Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going; Jamie Boyle's Public Domain

Red Oak in fall color, Austin, Texas 2008

It's a beautiful sunny, cool fall day in Austin. The fall color is the most spectacular it has been in decades -- no exaggeration. The weather folks said it would be windy today but by 10:00 it was still calm and clear. Then, just now, a gust whistled through the windowsills, leaves fell all around like big snowflakes, and I heard (in my head) "the warriors of winter give a cold triumphant shout; all that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out."

I hear the singer, I hear the guitar notes. Who wrote that? Who sang it? What were the rest of the lyrics? I always think of that song this time of year.

So I Googled it: warriors winter give cold triumphant shout

Up popped 61,000 pages satisfying my search terms. The first one contained the entire set of lyrics, author (Joni Mitchell). The rest of that verse, the last in the song goes like this:

Flameleaf Sumac in fall color, Austin, Texas 2008

Now the warriors of winter give a cold triumphant shout
All that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and a-racing off before the snow
They got the urge for going and they've got the wings to go ...
And I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
And the summertime is falling down
And winter's closing in

But the first couple of pages say it was performed by Crosby and Nash. Not as I recall. It was a single male voice and acoustic guitar. A little deeper into the list, below the fold, let's see... Tom Rush. That sounds more like it. Let's see if I can listen to a bit of a recording of him playing and singing it... Ah, yes, iTunes has it playing within a few seconds of entering the store. From an album released a long time ago, recently remastered and re-released. That's it. Wow.

My husband thinks I am so stupid for being constantly amazed at the Internet. "I just did that yesterday, so what?" he says when I tell him about this little foray into the information treasure-trove we have at our fingertips, 24/7. THIS IS INCREDIBLE. No it isn't. It's just normal day-to-day. Ah, yes. That's why it's incredible.

So, all this in the middle of reading Jamie Boyle's new book, The Public Domain -- Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Fantastic read. God he is so clever and witty and has such a great sense of humor. And he is not giving up and he is making a difference. Go, Jamie.

He says early on in Ch. 1, p. 13 to be exact, that the Internet is an "existence proof" that for a lot of information (a lot as in billions and billions of pages of information), copyright isn't necessary to its production. In his words:

The Internet is an existence proof of the remarkable information processing power of a decentralized network of hobbyists, amateurs, universities, businesses, volunteer groups, professionals, and retired experts and who knows what else. It is a network that produces useful information and services. Frequently, it does so at no cost to the user and without anyone guiding it. Imagine that energy, that decentralized and idiosyncratically dispersed pattern of interests, turned loose on the cultural artifacts of the twentieth century. Then imagine it coupled to the efforts of the great state archives and private museums who themselves would be free to do the same thing. Think of the people who would work on Buster Keaton, or the literary classics of the 1930s, or the films of the Second World War, or footage on the daily lives of African-Americans during segregation, or the music of the Great Depression, or theremin recordings, or the best of vaudeville. Imagine your Google search in such a world. Imagine that Library of Congress.

Theremin recordings? Was that a typo? No. Google it.

Any other word in Jamie's incredibly rich vocabulary you don't know? Google it. Ah, I hear Phil's admonition to stay away from general-purpose dictionaries in graduate school, to use only specialized dictionaries for the field of study. Some day, maybe.

So, I am reading his book in both Adobe Acrobat and in Stanza, my nifty screen reader that works on the iPhone as well as on the Mac. An experiment to compare functionalities. So, really, any word, I'm already at the computer, I just Google it. I came across one earlier today: p. 38, "a tessellated map." Now, granted, I understood the meaning from the context within a few seconds, but honestly, I don't think I have ever heard that word before (thank you Jamie). Instead of just glossing over it, I Googled it: 198,000 pages respond to "what is tessellated." Top of the list? You guessed it: Wikipedia. You know, this is a word I really ought to know. But I ask Dennis. He doesn't know either and he's an artist and the word comes from the Latin tessella, a small cubical clay, stone or glass piece used to make mosaics. Well, after that very interesting adventure, I don't think I'll forget what tessellated means.

