December 30, 2012

Eddie's Place

A lot of times, I find myself writing about ideas, or places.  People seem to get short shrift.  

But more so than where you are and what you are thinking, it is the people you know and meet and interact with that drive what your life is and becomes. 

We spent our holiday vacation in Mexico, and we met someone that I was inspired to write about.

First name, Eddie.  

Last name, unknown (doesn't matter).  

Eddie is of Lebanese descent, but lives and works in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, where he owns two restaurants.

He is a more-than-middle-aged man.  His physique is a bit like The Penguin of the Batman movies, with a substantive hooked nose and a bit of a rotund - though not imposing - figure.  A bottomless glass of wine is perched, permanently, in his right hand.  His oft-flushed cheeks and slight paunch in the middle are a visible proxy for a life well enjoyed.  He is a bundle of warmth and charisma.  
The restaurants, Eddie's Place and Por Que No?!, are both casual and delicious.  They are about 250 feet apart from each other, both with views of the Marina.  Eddie uses a red golf cart to move between them, taking turns sitting and chatting easily at the tables of his guests.  He loves what he has built.  He loves what he does.  He loves the people.  It comes through in the manner of speaking, the glint of his eye, and the irrepressable smile.
He is connected to his community.  The night we ate at Por Que No!?Eddie had a group of kids from the local community center, kids from broken homes, singing at his restaurant.  He was helping them out, so they could raise a bit of money for the center.  They sang sweetly.  He introduced them.  He sat back and watched them and smiled.  And it was good.

Eddie is important.  His is not a world of complex ideas.  He is not "famous."  Except in his small circle.  But all those who know him - quite clearly - are enriched.  And that is a wonderful and too rare quality.

December 20, 2012

December 17, 2012

Coming Together in Times of Tragedy

Artist:  Jeremy Collins.

From the Artist:

"The image speaks for itself.
The world mourns with you all.

As a parent of a kindergartner, I, like many have been stricken with grief over this week’s tragedy. 
My sketch was a response that I couldn't keep inside. 
I have had more requests for prints than I can handle in my small shop. 
I will be donating a portion of the proceeds to the families suffering as their needs become apparent."

To purchase cards/reprints click here

December 16, 2012

#PrayForNewtown - Trying to See The Light

I am so glad to be writing again.  Because there is inspiration and a need to speak, the think, to share everyday.  (Thanks to my mother, I'm somewhat of a serial sharer -- and the somewhat doesn't even belong in that sentence).

There are no words for yesterday's tragedy.  Just unthinkable.  But for the many times that this has happened.

I've turned to my friends and my community to try and help me understand.  What is wrong here?  What is going on?  Why is this type of mass scale gun violence in our schools unique to middle class suburban America?  This just doesn't seem to happen anywhere else.  And I just don't get it.

There will be discussions about gun control.  There will be discussions about security.  There will be discussions about caring for our mentally ill.

But now, at least for me, there is only deep sadness.  Pit in the stomach.  Tight hugs for my kids.  Tears.  And explaining and steadfastly believing that the good world we woke up to on yesterday morning did not transform into terror and evil during that Friday.  That its still good.  But that we have to work to make it so every day through our words, our actions, our relationships, and our character.

I went to synagogue this morning.  I want to share something from that service that speaks to me.  Now, I'm not usually an on-the-soapbox in-your-face with the religion type person.  I went to a religious high school, but I was the "come from public school kid;"  I'm conservative, not orthodox.  I consider myself to be spiritual as part of who I am, but as not outwardly devout or as observant as many.  To me, personally, religion is more about community and family and tradition and togetherness.

And this morning it was particularly wonderful being there in a community.  Focused on children.  And family.  And all that is good.  Sharing - without words - that for every parent, yesterday was amazingly difficult and emotional.

The week's reading included a verse of scripture that contained the words "Not by might.  And not by power.  But by spirit alone, shall we all live in peace."  The verse can be understood to mean that violence, fighting, and war are not the way . . . but human spirit - kindness, thoughtfulness, helping, understanding, reaching out across the divide - is what will get us to where we want to be.  (In my view, sometimes though, in this world, spirit alone is not enough.  And you also need might and power...)

The larger story I wanted to share from this morning comes from a very famous Rebbe, named Menachem Schneerson (The Lubavticher Rebbe).  It was written as a description of what it means to be a Jew, but I am going to take the liberty of paraphrasing, borrowing, and transposing to be about what it means to be a good person:

The student asked his teacher:  What does it mean to be a good person?

