Fried Egg season

A neighbor has a grove of Matilija poppies. I love how happy and weird these fried eggs on stems are, just waving around in the breeze.

Visiting Wes Anderson’s Desert Dream

Review: Wes Anderson's Asteroid City | Time

Don’t be surprised if you walk into my house one day and find that it feels a little like Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. (I’m halfway there already with my color palette.) It’s a film worthy of many rewatches, not for the story but to live in that creamy, dreamy, surreal desert diorama for another hour and forty-five minutes.

Wes Anderson's New Film Takes Inspiration from This Quaint Madrid Town -  Softonic
Martini With A Twist In Asteroid City (2023)

The desert is my soul home, so I’m a sucker for the landscape and motifs as it is. But from the gorgeous suite of colors to the Looney Tunes backdrop, the creative direction of Asteroid City is truly stunning. It’s a work of art. Every frame is a beautiful, dynamic composition. The costuming signals character and builds an immersive world. There’s whimsy in every vending machine, auto shop prop, and road to nowhere.

I was especially taken by the lighting, which is overwhelmingly bright yet lush — not surprising as they used the sun as a primary light source. There’s a picnic scene staged under a lattice pergola, casting dappled light on the conversations. It’s not only visually interesting, but there’s something about the grid of shadow and light…half hidden, half exposed…checkered. Can’t quite put my finger on why this feels so important. Maybe I don’t have to explain it, it’s okay to simply enjoy it.

Off to rewatch!

Designed to Do More

Allsteel was a deep brand project for my team at Bounteous — over many months we listened to buyers and partners, mapped every moment in the client journey, envisioned the brand shift they sought, and ultimately delivered a strategy and tagline of Designed to Do More. With the unveiling of their new Experience Center in Chicago, I’m thrilled to see it live in the world. Check out this video tour!

So many of the insights we uncovered are reflected in this new center. This is the larger, more inspiring space that the architects and designers craved. It welcomes more collaboration, which is needed to conceive and deliver complex, human-centered environments. It embodies more flexibility and ways to reinvent when needs change. It showcases more thoughtful details that reflect how thoughtful Allsteel is about creating spaces and designs.

It is an experience designed to do more. Congratulations to Allsteel and the HNI family!

Spring Blooms

While not much of a gardener, I will always stop to talk to the flowers.

Grief on grief

Last year my long-term relationship evaporated overnight. While I can’t say there were no warning signs, they were certainly faint.

Silver linings from that have been similarly faint. But one upside has emerged in the wake of another painful loss — my mother, the other most important person in my life, died this fall. The warnings signs were louder this time, though the end was still very sudden.

Sadly, because of that earlier grief, I am more prepared for this one.

It doesn’t lessen this new pain, of course. How I wish it did! What it did do was show me how deep grief works so that I was not so surprised this time around. Surprised by how the early shock makes you think it might not be so bad. How the waves overtake you in small moments when the conscious mind lets go. How continuously exhausted you can be simply from feeling so much. How every time you think you’ve hit bottom you find out you were wrong and there’s farther to fall.

Having foreknowledge has helped me be steady on my feet so I can support my father, who is thoroughly surprised by all this. Less than two months in, it is only getting worse for him just as he thought it would be getting better. Yet for all my understanding I can’t fix any of this, for him or for me.

Expanding my mental map

Yesterday a friend was telling me how computer games only render the rooms we are in to save memory, and that our brains aren’t so different. When we encounter something different or enter a new space, we force our minds to redraw the world around us even if all we do is go for a walk.

These days my world is smaller than usual. On my way home from a hospital visit a few hours later — for circumstances that are a big factor in my shrinking sphere — I discovered an unexpected new route through the big green blank on the map.

This tight, winding road took me through charming neighborhoods dotted with quaint buildings from generations past. Past rows of old growth trees bending over the road, and moneyed estates mixed with ranches that serve as a reminder of what the land once was. And finally into the open lands near my home that I have never explored. I’ve been meaning to find out what was over that hill, but my curiosity has been overwhelmed by overwhelm.

