Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Facing down a fear

Recently I decided to tackle one of my demons head on.  I went to New York for a drawing course that lasted all day for five days.

Previously, my drawing ability had been close to, or maybe less than, zero.  In the 1960s, when my grade school teacher saw that I was unable to stay within the lines while coloring, she gently recommended that I focus on reading and writing rather than pursue art.  A couple decades later, a former girlfriend used to roll in the aisles when I tried to play Pictionary (a game that requires you to "draw" clues).

To make matters worse, my older brother and uncle are excellent artists who can conjure beautifully rendered objects seemingly from thin air.

Some friends encouraged me to take a weekly 2-hour class at a local art school or gallery.  But I knew that I would not stick with that.  So I signed up for a sort of voluntary incarceration with Brian Bomseiler.  It was very difficult mentally and emotionally for many of us in the class.  Brian said one day when we were struggling with drawing faces: "Now you understand why van Gogh cut off one of his ears!"

I am happy to report that, in the end, we all made huge progress.  Brian taught us some straightforward but effective techniques.  More powerfully, I think, was learning to see differently - especially shadows and light and texture.  That new way of seeing has broad implications in life, I expect.

I would never in a million years normally do the following.  But fully vanquishing my fear of drawing (and of my grade school teacher) requires me to put two ofmy drawings out there.  The first is my "before" self-portrait, done on the first day.  The second is my "after" drawing from Day 5.

Day 1

Day 5

I am in no danger of being asked to exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery any time soon.  But I am happy with my progress nonetheless.  (You can see other students' progress here.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

He can have whatever he wants

I met this woman early one morning last summer at the Starbucks near our office.  She walked up with her huge, hobbling dog, handed me the leash, went inside, came back out a few minutes later, and fed him a maple scone.  She told me that he is seventeen years old and loves scones, so she gets him one every day.  "At his age, he can have whatever he wants," she told me.  I have not seen her recently and wonder whether her dog has died.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Substance over Form

Only small NGOs it seems are able to actually get out in the field and get their hands dirty making things happen. Past a certain size (what is that size?) the demands for official looking papers, reports, audits and the like overshadow the demand to actually provide aid. Large donors are just too caught up in the appearance of good business and good government. Form without substance.
That is by Scott MacLennan over on Bill Easterly's Aid Watch blog.  Read his short post - it captures well the underlying rationale for GlobalGiving.

Monday, May 04, 2009

As goes the NY Times, so goes the World Bank?

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn't apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can't predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. 
In this piece, Clay Shirky discusses Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change and draws parallels with the revolution facing the newspaper industry.  But he could just as well have been talking about the revolution facing the international development industry.  Is he also talking about your industry?