Teacher:  A good person is a streetlamp-lighter.  A streetlamp-lighter has a pole with fire.  He knows that the fire is not his own, and he goes around lighting all the lamps on his route.

Student:  But what if the lamp is in a desolate wilderness?

Teacher:  Then, still, one must light it.  Confront the wilderness and let the wilderness feel ashamed before the light.

Student:  But what if the lamp is in the middle of the deep oceans?

Teacher:  Then one must take off the clothes, jump into the freezing water.  And light it there.

Student:  And that is a good person?

Teacher:  Yes.  That is.

Student:  But Teacher.  I see no lamps.

Teacher:  That is because you are not yet a streetlamp-lighter.  To be one, you must cleanse yourself, become refined, so you can see the lamp in others.  The lamps are there, but they need to be lit.  Souls are in readiness to be lit.  Sometimes they are in front of our face.  Sometimes they are around the corner.  Sometimes they are in a wilderness, or at seas.  But there must be someone who rises above and goes out to put a light to these lamps.

(Shout out to Deborah, an inspirational person and fellow blogger, for telling this story with humor and beauty this morning, which allowed me to reflect and re-share it here).

December 12, 2012


Warning - rambling and possibly incoherent content ahead.  

So, this post is a bit different.  Its either really interesting, or a frightening look inside the bizarro workings of my mind.  ("I award you no points.  And may God have mercy on your soul")

"Sometimes I think my brain thinks life is just one big free association game. Or dream. Is it?"  

Sometimes things happen that make you realize how wildly interconnected the world is.  

The other day, I was exchanging messages on Twitter with a friend about the energy situation in the U.S. and prospect of converting to sustainable energy.  The gist of what I was saying was that we - in the U.S. - have to get there (for many reasons), but to do so we need investment and innovation in clean tech, as well as policies that provide incentives for this development.  I used Germany as an example, since - whether realistic/possible or not - Germany has announced a goal of being on 100% renewable (non-oil-based) energy by 2050.  

Within seconds, we both received a tweet from some random German thought leader/evangelist on the German sustainability energy transition.  He tweeted: "Thanks for the praise and thanks for spreading the word on #energytransitionde. #shootinghigh."  

My friend's somewhat shocked response to me: "Apparently German energy leaders know how to use Twitter!"   

Apparently (!)

In digesting our conversation and the unexpected entrance from our friend in Germany, my brain immediately flashed to this classic Simpsons episode:  

 Mr. Burns: "Ooh, the Germans are mad at me . . . ."
 Germans: "Stop it Mr. Burns . . . ."

I find this free association thing happens to me a lot.  Is it just me?  I don't think so.  

Being an au moderne guy (I like to think so, at least), I decided that I would try to get to the bottom of this free association business by, as they say, leveraging my social network to crowd-source the solution.  (Hipster!  Jargony!  Awesome!)  

...You know, so, I - like -  posted my above question on Facebook.

What follows is an excerpted version of the oh-so-very thoughtful comments I received in response on the matter from my readers
·            Kittens
·            Potato.  
·            Sour Cream.  
·            Spilled Milk.  
·            Crying.  
·            The Raiders lost again.  
·            Bo knows.  
·            Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap.  
·            Rappers delight
·            Gangnam style.

For me, anyway, this sort of free association exercise generally devolves into something buried in the lyrics from REM's Its the End of the World As We KnowIt (And I feel fine.)"vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling. pretty! psyched!!"

OK.  So you get the point.  It was a damned fine job by Team Facebook, but my social network didn't exactly address the underlying question:  Why do our brains work this way?  

One thought is that perhaps this the way that the collective consciousness communicates/finds common ground, by sharing and re-associating and connecting snippets of culture and humor and song over time.  Cultural references, internet memes, old Seinfeld and Simpson's quotes are, in a sense, the stuff that binds us.  A short-hand way for how we remember and relate our stories and our experiences.  "McKayla is not impressed" means the 2012 Summer Games.  In other words, culture -the idea space that bring us together- is just one big interconnected multi-dimensional web of associations.  When you look at it this way, the very cloth that weaves us together is made up of strings of associated cultural bits (music, books, ideas) across time.  

On a lower - and perhaps less cosmic - level, our brains navigate our memories through this type of "association game" as well.

One illustration of the memory aspect of these cultural rapid associations that comes to mind is from a book I recently read called Moonwalking with Einstein.  Moonwalking is about memory.  It is written by a reporter who was asked to cover the "Memory Olympics," an event where "memory athletes" compete in feats of memory, such as memorizing the sequential order of a deck of cards, the words to a poem, or a set of names matched with faces.  (From the book, memory athletes, appear to be a less dorky and more colorful bunch than one might otherwise think.)

