Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Tadpole to Frog

Most of us have wondered at tadpoles ... why do their tails disappear as their legs appear? ... and how does that happen?

Last night I watched a movie suggested by a friend ... "Death by Design," described below.  It focuses on programmed cell death discussing the system of communication among the 50-100 trillion cells in our body.  One major point is that cells don't "just die," they receive a signal to die and have to take an action to set their death in motion.  Well now, this opens up a whole can of worms about who/what/how is doing that signaling ... who or what wrote the program?

And, it isn't just death that is operating on a program.  One segment of the movie talks about the life of a tadpole and the death of the tail cells that happens just as the new growth of leg cells begins.  The tail cells and the leg cells are signaled to start their engines ... one toward death and one toward growth.

One can be totally flummoxed by the beauty, mystery and symmetry of this system. Some sort of intelligence knows that a tail for fast swimming would make the tiny, unprotected tadpole more likely to survive tadpolehood, but in order to survive as a breeding frog, legs would be better.  Talk about intelligent design! (This is not intended to support the telelogical, anti-evolutionary theory of Intelligent Design.  While it would be hard to say that a creative force in the Universe does not exist ... it may look nothing like what we puny humans have designated "God.")

Back to cell death.  One statement in the movie explored the time line of development, saying that it took 3 billion years to develop from a single cell organism to a multi-cell organism.  I get impatient waiting for my tea water to boil, so this idea that it took so long to basically go from 1 to 2 is a little incomprehensible.

Watching the video below helped put that into perspective.  "One" wasn't just one free-floating, ignorant little cell.  The ones that survived were smart enough to find food, survive the conditions of the world around them, form into cooperative (although unconnected) groups and reproduce their little selves.  They developed a "tool kit" that prepared them for the shift to greater complexity.

In case you aren't completely befuddled by the beautiful complexity of life, consider these examples from Wikipedia on "Phenotopsis" (programmed death of organisms):

Mayfly – Adult mayflies have no functional mouth and die from malnutrition.[2]
Praying mantis – The male praying mantis ejaculates only after being decapitated by the female.[9]
Tick Adactyllidium – The initial food source of Adactyllidium tick larvae is the body tissues of their mother resulting in her death.[6]
Squid – Some male squid die immediately after mating. This provides an abundant food source for those predators that would prey on the eggs. [10]
Marsupial mice – Males die 2 weeks after reproducing from an overabundance of their own [pheromones].[6]
Salmon – Die soon after spawning.[11]

Septic shock – Infection by pathogens often results in death by sepsis. Sepsis, however, is not a result of toxins activated by the pathogen, rather it is directed by the organism itself. Similar to phenoptosis of E. Coli, this is a means to separate dangerously infected individuals from healthy ones. [5]

This seems to be enough food for thought on this beautiful morning on the Central Coast of California ... I'm off to see multicelled organisms in action on the beach.

More Info:

Death By Design/The Life and Times of Life and Times  (available from Netflix Instant Queue)
Pierre Golstein (Actor), Polly Matzinger (Actor), Peter Friedman (II) (Director), Jean-François Brunet (Director) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD
Death by Design, a witty, fast-paced documentary by Peter Friedman (working with French researcher Jean-Francois Brunet), concerns an unlikely but fascinating subject: programmed cell death. Taking us deep into the mysteries of cellular biology, Friedman reveals the arcane reasons why some cells suddenly and automatically kill themselves, apparently triggered by signals from surrounding cells. Friedman employs some impressive, microscopic cinematography, but he knows most people are not inclined to look at the building blocks of life even for an hour. So he makes clever, allegorical use of other bits of film--clips of cars driving on the freeway, animation, Busby Berkley musical numbers, Harold Lloyd--to underscore the major points. Wonderfully entertaining and enlightening, Death by Design makes the invisible a thing of kinetic beauty.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Democracy Is Coming to the USA

I don't often post music videos but this one from Leonard Cohen has haunted me for the past few days. As we enter a time of even more active political turmoil, I'd like to remind myself and others that "Democracy is coming to the USA."

