Saturday, July 26, 2014

Winding down the week

DSC07775 (1300x974)I’ll be pitching in London on Monday, clinical and business meetings scattered at various locations through the rest of the week, so its shaping up as a busy period again.  But a series of late afternoon storms rumbled through Parkstone, breaking the heat along with my concentration.  ‘time to gather my notes and move down to the beach for the afternoon, start to plan a weekend that is genuinely ‘off’.

The circus is in town, there’s a regatta in Swanage: the festival schedule has abated as school term ends and people leave for summer holidays.  I’d rather be boating but need to finish my qualifications before I can charter out with the dinghy.  DSC07779 (1300x1025)In vino veritas, In wine, there is truth: I settle in with a glass and collect thoughts.

-- I’m planning a dinner, building out into my social circle, so there’s the menu to think through.  The butcher has some great ideas for a lamb loin, and veg and wine selection is easy.   I’ve finally mastered the varieties of potatoes to make good accompaniments.

But my go-to summer desert, panna cotta with a fruit coulis, has fallen from favor because I use animal gelatin.  I’ve ordered agar and xantham gum alternatives, and have got a series of experiments setting in the ‘fridge this morning.  There’s no good leaf-to-powder equivalent, so I’ll see what amount strikes a balance between mushy and rubbery.

If it all fails, I’ll move on to spuma foams.

DSC07782 (1300x955)-- The Shrink and Sage reflected on Wisdom last weekend, it’s still on my mind.  ‘Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can’, so the Shrink counsels that Wisdom lies in knowing the difference.  I think that’s perfectly horrible advice: I always envision the good possibilities, cannot accept the bad ones, and so I always see opportunities for change and redemption.  My life is not simply accumulating a  sum of days and accepting what comes; it is actively observing the good and the bad, understanding alternatives, and making wise choices while holding others accountable for theirs. 

In this, I am much closer to the Sage: Wisdom is the capacity to see which problems matter in life, and what aspects are crucial to solving them.  Work, living, relationships: it means putting one’s life experiences to good use while still being open to learning.  It is about making the most of my capacity to make and to acct on choices.

DSC07777 (1300x965)-- I go back to thumbing articles on my tablet, one eye towards the ‘boarders paddling past.  My brother alerts me that Cambridge has fallen to #4 on a league table, behind Harvard, Stanford, MIT.  No worries, we’re ahead of Oxford at #5, and with an 800-year history, we take the long view of these things.  Amazon is starting a book subscription service, not yet available in Europe unfortunately, but a promising idea.  I hope that it doesn’t undermine libraries, though.  The Times reports on new language learning apps, promising, but no substitute for the immersion of just plunging in with courage over a newspaper, a dictionary, and good friends over coffee.

DSC07784 (1300x947)-- Must increased happiness correspond to decreased unhappiness, or can both increase together as cheerful melancholy, asks Arthur Brooks in the Times?   Brooks argues that the two opposites can co-exist because of a discordance between extrinsic and intrinsic goals, things we do for public or private purposes.  But the two intermingle, as on social media: ‘How could it not make you feel worse to pretend to be happier than you are, while seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?’

That seems simplistic, even though true.  Private thoughts can certainly be a blend. I can be happy on a se-cliff walk while being unhappy that I am not sharing it; my contentment in the moment is accompanied by regrets and worries about past and future.

I’m half-way through Lesser’s book, Broken Open, where she writes that when we try to appear happy and consistent, we suppress expression of our failures and longings. 

Publicly, then, we live with only half our lives.  Echoing Brooks, we try to be as happy as we think others are, as confident as they want us to be.  We cut ourselves off from other’s wisdom and compassion, from beingDSC07772 (1300x971) able to offer any perspective or tenderness in return.

It all sounds soft and could easily be overdone, but I think that there is a truth here: that we need to be able to participate with our full selves in social relationships, both committed and vulnerable, aspirational and longing.

In the end, after discussing materialism as a route to happiness, Brooks also comes full circle back to the importance of people in our lives.  He concludes simply that the only key is to Love People; Use Things.

I agree, noting that we should never, ever, to invert the two.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Life in the UK

DSC07754 (962x1300)Sunny, humid highs have graced the Jurassic Coast this week, punctuated by anemic thunderstorms.   I’ve been loyal to the Lilac Room, calls and emails to keep our legal agreements, production facilities, fundraising and clinical trials rolling.  Midmorning coffee with friends, late afternoon walks along Sandbanks, keep it all (somewhat) balanced.

It’s ‘Life in the UK, my secondary project.

My Residence Permit expires in January, and I need to get serious about the Indefinite Leave or the Dual Passport options.  I’ve no interest in giving up my US Citizenship, which would be required by the Dutch, yet still want to be able to remain in Europe and have some flexibility in where I finally settle down.  DSC07756 (1300x955)Anti-immigration sentiments are making it increasingly difficult to remain as a long-term expat, even when creating businesses and jobs, bringing unique skill and experiences, and that ‘special relationship’ between our nations.

