attending Ivy League schools and eventually reaching the nation’s highest court. What helped Sotomayor succeed? Partly her success can be attributed to her natural intelligence and being in the right place at the right time, but what is really inspiring is her determination to follow her dream from a young age. She talks about first being inspired to be a lawyer while watching Perry Mason shows on TV and reading Nancy Drew. She worked hard in high school, joined the debate team and asked for help to learn to study better. She made it to Princeton and when that turned out to be tougher than she thought, she buckled down and spent summers with a professor improving her writing, learning new words and reading classics that she hadn’t read as a child. In short, she kept focused on her goals and never gave up. This is a story I remember as I work on my goal of speaking Spanish fluently. I’ve worked at it steadily for many years now and although I still have a lot to learn, I don’t get discouraged.

Like Sotomayor, it’s also no surprise that Stephen Hawking’s life made for such an engaging story in the recent film “The Theory of Everything.” In it we see him succeed despite his progressing disease. The most inspiring part of the film for me was towards the end, when Hawking is confined to a wheelchair and must use a computer to communicate. Despite his limitations, he doesn’t give up and continues to pursue his dream of finding one theory that can explain everything in the universe. In one key speech toward the end of the movie, he tells the audience that everyone has a special talent they can give the world. I thought about that scene a lot and what my special talent might be.

Stories that inspire don’t have to be from famous people, of course. I remember once being in a writing class that included a 40-year-old African-American man whose story was striking. Every week he came to class dressed impeccably in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, coming from his marketing job. He spoke with authority and conviction about many topics. As the class progressed, we learned that he had grown up poor, oftentimes homeless, moving with his mother and sister from relative’s homes to apartments to homeless shelters in innercity Los Angeles. One week he told us the story of how he had dreamed of going to Pepperdine University in Malibu. Pepperdine was about the farthest thing from his experience, being located on the hills facing the ocean in swanky Malibu. He applied to Pepperdine but didn’t get in. Undaunted, he made an appointment with the admissions department and he and his mother traveled to the school. Within an hour in the appointment he had convinced the admissions officer that he should get a place in the school and the school admitted him. It was a great story and made me realize that i would never have thought to argue my case with an admissions department. It was a bold move. I often remember it when I am faced with barriers in my own life.

Perhaps one of the best ways to be inspired is traveling. We get a chance to see, feel and taste how others live and even subtle differences in lifestyles can make an impression. J recently spent a week on the East Coast visiting colleges with my son. In Boston we stayed with friends who have a teenage daughter. They live in a old Colonial-style house with two tortoises and an iguana (they are allergic to cats and dogs). I’ve known this family for 25 years but have never stayed in their house before. For the first time, I got to see their habits (what time they got up in the morning, when they went to sleep), what they liked to do in their free time and the food they ate. I was impressed that both days we stayed with them, the couple made a point to go to the gym. It seems to be an activity they enjoy together. They came back from the gym looking refreshed instead of tired and it made me think maybe I should give going to the gym another try–or at least exercise more. One morning when they went to the gym their daughter Anna made beignets, donut-like fried pastries. She said she had learned about beignets on a trip to New Orleans and has made them ever since. I watched her carefully as she mixed the dough, rolled it out on a board and dropped each piece in sizzling oil. Meanwhile one of the tortoises walked by and found a warm spot to rest in the kitchen. Outside, the day was sunny but cold, with snow still covering the yard. Soon we had a big plate of steaming beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar and we had a wonderful conversation about her school, activities and family. At that moment I hoped I could demonstrate that kind of hospitality to my future guests.

The great thing about inspiring moments is that you can savor the memories and retell them. In sharing them their power expands to more people and to yourself. These stories can become like legends, shaping your worldview. The more we share, the more we can combat the negative stories in the world and the modern sense of malaise we sometimes feel as cogs in a big wheel. Personally, I need lots of inspiration to live well and I’m glad I live in a time when I have access to so many books, movies, news, museums and people. The next source of inspiration is just around the corner.

Bienvenidos a mi blog! (for English version see next post)

Hola a todos. Estoy entrando en el mundo salvaje de los blogs! Voy a publicarlos de vez en cuando y espero que disfrutéis mis pensamientos y descubrimientos. Para inaugurar este espacio, me gustaría publicar este haiku hermoso de comenzar de nuevo:

ganjitsu ya
harete suzume no

Día de Año Nuevo-
las nubes se han ido y los gorriones
están diciendo a cada uno de otros cuentos.

-Ransetsu (1653-1708)

A veces en la vida experimentamos coincidencias hermosas y uno de ellos es que mi buen amigo Leslie Wingender también puso en marcha un blog hace unos días! Leslie, muchas bendiciones mientras llenas su “casa rosa”: Me di cuenta que no tengo un nombre para mi blog aún: Si alguien tiene una sugerencia, estoy abierta!

También, muchas gracias a dos blogs fascinantes que he disfrutado recientemente y me han inspirado para dar el salto. Son y Ambos son lugares increíbles llenos de comentarios hermosos de todo, desde la espiritualidad del arte a la política.

Si alguien está leyendo esto hoy, domingo, 17 de julio 2011, tenga un maravilloso día de reposo! Estamos en lo que la iglesia dice que es “Tiempo Ordinario”, o tempus por año (el tiempo durante todo el año), el tiempo que queda fuera de los días santos de alta como Cuaresma, Pascua, Adviento y Navidad. Sin embargo, Tiempo Ordinario no es menos importante. Una persona escribe que el día del Tiempo Ordinario, especialmente los domingos, “están dedicados al misterio de Cristo en todos sus aspectos.” El color oficial del Tiempo Ordinario es el verde.

virtual fountain

Welcome to my blog

Hi everyone. I am entering the wild and wooly world of blogging! I will post occasional entries and hope you enjoy my random thoughts and discoveries. To inaugurate this space, I’d like to post this beautiful haiku about starting anew:

ganjitsu ya
harete suzume no

New Year’s Day–
the clouds are gone and the sparrows
are telling each other tales.

–Ransetsu (1653-1708)

Sometimes in life we experience beautiful coincidences and one of those is that my good friend Leslie Wingender also started a blog a few days ago! Leslie, many blessings as you fill your “pink house”: I realized I don’t have a name for my blog yet: If anyone has a suggestion, I’m open!

Also, many thanks to two fascinating blogs that I’ve enjoyed recently and have inspired me to make the leap. They are and Both are incredible sites full of beautiful and insightful comments about everything from spirituality to art to politics.

If anyone is reading this today, Sunday, July 17, 2011, have a wonderful Sabbath! We are in what the church says is “Ordinary Time,” or Tempus Per Annum (time throughout the year), that time that falls outside of the high holy days such as Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas. But Ordinary Time is not any less important. One person writes that the days of Ordinary Time, especially the Sundays, “are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects.” The official color for Ordinary Time is green.