 Of course, democracy is already here but it's also still coming.  One hundred years ago neither women not African Americans had the right to vote.  Sixty years ago, "separate but equal" was good enough for our children.  Forty years ago, young women were dying as the result of back-alley abortions.  Yesterday we took a step toward making health care available to the least powerful in our society.

Leonard Cohen, a Canadian, makes a powerful statement and tribute to his adopted country.  There are so many powerful words in this song that I've posted the lyrics below.  And, may we remember these particular words as we enter the political conversation leading up to the election:

and it's here the lonely say 
that the heart has got to open 
in a fundamental way: 


It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Obsession: Inspiration or Sabateur

It's a slow morning here in SLO country.  On the way to walk Missy ... on the way to clean the car ... on the way to organize my photos ... I stopped to read Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology ... and fell into a thought.

Here's what Rob says this morning:
What is your most hateable and loveable obsession, Sagitarius?  The compulsion that sometimes sabotages you and sometimes inspires you?  The longing that can either fool you or make you smarter?  Whatever it is, I suspect it's beginning a transformation.   Is there anything you can do to ensure that the changes it undergoes will lead you away from the hateable consequences and closer to the loveable stuff?  I think there's a lot you can do.  For starters:  Do a ritual -- yes an actual ceremony -- in which you affirm your intention that your obsession will forever after serve your highest good and brightest integrity.
This set me to thinking ... what obsession? What both inspires and sabotages me?  I can think of several in each category but one that does both? ... that's tricky.

So on the beach walk ... which was glorious ... it came to me in a surprising flash ... IDEAS!  At first I thought, "that's crazy!" but then realized the truth of the insight.  I love ideas ... mine, yours, anyone's ... I love the purity of potential that comes in every tiny lightbulb package.  I love the mystery of untangling the threads and weaving them into a new pattern.  Ideas definitely inspire me ... but they also sabotage me ... luring me into dead ends, pulling me away from ideas I've already committed to, dangling new possibilities in front of me like bright, shiny toys.

There is a particularly seductive pull of new ideas ... they are always perfect, always fresh and perky, always young.  During the first blush of their very untested innocence, there is a mental high of power and success.  Failure is not an option because reality has not dusted over the shine.  And that's how the door to sabotage opens.  Committing to taking an idea into the world means facing reality, seeing the wrinkles and blemishes up close, learning how to deal with the imperfections, how to polish the idea so that it still shines but with a deeper luster.  

It's during this post-fantasy period when the work is getting hard, that ideas take up their sabotage act.  A new one sashays through the door and purrs, "Look at me.  I'm bright, shiny and perfect. Come play with me."  I have a pattern of following that siren call.

So, if that's the obsession, what's the ritual?  

I have a vase made of glow-in-the-dark glass ... it's really incredible and glows almost all night long.  So I've written out the last three ideas that have come my way on index cards and I'm going to put them into that vase and let that light charge them with the intention of "serving my highest good and brightest integrity."  When I am ready to commit to a new idea, I can pull out those cards and see which one carries the brightest "charge."  And, while I'm working on implementing an idea, if another siren song starts playing, I can write it down on a card and put it into the idea vase until I'm ready to make a commitment to a new project.

So that's the word from the central coast on this Saturday morning.

About this image:  Strawberry Wizard

I think I've been eating too many strawberries!

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Yesterday I went to Cambria, a quaint, artsy beach town about an hour north of here.  When I saw a man working on a huge piece of redwood, I stopped and asked if I could take pictures.  He said yes and we wound up talking about a lot of things including the huge piece he was finishing for a Canadian buyer.  The piece is intended for the entry-way of the house now being built.  One can only imagine what the house must look like.

I was fascinated by the contrast in color from the lightest blond to the deep red with swirls and patterns embedded in both.  The light was just right and I fell into the patterns as I took endless pictures not only of this piece but the many other pieces that were waiting to be worked on.

There are many images that I know will be useful in future collages ... but there is one that I'll never be able to use in a collage.  One that takes my breath away ... some how, some way, it is perfection ... an image that could never be part of something else because it is whole in and of itself.  