This ride was absolutely joyous. I couldn’t stop smiling! It expanded my map, literally and figuratively, just when I needed it most. I could attribute this to sheer coincidence, getting a message I needed at the right time. But I know this was not happenstance, it was my mind at work finding connections and meaning out of new information. Still, serendipity was evident in the weather — a mix of fluff and darkness, a little blue and sun persisting, the rain and dusk coming on fast. That perfect mirror of my life could not have been conjured by me.

Answering Existential Brand Questions

Why do we exist? Where can we go? What do people want?

Despite working in a world where ROI and measurable outcomes rule the day, my favorite projects solve existential questions that defy quantification. I’ve had the privilege to explore and define the purpose of an urban library, the value of innovation in health care, and why an education based in Judaism matters. What could be better than that?!

Ultimately, I can’t prove that getting existential will improve a company’s bottom line. It’s an act of faith to believe that time spent bringing people together, clarifying possible futures, and aligning teams around a shared purpose and vision will pay off. But experience tells us it does. The outcomes are there, they are just on a different time and value scale.

Legendary brands build foundations that accelerate action. They see opportunities that others don’t. They rally and inspire people to join them. Yet none of this is found in a sprint — it comes from taking the time to observe, learn, and align. That’s where big questions are answered and sustainable greatness can be activated.

My political journey, part 3: Choosing civil rights over states’ rights

When I said in Part I that this wasn’t a story about opening my heart, that wasn’t entirely true. There is one place my heart lacked compassion: the criminal justice system. My last bastion of conservatism was the belief that our system of policing and laws was fair, so if you were caught up in the system you probably did something. (This callousness pains me to this day. It is one of my greatest shames.) Further, that being tough on crime was a good thing, though I did believe it should be backstopped by liberal higher courts.

By this time I’m living in Chicago, it’s almost Y2K, and the Innocence Project is about to shake everything up. I evolved with Governor Ryan in real time, going from skepticism to shock. The exonerations started rolling in. The evidence of bad convictions was incontrovertible. If these cases, with the most at stake, could be so egregiously flawed, what did that mean for the rest? Twenty years on, I’m still unpacking just how messed up our policing, laws, courts, and for-profit prisons are. How, at every single step, injustice is baked in and bias is enforced. Every year I learn a little more — a lot more this year — and it seems as though there is no bottom to this horrible well.

So I’d come to believe that the world’s many injustices require intervention, but I’d yet to fully see why a strong federal government has to be part of the solution.

And as expanding civil rights grew ever more important to me, I start noticing how often states hold back progress. From segregation to voting rights and abortion access, states’ rights have been wielded as a cudgel to block people from their constitutional rights and freedoms. Rather than state power being a mechanism for greater freedom, as the conservative position holds, when it comes to human rights the reverse is more often true. Left to the states, mixed marriages would likely still be outlawed in some states.

When I say “states”, that hides the truth behind an abstraction. To be clear, states are made up of citizens and, too often, it’s people holding back other people. Freedom for me but not for thee! Sometimes, the federal government is the only mechanism for meaningful change.

In the end, I had to make a choice between states’ rights and civil rights. Framed this way, the choice was obvious: I had to choose civil rights. This fully cemented me on the left.

Note that my basic beliefs didn’t really have to change, I just had to focus on impact instead of intent. I still think a limited federal government makes sense, on paper! It’s a good theory. And yet, nearly all our leaps forward have been federal. Ending slavery. The New Deal. The Civil Rights Act. DOMA. ACA. Can’t argue with the results.

And what happened to my faith that business and the free market are the answer? Well, that’s easy: I started working in Corporate America. I learned that while business can be a force for good — there are of course good ones and I seek them out as a consultant and a consumer — corporations can also be corrupt, money-wasting, incompetent, anti-social, and anti-planet. Worse, bad behavior is encoded and encouraged in our corporate structure and economic models. As long as they benefit from cutting corners to game the numbers, many will.

This understanding all came before the dot com boom and bust, scandals like Enron and Worldcom, the financial crash of 2007. Before business school. Imagine what I think now.

My political journey, part 2: We’re off to see the Grand Wizard

When I was growing up, Tucson seemed small and conservative. Then college took me to Bible-belt Indiana and I discovered what small and conservative truly is. In hindsight, I’d have been hard pressed to pick a worse fit for me than Purdue, culturally and socially, but it was crucial for galvanizing me politically.

