Paul Owen Lewis…….

grasper

If Joseph Campbell had written children’s books, I think his creations would have been a lot like those of Paul Owen Lewis.

Paul Owen Lewis writes books which urge his readers to follow their hearts, to embrace both the mystery and self doubt found there, and ultimately, discover the one path which is right for them alone.

Sometimes, Paul Owen Lewis’ characters hear the call to self from inside their own hearts and know it will not pass, or let them rest, until it is acknowledged.

Davy is a boy who wrestles with his dream to sail with orca whales.  An idea which is openly mocked by the old fishermen at the pier.  Instead of retreating from his dreams, Davy allows himself to be completely swallowed by them.  In return, he discovers how to make his dream come true and saves his life in the process.

Grasper is a crab who can’t ignore the pull in his heart for something bigger.  After Grasper molts for the first time, all of the other crabs warn Grasper to ignore his heart’s crazy thoughts.  These feelings will pass, advise the other crabs, once his shell and heart harden.

In the end, Grasper finds the courage to listen to his soft heart.  He scrambles over the rocks and discovers a huge world full of much larger risks and rewards.  After a few seasons, Grasper has grown bigger, large enough to match his new world.

In other cases, the characters from Paul Owen Lewis’ books heed the call to greatness from outside of themselves, and in order to survive, must welcome it with bravery.

Storm Boy goes fishing alone to gather food for his village.  A violent storm takes him to the bottom of the sea where he is welcomed by a great and mysterious people.

Unafraid, Storm Boy dances and exchanges stories with this wondrous clan.  Finally, when Storm Boy becomes homesick, the great underwater king transports him back to his family.  Storm Boy receives a hero’s welcome, and gladly shares the knowledge he gained during his adventure with his people.

Frog Girl listens to the frogs at the lake.  One day the frogs are silent and Frog Girl is sent on a special mission to rescue them.

She travels to the bottom of the pond, consults with a powerful frog spirit, survives a volcanic eruption, and in the end, rescues the missing frogs.

Most importantly, Frog Girl is given the hero’s opportunity to share with her people the sacred knowledge that all living creatures are kin and should be treated as brothers and sisters, not objects for cruel sport.

If Joseph Campbell were alive today, I can’t help thinking the books of Paul Owen Lewis would have been praised by Campbell–in much the same way as Star Wars was in the Power of Myth Series—as a superb examples of  new modern myths.

Paul Owen Lewis has created the stories which not only speak to our contemporary hearts, but provide guidance for our troubled times as well.  No small accomplishment, I would say.

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living…….

“It is critical to plan ahead and start building radically sustainable infrastructure capable of supporting future urban populations while the resources to do so are still available.  Instead of waiting for governments, corporations, or city planners to start being responsible, radical sustainability is about people taking initiative today.  Transformation from the ground up is our greatest hope for the future.” –Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, Introduction.

toolbox_for_sustainable_city_living

There are so many things I love about this book.

First off, It’s where I learned one of my new favourite phrase: radical sustainability, which perfectly describes the book’s gritty, let’s get on with it approach to changing the world.

Radical sustainability is all about starting small, and slowly closing the nutrient loops in our lives, as this passage from the book explains:

When designing a sustainable system, it is important to be mindful of the relationship of its components.  Many of the systems described in this book have yields that become the inputs of others.  For example, food scraps produced from garden vegtables can be put in a worm composting box, worms grown in the box can be fed to fish, whoses wastes (along with worm castings) can be used as nutrients by plants that can be used to generate methane gas.  Cycling nutrients throughout a sustainable system in this manner makes a closed loop.  Creating a closed loop minimizes the amount of external inputs needed for a system to function, and reduces the waste products that are exported.

Whether it’s keeping backyard chickens or diverting your food scraps to a worm box, radical sustainability starts with picking an activity that turns your crank, and then having the courage to  jump in, and give it a shot.

Who knows, through a bit of hard work, you may become master of the chicken yard–or worm box–and hunger for new challenges which, in turn, will further expand your urban homestead and close even more nutrient loops.

Heck, it’s even possible you might have a whole lot of fun in the process.

Good-Bye Studs Terkel…….

Talk about a one-two punch.

First, we loose Kurt Vonnegut to a fall, and now, Studs Terkel.

Not only is this a tremendous blow to American literature, but we have lost two of our nation’s greatest dissenters.  You see, both Mr. Vonngegut and Terkel believed democracy was more than a marketing gimmick, able to survive scrutiny and other external challenges.

The ever feisty Mr. Terkel even sued the Bush Administration for it’s illegal wiretapping of American citizens.  Studs explained his motivation in the New York Times:

I have observed and written about American life for some time. In truth, nothing much surprises me anymore. But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.

This comes in stark contrast to Sarah Palin’s views of what Constitutional freedoms are all about.  Palin believes the First Amendment should be used to protect the powerful against criticism arguing:

“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

Yeah, what ever you say Caribou Barbie.

You can learn more about the remarkable Stud Terkel by clicking here or here.

King Dork…….

"They call me King Dork……Well, let me put it another way: no one actually calls me King Dork.  It’s how I refer to myself in my head, a silent protest and an acknowledgment of reality at the same time."  -King Dork

King Dork

Being a dork is a universal trait.  Unfortunately, the dork factor is seldom appreciated in its infancy.

Both teachers and peers take any hint of dorkdom as a personal threat, proof that said dork has managed to break free from the accepted group think and might have the courage to question the established power structure.  Independence makes dorks the first target for ridicule, or much worst.

