Monday, August 31, 2009


Last Monday, I took the subway and the train and the ferry to get to Block Island, Rhode Island.

I didn't sleep the night before we left. And I didn't sleep the first night we were there. It was like I knew on some level that something big was about to happen.

On the third day into the vacation, Mike and I took a morning bike ride. We stopped mid-ride at Mohegan Bluffs. That's where you walk down a steep bunch of stairs to a little beach. We walked to one end of the beach, where Mike sat on a big rock as I looked for little interesting rocks and shells in a tidepool-like formation.

After I found 3 little rocks I liked, Mike put his arms around me and said "Look, I found a pretty rock." I looked down at his hand and saw something sparkly. Somewhere in my brain, I think I knew what it was but my mind could still not wrap around it. "What is that?" I asked. I kept looking at it, and it started to sink in. It was a diamond ring. All I could figure out to say was "It's so pretty!" and then cry and then say "It's so pretty!" and then cry and then..........well, you get the picture.

"You make my life better," said Mike.

I could barely focus on the walk back up the steep stairs and on the bike ride back to the rental shack. I was in total shock.

When we got back to the lobby of the inn, I told Raoul, the manager, that Mike and I were engaged. Every time we told the news to someone on the island, they would express open delight.

We both welled up when we called our folks.

It was fun texting and calling our friends from the ferry and train ride back.

Now we're back home and thinking about festivities. I looked in a free wedding guide I picked up at the Y and laughed at photos of men in tuxes smoking cigars and brides sporting bouffant hairdos teased high enough to block out the entire sun. Yeah, I don't think we're going to be going that route. It'll be fun figuring out how to create some memories that reflect who we truly are.

Anyway, please join us in celebrating!


Sunday, August 23, 2009


Mike and I are going on vacation. Yay! We are going to Block Island.

So no posts from me until after next week. Here are some posts you can look forward to:

* An interview-based article with Lynn Bound, Executive Chef at the Museum of Modern Art

* An interview-based article with Shadra Strickland, a children's book illustrator who recently won The Ezra Jack Keats Award, and The John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

So, dear readers, see you in September! In the meantime, please feel free to browse these other profiles and bits of inspiration:

Meet Kevin Clash, The Man Behind Elmo

Taja Riley, Rising Dance Star

Meeting Eva Zeisel

I Love Text (a post about MOMA which appeared in a New York Times blog)

Atiba Edwards: Leading the Way in the Nonprofit Arts World

Petra Symister: Local Blogging Heroine

Halima and Rachida

Dogs Make the World Go ‘Round

Meeting Eva Zeisel

I Love Text (a post about MOMA which appeared in a New York Times blog)

Atiba Edwards: Leading the Way in the Nonprofit Arts World

Maira Kalman, Creative Heroine

Monday, August 17, 2009


Written by Ali Hale in her blog Aliventures

(Photo taken by me, Eleanor, because dogs know about the importance of just being)

If you’ve been reading blogs for a while – especially in the personal development sphere – you’ll have come across a lot of posts about productivity. There are entire blogs devoted to this subject: complete with tips, tricks, systems and hacks to help you become more productive.

But does productivity really give us more? Does it make our lives better? What are the costs of productivity? What are we losing when we try to squeeze more “doing” into every day?

The Smugness of Productivity
Have you ever had a really productive day and felt smug? I don’t mean the quietly satisfied feeling of having done your best and achieved something important to you – but the feeling of being better than all those unproductive people around you.

When I’m honest with myself, I realise there’s an strong element of smugness in my desire to be productive. In an online world where other people’s outputs and achievements are clear to see (or being boasted about), it’s easy to get competitive. Once I wrote ten blog posts in a day. I didn’t especially enjoy it (I was pretty exhausted and “written out” by the end) … but it meant I could brag on Twitter: seven posts done, eight posts done…

I’d like it if I didn’t feel that way. I’d like to be able to say that my occasional over-focus on productivity is a pure, noble one, aimed only at making sure I create as much value as I can.

The productivity world invites a certain holier-than-thou attitude. I’ve been working through Dave Navarro’s 30 Hours a Day recently, an excellent programme, but it does bear a taint of smugness: encouraging the listener to feel that they’re better and stronger than the general mass of humanity who won’t even make it the whole way through a productivity audio program. The very title, “30 Hours a Day” put me off getting the program for a good while: it smacks of this smug productivity culture, suggesting the real super-humans of the productivity world should be cramming an extra six hours of productive work into an already packed day.

