Intentions

I watched “The Razor’s Edge” again last night, one of my favorite films of all time. Larry Darrell is one of my favorite characters of all time. (In my daydreams my character is some kind of Larry Darrell/Lloyd Dobler blend. Well, they’re *my* daydreams.)

There was a scene in The Razor’s Edge where Larry was in India speaking to a man washing dishes in the river. The man told Larry that washing dishes was a religious experience for him and that sort of impressed Larry, which I guess is why Larry followed this man up to the monastery on the mountain later in the movie.

What hit me most was the exchange they had that went something like:

Larry: “I worked in a mine for two years to come here.”
Dish Man: “You worked in a mine? What was your intention?”
Larry: “To make money so I could come here to India.”
Dish Man: “That was your reason, but what was your intention. Without intention, it was just an empty action.”

Later that night, several things clicked. (Here’s where Cody finally clues into what must be the obvious for many readers out there.)

In my life, action without intention, or with wrong intention, is just as much a problem, maybe more so, than good intentions with no (or bad) actions. I always thought my problem was simply a lack of proper attention. Turns out nothing is so simple.

Take, for instance, my cake failure the other night. It occurred to me that part of the problem was wrong intention. By that time on Sunday night, I was making the cake grudgingly out of obligation — I said I would do it — and I figured I might as well try out a new recipe while I was at it. A better intention would have been simply to honor my friend. Had I the right intention, would I have paid more attention and would the cake have turned out better? Just maybe.

Monday night, Girlzilla and I baked pretzels from scratch. She had been begging us to stop and buy pretzels at the store so we could have a snack. We made them at home instead. They turned out great. My intention in the process was to spend time with my daughter, teach her a bit about baking biochemistry (“Bread rises because of yeast farts” — try that line on your preteen), and to give her the experience of pride in making something for herself that she’s used to buying at the store. At the end all the intentions were fulfilled and the pretzels were good. Intentions do make a difference.

So this ties in my recent meditations on skillfulness with something I wrote a few months back about the source of my errors in making art. I had characterized my errors in my art as ones of ignorance, frustration, and inattention. Now I can add one more source to the list — wrong intention.

Well, hey, it’s news to me at least. I am a work in progress. Yep, a real piece of work.

Coffee with Chili Oil Surprise

This recipe will please chili heads and coffee snobs alike. It took me a while to reconstruct events that led to this tasty discovery. Unorthodox as it sounds, it’s pretty good!

Ingredients:

2 tbsp Fresh Ground Coffee
2 cups filtered water
1 tsp chili oil (in plastic container with snap-on lid)
Sugar
Creamer

Instructions:

1. Remove chili oil container from Chinese takeout bag and place in desk drawer for later use. Make sure that the chili oil is next to your “Coffee Sock” (or other reuseable fabric coffee filter ).
2. Rummage around in desk drawer. Stir contents vigorously.
3. Allow at least a week for fabric in Coffee Sock to soak up chili oil that spilled on the bottom of the drawer.
4. Throw away empty chili oil container. Forget about chili oil completely.
5. Heat water to boiling point. Don’t allow water to come to a rolling boil.
6. Put fresh ground coffee in Coffee Sock. Pour boiling water into Coffee Sock, holding the sock over a coffee mug. Allow all water to drip through the grounds into the mug. Discard the wet grounds.
7. Add sugar and creamer to taste. Stir until dissolved.

Serving suggestions:

Allow enough time between steps 3, 4, and 5 to make your first cup a “why is my tongue burning?” puzzling coffee treat!

Bad Art Night

Our game of One Thousand Blank White Cards last month was a success. It was a truly Creative Conversation. People left with ideas of their own for Creative Conversation nights. At least one 1KBWC follow-up night is being kicked around. That was exactly the idea for the whole Creative Conversations franchise.

So how to follow that? I’m stealing an idea from a friend’s art magazine — Bad Art Night. (Apparently it’s not a new idea, but it’s new in this corner of the burbs.)

In this world of sophisticated design at the click of a mouse, when you can get slick design with your coffee at Starbucks, when even the liquid soaps at Target are designed by designers like Todd Oldham and Michael Graves, the world needs more bad art. It’s a depressing world where our cheese graters are hipper than we are.

So, we need some personal-level art, some non-professional art, some really bad art. A recent Utne article by David Byrne calls for more Bad Art for the exact same reason. Who am I to refuse the man who introduced me to blip-hop?

