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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

A Midwinter Night's Dream

Feb 11 2015

The most helpful topic for an Innovation Center blog would seem to be examining whether innovativeness can be instilled in people the way installing computer programs enables us to do different things, and if so, how is it downloaded, or learned?  Is there a single Skill Set underpinning all the other attributes that are identifiable in the majority of innovators, short of the few savants floating around, and even there?  Do innovations like the light bulb and Internet arise out of nowhere, or evolve as species do: putting similar things together again and again, and how is that done? 

since feeling is first, who pays any attention
to the syntax of things, will never wholly kiss you …

  e.e. cummings

I confess—and what is Valentine’s Day
for, if not such confidances—nary a day goes by when I’m out and about that I don’t see a woman (several, in fact) with whom, from her postures, gestures, facial expressions, and general demeanor, meaning the way the world seems to rest lightly on her shoulders, it seems very likely that I could spend the rest of my life as happy as can be in the pleasure of her company.  Time was—and may still be in many a place—that Valentine’s Day wasn’t for doting on a companion, but running riot, so to speak: climbing in a neighbor’s window, hopping on a colleague’s desk, and those whose cupidity was not met with success put their names in a hat, which someone in the same predicament pulled out, so everyone, shall we say, had their druthers, one way or anuthers, and was happy for that.   One would guess that Hallmark and the general commercialization of our lives through the increasing presence of electronic media from the radio to the so-called Smart Phone are behind the loss of Valentine’s Day’s true meaning and purpose, but then there is Auden’s poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts,” written in 1938, about a painting done around 1560:

In Brueghel's Icarus for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

So apparently it has always been so: there are, if not necessarily believers and unbelievers, but seers and unseers.  What is meant by Icarus’ flight is tied in with Dedalus making the wings that enabled him to, which is no doubt why James Joyce took the name for his alter-ego in fictional works where he demonstrated nothing short of sublime craftsmanship, which sealed his immortality alongside that of the mythical Dedalus.  Life not only is what you make it, but in essence what you make from it.

A friend, who works in the city—14-hour turnaround—wrote me from Carnival in her Caribbean country that she wishes Carnival could be all year round, as some have said of Christmas.  What is Carnival all about but transformation?  I was in Berkeley in the late 60's and early 70's, SF till the early 80's, which has always been a haven of transformations: The End of the Line for those leaving another life behind in stodgier towns.  A close friend there had a crash pad in the Haight-Ashbury with some friends who also were from there, which was kind of a Skid Row for kids: people walking barefoot in the city, dressed in rags, high most of the time.  Fast forward fifty years, and you have the whole world has become a crash pad. 
I've been Carnivaling pretty much my whole life.  I've spent more time on vacation—not necessarily going anywhere, but doing what I pleased—than working for money.  There was an  Oldie Instrumental called "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."  I started out teaching in private schools like the one in The Dead Poets Society.  Never forget the first time a classroom door closed on me: it sounded like that clang of jail cells in crime movies.  Summer job in an art gallery led to becoming the main source for art reproductions in northern CA: a sort of hired gun to publishers far and wide, like the guys in Westerns.  I earned in a day what I earned in a week teaching.  20 years ater I was in a conference management company on Madison Ave and 46th, whose sales leader board was called The Magnificent Seven, from the famous Western.  They were all down on their luck when they got recruited, too.  Some lean years, some fat years. 
I once read in a short story called "Guy de Maupassant,” by Isaac Babel, which you can find online, "Better to starve or go to jail than spend 10 hours a day chained to a desk."  The commute counts.  Also search Thoreau’s quip: "We do not ride upon the railroad; the railroad rises upon us," and read the article.  The REAL cost of a vacation isn't the air fare and food, but ALL you gotta do to GET them.  If you gotta work 50 weeks to get the $1000 bucks, THAT'S what it costs you, not the 1 week's salary.

Why DO some people seek to be free, to fly like Icarus whither they want, and continually find ways to improve what they do, so they can be?  Athletes and performing artists are improvising moment by moment.  What ARE the skills that enable folks to do that with their WORK?  Turns out to be VERY sexy stuff, Putting 2 and 2 together to the Nth Power.  Remember the caterpillar asking Alice, "A-whooo are a-youuu?" which The Who wailed again a century later. 

If the species that survive—that is to say, live on, literally—are the ones that adapted to their surroundings best, doesn’t it stand to reason that the moments that live on for us—and become able to continually return to us for guidance in ever new ways—likewise are the ones that we adapted to their surroundings and the entire situation best, rather than leaving it for someone else to give us what to do, and taking what comes?  The underlying, central theme of every representation of reality is still the way it serves as a model of the representation of reality in our minds, so we can learn from it how to observe and understand reality itself—and the situations that happen in it—better.

Admittedly, there are those who might frown upon the … cupidity of druthering someone other than one’s companion, if only for a single day all year; even pining for them the rest of the year, fuddy-duddy Jimmy Carter coming out about it, notwithstanding.  May-hay-hay-be the whole idea is to loosen up our sense of prrroprrriety Since Valentine was a SAINT, how bad could he be?  More than one Gunsmoke and Rifleman episode, and probably other Western TV shows, not to mention crime shows, involved crazily jealous people, even willing to kill someone over having been supposedly wronged, insofar as druthering someone other than one’s companion is “wrong.”  Brief Encounters occur in more than one movie of that title, and then there's Truffaut's "Jules and Jim," "Dr. Zhivago," and many another tale along those lines.  Come Valentine’s Day, we can let the morality-mongerers wag their finger all they like, and pay no heed.

 laugh, learning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
and death (i think) is no parenthesis”

Stony Brook University Innovation Center, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3775

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Fax: 631.632.8181