Well, I have to say, I love this book. It is really readable, brings together many of his past writings with other authors I've read (many thanks to Phil), but focuses on the dire implications of our current trajectory. He is determined that the law has to change. As I've said many times, I've given up on that. I want to hope, but the underlying process seems so irretrievably lost to money, or so I believe. He, and I have to admit, lots and lots of other people along with him, are not convinced lawmakers can't be persuaded to turn things around. What evidence is there that anyone other than the Disneys and RIAAs have any ability to persuade? Does he imagine that his arguments will persuade them to back off their demands for more and longer and stronger? I have never thought that was possible. They are like programmed robots whose programming can't be changed. And their programming includes paying whatever it takes to lawmakers to be sure the lawmakers don't threaten the status quo. (Keep in mind that whether this assertion is true or not, the very fact that I believe it is true is the basis for mine and many other people's loss of confidence in the Congressional part of our democratic system of governance, so, it matters even that we think it is so!) So where does this hope come from?

I'm going to keep reading. Maybe he explains his hope as well as he explains history, economics and philosophy. I could use some encouragement about now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

So, putting the PhD on hold -- a year to reassess

At the start of this semester I had as my objective to figure out by December what I wanted to do next. Well, it's almost December and I have figured out many things, but not that. And it's official. I submitted my request for a leave of absence Monday, for spring through fall '09. My real projects for the next year are: figure out what I want to do next; take care of my mom and come to grips with what she is experiencing. Today is Thanksgiving and, among many other things for which I am extremely grateful, I am quite thankful to have more time to figure out what I want to do next.

So many times in my life I've thought I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not just "next." I have been right in some ways, not always the ways I thought I was right, and I have been very, very wrong in some ways. The constant seems to be that I always ran through whatever it was that interested me about an endeavor, and soured on the realities of it, long before I thought I would or really wanted to. I always got to take comfort though, in being a member of the biggest generation ever, the boomers, because no matter what I was experiencing and no matter how different it was from my expectations built upon the experiences of my parents' and grandparents' generations, there were always lots of us having the same 'different experiences.' So we changed careers every 10 to 15 years. Well, that was just the new way it was. So we threw ourselves into our work and burned ourselves out in record time. Well, that was just the way we were. I now understand a bit more about statistics than I did before, thanks to my fabulous teacher, Tetyana, so I know that "we" could be a very small part of that 77 million, and still feel that we were in substantial good company. So I just didn't question whether it was really a good thing or a bad thing. This jumping from thing to thing just was.

Admittedly, when I cashed in my chips from my first career, teaching, and went off on a 2 year sailing adventure with my then boyfriend, now my husband, Dennis, I felt like I had "wasted" my 6 years of college education and my 8 years of building up expertise and confidence as a teacher of handicapped young adults and normal pre-schoolers. But staying on was not an option. Teaching had become torture. I remember my strongest aversion at that time: I didn't want to have to make anyone other than myself do anything, anymore. Compelling others to do things was at the heart of a teaching job, much to my surprise. Foolishly, I thought it was actually teaching. Instead it was police work. Apparently, without police work, one can't teach young children anything. Of course, that's ridiculous. Young children are learning machines like sharks are killing machines. It's the environment in which we want them to learn that makes the job a job at all. But, whatever. I quit and went off sailing and thinking and talking to everyone I met about what they did for a living and what it was like and how they liked it and what they didn't like about it and where the satisfaction lay, and on and on. I didn't want to "make the same mistake again" -- the mistake of spending all the time and money and effort to prepare for, learn and become good at a new profession only to abandon it after a few years and "waste" all that time, etc., again. Well, I learned a thing or two in the pursuit and accomplishment of my second career: my first career was far, far from over (I teach about copyright almost as much as I actually practice copyright law), and I would still run through the second before my productive life ended, whether I wanted to or not.

So, law became my second career. I had matched its characteristics as a profession to my own personal strengths and weaknesses, my desires to challenge myself in new ways and to earn enough to get beyond the marginal financial security that a teaching career offered. Sorry to say that money mattered, but it did. At least with a law career, there would be a clear relationship between effort, excellence and reward. After 3 years in the private sector, I moved to public service lawyering. And I was so lucky to have support from my four general counsels over the years to lecture, teach and write as well. But, though I didn't want it to, my law career came to that point where I no longer wanted it -- at least not full-time. The satisfaction from personal service to others has never flagged, ever, but the daily work of confronting the same issues, over and over and over, and recognizing that the dynamics that keep resolution from ever being possible are not going to change, that has gotten really old. Copyright law is held hostage to fear among those with something to lose if it changes. I just got weary of the insanity of it.

But there was something else too: As I began to see my mom's health deteriorate, and recognized what could happen in the last years of one's life, maybe of my life, I realized that in the grand scheme of things, copyright law really was not all that important. Fundamental creativity will survive the crippling effects of our current law whether it changes or not. The benefits of digital networked communication just become too obvious to deny at some point. And there are other things that matter a whole lot more to me.

