Make-Believe is Make Believe

I recognize Kurt Vonnegut as the name of a great writer. Unfortunately I have yet to read one of his works.

Today I took a step away from hearsay, and one step closer to Kurt’s work, when I was introduced to this letter written in response to the students from Xavier High School who invited him for a visit.

I particularly liked this following suggestion, “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

As a bonus, I also found a gem in the comments sections from Jay Raskin (aka Jay Philosopher), who summed up a memorable moral-of-the-story from “Mother Night”: “Be careful who you pretend to be, because you are who you pretend to be.”

Who are you pretending to be? What are you currently practicing? And what does your practice and pretending say about who you are becoming?

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When I go to thinking about make-believe and make believe, I looked around to see the ways others described them. The following, written by Joy Bullen, “Moving on From Make-Believe,” caught my eye in the search results. It was moving and worth a read.

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The Best Thing Before Sliced Bread

I have loved bread ever since I was a little one. All kinds of bread. Almost any kind of bread.

Have you ever had a piece of bread with an incredible crust? The exterior is a bit hard and often gives way to a wonderfully soft inside.

Have you ever met a person who was a bit ‘hard’ on the outside? Take that however you like – be it the way they do things, interact with others, or even look. Do you appreciate them for how they are different? Do you enjoy this part of them? Do you ever get to their wonderfully soft inside that may perfectly compliment their crust?

Bran(d)ing Food

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It took me awhile to get into cereal, as a kid. It just didn’t excite me. And we had plenty of bread products around. Also, oatmeal.

When I finally came around, one of the great bonuses, I thought, were the health benefits. And it only got better when I started sampling – and more regularly consuming – these cereals that I thought were meant for grandparents. Fiber One was one of those cereals. And I put cereals like this in the same category as prunes – great for you and great to ensure your system runs smoothly on all cylinders.

I find marketing and branding infinitely interesting. What do you choose to – or not to – share about what you have and what it does? What do people choose to – or not to – listen to and what do they choose to care about, reflected through the decisions they make with their actions, their time, and their currency of choice?

Every situation is a bit different. Different people have different perceptions, which are influenced by a whole host of things that ultimately boils down to what they have experienced and what people tell them.

This morning I was looking at a box of Fiber One, and read what you see in the photo above, “With Whole Grain First Ingredient.” My first thought: what a funny thing to put on a box.

As I thought back to my experience as a cereal consumer, a consumer of information about cereal and of food in general, and my interest in marketing and communications, the next logical place to go? The ingredients.

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And there it was, Whole Grain Wheat (first ingredient). Then, Corn Bran, Modified Wheat Starch, Xanthan Gum, Color Added, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Baking Soda, Aspartame, and then a whole slew of vitamins and minerals.

I could not have told you (before I looked each of them up), what most of these ingredients are or mean. And now that I do, they are fillers, but mostly harmless.

To contrast, while snooping around a farmer’s market the other day in New Haven, I came across an interesting breakfast product: quinoa oatmeal strawberry cereal [made by Garden Fresh Baby in Westport, CT]. An appropriately named product in that what’s-in-the-name is the same as what’s-in-the-package.

What does the marketing, communications, and branding of food look like in the future? Will whole food products have names that are greater than the sum of their parts? Or do people just need a reminder of what’s inside straight away once they are in the space of certain brands they trust?

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Addendum: Admittedly, I have never done much reading into various ingredients in processed foods. Here are several articles I found of interest for corn bran, modified food starch, xanthan gum, and aspartame. The article on aspartame is particularly good food for thought given how studied and talked about this food sweetener has been over the years.

Auto Communication

I’ve never been much of a driver. From the beginning, I was not in a rush to get my license. I learned for functional purposes.

When moving from point A to point B, I generally prefer to be a passenger whenever possible. Be it by plane, train, or automobile, I enjoy time spent on the road, traveling alone, surrounded by strangers. On the road is where I do some of my best thinking. It’s right up there with the thinking I do while washing dishes or folding laundry.

If we were having this conversation a year ago, I might have told you I hate driving. But with more time spent behind the wheel over the past year – for functional purposes – I’ve seen the finer sides of driving, and appreciate it for the different type of quality time it provides for me, myself, and I.

While on a 2+ hour drive just yesterday, I got to thinking about driving as one of the most solitary social activities I know.

There’s something about the focused solitude of driving, especially when driving for distance. Yet there is a slightly interesting social aspect. On the one hand you’re completely cut off from everyone else – at least verbally – yet everybody’s in it together.

As drivers, we don’t talk, but we do interact. It starts with the car we drive – the color, shape, and make – to how we change lanes, the speed at which we drive, the way we maneuver with more cars around, and how we accommodate others. This all contributes to our driving personality or attitude, a reflection of us. Naturally, this may fluctuate and even change over time.

I had an interesting conversation with someone today, who told me how her driving job changed her. With a significant influx in alone time, she had a great opportunity to think and reflect. With more frequent and longer stretches behind the wheel, she more closely observed how others drove and  how she drove, which led her to consider, “what kind of a driver am I?”

She was not aggressive and thought of herself as a rather courteous driver. But after she started driving for a living she chose to be more proactively courteous. Why be that driver when she could be even more go with the flow?

So what kind of driver are you? Beyond getting from A to B, what does does driving do for you? And what does your driving communicate about you to others?

Letting the Light In

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I was looking out the window today. I look out the window most days. Many windows look back at me.

Have you ever wondered when the window was invented or by whom? I also wonder how one might invent a hole in a wall. Or be bold enough to claim oneself as the inventor.

Windows are wonderful as things and wonderful as metaphors. Either way, they have the potential to let in great light.

I was curious about the origin of the word. One version says ‘window’ originates from Old Norse vindauga, that is vindr for wind and auga for eye, i.e., ‘wind-eye’. Some say window made it to the English language when it replaced the Old English eagþyrl (‘eye-hole’) and eagduru (‘eye-door’).

Looking at some basic history, after humble beginnings as holes in walls, windows first upgraded to include shutters that could open and close. As time went on, windows were designed to protect those inside from the elements as well as to transmit light. It took more than 1,000 years for windows to evolve into something similar to the transparent portals we see in and out of today.

What type of windows do you have? Do you choose to keep them opened or closed? What do you see in them? What do you choose to let in?

Why Are We Friends?

You’re so weird. And I’m so glad we’re friends.

Do you have at least one person in your life that is so different from you, you can hardly believe you are friends? How did you meet them? What have they meant to you through the course of your relationship? How and why have you stayed friends? What do they mean to you today?

And what do you mean to them?

Recommitting to Why I’m Here

Finding My Voice Here started when I chose love over location. After nine years of China – living among hutongs and highrises in Beijing and a countryside community in rural Yunnan – I’m currently spending a bulk of my time in the US and I’ve challenged myself to publish a post a day from now until the end of 2014.

While I’ve stumbled a few times since the first now, I’m lucky that “now” has a flexible definition based on the day you read this. I’m happy to announce that the new now begins today (March 6th). I’m curious where this much concentrated writing might take me. And I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

Before we both go, I wonder what question you might offer today – be it to me or to another – to move a discussion forward on this blog or elsewhere?