Arriving on this strange new planet was a shock, and my worldview didn’t survive first contact. The first thing that hit me were the gender dynamics. It turns out I had grown up in an unusually egalitarian environment. I held my own in sports with the guys. My grandmother had a PhD. My high school Calc II class had more girls than boys. Then I met so many young women who were held back, put down, and put in boxes because of their gender. This was my first galvanizing moment, realizing that being feminist wasn’t a bad thing. And that I was one.

Next I found out the Grand Wizard lived 20 miles down the road. The Grand Wizard! Truly, I was gobsmacked. I didn’t know the KKK even still existed. In History class, we were taught there was slavery (bad) followed by Jim Crow (also very bad). Then came a Civil Rights Act (good!) and they all lived happily ever after. In the way of sheltered white folks everywhere, I accepted the fairy tale at face value. Unsurprisingly, racism there was bad. Really bad. Once I started looking, it was unmissable.

It didn’t take long to dismantle much of what I had believed. And it boiled down to one thing: I learned that life wasn’t fair.

This is crucial to understanding conservative views, at least in that less incendiary time. If life is fundamentally fair, then there is no need for affirmative action. No need for regulation. No need for welfare. If life is fair, success and failure are earned. Poor people did something wrong, or didn’t do enough, and it’s on them to fix it. If someone is successful, they must have done something smart or good, and deserve to keep the spoils. This is part and parcel of the American Dream.

Obviously, the fact that I needed to learn all this shows what kind of well-off bubble I was raised in. But once I started to see systemic biases and inequality and how they shaped people’s lives — and, let’s be honest, I had barely scratched the surface — I could no longer hang with a party that insisted hard work was enough.

These were the Clinton years, giving me an easy bridge to a moderate, welfare-to-work, capitalistic Democratic Party. It took a few years to identify as a Democrat, but I was on my way. The Republican position felt too heartless.

But there are still more big revelations on the horizon for me, including the criminal justice system and the failings of the market. Continued in Part III

My political journey, part 1: Confessions of a Teen Age Republican

I relish telling the story of how I used to be a registered Republican. It’s good for shock value, considering that today I’m a flaming California liberal. Even better, I was a Teen Age Republican. I joined TARs in high school in Arizona, a state infamous for its peculiar politics. Forget drunken bonfires in the desert, this was how I my misspent my youth.

Reader, I rush to reassure you I was never socially conservative. My issues were strictly states’ rights and fiscal responsibility. This isn’t a story about how I had to open my heart. It’s a story of having to open my eyes.

More on that later.

To demonstrate how seriously I took all of this: On my 18th birthday, I drove an hour and a half to register to vote at the Barry M. Goldwater Republican headquarters in Phoenix. Time was of the essence, as the gubernatorial runoff election occurred a mere 6 days later and I could barely squeak under the registration deadline. My motivation had more to do with wanting to participate than excitement for the Republican candidate himself, Fife Symington III. (Fun fact: He won and later resigned over convictions for bank fraud, which is so Arizona.)

I learned political awareness at home. My family was the kind that frequently talked politics and history at the dinner table. While we weren’t activists, being a good citizen and doing one’s civic duty was a cornerstone of our family ethos. Mom is a centrist Democrat, radically pro-choice and in favor of strong social and health care services, but I wouldn’t describe her as liberal. Dad was a pro-gun and pro-choice Republican who leaned Libertarian and read too much Ayn Rand. They regaled us with stories of the 60s and 70s — my favorite was my mom’s sorority house mother getting in trouble for wearing a black arm band when Goldwater lost.

So there we were, a group of suburban white teens waxing philosophic about virtues of capitalism and the perils of government. We were heavily influenced by Reaganomics. We believed a free market would solve problems with greater integrity and efficiency than government ever could. We believed in a safety net, but a very thin one, just enough to keep people from falling in that moment and no more. We believed the world was a meritocracy and hard work was all you needed to get ahead. We believed unions had served their place and were now just getting in the way.

This continued until I left for college in Indiana. There, everything would change.

To be continued! Part II.