So it was time to choose a third career. This hasn't been easy. At first it was just that I didn't actually have time to figure it out because I was still working full time. And then, things seemed to come together in January, 2006, when my friend Lolly suggested I get a Master's of Science in Information Studies and find an expanded role (beyond just lawyering) in libraries. Libraries and librarians had been my favorite clients, always, and it seemed like the perfect idea. Most importantly, it felt right. I applied to graduate school, just under the wire, got in, retired from OGC on August 31, 2006, and began classes on August 29. Yes, that's right. I started classes 2 days before I retired. Perfect.

So, I thought I had it figured out. And, indeed, I was on cloud nine, absolutely loved school, for about 20 months, right up until last April, when things came rather unceremonious crashing down. Two years after starting classes, in August of 2008, I came to a very tough conclusion. I was wrong. I didn't have it figured out. Researching the intersection of copyright and libraries is not it, as I have explained in other entries over this semester.

So for now I am certain of two things: I'm a teacher. So I'll teach something at some point. I just don't know what, where, when or how. And I'm a lawyer. Not in the same way that I'm a teacher, however. Teacher is who I am. Lawyer is what I do to earn money. I love the actual service of lawyering; I am very weary of the politics of copyright. You do what you can do (you know, "God give me the wisdom to know the difference..."). Thanks for insight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

When managing fades

I arrived at my mom's assisted living facility, The Gardens, a few days ago to find the place swarming with the members of a film crew with all their equipment, and the actors and extras playing the very people who live and work there. The people who live and work there, however, were instructed to stay out of the way, in their rooms, or in the cordoned-off areas of the halls and the dining room. Ok, filming happens. Not too big a deal. A minor inconvenience for a few days. And a story gets told. Like Driving Miss Daisy (image credit, and a little bonus story on US auto industry and Madison Avenue).

But the irony of it all really got to me. Actors managing carefully scripted parts, presenting a picture of what it's like in this place, for these people, our parents, our spouses, our brothers and sisters. The criteria we have for what makes a good story requires that we make most of it up. The story has to have certain aesthetic qualities, and it can't be too real or it will scare the living daylights out of everyone and no one will come to see it. Dying and death are not aesthetically pleasing. In fact, they are horrifying and you'd give anything in the world not to have to confront them. One of the most common experiences there is (i.e., everyone has it), dying and death, and we have no clue until it happens to someone we love and are privileged to care for, and then...

Just like everyone else before us, our instinct is to cover up the worst parts, gloss over the worst feelings, fail to come to grips with the central meaning of this sometimes long and horribly painful passage. Our complicity in the "great hiding" helps everyone else to continue their own great hiding from the truth of what life is really like, because death is an inescapable part of it.

And do we really want it any other way? Is there any pent-up societal desire to live more comfortably with the realities of what dying and death are and what they mean for how we live our lives? No.

So I was in Providence last week and, coincidentally, the front page of the paper featured a story about a study of nursing homes in Rhode Island, and how awful even the best among them were, and how all that had to be fixed before the boomers begin to find themselves there because we sure aren't going to put up with all those indignities. Maybe not in our current states of mind and health, but those are not the states of mind and health that land you in a nursing home. Power dwindles. Judgment disappears. Hands shake. Eyes stop seeing. "Managing" the thousands of little things we manage so easily, so adroitly, almost without being aware that we are managing, becomes impossible. And then other people have to start managing for us. And the struggle begins, intensifies, comes to its crescendo, and then stops. This can take years.

Well, I'm not up to it. I attended a caregiver support group last night. Twelve people, each with a different story, but these folks did not gloss over. Thank God that somewhere it is possible to say what's really happening, say how it makes you feel, see how others nod in affirmation, hear what they are experiencing, how they struggle with the same feelings of guilt, fear, pain, frustration, and relief that it ends.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Armadillo Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3: Results analysis

Six weeks have passed. I hesitate to say that the effort has been successful, for fear of bringing the wrath of the God of the Vengeful Armadillo down upon my garden again, but plugging up that hole seems to have done the trick. It's just like old times ('old times' shall mean the time since Dennis built the fence for me in fall '05).

Six weeks without an armadillo is positively correlated with plugging up a second hole in the fence, and highly statistically significant. Plugging up the second hole under the fence is also practically significant, as my thriving garden demonstrates.

