Yesterday on the flight from LAX to Midway I finished this book.  I quite liked it. In fact I got into a very interesting discussion with my seatmates about it (one a grad student at UIC, the other a first grade teacher).  The first grade teacher saw the cover and thought it was about picking a mate.  She wanted to get it for a friend who “keeps picking the wrong girl.”   The UIC grad student responded to the title by asking if I’d ever been to  I replied that no I hadn’t been to, and no it wasn’t about picking mates (although I suppose one could apply some of the ideas in the book to such an endeavor). It was about how we can become better choosers. Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia University professor who has made a career of studying choice, talks about how the brain has two different systems for processing information, one automatic and the other reflective.   When the two align themselves, choice is easy.  When they do not, dilemmas present themselves.  Through a variety of examples ranging from arranged marriage (individualistic versus collective societies and how choice works in these respective cultures) to fashion (how color trends emerge) to life-and-death medical decisions, she lays out research supporting a case for how we apply choice to create our lives.  Along the way she references Marshmallow Studies, choosing between barely-distinguishable pink nail polishes, Pepsi v. Coke, priming, Odysseus and Sisyphus, “Cake, or Death?” and the role of cultural and media context in the exertion of choice. She posits that becoming better choosers requires the willingness to  expand some of our areas of expertise, and to make ourselves uncomfortable.

“Managing our expectations is perhaps the most difficult challenge of choice, but one way to do so is to look to those who have shown how constraints create their own beauty and freedom.  Inventors and artists and musicians have long known the value of putting constraints on choice.  They work within forms and strictures and rues, many of which they break only to establish new boundaries, sometimes even tighter ones.  There is more than one story to tell about choice, and there should be more than one way to read and write choice in our culture.”   ~p. 213

“It is worth our while, I believe, to experiment with a structured approach to choosing, one that encourages us to pay close attention to the choosing process and to connect the power of choice not to what it is but to how we practice it.”  ~p. 214

These observations resonate for artists, precisely because whether in set practices or improvisational activity, form and content rarely produce meaning without shape and boundaries to guide the endeavor.   It is in the process of inquiry and choosing rather than from the final product or resulting choice, that we usually find our way.

Gazing over dozens of goblets and cups of fine metal, stone, and wood –one of these objects was the Holy Grail — the ancient knight Templar in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade warned Our Hero, “Choose wisely.”  In reflective fashion, Jones did just that…and through his process, achieved the Grail.

We hereby award pearls to Sheena Iyengar for her informative and provocative research, and the wonderful read from Los Angeles to Chicago.



The Bougainvillea is Doing Nicely

The explosions of color in the California spring are blinding to those of us more accustomed to the unrelenting flat chill gray of a midwestern March…so it made peculiar sense to me this morning that I would think of Iron Butterfly’s epic song, with its mondegreen (look it up) title, while pondering the bougainvillea at the bottom of the steps.  As I have had a head cold for the last three days, everything makes sense.  The salmon in the refrigerator makes sense.  The creamy orange walls I painted on my last sabbatical make sense.  The trio of ficus trees in the courtyard make sense, as do the green and orange oregami birds dangling from the cord in the living room window. The visual acuities and dimwittedness of the last three days have allowed me to play a lot of “Angry Birds,” a ridiculous and addictive app on my iPhone, and to think about, well, Iron Butterfly.  I never really liked In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida but I appreciate its significance as a gateway into heavy metal (which I have also never much liked, unless you count a few of Trent Renzor’s more accessible tracks.. though I think Nine Inch Nails is more considered “industrial rock” than heavy metal…the genre labels mostly elude me anymore as they are infinite in number insofar as I can tell…a friend of mine once surveyed around 600 dance companies and discovered they had 139 different ways to describe themselves, genre-wise…who knew?)  And how did I get from the magenta bougainvillea at the bottom of the steps to Nine Inch Nails? Eh. Blame the Proustian logic of the head cold.

I added my first link, that being a food blog I recommend highly for delicious recipes and point of view. It is kept by an exceedingly marvelous woman who can dance and cook (most dancers can cook, I don’t know if the reverse holds true).

A Word About Mixed Metaphors


As a once and future blogger, I resume in new form with a wide field of possibilities and no particular focus beyond experiencing and writing about the, my, world. As life has taken me in so many directions (a mix of chance and choice, the Great Choreographer would observe) themes may careen from cats one day to the Rayburn House Office Building the next, with a diversion into lemon writing or food blogs in between. It therefore seems perfectly appropriate to use a title that is not about lemons versus peaches or pearls versus swine. (the latter being a mixed metaphor anyway) Every day is an experiment, and our metaphors are rarely pure unless it is by happy accident or far too much effort. Of course, writing a poem one needs to pay attention to such things as the best poems do tend to hold together in some internally consistent way, metaphor being a primary resource…but I digress. Or not, given that this blog is about anything. And perhaps occasionally, in a Seinfeldian sort of way, about nothing. Definitely an indulgence of sorts, with no audience to speak of and an un-ending blank page before me. How daunting and how delicious. The constant quest to learn to write.
But off into the barricades, a friend has called and needs rescue owing to brake repairs being done on a car about to drive from Los Angeles to New York. By all means, fix those brakes. The hill down from Flagstaff is a long one.