Author Archives: jimphelps

About jimphelps

Chair, ITANA Enterprise Architect, Sr. IT Architect; UW-Madison

Creativity and Constraint

This is my favorite painting at the Chazen Museum in Madison, Wisconsin. It is called the Cable Factory. It is a large painting (80″ by 53″) that was created by Nikolai Alexandrovich Ionin. It was painted in 1935 in Soviet Russia under the Soviet Socialist Realism edict. At this time, all art must be accessible to the people and represent the great work of the people. You get paintings and sculptures of potato farmers and worker revolts during this period.

And, you get this one of strong men making wire cable in the glow of fires and machine lights.CableFactoryHiRes.png

When you first approach it, you should take it in from far away across the gallery. Stand there and take in the color and composition. The structure. The elegance of the wire spools – you know them as tables from college days. The rolled cuffs on the workers – their strong bare arms, muscles bulging from years of hard labor for the good of the country. Their clean shaven faces – showing that they are good men. The light pours in the back from an open door or skylight. There is a bright sheen on the new wire cable and there is hot fire in the gauging / winding machine. The workers seem calm and capable. You can almost smell the hot metal and hear the mechanical whirl of all of it. The ironwork that holds the upper floor looks touchable.

But then walk up. Walk up close. [This is what we miss by not having museums open -the presence of art. The changing and morphing perceptions of art as we approach it and get close.]

When you are close, then look at the background in this painting – study the detail in the ceiling and machines.

Here is a painter playing with cubism – with abstract art. Think about what is happening in art in Europe and America in the 1930s. Mondrian is painting color block squares and rectangles. Freda Kahlo is painting her provocative nudes.

Joan Miró has gone full-on psychoanalysis-driven surrealist.

But, Nikolai is here, in the Soviet era, painting men making wire. And yet, he is also exploring the wild and abstract painting styles of 1930. Here in these rafters, he has found a way to explore cubism and abstract art. Even under the dire constraints and the threat of Siberia, Nikolai has found a creative outlet and a way to explore new ideas and new boundaries.

I hope that we can get creative under these new constraints and boundaries of COVID-19. I hope we can new ways to express our visions and creations. Let us celebrate the hard workers who are keeping us fed and alive. And, let us also explore the new ideas and ways of creating even under the dire constraints that wrap our everyday lives.

Stay well. Be well. Create.

Yay! + Yay? = Yay or is it Yay!? Or maybe Yay*

Ena News: She can transition off the crutches over the next couple of days. Yay! I will be so glad when she is off crutches. I have I mentioned that I’m really tired of the sound of crutches – the creaky-Kachonk of crutches? The sound of crutches falling over? The sound of crutches falling over in the middle of the night?

So, “Yay” to no more crutches!

She also heard back from the cardiologist. Her CT scan with contrast looked perfectly normal. Her surgeon also looked at it and said, “You look like a healthy adult who never smoked. I don’t see anything wrong.” The cardiologist said that she does not have any blocked arteries and that her chest pain is not a heart attack. She is doing the correct things of lowering her cholesterol and blood pressure. Check back in a year. Yay? I mean “Yay!” I guess in that she doesn’t have any blocked arteries and she isn’t having heart attacks but it would be nice to have a diagnosis of what is going on.

So that is where we are at on the Ena health care front.

She is my beloved. We started dating 23 years ago this coming Summer. Kind of amazing. This photo is from about then. We smiled like goofy school kids at each other all the time.And this one is from February of this year in The Before. We still smile at each other like goofy school kids.

Mom

I have been feeling the “presence”* of my mother these past few days or weeks. Maybe it is all the cooking, cleaning and running the house. Mom believed that all of us should know how to keep house: boys and girls. I’m really grateful for what she taught me. They are prime skills at this time.

I was mixing a large bowl of chicken salad, and I was using a serving spoon (a small one that came with our silverware). I could hear Mom say, “Don’t use a small spoon for a large bowl. Get a spoon big enough to do the job.”

I said, out loud I must add, “I know Mom. I know.”

Ena said, “What?” rightfully confused by my sudden utterance and calling her Mom.

I told her that I was talking to my Mom saying to get a big spoon instead of a small spoon.

