Fighting for My Beliefs

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It’s still on my bookshelf: the paperback copy of Moby Dick (Signet Classic, 75¢) that I read while serving in the Army in Vietnam, indelibly stained with the red dirt from western edge of III Corps, along the Cambodian border, where I spent six months in the late 1960s. It is about the same latitude as Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and a tourist destination for many Americans.

I was a young man with liberal beliefs who went to a Quaker college. How did I end up in the Army, fighting in a war I despised? (read more…)

That Time I Policed a Woman’s Voice

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I recently read an article about “radical candor” in the workplace (the idea that supervisors should give very direct feedback to their team) that contained a shocking anecdote.

While at Google, a woman named Kim Scott gave a presentation to senior management. She was nervous, but overall felt the presentation had gone well and could tell that the owners of the company were pleased. But afterward her boss – who happened to be Sheryl Sandberg – took her aside to give her some feedback on her presentation style. At first Sheryl was gentle with her criticisms of Kim’s public speaking, but could tell none of it was landing. According to Kim, Sheryl finally said, ‘You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’”

At first Sandberg’s comment seemed startlingly direct to me, even offensive. But I realized that I’d done something similar to someone I used to manage. (read more…)

Oreo versus Art

Andy-Warhol-32-Soup-CansI recently sang about Oreos in a TV commercial.

I’m part of a band that’s had some recent success, which has been hugely exciting for me. I love music and consider being a musician a core part of my identity (not that I am fully supporting myself this way yet, Oreo commercial notwithstanding).  I genuinely enjoyed producing the Oreo spots, which might horrify some artists. Thinking about why an Oreo commercial might stir up negative emotions for others led me to question my work. Does my participation in this commercial affect the “purity” of my music as an art? (read more…)

Are Video Games Art?

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As a video game designer, I feel like I constantly have to defend the relevance of my chosen career. Yes, some people think it sounds cool and fun, but many – especially those born before 1970 – are disappointed to hear that this is what I do. Unlike writing or fine art, game design doesn’t have widespread cultural recognition as a valid form of art and expression. This has always bothered me and, at times, made me feel insecure about what people think about my work. Recently, I had a funny run-in with a capital-A-Artist that made me reconsider the whole question of whether games qualify as art.

I was taking a ferry to an island off the coast of Maine for a few days vacation away from game development. This was in late September, so school was in session and the tourists that swell Maine’s population every summer had thinned out. It was a warm fall day and there were no other passengers above decks, which meant – I thought – that I could relax with a book and forget about the world for a short while.

And then, before the boat had even left the dock, an old man climbed the stairs to the top deck, sat next to me, and asked me if I knew Nijinsky, the great Russian dancer. (I didn’t then, but I sure as hell do now.)

(read more…)

Inside the Mindfulness Machine

bridget-s-bardo by james turrell (mindfulness)

Working for an organization that teaches mindfulness has been profoundly disappointing.

Before I took the job (now 4 months ago), I had an idea that just by working there and being around mindfulness, I would automatically be more mindful. I thought this would be pleasurable personal growth, a painless process. I would would be a better person almost magically, like how Super Mario grows by jumping on a mushroom, with a perky trill in the background.

This is not how it’s worked. If anything, it’s the opposite. I’ve had to face that I am still the small Mario, that there is no magic mushroom, that work is still work. It is very disappointing to still be me. (read more…)