A few lucky dorks survive the awkwardness, and the beatings, to become successful adults–think Bill Gates–even less grow up to become bona-fide rockers.  To Frank Portman’s credit, he is a dork who can rock and write.

 Portman has penned a wickedly funny book which documents the mental and physical abuse which "the normals" fondly looked back on as the high school experience.

Think of King Dork as the handbook which should be bundled with each Freaks and Geeks box-set.

I’m guessing King Dork takes place in the 80’s.  It is a time without cellphones, My-Space or the Internet.  This is a world populated by kids soon to be labeled Gen-X and the smug boomers who fail to impress them.

If you grew up in broken schools reading The Catcher in the Rye–thinking the book was an over-rated let down–King Dork is calling your name.   Portman gleefully stomps on the long boomer shadow, and destruction, which is cast over the next generation.

In fact, King Dork sticks it to the greatest generation in a way that is both twistedly funny and long overdue.

In the end, though, the attempt to save the world by forcing people to read The Catcher in the Rye and dressing casually and supporting public television and putting bumper stickers on Volvos and eating only weird expensive food and separating your cans and bottles and doing tai chi and going to the farmer’s market and pronouncing Spanish words with a cartoon-character accent and calling actresses actors and making up your own religion and so forth-well, the world refused to be saved that way.  Big surprise.  On the other hand, no one could ever mistake Hilmont High School for a prep school, so at least you accomplished that.  I mean, calling it a school involves the kind of generosity of spirit that in other circumstances might get you the Nobel Peace Prize nomination or something.  You stuck it to the old man, killed half of your brain cells, and dumbed down the educational system: you are the greatest generation.

Out of Our Minds…….

"Rejection. That’s what makes a college great. The exclusivity of any university is judged primarily by the amount of students it rejects." -Dean Van Horne in the movie Accepted

out of our minds

Why do many of the brightest university students suffer from an "extreme intellectual precocity combined with a profound emotional immaturity?"  This was the question Oxford University psychologist James Hemmings asked after treating many of the most gifted students at Oxford.

Mr. Hemmings coined the term Oxford Psychosis to describe this phenomenon: hard working, academic achievers who paradoxically had failed to develop the most basic levels of emotional maturity.

Ken Robinson’s book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, traces the convergence of the many social and cultural forces which allow this type of unbalanced development to flourish.

But, Mr. Robinson is after much larger game. 

In 1990, Alvin Toffler predicted the emergence of the highly skilled, autonomous knowledge worker.  These employees would posses an ever expanding knowledge  base and take responsibility for making key decisions which could effect the financial health of their employer. 

Toffler described this new work as, " a continual cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning, workers need to master new techniques, adapt to new organizational forms, and come up with new ideas."

The rise of the autonomous knowledge worker is made possible by two powerful forces: the innovation imperative and the accelerating pressure of an advanced economy.  If a company expects to thrive or even survive, it must be the first to create new products and bring them to market before the competition.

Out of Our Minds makes the case for a new approach to education which develops the thinking skills needed by the autonomous knowledge workers of the future.  He believes everyone has the capacity to do creative work and it is shameful to waste so much human potential with an educational system designed to produce workers who are no longer valued in the work place. 

This is how Mr. Robinson sums up his important book:

In the interests of industrial economy and of academic achievement, we have subjected ourselves to a partial form of education.  We have wasted or destroyed a great deals of what people had to offer because we couldn’t see the value of it.  Along the way we have jeopardized the balance of human nature by not recognizing how different elements of our abilities sustain and enrich each other.  The dangers persist, and they are not yet widely understood..  Education and training are the key to the future, but a key can be turned in two directions.  Turn it one way and you lock resources away, even from those they belong to.  Turn it the other way and you release resources and give people back to themselves.  The companies, communities and nations that succeed in future will balance their books only by solving the complex equation of human resources.  Our own times are being swept along on an avalanche of innovations in science, technology, and social thought.  To keep pace with these changes, or to get ahead of them, we will need all our wits about us -literally.  We must learn to be creative.

The Great Unraveling…….

"Our economic problems are real, but by no means catastrophic.  What scares me is the utter inflexibility of the people who should be solving those problems." -Paul Krugman, The Great Unraveling, pg. 78

krugman

If you want to know where things started to go wrong for this country, Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling is a must read.

The Great Unraveling explains in a clear and entertaining fashion why understanding economics is vital to the health of this nation.  From the Enron scandal to Bush’s tax cuts, one of the central lessons of the book is this: the American public’s easy acceptance of fuzzy math has resulted in a wide range of difficult, but not impossible to correct economic fall-out.

Mr. Krugman is a pragmatist who recognizes the value of principled behavior and discipline –and understands that these characteristics are essential ingredients for a strong market and effective governance of private and public institutions.

It might be time for the rest of us to get on board.

Book Lust…….

Book Lust

Nancy Pearl is a bit of a cult figure in Seattle.  For a city known for its love of coffee, movies, and books, it would make sense to have one of its librarians celebrated with an action figure.  Seattlelites can be a slightly wonky bunch.

The nationally recognized program, "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" was her idea.  Nancy also reviews books for Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW and interviews authors on Seattle’s cable television network.  In addition, she has written two reader guides which tap her rich experience as a librarian and a life long lover of books.

Nancy Pearl is the rare person who has turned a passion into a career.  If the economy of the future is based on knowledge and imagination,  I think she is one person to watch.