What the author explains is that these are not people of unusual intelligence or people with photographic memories; rather, memory feats can be learned using tried-and-true ancient techniques.  The main technique described in the book involves associating often-humorous visuals with the particular items one is trying to commit to memory.  For example, the author used the image of the comedian Dom DeLuise hula-hooping to memorize the five of clubs, and other bizarre images to do the same for the other 51 cards in the deck.  In this way, through memorable imagery and/or humor, the subject you are memorizing becomes more firmly etched in your head: "By associating goofy or vivid imagery with something you're trying to remember, it becomes easier to summon it to memory."  Association, especially of the humorous or bizarre, is just the way memory works.

Another memory-related theme worth mentioning that is also touched on in Moonwalking is that, in these times of computers and smart-phones and Google, the way society measures intelligence has changed.  Long ago, in the pre-printing press days, the mark of intelligence was the ability to recall.  Stories were passed from generation to generation by bards, who committed them to memory.  Greek orators were famed for their ability to memorize speeches and recall myriad facts to support their debating point of view.  

Not so much today.  The printing press changed all that; it liberated our minds from being storage bins, to (theoretically) allow for more creativity/thoughtfulness.  (Whether that is true in practice is, of course, another story.)  

The Internet, computers and data storage changed this even more drastically.  Today we don't need to remember phone numbers.  They are in our phones.  We don't need to remember directions.  We can Mapquest it.  If we want to remember the closing line of the Great Gatsby, we can just search online.  Or ask our social network.  (Its "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.").  You don't have to remember the name of that book you read when you were twelve; you can Google it.  

(Surely one may debate the pros and cons of where we are at.  Because there is a trade-off.  You do lose something; because there is value in the looking.)

At any rate, today, one might argue, intelligence/being interesting/engaging is now measured more by (i) the ability to find and apply the stored information; and (ii) the ability to draw connections between it, and to be creative with it (to mash it up, if you will).  

Conveniently, our minds sharpen these skills by tirelessly playing the free association game.

December 10, 2012

We Are Back Blogging

Recently, I decided to dust off the old blog and continue writing.

Before getting up and running, I think that a why-did-you-stop-writing-and-why-are-you-starting-again type post is in order.  So here goes.

When we first started writing here, the concept was that it would be a travelog of our Japan adventure.  I'd always been a journal-keeper on big trips.  This seemed to qualify.  Also, we thought that it would be an easy way to keep in touch from the other side of the world.  Instead of remembering to share pictures and send emails to our family and friends back home, we could simply put them up on the Blog.  (It was like a structured Facebook before I joined Facebook.)

A few unexpected things then happened:

  • It was REALLY fun to write.  Life in Japan was a terrific adventure for the whole family.  Everything - even the mundane - was new and exciting.
  • Also, we realized we had readers.  Not just mom and dad.  Imagine our surprise when we realized that people besides our parents, family, and closest friends were reading.  Hello co-workers. Hello random people from Australia.  Hello ex-pats moving to Kobe who happened to find us.  (This worked out beautifully.  Among the people I consider my closest and best friends in the world are those we met through this blog.  Cosmic kizmet.)
As we have written previously, back in mid-2009 coming back was a difficult adjustment.  Life seemed well...routine in many ways.  Living in NJ suburbs, going on a trip to Costco - was that really blog-worthy?  The answer seemed to be no.  Not feeling it, we closed up shop.

It also seemed right to close that ex-pat chapter, and with it to close the blog.  Any anyway, when you turn something into a hard-cover coffee table book (highly recommend Blog2Print; they did an awesome job), that gives the distinct feeling of a closed chapter.

...But lately, I've started to get the itch again.  Sure, a trip to the super market may not get the adrenaline newness meter up as much as it did in Japan, but its unfair and actually incorrect that life is not interesting.  And that there are not worthwhile reflections and explorations.  There are.

So, yeah.  We're back in business.  If you're still out there reading....

December 3, 2012

Crowd-sourcing a List of "Classic Movies"

I am breaking the Kasdan Family Blog out of retirement to post the results of a request for some help picking out an awesome movie of our youth

“As part of our kids' ongoing education, we have been introducing Jacob (and Lauren) to the game-changing movies of our youth. To give you a sense of the category we have so far gone for, over the past years we done Short Circuit, Goonies, and Spaceballs.  What are your ideas for more "must see" movies from our youth!?"

Here are the results (in alphabetical order) from a host of our Facebook friends.  Yay crowd-sourcing!  Thanks to everyone for participating.  