Lisa Pollack wrote about the difficulties in a column in the FT last week.  I hadn’t realized it, but only 417 Americans qualified for a Tier 1 Visa the year that I got mine.  Since then, the qualifications and quotas have tightened considerably, and extensions will no longer be granted after next April.  Her experiences are exactly parallel to mine (we even both went through renewals at the Croyden offices); we only differ in that I have relied on skilled help to navigate the unforgiving assembly and prosecution of an application.

So I called my advisors and said that it was time to get the ball rolling.  “Save your bank statements, pass your test, and call me in September,” he counseled before leaving on an enviable holiday.  I picked up my copy of Life in the UK and started studying.

lifeintheuktest1For the most part, the social and political section seem straightforward.  Although things are differently named, there is sufficient overlap between US and UK systems of governance that it all seems familiar in principle.  The differences are mainly in vocabulary, always a problem, and exceptions for Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.  The main issue has been in memorizing 2000 years of detailed history, heavy on names and dates.  The timelines and details in Project Britain have been invaluable in summarizing the information.

My test, then, is scheduled for the 31st: I’ve paid my fee and I spend an hour each day on the exercise bike, studying, before  heading to Penn Central for a beer and a test.  I’ve never enjoyed oral testing, and this is a daily Quiz Night, but my practice scores have risen from the 40s to the 90s, far above the Penn Central75 needed.

The only negative is that I’ve become a fixture on the terrace, slurping a Doombar as I mumble answers into my earpiece.  Several people greet me as I enter now, asking how its going, one woman tried to buy me a beer last night. 

Distracted and out of practice, I failed the pick-up test miserably.  I managed to be both surprised and confused by her interest, alongside the w.wezen’s laughing critiques and queries through the earbud.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the real test.

So, as with so many things in my life:  ‘still practicing….

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Following up, MH17

sad romeoAs I suggested might happen, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has declared a day of public mourning for this afternoon.  This will coincide with the return of the recovered remains to the Netherlands tomorrow afternoon in Eindhoven.

The Times posted a second commentary, following on from the first, reflecting on Dutch sobriety in the face of collective tragedies.  Again, I’m not sure that they get it right, or that they view it from a local Dutch social or cultural perspective.  There are some good comments observing how the Dutch are avoiding the politicization of grief, individual and collective expressions of sadness, and how best to show support for the families who have suffered losses.

sad and openWe all have to do what is best  for ourselves, nobody else will, a friend reminded me yesterday.  And in the realm of individually setting goals, choosing means, making choices for which one is responsible and accountable, that’s true.

But when those choices have consequences for others,then others have a stake in the decision.  And when individual choices, however well or sincerely motivated, cause undeserved loss and pain, then the community has an obligation to speak out.

When an individual is silent, a group fails to speak out, that decision is a choice, and the choice carries an implied message off support and approval.  I am glad that, once what needed to be done was done, and once patience let the facts become clear, that the community did come together to bear witness against atrocity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reflecting on MH17

DSC07716 (1300x972)Why is nothing happening? asked Casper van Neirop, quoted in a New York Times column reporting on how the Dutch were reacting to the downing of passenger flight MH17 over the Ukraine.  When will the government announce an official national day of mourning, asked Willem Vissers; Our leaders come across as cold and insecure, muses an NRC columnist.  The overall thrust of the article was that the Dutch government, if not the Dutch people, were taking an all-too hands-off and detached view of the event, which killed nearly 200 Dutch nationals.

The American reaction would have been much more immediate and much stronger, I admitted to friends.  We would want to do something, fix something, see justice served, hold someone responsible: express and act, strongly.

Soft Power, relying on cultural example and economic influence to persuade others in international relations, was never our way.  Hard Power, political and military approaches, get results.

I think that the Times misses the depth of Dutch feelings, though, and in particular the way that the Dutch (in my experience) work things through.

DSC07701 (1300x921)There’s no question in my mind that the Dutch are deeply angry and sad about what has happened.  It is the first and only topic of conversation.  But there is a determined prioritization to their  concern, first for the victims and in getting their remains back to their families.  Most approve of the government’s public and private efforts to reach the site and to repatriate the victims, recognizing that this cannot be done in an atmosphere of anger.

There is also a patience to wait for the facts to sort themselves out. The Dutch tend to save their emotions until the full scale of the problem is clear, notes a commentator.  The who fid it and how, why it happened and motives behind it, are animatedly discussed.  As the news and opinion is gradually coalescing around a narrative and an identity, then towards measures that need to be taken to deal with the criminals and to prevent another tragedy.

Finally, there is the process of building consensus before acting.  When surprised by events, the Dutch talk things through and argue about meaning and response until they come to a shared agreement.  I remember how the ‘Polder Model’ governed our unexpected plant closure: there were daily meetings and discussion circles until everyone figured out how they all felt about it and what they would do next.  DSC07714 (1300x973)Then the conversations and meetings stopped and everyone started acting in concert with one another.  I expect that it will be much the same this time.

It’s one of those instructive cross-cultural moments when the differences in how societies process tragedies are really apparent.  The failure of the Times was not to document how the process was unfolding, locally and quietly, but to judge the differences though their own cultural bias.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Painshill bees and Bournmouth sunsets

‘winding down the weekend with a visit to the Bee Festival at Surrey’s Painshill Gardens, and a sunset stroll at Alum Chine, Isle of Wight glowing across the Solent.

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