(I’m being very one-sided here; the 30 Hours a Day program is excellent, on the whole, and I’ll write a much more balanced review at some point!)

So what’s the problem here? Firstly, no-one likes a smug git (and a lot of people probably secretly think you’re a bit sad). Secondly, if you find yourself trying to be more productive than your partner, colleagues or Twitter followers, your obsession with productivity is likely to be poisoning your relationships – and your own mental health.

Productivity Damages Relationships
In my article on Are You Too Efficient To Be Effective, I quoted Stephen Covey’s words “You simply can’t think efficiency with people.” The danger of productivity is that, for many of us, it’s aligned with a narrow focus on efficiency. We measure our productivity by the out-dated standards of the industrial revolution: it’s all about widgets cranked. (Or blog posts written, or the word count on our novel, or the pure-as-untrodden-snow state of our empty inbox.)

I believe that we can be deeply productive in our relationships: a strong relationship with relatives, colleagues or friends doesn’t just bring joy and meaning into our lives, it can also be a powerful opportunity for greater creativity, greater fruit, than we could ever produce alone. As a friend, mentor, teacher or parent, we help people to grow and flourish – one of the most powerful things we can do.

But an obsession with productivity for productivity’s sake can sour your relationships – with the colleagues who interrupt you, the housemates who distract you, the partner and kids who need your time and attention. If that’s how you find yourself thinking, it might be time to redefine what productivity really means:

If you’re ever trying to balance being productive with hanging out with your kids, it’s time to reevaluate how you’ve framed ‘productivity’. Being a good parent is one of the most meaningfully productive things you can do.

(Charlie Gilkey, Being a Good Parent is Being Productive, Productive Flourishing)

Does Doing More = Happiness?
We all want to get the most out of our lives. Once we’ve satisfied our basic material needs (food, a place to live), we start seeking more: loving relationships; activities which we find deeply satisfying; a purpose in life; fulfilment. A desire to be productive can grow, healthily, from this: our time on the earth is limited, and we want to make the most of it.

But we so often seem to get it wrong:

Our aim to be more productive and increase efficiency can often lead to obsession. We confuse achievement for happiness. Our happiness should be the inspiration for achievement, not the other way around. When our happiness is found in achievement, we get sucked into constantly putting our happiness in the future.

(Jonathan Mead, The Cult of Productivity and the Art of Purposeless Living, Illuminated Mind)

Productivity is all about “doing”: being productive means different things to different people, but all of these involve some end result, whether it’s more money in the bank, more words on the page, or dinner on the table.

Mental health, and spiritual and personal growth, involve “being”. Your character may be revealed through what you do … but the essence of your character is who you are. If you’ve ever tried to grow, to really change and develop who you are, you’ll know that it can be the hardest, most painful – and most worthwhile – work that you will ever do.

I still have a long way to go. I find it very easy to focus on “doing” instead of “being”. I shy away from the real challenges, because I’m so often lazy and afraid. But I’ve seen others take the brave, high, long path in their own lives, and their courage is inspiring. (If you want an example, go and read Joely’s blog, In These Heels? or read about Trent’s financial meltdown and subsequent turn around, or read about Peter’s year of change.)

Productivity is the Easy Way Out
Feeling “productive” can be an easy way to feel that like a good, valuable, useful person, someone who contributes a lot to the world (even if what we’re actually doing isn’t all that significant). It’s like a short-cut to feeling fulfilled – the equivalent of turning to junk food when we’re hungry.

Demonstrating our productivity to others can win us praise. We might even feel that we’ve won a competition, that we’re better than others. This is caused by a cultural paradigm of business, doing more, multi-tasking and efficiency that’s hard to escape:

Because “doing a million things” is impressive. “Doing less” smacks of weakness.

Because “optimizing” sounds intellectual. “Simplifying” sounds like you’re copping out.

If you’re not “too busy” these days, you must be doing something wrong - and while that’s bullshit, that’s still the way our culture sees things.

