April Downdate

April, T.S. Elliot famously wrote, is the cruelest month. Like an inconstant lover perhaps, at least in the northern climes, it teases with hints of warm days to come, then retreats to separate quarters, letting the cold slip back again. Even without the early Crocus and Skunk Cabbage, the sweet smell of burning wood and steaming Maple vats mingles with the sour earth’s decay that begins its thaw.

So with that lovely imagery, perhaps its good to write about some of the goings on – it feels like years since I’ve sat to gather my thoughts. But reading through the regular musing of my high school classmate Ben Byerly, I was inspired to sit and muse a while this early day, and so here I offer April’s “downdate.”

  • The Onion River Exchange, who I have a fundraising contract with, launches this month. This is a great local initiative to match people’s free time and skills with needs in the community. One part volunteer effort and another part social network, ORE will be really interesting to watch: both around the kinds of services that people exchange, any concrete impact(s) it can have in key areas (social capital, poverty reduction [well, alleviate some of the stresses of being poor], and breaking the isolation of aging populations).
  • Green Mountain Film Festival wrapped at the end of the month. Despite being able to contribute artwork and volunteering as host for several films, I end this year’s festival with a sense of not having contributed very much, and asking myself whether I’ll do it again. It’s expensive to volunteer these days, and the weekly drive into Montpelier seems wasteful. And ultimately the film selection, while all very intelligent and important works, don’t speak to the range of films that I find exciting and enjoyable.
  • Writing continues at a bottom-scraping pace, encumbered with all kinds of distractions and side projects. If they say the mind has limited capacity, I’m living proof. So to some extent keeping on top of the deliberative democracy field with the monthly ebulletin I put together. And writing a book chapter with Robert Cavalier of Carnegie Mellon on a book chapter, “Deliberative eDemocracy.” Also had the opportunity to wrote some memo’s for AmericaSpeaks around ways to improve the current federal strategy to engage the U.S. public around nanotechnology issues.
  • The job hunt continues. While I find all kinds of ways to keep busy, they don’t necessarily pay the bills – which, fortunately, are not yet mounting (thanks in greater part to my dear wife’s stronger income-earning power). Despite a promising round of interviews with Doctors Without Borders, that web development position in New York didn’t pan out. My strengths are definitely on the design side, though I enjoy CMS customization. The search continues…
  • Peace Tiles remains an exciting area for community involvement. River Arts in Lamoille County has invited me to run a series of workshops with senior citizens. Later this month I’ll present Peace Tiles and run a workshop at Ithaca’s Greening the Arts symposium. The Vermont Commission on National and Community Service has invited me back to their May national conference to run a session. A group of us will present at the Global Health Council’s annual conference in Washington, DC in May. And of course, the Twinfield project continues. This weekend we’ll be applying a gloss coat to the surface of the tiles, sorting and mounting them for final mural composition.
  • And my own artwork and experiments continue. These days, I’m working to develop the right proportion and cutting techniques to produce “pop out” boxes with textured surfaces that I like to think of as “urban portals” – a window on urban textures one can find when you pass popular places for postering, leafleting and billeting. Those accumulated layers of texture, grime, and color all sanitized and made suitable for white walls. I’m hoping these would appeal to decorators, architects, and others as ways to create vibrant, dynamic surfaces that both please without distracting – that balance of presence without dominance in a functional spaces, though I’m thinking particularly of transitional spaces, for example lobbies, hallways, foyers, etc.
  • On the friends update, dear one Karla Yoder sends a link to a Washington Post Op-Ed on her work in Zampia while good Peter sends a long reflection on life in Macedonia and tense relations with Albanians on the eve of Kosovo’s independence.
  • On my recent reading list, “The Shia Revival” by Vali Nasr, “Caucusus” by Nicholas Griffin, and “In the Rose Garden of the Martyr’s” by Christopher de Bellaigue (my personal favorite).

That’s about it on the productiveness side of life’s accounting. Family continues to be a joy, though it seems our extended circle is so far-flung, as it grows. Much of that is a function of being tucked up here in Vermont, and at the same time its the status quo for us and much of contemporary life in the Western world.

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