I’m not so much interested in propagating the Bad Art aesthetic as I am interested in freeing up people to be creative. People don’t think they have to have professional skills to go running or play softball, but they won’t try their hand at art because they don’t have “talent.” I want to give people a night where they have permission to have no talent. And then reap the conversation that sprouts up among people being newly creative among other newly creative people.

So mark your calendars:

Creative Conversations: Bad Art Night
Kenny J’s Coffe House
Corner of Kirby and Nasa Rd. 1
Wednesday, August 13th
7:00-10:00

Open yourself up to new ideas, new people, new modes of relating. And possibly new futures for yourself and your local community.

Mornin' George…

I’m showing my age here, but maybe you gen x’ers will know what I’m talking about.

Remember those old cartoons with the sheep dog, the one whose orange bangs hung down over his eyes, and the wolf played by Wile E. Coyote? You know how they’d punch into a timeclock with lunchboxes in hand and say, “Mornin’ George.” “Mornin’ Ralph.” And then they’d spend the day with the wolf trying to steal the sheep and the sheep dog beating the crap out of the wolf? And then they’d clock out when the whistle blew at the end of the day (usually in mid-beating) and say “Goodnight George.” “Goodnight Ralph.”?

Yeah, that’s the one. So, I have a question:

Who *paid* those two? What kind of messed-up company sets its own employees up to such mutually-frustrating job descriptions?

Which brings me to my next question:

Does it ever seem to you like you work for that company?

Just wondering.

Beware the chocolate chip toothpick test trap!

I violated a basic rule.

Never try a new recipe on anyone but yourself or your family.

I almost went out and bought a mix. By the time I remembered tonight that I promised to make a cake for a coworker’s birthday tomorrow, there was not enough time to make either my chocolate cheesecake or my Uber-rich chocolate celebration cake. I was tempted to try a mix. Just do it and get it out of the way.

But Jan’s a long time friend and she’s made cakes for me in the past, so I figured the occasion called for more than a mix. El Scratcho Cake-o. So I tried this new recipe for Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake from one of my wife’s “trade magazines” like Good Housekeeping or some such.

Anyway the cake turned out drier than I had wanted. Probably tastes perfectly fine, but I had envisioned something gooey and decadent. Something that would make folks say “Ohmigod” as they clamored for a glass of milk. This is not omigod cake. This is sensible cake. At least the dark chocolate sour cream frosting is good.

As I was frosting the cake, I realized my mistake. I probably overcooked the cake because the toothpick kept coming out brown. So i mistakenly thought it needed more time. What I forgot — a lesson I had learned the hard way on previous cakes and apparently forgot — is that the toothpick will not come out clean if you have chocolate chips or bits in the batter. Damn.

I failed to refactor the chocolate chip toothpick test trap into my cake making knowledge base. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Oh, bother.

“Regarding one’s own personal needs, there should be as little involvement or obligation as possible. But regarding service to others, there should be as many possible involvements and obligations as possible. This should be the ideal of a spiritual person.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama”

Which reminds me of my favorite definition of Love, which I attribute to our friend Winnie Honeywell, who happens to be director of our diocese’s Family Life Office:

“Love means being bothered for the sake of another.”

Which reminds me of an old 10,000 Maniacs song:

“Trouble me. Disturb me with all your cares and your worries”

So does that mean that Love is a big pain in the ass, albeit a happy one? C’mon, bother me.

Is Skillfulness loopy?

More on skill:

“The fact that skills can be developed implies that action is not
illusory, that it actually gives results. Otherwise, there would be no such
thing as skill, for no actions would be more effective than others. The fact of
skillfulness also implies that some results are preferable to others, for
otherwise there would be no point in trying to develop skills. In addition, the
fact that it is possible to learn from mistakes in the course of developing a
skill, so that one’s future actions may be more skillful, implies that the cycle
of action, result, and reaction is not entirely deterministic, and that acts of
perception, attention, and intention can actually provide new input as the cycle
goes through successive turns.”

— Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wings to Awakening Part 1-A

Action, result, and reaction. Perception, intention, and attention. I feel a causal loop diagram coming on… Or at least a mind map.

The Buddha is addressing here the meta-skill of acquiring skillfullness. It seems to be a feedback loop that adjusts future action based on the results of previous actions, informed by perception and intention. All of these make a classic Systems analysis problem.