Plugging up one hole but not the other was totally ineffective to stop armadillo adventures as the two variables are completely unrelated. Fussing about the cliff and hypothesizing how an armadillo could scale it was also a big waste of time, uh, I mean, an unrelated variable, so long as a second hole under the fence remained accessible. But, if the first hole had not been found and plugged (the one just below the level of the first cliff edge), and the second hole had been found and plugged (up at the level of the garden proper), then the fussing about the cliff and hypothesizing how an armadillo could scale it would not have been a big waste of time, but plugging up a hole under the fence is a lot easier than building up a cliff with lots of heavy rocks to make scaling it difficult to impossible for an armadillo.

So, lessons learned: find the damned holes. Check really carefully. The fence does its job so long as it goes down to the ground and just a bit below and doesn't suggest to an armadillo going along its edge that there's a spot here that looks a little weak, and let's see what's on the other side...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to the third degree

Summer's over, fall's in full swing, I'm taking statistics and, surprisingly to me, enjoying it. But, it's the only class I'm taking and I think that's a lot of why. The other part of why is that I have a great professor who is taking it nice and slow, step by step, explains everything well, uses lots of examples from real life research she's been doing (sociologist). But --

It's a really, really good thing I'm only taking one class this semester because lifelong learning is coming fast and furious from an entirely different sector of life right now, and I sure do need the time I have freed up to submerge myself in what these lessons have to show me. My mom is teaching me, as she always has, how to struggle to keep going, how to adjust to changes, how to keep your independence, and, ultimately, how to let go of things too. How on earth does she manage this? She's got alzheimer's, diagnosed 3 years ago and on meds for 2 years now, slowly, but steadily declining. Yesterday I worked from 9 in the morning until 10 at night packing up the things that she convinced me (only after much painful effort on her part, because I really didn't want to believe it), that she didn't want or need -- about 95% of what she had in her apartment when I moved her into assisted living last weekend. To her it was just clutter, confusing her efforts to learn her new routines (where light switches are, how to turn them on and off, etc.). So, that was a bit of a shock.

Then the nitty-gritty of packing up for the second hand store was as grueling a task as I ever expect to undertake the rest of my life. Every little thing, from pouring out old spice container contents (to recycle the containers), to wrapping up little crystal vases and gold-plated soap dishes, just put me in hysterics, all day long. This is the person who taught me how to cook, how to walk around the block, how to deal with adversity, how to do the right thing when you're tempted not to. There were just a million little reminders that she was giving up all those things. I saw them as *her.* She was the collection of little crystal sugar bowls. She was the makeup containers all organized in little plastic bins in the bathroom drawers. She was the neatly stacked towels and sheets. She was the myriad lazy susans that organized everything in nearly every cabinet or closet where one could fit.

She wasn't any of those things.

They're just things. And she hadn't used most of them in months, maybe for as much as the last 2 to 3 years. But as long as she was there, surrounded by them all, there was this semblance of normalcy and I could keep on ignoring what was happening. Yesterday that was no longer possible and it just killed me to have to let go of the her I have known for my entire life. But then I realized, even though she's not being explicit about it like she was when I was little, she's just showing me how to let go. Well, how to not let go, until it's time to let go.

I found so many little things that showed me how hard she struggled to keep it together as things fell apart. Her little lists, her reminders (of her name and address and phone number), the little plastic container of cut-out labels from the food boxes she wanted from the grocery store so she could match them to the boxes on the shelves in the store. And there were the notes I had made for her -- how to use the can opener, how to microwave a Lean Cuisine, when she could still read relatively well. She loved to read. Read like there was no tomorrow.

So, today I have a little better perspective on it all. Especially as I look around at my own house and my own things, and hope I'll know that it's time to let them go. Not too soon. But not to hold on too long.

Now she's got a little two room "apartment" at assisted living and the transition begins, getting used to the new place, the new people, the new routines, especially getting used to being helped a lot more than I was able to help her. She lives close to me, but until this summer and fall, I've been scheduled to the max so I wasn't "helping" that much until May. Thank God I took some time to spend with her over the last 6 months. Maybe that helped, not just helped me, but maybe it helped her to see that it was taking a lot more "support" to be independent than either of us could continue to pretend was really being independent. When I finally suggested late September that I thought it was probably time to move to assisted living, she quickly said, "ok." Then for the whole month of October she always wanted to talk about it, when she was going, what she needed to take (very, very little, from her perspective).

Well, life just doesn't quit teaching us, ever. The most valuable lessons are not learned in school, in class or in the process of getting a degree. I'll worry about the degree later. I'm going to keep it together for many years to come. I had a good teacher.