Saturday, February 22, 2014

Morning coffee

DSC03646 (1300x963)The beaches from Sandbanks to Bournemouth are dotted with small cafes, each serving regional coffee and artesian breads. And as the sun finally begins to rise before I do (a sure and hopeful sign of spring), I’m venturing out to enjoy the pearly light and soothing sounds of the ocean, seeking peace in dark brew and light scones.

Or, I’d like to.  No beachside café actually opens before ten, nor closes after five, along the Jurassic Coast.  DSC03648 (1300x906)Even in tourist season?  “Nobody on holiday gets up before ten,” the waiters assure me.

So I brew some coffee in my room and take it down along the beach for a reflective sip and a think, organizing notes, reading papers, writing emails,walking the sand, calling the Dutch (an hour ahead and early risers, even on holiday). 

DSC03644 (1300x970)And the beach slowly fills, joggers running laps alongside the dog walkers, puffing faces watched by panting ones.  I have started taking my coffee without milk, strong and raw, it fits the morning best, steaming against the wind and acid against the throat.  Between calls and notes, there’s time to think about questions arising from 5 am reading (yes, I’m back to early waking).

The Times had a particularly good one: To Read or Not To Read?

A mother, in passing suddenly, leaves behind DSC03651 (1300x952)a box of her diaries. Her daughter is struggling with whether to read them, uninvited.

It’s a ticklish question, and the author is ultimately unsatisfying in her resolution: she reads parts that lie outside of her own lifespan, beautifully crafted descriptions of others, and observes only that ‘I see myself’ in the writings sampled.

Sidestepped is the question of whether her mother would regard the reading as a violation, of what the daughter would do with uncomfortable discoveries.  Are the writings a legacy to preserve, or a secret to be DSC03647 (1300x975)buried?

I think that personal diaries should only be shared deliberately, and with time for conversation about their contents.  It has to be offered while the writer is still alive.  Otherwise, they should be left unread: too often people write their immediate feelings and furthest dreams, neither representative of who they really are.  There needs to be context, of knowing why a passage was written, and where it led.

DSC03645 (1300x1171)And, late morning, the café’s finally open, coffee, scones, pretending the world is just waking. The locals drift in for breakfast and conversation in two’s (husband and wife) and three’s (friends and neighbors), heads together in quiet earnest discussions.

A cue actually, to gather up and to be on with the day.  I’ll look forward to someday joining the breakfast-at-11 community.  But now and for me, well, my list is long…

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Solving the move; moving on

Grimshaw - Going home at duskIt’s been a busy week: an assessment to prepare at Cambridge, conducting interviews for the business, a host of reports and summaries to write.  I also needed to really lean into the search for temporary digs: the to-let market around Poole / Bournemouth has heated up a lot and listings are being taken off the market almost as fast as I can look at them.

The goal is really short-term: a few months for the business to meet its immediate goals and to understand where we’ll plant the offices, then a final shift to join up with it.  So I need something like a house share: bedroom, kitchen, a place to work, a spot for the car, and peaceful neighbors.

The search has dragged on,  though,  and I hit bottom on Wednesday,  weary.  it was 8 pm, I hadn’t had dinner, and I had just viewed the fourth ugly house of the day. Work still to be done on the business that couldn't finish because of viewings,  three back-to-back conference calls from the car,  and it was raining cats and dogs (“raining stair-rods”, advises the FT) Hopper - night shadowson the dark flooded streets of Canford Cliffs. 

Other people had full-time jobs and half-term vacations.  I had a real sense that plausible incremental decisions and hard work was leading to a dead-end: loss and compromise where I'd wanted to create and build.  It was becoming life in a Hopper tableaux; every entrepreneur hits it from time to time,  and this was my rainy night.

I do know the solution: call a friend, vent and unload, get perspective, and shoulder on.  And it works: the perfect share came available this morning, joining two physicians in a spacious home in Penn Hill.

House 2 House 1

The sun came out; the phone crackled with better news as I drove to Cambridge.  ‘still a few hurdles to jump and demons to exorcise, but the big blocks are starting to dissolve.  Still, it would just be nice to know what life holds, even looking ahead only two weeks from now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


DSC03611 (1300x962)Wake up in quiet time, advised Lifehacker, describing seven simple things that can improve a bad day.  It's good advice (except item 5 for dealing with fools and negativity) and, while I used to publish my clippings to twitter, I’ve switched to publishing some curated links here in the blog, instead.

‘Some worthwhile early-morning reading for half-term, then:

sven kramerDutch speedskaters are thrilled; Americans baffled:  I haven’t had time to follow the Olympics closely, a bit of curling and biathlon while working out at the Leisure Centre.  But the discussions among friends have centered on the stellar performances of the skaters.  It was especially gratifying to see Sven Kramer get medals after he was disqualified in 2010 due to a coaching error.

DSC03615 (1300x918)Loneliness twice as unhealthy as obesity:  A new study reports that living alone increases six-year risk of dying by 14%; poverty by 19%.  Earlier studies have suggested that almost half of older people (depressingly defined as “over 50”) suffer persistent loneliness, and suggest maintaining contact with colleagues and engaging with “befriending services” is a remedy when family is far away. 

Isolation is certainly an issue in expat life, often attended by loneliness: my worry is always that I’d suffer an accident or emergency without anyone knowing where I was.  A laminated wallet card would seem to be prudent; living in a house-share likely helps too.

DSC03328The Apartment:  (Business success is) becoming a millionaire and getting a speedboat.  Eventually, he got it, but his wife wouldn't let him take the kids out on it, and the neighborhood association wouldn't let him park it in his driveway, so he kept it in a storage facility thirty minutes away, visited it like a spouse in prison, and rarely spoke of it. 

