The Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us. During those last dwindling days of heat nothing seems to happen.

When I was a child I used to think the dog days were awful. Boredom plagued me, there was nothing to do except play, no school, less friends around, etc. In hindsight, those were the best of times. Little did I know about the coming travails of work and responsibility.

Now when summer arrives I treasure those moments of doing nothing. You realize how important the down cycle is to your later performance, and you treasure July and August vacations.

Perhaps I reminisce too much this year because I took on publishing Exodus this August. There is little downtime. Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely thrilled, but the fog of exhaustion holds my mind and patience has worn thin.

An opportunity to rest is almost gone. John Lubbock wisely said, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

We’re going to try to steal some rest with a two week vacation at the end of September. Originally, we were heading to Scandinavia, but due to some mitigating circumstances we have decided to tour the southwest and see the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. When your kids are small and not required to attend school, this is a great time to travel. There are fewer tourists about. Everyone is back to business.

In some ways those missing travelers will be in a better place than me. Consider a marathon runner who suffers a nagging injury, yet decides to finish the race. Crossing the finish line and arriving to rest takes longer and is in greater need. I get that feeling right now. I am a bit envious of others who are enjoying the dog days of summer.

The Golden Light

Sans titre

Instinctually, we understand that the light changes throughout the year. When you learn to shoot a camera, you come to treasure and better understand light. You see how it impacts the world around you in the moment.

Now I pay attention to light with a photographer’s mind, and as a result, I remember things a little differently. The dog days of summer are no different.

August has a yellow quality to the light, a golden tinge. It’s a little softer than the harsh beating sun of July or the direct warming rays of June. There’s an air of preciousness to it, a delicate sense that time is waning. The magic of seasonal change is about to strike again. Live the summer day for soon it will be depart.

In hindsight, I have painted my memories of teenage summers in Provence at my grandmother’s or at the beach in Cape May New Jersey in this same yellow light. They are stuck on a microfiche etched forever in my head. Perhaps they will create a dog days Instagram filter with this effect.

I remember trudging up the white stone mountain trails of Provence, watching a snake lazily run into the underbrush, afraid of it. Around me the vineyards were filled with plants bearing their fruit, ever so slowly winding themselves up towards the sky. The pale blue of the sky seemed almost cloudless in hindsight. All with that slight yellow dog day tinge. After a couple hours, I ran back to Grandma’s and cracked open yet another book, then eventually I fell asleep in the mid-afternoon, another day passed.

The sun beats down on the bleached boards, and the dark blue of the Atlantic waves crash on the yellow white sand. Horseshoe crabs, jellyfish and seaweed litter the south Jersey beach, reminding you that out there much more exists. Yet I ignore it, pursuing the vain trivialities of teen pursuit I’m walking on the boardwalk eating some sort of junk food — probably a cheesesteak that just wasn’t up to par — hanging out with my fellow urchins, looking for innocent trouble in a bottle. Another day passed.

How funny it feels to reflect on those slow moving days now long gone, lost somewhere in the yellow August light of days past. The memories stay with me. Little did I know that those were going to be some of the best days of my life.

Those Moments in Time

Soleil in the Train

If you’re a punk, you love Henry Rollins. The former Black Flag frontman has become quite the sage for my generation with insights that extend into life’s inner workings. He nailed summer’s haunting grasp on us when he said, “We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”

Last Friday, we took Soleil to a local Montesori school for an interview. The school offers a kind of a fun, non technical creative experience, something we cherish given Soleil’s propensity to gravitate towards electronics.

Outside there was a phenomenal playground with a five car wooden train. She ran from car to car, playing and sticking her head out the windows. Her golden smile beamed, excited and filled with energy even though she clearly needed a nap. To be two, almost three again.

Through the rest of the day she kept asking to go back to school. We even went and saw Planes, and as soon as the movie was over she asked to go back to school.

The good news is she has been admitted to the school (upon completing poddy training).

With this news comes the ends the baby/toddler years in my mind, which seemed to have passed us by with a blink of an eye. I know I was present for all of this times, sans the weekly business travel during her second year for Marketing in the Round.

I can’t stop thinking about this. And every time I do, I think of her running through the train, her last days of toddlerdom, of staying at home. The memory is awash in that dog day golden sunlight breaking through the shadows, illuminating spots of the playground around the tree. Sometimes the memory brings tears. I can’t help that.

In a few weeks, she will put a uniform on, just like all the other kids. A new chapter begins, and at the end of October she will turn three. I will have likely changed my last diaper. She will have playdates, and the shepherding of kid from activity to activity will begin in earnest.

In five weeks, we will travel together, perhaps a final encore of those precious first years, and at the same time a fine line, marking this new beginning.

One thing is for sure, though I am working, I am paying attention. The moment pierced through my haze, and I realized that even in moments of work, there are still golden moments left within 2013’s dog days.