I did not take this picture.  It was given to me.  I call it "Holy."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Want to Be a Mockingbird

I must have birds on my mind this morning … this came on my morning walk.  It has been quite awhile since poetry "just showed up," so I was delighted at its appearance.

I Want to Be a Mockingbird

I want to sing a hundred songs
And learn new songs every day
From the birds around me,
From the cell phones ringing,
From the freight trains rumbling,
From the brooks gurgling.

I want to be a mockingbird.

I want to wake up at three o'clock 
in the middle of the night
and sing so joyously
that everyone around me feels it
and knows that the music of the Universe
swirls around them and invites them
to sing their own songs.

I want to be a mockingbird.

I want to be a mockingbird.

I want to be  … a mockingbird!

About this image:  Autumn

This is part of the Seasons of the Heart series inspired by the Gaultier exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.  The rest of the series can be see at

Life Directions

Yesterday a friend installed my weather vane so the eagle flies.  It's one of the last symbols of my relocation, a multi-layered icon of significance.

Richard studied with a shaman the last few years of his life and the eagle was his totem.  The last house we moved into had this weather vane on the roof so when I left, I took it with me.

I like having something that tells me "what direction the wind is blowing" literally and metaphorically.  Combined with my GPS, which tells me what direction I'm going, this clarity should make decisions in my life become easier.

Animal medicine states:  Eagle medicine is the power of the Great Spirit, the connection to the Divine. It is the ability to live in the realm of spirit, and yet remain connected and balanced within the realm of Earth. Eagle soars and is quick to observe expansiveness within the overall pattern of life. From the heights of the clouds, Eagle is close to the heavens where the Great Spirit dwells.

How perfect is that!  A constant reminder to stay grounded while being able to see all around me and continuing to walk in spirit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coyote Universe

Coyote is a trickster whose tricks often leave us baffled and feeling victimized.  But, Coyote is also a teacher so his tricks can lead us into new insights, new ways of responding, new understanding of our selves and the world around us.

The circumstances that yesterday led me to feeling like Charlie Brown was a trick of the Universe.  Literally.  I was in the midst of a rather sensitive email exchange with an old friend when communication stopped.  

We had had issues such as this in the past, so I picked up the Charlie Brown metaphor and ran with it ... or perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that I laid down and wallowed in the victimhoodness (!) of it.  Rather than pick up the phone and ask what was going on, I became a righteous victim.  I took it personally and that blocked my ability to act with clarity and intent.

It turns out that, due to a technical glitch, my emails were being sent but not received ... which was creating the same Charlie Brown feelings on the other end.  Fortunately, not understanding why the communication had stopped ... and after reading yesterday's blog post ... my friend reached out to ask what was going on.   We still haven't figured out how or why the emails dropped into a black hole when they had been working perfectly, but it almost caused a serious break in a friendship that is important to both of us.

After thinking about this for awhile, it reminds me to turn back once again to The Four Agreements:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  2. Don't Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don't Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.

I've always struggled with #2 but this incident makes me realize how much work I still have to do on #3.  The good thing that has come out of this is that we are both more confident in our friendship and have agreed to do a reality check before going "Charlie Brown" again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Charlie Brown, Lucy and the Football

I think of myself as a sane person.

But then, Charlie Brown probably thought he was sane when every fall his thoughts turned to the glory of a magnificent kick into the end zone.  

Lured by Lucy's promise to hold the football so his fantasy can be fulfilled, time after time he falls into her trap and winds up on his backside.  Lucy is a master of deceit ingeniously finding new ways to be trusted.  Charlie Brown is starry-eyed, desperately wanting to believe her and live out his dream.  This gag went on year after year ... probably because we all recognize ourselves in the scenario.  Probably because we all think we're a little smarter than Charlie Brown and we won't fall for "it" one more time.

June 17th is my chosen "death day."  We all know and celebrate the day we are born but we don't know the day we will die.  So, I've chosen June 17th as my death day since it is half a year away from my birthday.  Every year I try to give up something that no longer serves me.  I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to let go of this year but finding it difficult to identify what needed to be released.  