The moral: Cultivate relationships and collect experiences, not money and things.  And if tempted, read the Times on the emptiness of Going to the Gala

DSC03572 (1300x975)How free are we?:  It’s a sign of maturity that I find reading The Shrink and The Sage more interesting than Tyler Bruhe’s Fast Lane on the weekends.  This week they debate whether free will is an illusion, as viewed from choice therapies.  Fascinating stuff.

I’ve struggled to calibrate and accept the extent of my choices: what (natural) events are beyond my understanding and control, what (people) things have reasons but are forever beyond my knowledge or control, and what (plans and futures) I can actually influence. 

The Shrink holds that therapy helps with identification and acceptance of that sliver of life we can actually control; the Sage affirms that people do things for reasons and are able to modify their behaviour on the basis of argument and evidence. But is that the same as “free will”?

DSC0356615 Reasons to date a scientist: Predictable fun (You’ll likely win at trivia night), but still fun.  Contrast this with the incomprehensible writings of Relationship Coach Rori Raye.  Creator of Circular Dating strategies (Take each offer as it comes, without manipulating who calls or where you want to go), her blog is, well, like this:

“And what was your issue with that…?”

And so I said, “It would feel good to hear what you thought I said…”

And he did. And he got it right, too. Perfect.

AND – I didn’t feel any better!

I STILL felt angry, combative, not comprehending the “conflict” in our two views…still all of that.

BUT!!! – And here’s the really, really important part: HE FELT HEARD!!

…and there are distressed people in her office paying for advice.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Klee at Tate

Klee - Statuc Dynamic

I had never been particularly fond of Paul Klee: his painted works always looked crude and blocky, childish abstractions over dark earth tones.  A Swiss painter, I placed him as a secondary talent, harmless art alongside the main road from impressionism to modern.  Static / Dynamic, left, seemed typical.

So I didn’t expect to spend much time in his retrospective at the Tate Modern yesterday.  I was really surprised, though, to find a wide-ranging and inquiring artist whose works explored and evolved through 17 rooms of canvases, chronologically arranged.  I’m still not sure whether he was a great painter, but he was a thoughtful one and I admired the ways that he tried to interpret what he saw in a personal language of color, geometry, and symbolism.

His earliest works were recognizable studies of villages, mountains, gardens, but they decompose quickly to geometric forms that represent the scenes rather than simply depict them.  He experimented with prismatic watercolours and contrasting fields of primaries.

Klee - When God considered the creation of the plants Klee - GardenKlee -small children klee - Bewitched petrified

When Klee joined the Bauhaus, he worked alongside Kandinsky and taught design and composition: the connections between them are obvious.  He thought hard about the principles underlying symbolic and abstract representation of sensory and cognitive impressions, writing longhand lecture notes in precise script,  DSC03553illustrations flowing across pages of personal journals and published articles.

From this, I came away with the image of a very focused detailed artist.  The works can be almost boyish: I remember my son making grids, filling in colors, adding curves, spending hours on a complex doodle.   The difference with Klee is the rich symbolic language that the exhibition develops, so that the later paintings become much interpretable for having seen the earlier ones. (The Guardian has an excellent review).

Klee Klee - Violet pentagon

Interestingly, he represented his symbolic self similarly (Ghost of a Genius).

klee - ghost of a genius Klee - Bauhaus

He worked to try to capture mood and movement: his scenes of fish, aquariums, insects, and ships are particularly good.  Many of the paintings seemed really muted and dark though – I wonder if the colors have faded or they were created that way.

klee - Ships in the night Klee - fish magic

There were works that ventured into political commentary (Remembrance Sheet of a Conception), others that experimented with techniques such as pointillism (Dancer).

Klee -  Rememberence sheet if a conception Klee Tanzerin

His drawings over colored backgrounds, Threatening Snowstorm and Walpurgis Night, were particularly good.

Klee - Threatening Snowstorm Klee - Walpurgis Night

It’s much better and more thought provoking than I expected, really placing Klee’s thought and contributions into a nice personal context.  Visible through March 9 in London, ‘definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Varieties of immersion

DSC03509 (975x1300)8 am meetings in London means camping out the night before: a quick trip up to Waterloo, a hotel deal near Earl’s Court, breakfast near Piccadilly ahead of the morning rush.  Things went smoothly: governance, grants, funding falling into place.  By 1pm, immersive work was done and the weekend began.

I’ve been given a year’s membership to the Tate, so wandered over to the Modern to see the Gerhard Richter show, Transformed Visions.  A German visual artist whose abstract works often deal with political issues, this exhibition was more impressionistic.  He’d created blurred murals by pressing a squeegee across the paint, the resulting images evoking natural scenes of reflected skies and running water. 

The ideas was to stand in the middle of them and immerse, but I got more out of staring into the individual works.  The lines and colors resolve into remembered places and associations: teasing out memories as mind tries to interpret the images. 

DSC03483 (1300x975) DSC03485 (1300x1218)DSC03486 (1300x974)

The sun was setting as I left, spotlights on St Paul’s and fluorescents from the City against a luminous blue twilight.  I stood  on the Millennium Bridge and immersed in the detailed reality.

DSC03502 (1300x917) DSC03498 (1300x972)

DSC03511 Stitch (667x1300)The Cambridge weekend, Valentine’s day and afterward, was a relaxed respite.  It was nice to wrap myself in the serenity of the college and the slow traditions of the Orchard.  Current scones and coffee in Grantchester; flowers emerging in the campus gardens: life is richer than any painted representation.DSC03524 (1300x975)

DSC03522 (1300x957) DSC03538 (1300x952)DSC03541 (1300x973) DSC03532 (1300x1280)