(Dave Navarro, Goal Addiction and the Cult of Productivity, Rock Your Day)

We get hooked on ticking tasks off a list, because they give us that quick rush of satisfaction. We get obsessive about our work, not only because we enjoy it, but because we feel that “hard” work makes us a better person. The problem is, it’s often not really “hard” – it’s easy drudgery that lets us avoid facing up to things we’d rather not think about: a failing relationship, an unhealthy lifestyle, a chronic lack of self-esteem, dark thoughts we’d rather deny.

Productivity Means Avoiding the Hard and Important Things
Productivity can be an escape. It lets us avoid reflective time. We cut out prayer, meditation, journaling, walking, daydreaming, simply allowing ourselves to “be” … all in the name of productivity. It gives us a convenient excuse to avoid the truly hard work of learning to love ourselves for who we are – and using that love to foster a genuine desire to grow, to become the person who we know we can be.

However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.

(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Productivity can become a mask for feeling empty and lost inside. It can hide a lack of self-worth. It can muffle the nasty little internal voice that whispers we’re not good enough, that tells us that if people really knew what we were like, they’d be horrified.

Productivity as a Mask: My Example
I know that, in my own life, I tend to throw everything into doing when there’s something deeper than needs tackling.

This most often manifest itself in a spiritual context. When my faith is at a low ebb, when I feel far from God, when life has turned a murky grey – I throw myself into church activities: lunches, committees, administrative work, organising things, even serving others. But there’s an emptiness to it. Perhaps I convince others that everything’s okay, and maybe I even convince myself, for a time. But there’s always a point at which I recognise that the doing is an excuse, and that what I need is something that’s much quieter, and much harder.

As with many of my posts on Aliventures, I’ve written this because I needed to read it myself. The process of thinking through and writing this over a couple of days has helped me to question my “productive” efforts, to take a hard look at why I’m using “doing” as an excuse to avoid the deeper questions and challenges. I’m pulling back, to take time to reflect, to journal, and to be. If this post struck a chord with you, if it echoed anything of your own experiences, I’d ask you to give yourself the time, space and freedom to do the same.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


My friend Symi Rom-Rymer's new blog is called Cultural Infidel: Unorthodox Musings from Both Sides of the Atlantic.

Says Symi of her blog: "I plan to dive in and discuss the intersection of culture, history, and politics as it relates to Jews and Muslims in Europe and the US as well as anything else that catches my fancy. I welcome and encourage your feedback and look forward to vigorous debate. Please note: all comments will be vetted before being posted. "

On the whole, Symi writes and blogs about minority issues in Western Europe and has had her work in several publications including JTA and The Christian Science Monitor. She received her master’s degree in French cultural studies from Columbia University’s Paris campus.

Monday, August 10, 2009



· The live exchange of ideas between all kinds of minds. (Good: Exchanging ideas via the internet. Much Better: Exchanging ideas in the flesh.)

· Accountability and structure.

· The opportunity to make relationships with new and interesting people that I may not have met in the course of my day-to-day routine.

· The chance to contribute to something greater than myself, while also moving forward in my own personal or professional growth.


· Even if the group is run via democratic processes, there still needs to be someone who is in charge of thinking about the overall functioning of the group and its members.

· Create a clear purpose or mission statement which you can always come back to when you are evaluating the group’s programs and activities.

· Model the “vibe” you want to create – e.g. as the facilitator, make sure you set a friendly, welcoming tone if that is the mood you want to foster.

· When beginning a group meeting, it’s useful to have a brief activity that allows people to clear their heads and get into the present moment. Sometimes, I’ll have people go ‘round the circle and say something good that happened between the last meeting and the one at hand. One time, when I was moderating a panel, I had audience members introduce themselves to the people sitting around them.

· Give credit where credit’s due. Make sure you publicly thank other folks who help you organize group activities, including meetings.

· When it makes sense, split members off into pairs or groups to brainstorm solutions to problems. Not everyone likes to talk in front of the larger group.

· When facilitating group meetings, make sure that members stay focused on generating solutions and strategies to problems or challenges, not on letting any one person vent at length about a personal issue. Otherwise, you run the risk of running group therapy (which is fine if it is actually group therapy!)

· When having group members brainstorm ideas or solutions, figure out a way to create safety for people. For example, set a ground rule of “No cross talk” – meaning no one can interrupt another person when she is talking or censor another person’s ideas.