I think its quite a list:

1.         2001: A Space Odyssey
2.         A League of Their Own
3.         Ace Ventura
4.         Adventures in Babysitting
5.         Akilah and the Bee
6.         Amadeus
7.         An American Tail
8.         Animal House
9.         Annie
10.       Apollo 13
11.       Back to the Future 1, 2, and 3
12.       Bad News Bears Movies
13.       Bambi
14.       Batteries not Included
15.       Beatlejuice
16.       Bedknobs and Broomsticks
17.       Ben
18.       Benji
19.       Better off Dead
20.       Big
21.       Biloxi Blues
22.       Black Beauty
23.       Blues Brothers
24.       Breakfast Club
25.       Breaking Away
26.       Brewster's Millions
27.       Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
28.       Cinema Paradiso (foreign)
29.       City Slickers
30.       Clash of the Titans
31.       Cloak and Dagger
32.       Close Encounters of the Third Kind
33.       Coming to America
34.       Crocodile Dundee
35.       Dead Poets' Society
36.       Die Hard
37.       Dot and the Kangaroo (foreign)
38.       Dumbo
39.       Empire of the Sun
40.       E.T.
41.       Fame
42.       Fandango
43.       Fantasia
44.       Ferris Bueller
45.       Field of Dreams

46.       Flash Gordon

47.       Flashdance
48.       Flight of the Navigator
49.       Footloose
50.       Ghost
51.       Ghostbusters
52.       Glory
53.       Good Morning Vietnam
54.       Goonies
55.       Gotcha
56.       Grease
57.       Grease 2
58.       Gremlins
59.       Groundhog Day
60.       Hackers
61.       Happy Gilmore
62.       Heaven Can Wait
63.       Herbie Goes Bananas
64.       Home Alone
65.       Honey I Shrunk the Kids
66.       Innerspace
67.       Jaws
68.       Jewel of the Nile
69.       Karate Kid Movies
70.       Kimba
71.       Labyrinth
72.       Lady and the Tramp
73.       Ladyhawke
74.       License to Drive
75.       Little Big Man
76.       Little Shop of Horrors
77.       Look Who's Talking
78.       Mannequin
79.       Mary Poppins
80.       Meatballs
81.       Memphis Belle
82.       Monty Pythons Holy Grail
83.       My Bodyguard
84.       My Cousin Vinny
85.       My Girl
86.       Naked Gun Series
87.       Never Ending Story
88.       Nightmare Before Christmas
89.       On The Right Track
90.       Overboard
91.       Parent Trap
92.       Parenthood
93.       Peewee Herman’s Big Adventure
94.       Planes Trains and Automobiles
95.       Pollyanna
96.       Poltergeist
97.       Princess Bride
98.       Raiders of the Lost Ark Movies
99.       Raising Arizona
100.    Real Genius
101.    Red Dawn
102.    Romancing the Stone
103.    Roxanne
104.    Sandlot
105.    Say Anything
106.    Searching for Bobby Fischer
107.    Short Circuit
108.    Six Pack (Kenny Rogers)
109.    Sixteen Candles
110.    Snoopy Comes Home
111.    Spaceballs
112.    Splash
113.    Stand and Deliver
114.    Stand by Me
115.    Star Wars Trilogy Movies (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
116.    Storm Boy (foreign)
117.    Stripes
118.    Superman 1 and 2
119.    Taps
120.    Teen Wolf
121.    The Big Blue (foreign)
122.    The Black Stallion
123.    The Boy Who Could Fly
124.    The Court Jester (with Danny Kaye)
125.    The Dark Crystal
126.    The Dead Poets Society.
127.    The Flamingo Kid
128.    The Great Debaters
129.    The Great Outdoors
130.    The Journey of Natty Gann

131.    The Last Emperor
132.    The Last Starfighter
133.    The Learning Tree
134.    The Man from Snowy River (foreign)
135.    The Man with One Red Shoe
136.    The Muppet Movies
137.    The Natural
138.    The Outsiders
139.    The Right Stuff
140.    The Secret of NIMH
141.    The Shaggy Dog movies
142.    The Three Amigos
143.    The Toy
144.    The Wizard of Oz
145.    Time Bandits
146.    Tootsie
147.    Top Gun
148.    Top Secret
149.    Trading Places
150.    Tron
151.    Turner & Hooch
152.    Uncle Buck
153.    Vacation
154.    Volunteers
155.    Wargames
156.    Weekend at Bernie's
157.    Weird Science
158.    What About Bob
159.    Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
160.    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
161.    Young Guns