I may not have spent a ton of leisure time this summer, but some time remains. Now I am forcing myself to read Kim Robinson’s 2312, a magnificent piece of science fiction. I will go to a couple more baseball games even if the Nationals suck. And when I look back at this August, there will be this golden moment of time with Soleil, and yes, just a little leisure.

How are you enjoying these last moments of summer?

Featured image by Marta.

Free as We Want to Be

We’re as free as we want to be. Perhaps it’s a trite statement, yet with the Fourth of July holiday upon us, I cannot help but consider it.

Freedom is a choice. At least for those of us that are fortunate enough to live in countries where we aren’t punished for speaking our mind in private conversation or online. You need only look at Turkey’s ongoing crisis to realize that free speech is not certain in this world.

Yet many of us don’t feel free. We feel trapped by the rat race, that we’re not engaging enough online. We feel like we should meet preached expectations of social media success.

Some fear being viewed as positive or negative, or having our personal views and feelings exploited by friends, family, employers, and yes, the government. Others of us feel like we’re suffering through litanies of rants and negativity while desperately seeking meaningful connectivity.

Government and big business offer their own dangers, perhaps taking away our rights to privacy. In recent months we’ learned that our social network conversations are compromised via the NSA’s PRISM programs. The major social networks have a council of censors or free speech advocates (depending on your perspective) that decide what conversations should and should not be taken off the Internet.
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Black and White Romanticism

Image by Grace Russell

Strong opinions throughout the social web bear a resemeblance to  the 19th century romantic movement. Consider the sheer force of emotional passion and righteousness behind espoused ideals.

The romantic movement responded to the constraints of the early industrial era and enlightenment, a way for the mind to break free from the machine. Purity in terror or love or freedom — expressed in art and movements like nationalism — dominated the 19th century psyche.

What’s old is new again, I suppose. That shouldn’t be surprising though.

Today we face a new confining threat to our identities, the digital definition of who we are. Online identity is expressed through the social graph, and the “big data” that it yields.

We confront hard truths about ourselves, including how much or little we are liked, and why.  There’s nothing quite as humbling as realizing people like you for your cute dog instead of your brilliant political expositions.

Ads pushing products and services targeted by behavioral data tell us what we should buy. We fiddle with privacy settings yet find our lives read to us online, searchable, indexed, and found, not by people, but by corporate databases seeking to expand sales.

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The Murky Nature of Internet Vigilantes

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Image by Frank Tellez

Freedom allows many things, good and bad. The rationalization of justified Internet vigilantes arguably falls in both camps, depending on your perspective.

We love the archetype of the vigilante, the person who goes out and meters justice when authorities fail to do so. In a romantic sense, it makes sense. Consider our pop culture heros; Batman, Iron Man, Jack Reacher (in spite of Tom Cruise), Clint Eastwood’s many tough guy characters, and on and on. We worship their ability to right wrong in the spite of flawed protection mechanisms.

Thanks to the Internet, practicing vigilantism has never been easier. Social media empowers anyone to speak out for justice, and successful acts are met with attention and notoriety.

That’s unfortunate. Vigilantism (or “digilantism” online) is dangerous because the actor may not be well grounded in their ideas of right or wrong.

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Differentiation Requires Show, Not Tell

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Image by Eric Lim

The Internet and in particular social media have empowered thousands, perhaps millions, to start their own businesses. One outcome of the social media movement is how easily people become “thought leaders” or topical influencers.

As a result, we have many paper tigers running about, almost indistinguishable from the ones with real teeth with one singular exception: Results.

Last week for PRSA-NCC and this morning during a keynote at Brand Camp NYC I discussed this exception, and its critical role in creating true market leadership.

When content and personal branding techniques online quack and act like ducks, many readers are quick to believe. Yet results are not necessarily associated to the voices, creating a problem. Because we have hit a saturation point, more businesses are becoming discerning in their choices of vendors, digging deeper than what’s published on a blog post or LinkedIn group.

As time continues and social becomes a place overburdened with branded marketing content and voices, differentiation requires more. Pundits are a dime a dozen these days, real businesspeople are not.

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The Battleground of Creativity

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Image by Cinematography

Without creativity we cannot differentiate and excel, and yet sharing creative ideas inevitably leads to a mockery at times.

The worst thing we can do is simply call a creative spirit a failure. It’s amazingly hard to remain creative if you listen to outside voices. This is particularly true in a world where declaring fail with a pic and a hashtag seems to generate lots of laughs and comments.

Creativity requires a resilience in the face of “fail,” “that sucks” and firm “nos.” It’s not that the every creative idea deserves to be praised. Truthfully, many inspirations make you want to run for the woods.

To successfully create you need to produce a consistent flow of ideas that fail because it’s part of the process. Success requires failure. At the same time, you also need to know how to optimize creativity, and also when to stop creating, and simply work through and polish concepts off.

Sure, silver bullets arrive, but in actuality most decent ideas require refinement, further innovation, and polish.
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