Then the Universe revealed a pattern ... a pattern of trusting something or someone who has already proven to be a shimmering mirage ... a pattern of wishful thinking blocking my perception of reality.  

It's tricky ground though.  

As an advocate of possibility thinking, I believe things always live in the realm of the possible.  One day Lucy might actually choose to hold the football and Charlie Brown might actually get the kick of his dreams.  So that dance between being open to new outcomes and insanely expecting a different result from doing the same old thing can be a little toe tangling.  

I don't believe it's about giving up the dream ... but more a matter of creatively thinking about new ways to support it.  After all, Charlie Brown could have asked Linus to hold the football.  He could stop expecting Lucy to be someone she's not.  He could invent a remarkable new holder and kick footballs until his toes tingled.  He could patent it and become rich helping children across the world fulfill their own dreams of the perfect kick. ...

So, on this approach to the anniversary of my death day, I prepare to let go of misplaced trust ... but not the dreams behind it.

About this image:  Dreaming of Home

One of a new series of "glimpses."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Artist Influence Map

I discovered this exercise a few days ago and really enjoyed creating an influence map for myself.  If you would like to make your own, here's a link to a Photoshop template.

I'm going to create a Pinterest board of these so let me know if you make one.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Response to the Person Without Hope

It was one of those perfect mornings ... no wind, warm sun, blue skies and horses and riders on the beach to entertain flocks of photographers from two local photo clubs.  It's hard to imagine a more beautiful ... or a more hopeful day.  

Yet, when I returned to my car, there was a small, hand-written note taped to my door.  It read:

No, I don't have hope.  In the most evil, dishonest, corrupt and traitorous president and administration I have seen in my life.
And I have no hope in fools who cannot tell their left hand from their right hand.  "There are none so blind as those who refuse to see."

I have hope that soon you leftist communists will be no more and the world will not have to suffer under your lies and oppression.

I don't know who left the note but I've made some assumptions in my response to her, although I know there is virtually no possibility that she will ever see it.

Dear Without Hope:

You sound like a well-educated person whose life has not gone the way you wished or expected.  I am truly sorry that on this glorious day, on this beautiful beach, in this amazing country, you feel no hope.  If we were to meet in person, I would listen to your story and perhaps understand how our country has so disappointed and angered you.  

Somewhere in our past a great divide opened up among our people, a divide that has broken trust and dissolved our faith in our ability to work together for the common good of all.  We no longer think of ourselves as Americans one and all, us ... US ... the U.S. ... the United States ... but rather subdivisions of rightness or wrongness ... "they."  

"They" are Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, Tea Partiers, radicals, communists, fascists ... "they" are evil, stupid, corrupt, and tellers of lies.  It breaks my heart that, even though we have never laid eyes on each other, we cannot see ourselves as fellow citizens of a great country, citizens who might have differences of opinion but share a common heritage, culture and future.  It breaks my heart that so many of us have lost hope.

So, while we will not meet in person, I will hold hope for you, for me, for the rest of the people in our country and the world around us ... and for the common future that binds us all together.  May blessings come to us all.

The offending bumper sticker:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ideas Not to Miss: $100 Graduate Degrees

What happens when a product becomes so expensive to buy 
that only the favored few can afford it?  
What if that too-expensive product also 
requires an enormous outlay 
of time and effort to even get to its distribution point?  

And, what if after all that expense and effort, 
the product itself doesn't do the job?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something is drastically wrong with our higher education system.  But it does take a genius to figure out a better way to deliver a cheap, effective process that allows open minds around the world to gain the knowledge they need to grapple with today's extremely complex problems.  Enter Sebastian Thrun ... Stanford professor, disrupter par excellence, inventor/champion of self-driven cars, Google fellow and developer of Udacity, where 23,000 students recently finished a course in artificial intelligence taught by Thrun and Google research chief Peter Norvig. 

Thrun believes that the very concept of degrees may evaporate as the idea of education as a "package" is replaced by a need for continuous learning.  Thrun's Udacity isn't the only online learning venture addressing this issue but all of the others are connected to major universities ... a help and a hindrance.  