Attention doesn’t seem to fit *in* the system. Attention seems to *be* the system. Attention is the prerequisite to the fact that you are examining your actions at all. One cannot be skillful and mindless at the same time. Perception and intention are themselves forms of attention, albeit to internal and external states, and act as inputs to the causal loops of Skillfulness.

At least that’s how it seems to me. What is the difference then? Is Skillfulness just the application of attention to action?

HHIF, Y'all.

That stands for “Ho Hum, It’s Friday.” Y’all.

I don’t look forward to Fridays. I am not a “workin’ for the weekend” kind of guy. Weekends are just not that special to me.

I may go to bed a few hours later and then turn off the alarm and let the kids wake me up the next morning. But it’s the same amount of sleep. I don’t go off to my job, but weekends mean a work of a different kind. Entertaining little kids and a caring for a household is work. Usually those tasks that can’t be taken care of during the week are left to the weekends. Different kind of work, but more work.

Not that I don’t like being around my family. I look forward to it. But I just don’t greet Fridays with that “TGIF” joie de vivre.

Besides, when we want to have fun and go on a date, Heidi and I are just as likely to go out during the week as any. We don’t wait for the next weekend. When we need to get away, we get away. And we prefer the “off-peak” mode — visiting all the places you folks crowd into on the weekend at off times when y’all aren’t there.

And I don’t engage in any recreational activities that I have to “sleep off” later. So I don’t need the weekend time structure — where you stay up late and sleep late to compensate — to allow me to pursue any social activities involving controlled doses of self-destructive indulgence. Our average date starts at, say, 5:30 and ends at 10:30. I hear tell from my partying friends that 10:30 p.m. is when the fun’s just getting started. I wouldn’t know, myself.

I like it that way. For me, time has a quiet, happy, mundane continuity to it. I don’t divide my experience into five days of indentured servitude followed by two days of recreation. It’s all an illusion, this concept we call the weekend.

And, best of all, I don’t dread Mondays.

Bad Beans

I meant well. I’d let my Lola Savannah beans run out without a new order, so I needed some at-work coffee. I had romantic pretensions of shedding my snobbery when it comes to coffee. That’s why I picked up a package of Eight O’Clock Coffee beans this morning.

I got this idea from my recent dalliances with cheap but serviceable brands of beer. I’ve recently tried Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life. They aren’t as good as the fashionable microbrews I usually buy, but they are a good value in the taste to cost ratio. They’re half as cheap but they’re better than half as good.

Mixed in there is my romantic pretension that I could rid myself of pretension and snobbery. That I could quaff the brew of the working man, the man’s man. People who build stuff in the Texas heat drink this kind of beer. This isn’t “retire to the pub for a pint of stout” beer, this is a “down a cold one in extended gulps to extinguish thirst and heat, rivulets of overflow beer mingling with beads of sweat on your jowls” kind of beer. “Wipe your sweaty brow with the back of your hand while you drink” kind of beer.

And, faced with similar conditions last week, I found that Pabst and Miller make a decent thirst-quencher beer for a much nicer price. (I had to ignore the sudden urge to go watch NASCAR, though.)

And so I thought that idea could be extended to coffee. The cheaper beans stood on the grocery shelf right next to the Starbucks brand, their $3.97 price card mocking me and my trend-conscious coffee snob self. It said, “You know most of Starbuck’s extra cost is just brand and marketing. Their beans are trucked in from Seattle, my beans are trucked in from New Jersey. You’ll be paying four dollars extra for Seattle.” So I gave New Jersey a try.

I’ve always held the view that a smart coffee snob should be more of a snob about the *way* coffee is made. If you have fresh roasted and ground beans, clean water, clean equipment, and a good brewing process, then the provenance of the beans is a secondary matter. That’s always held up for me in the past.

But it only works up to a point. Perfect coffee process cannot save just plain bad beans. And this was just plain bad coffee.

My romantic notion of having rediscovered a forgotten coffee value — a quotidian coffee, pedestrian but serviceable, a coffee that was good enough for your grandpa — was gone after the first half cup.

Your grandpa didn’t know Starbucks, apparently. And if your grandpa had access to the miracle that is Lola Savannah, he would have plowed under those Eight O’Clock Coffee beans in his vegetable garden as compost.