· If certain individuals or groups within the group tend to dominate discussions, find some clever ways around that dynamic. When leading trainings for parent volunteers in the public schools, I would sometimes say “Who would like to speak that we haven’t yet heard from?” Often, the super-chatty folks would be silent – at least for a little while!

· Find a balance between theory and practice. At our most recent meetings for women artists and entrepreneurs, the facilitators implemented the agenda in this order:

1. A discussion about the particular challenges women face around being visible in the world

2. A brainstorming session, done in pairs, around strategies we could use (including social networking) to increase our visibility as artists and entrepreneurs

· End group meetings on a positive, upbeat note so folks want to come back next time! Have folks say what they found useful, or what they learned.


If, like me, you're already in withdrawl and mourning the end of So You Think You Can Dance, take heart! For America's Best Dance Crew premiered last night and wow, is the competition varied and interesting.

Southern Movement is a country western hip-hop group.
Vogue Evolution comes from the underground house/ballroom scene.
AfroBorike brings a Latin American flavor.
Artistry in Motion brings their creation: "contemp-hop"
Beat Ya Feet Kings do crazy fancy fast footwork to music heavy on drum beats

To see all the competing groups, go to the ABDC website.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


This article appeared in LaToya's Reality TV Blog on

Thursday August 6, 2009
So You Think You Can Dance has crowned its fifth winner!

Jeanine Mason, 18, waltzed away with the $250,000 prize and the title of America's Favorite Dancer on Thursday night. Jeanine's win came at the end of a fabulous finale, which featured encores of some of the judges' favorite performances from season five -- including the memorable addiction number choreographed by Mia Michaels and the touching breast cancer-themed routine choreographed by Tyce Diorio.

But the hot dance numbers weren't the only exciting part of the show. The eliminations also kept us glued to the screen.

Friday, August 07, 2009


This post is from The New York Times Arts Beat

Rocco Landesman Confirmed as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

By Robin Pogrebin
Damon Winter/The New York Times Rocco Landesman

The Broadway producer Rocco Landesman was confirmed by the Senate on Friday as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Landesman, 62, produced award-winning productions like “Angels in America,” “Big River” and ”The Producers” and has for more than 20 years been president of Jujamcyn Theaters, New York’s third largest theater owner.

Jim Leach, 66, a former Republican congressman from Iowa who is now a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was also confirmed as the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Both are expected to be sworn in sometime in the next few days. Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group, said the confirmations mark “a moment of great opportunity for our nations cultural agencies.”

In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Landesman said he was eager to get to work, which he planned to do on Tuesday. “It’s a daunting thing,” he said. “This historically has not been a great job — or not for a long time — and the challenge will be to make it one and to really accomplish something. There hasn’t been the financial commitment.”

Mr. Landesman takes over an N.E.A. that has been recovering from budget cuts imposed in the 1990’s in the wake of Congressional debate over whether controversial art was worthy of public funds.

“The N.E.A. is way behind the 1992 levels of funding,” Mr. Landesman said, referring to the year the agency’s funding reached a high of $176 million. “The funding level is almost invisible.”

Mr. Landesman’s predecessors, Dana Gioia and Bill Ivey, were known largely for repairing the N.E.A.’s image on Capitol Hill. Mr. Landesman said he hopes to continue good relationships with members of Congress, but he also has a reputation for shaking things up and he is already speaking his mind.

“It’s not easy in this climate with scarce dollars,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s a crisis among arts institutions because so many of them are going out of business or about to – it’s an emergency. Even the pathetic N.E.A. levels of funding will matter to a lot of these institutions and that funding needs to increase.”

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


I think about Jim Henson a lot. I feel his spirit around me. And I miss him. I love this photo of Jim playing Ernie and Frank Oz playing Burt. (Not sure who is playing Ernie's right hand.)

If you love Sesame Street and the Muppets, check out these other posts I've done based on in-person interviews and an in-person visit on the set of Sesame Street:

Monday, August 03, 2009


I met writer Paula Bernstein in a blogging class over at BAX (Brooklyn Art Exchange). Paula has launched a fun blog, Undomesticated Me, where she takes readers along with her on a personal journey to learn how to cook and clean.

Her blog features interviews, recipes, and anecdotes. It's friendly, fun, and informative!

Check out Paula's Q and A with me, a post called Clear Out the Clutter.

PS - Paula is the co-author of "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited," (Random House, 2007).