Students want the credibility that comes from doing work under the auspices of a name-brand university and top professors.  But those universities have a lot of bricks and mortar to defend ... will they be able to see these new ventures as a natural evolution ... or will they water down the online offerings  in order to protect the expensive tuition-based programs already in place?  

If the experience of other industries holds, chances are the future of education is more likely in the hands of people like Thrun than in our heritage institutions such as Harvard.  It will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Expecting Growth

Gaultier Umbrella
"Not everything that can be counted counts 
and not everything that counts can be counted."
-- Albert Einstein

Yesterday, my friend Diane at Contemplative Photogrqphy talked about growth and it reminds me of one of my favorite books:  George Land's "Grow or Die."  Despite having a fog-factor of 37, it is a remarkable book proving the premise of its title.  Unfortunately, our measuring stick for growth is almost always:  bigger … more … most.  

And, since what can be measured … money, speed, time, grades, votes, square footage, and anything else that can be turned into numbers … is what we usually focus on to determine growth, we wind up in a numbers race.  Which leaves all those fuzzy, squishy things like love, relationship, joy, beauty, compassion and wisdom, truth, peace, justice and goodness left behind in the murky, unmeasurable "out there."

And, maybe that's good.  Can you imagine if the folks who designed "No Child Left Behind" got their hands on relationship … or beauty?  You must kiss your spouse four times per day and plant three azalea bushes (color balanced to coordinate with surroundings) in your front yard.  And, next year, because growth is good, you will increase those numbers to five for kisses and four for azaleas.

What interests me this morning with this idea of growth, however, is personal.  Having reached the age of "retirement" and official entrance into senior-dom, it seems as if the expectation of growth has ended.  The thought has occurred to me several times in the recent past that I could stop … just stop … and no one would reach out and shake me and say, "What's wrong with you?  Get off your butt and get going.  You've got things to do and worlds to conquer."  They would just nod, perhaps give me a gentle hug and murmur something about enjoying my golden years. Well, excuse me, but F**K that.

Until our ashes blow away over our favorite vista, we should be expected to grow.  The modes might change and maybe we'll move away from all the numbers games, but we need to expect ourselves and our fellow seniors to grow.  Regardless of our physical or economic condition, we can pour kindness and love into the world.  We can continue to learn and find new ways to experience joy.  We can expect ourselves to wake up each day and contribute our hard-won wisdom to the world in small ways or large.  

We can expect to be a force for good in the world.  Our generation started out thinking we could change the world … maybe we still will.  Perhaps it starts with expecting it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Reflection of Time Past

An old memory surfaces
Throwing reflections across my heart
Then. Now. then. now. thennow it beats
until it becomes not time, notime, just is time.

nothing is ever lost
nothing is ever gained
all that is remains.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Dancing Light

The Dancing Light

If you can touch it, it's real ... or is it?

If you cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell it,
      it's not real ... or is it?

Science tells us that most of what we are ... 
     most of what everything is ...
     is empty space ... 
     at least, right now,
     we think it's empty.

Mystics tell us that we are all connected ... 
     that everything is connected ...
     perhaps what links us all together is that space ...
     and, perhaps, it's not so empty.

Recent experiments in quantum physics revealed ... light ...
     light emitted from all cells ...
     perhaps that empty space is actually filled with light.

We know that each of us, everything in our world,
      is made up of the dust that came from stars ...
     We are stardust that became living, breathing creators of "reality" ...
     perhaps that empty space ... that space that is really light ...
     is the life force we call creativity.

If everything is connected ... 
     from the light bulb above your head ...
     to the dog walking by on the street.

If everything is filled with hidden light ...
     then your light dances with my light 
     and both of us dance in the light of trees.

If that hidden light is the creative force that surges through all of us ...
     And, if each of us is connected in the great web of life,
     then the artwork you see around you is as much a part of you 
     as it is the artist who birthed it ... your viewing it, enjoying it ...
     is one moment in the link that connects us all.

Please enjoy YOUR art  ...
     and the river of creativity that flows through each of us.

(c) Joyce Wycoff, 2012