I also felt her when I was mopping the kitchen floor. I was rinsing it off when I heard her tell me, “You need to rinse the cleaner off. The cleaner is designed to attract dirt. Leave it on the floor and you’ll just attract the dirt.”

Deflated Mylar balloon saying, “Class of 2020” on the ground in our garden

This are strange times, when people are falling back on old-school skills. People are buying chickens and planting gardens. It feels like the 40s (minus the War), sort of. People looking to be resourceful, minimize shopping, not go out. Cooking at home. Growing their own food. Taking care of their house and loved ones.

We are lucky that we have the tech to help us live through this with some comfort. I can order groceries to be delivered in a variety of ways. We can see the latest movies on-line and streaming if we want to pay for it. So, unlike the 40s, we have tech to help us through, but we don’t have the social gatherings that came with the war.

When we lived in Wisconsin, we went down to New Glarus – a little town that calls itself “Little Switzerland”. There is an old bar called Puempel’s Olde Tavern. It was established in 1893. There is a tiny dance floor in the back of this shotgun tavern. [That is, long and narrow not that everyone is carrying shotguns. That you have explain this says something about these times. – Editor]

On the dance floor, there were elderly couples, mostly, dancing waltzes and simple swing, to old songs like The Tennessee Waltz played by a live three-piece band. Elderly women sat along the wall waiting for an invite to dance. I had the sense that these people were here in 1943 – the men young and handsome in their uniforms – the women waiting and worried.

These times, there is something that brings us back to the core of living. To those old voices speaking of cooking and cleaning and running house. Of growing food and checking on neighbors. Fast Fashion seems ludicrous (more so) at these times. Sewing masks and making art and bread have come to the fore. And, I guess, so has my mother’s voice – teaching the arts and crafts of running a home.

* I do not think her ghost or spirit is in the house. This is just the lessons and voice of my mother coming back across the ages.

End of week 10, really?

So that was the 10th week of working from home. Ena is still on crutches and we still don’t have an answer yet to her cardiac issues. Seattle is just starting to open back up a little bit as long as you are wearing a mask and you stay 6′ feet apart unless you are in a restaurant or you are a nutter carrying an AK knockoff in front of the Capital Building. Then you can do what ever you want because Freedom!

Me. I’m grumpy. I’m tired of running and walking in the neighborhood. I’m psychologically tired of the “constant presence of it all” and the “constant vigilance” I have to practice. Also, my hands are sore from washing and disinfecting and sanitizing.

And it’s raining.

So here is this: the last photo from The Before:People shopping in an art booth

Look at all those people walking around looking at arts and crafts at the Pacific Northwest Garden Show. This was the first time we had even been to this show. We thought it would be about plants and garden design. It was mostly about a craft fair, and things you could buy on the Home Shopping Chanel (mattresses that adjust up and down in his and her styles), some people who supply stuff like stone, and gates, and skylights. There were a few display gardens inside under really strange lighting.

Hanging garden swing in a display garden

But this was The Before. When we took a bus downtown to go out to lunch and to a garden show and to walk through the Sculpture Garden before catching a Lyft home.

This was a world away in a time long forgotten (it seems). It is like an age of innocence. A period before when you happily climbed on the bus with a bunch of people in Mariners fan wear and others going to work on the weekend. When you looked forward to a kind of crowded restaurant full of fun people to watch. A time when you thought eating food with your hands in a crowded place was a kick not a dangerous fling with possible death.

I don’t think I was as grumpy then. I think these things are related.

The Before

I was chatting with a colleague asking him if he had any insights into two different strategic planning engagements that I’m being asked to help with. He said, “those are both from The Before. I’m not sure they make sense now. Where will the funding come from? Is this the most critical thing?”

That struck me – The Before. Will this be a point in time we talk about like 9/11? I remember flying before 9/11 – you could practically walk out to the gate 20 minutes before your flight. I remember just having plane tickets that were tickets. You could give them to someone else to use if you couldn’t use them.

Will we talk about The Before? No one wore masks on buses in The Before. In The Before, there was no single-payer health care really [This is aspirational – editor]. What is it we will carry forward into The After (I call it A.D. – After Donald)? Will we be proud of the adaptations and our responses or will they be ugly stains like the xenophobia and racism against Muslims that rose up from 9/11?

Will we say, “in The Before, people really didn’t get how important teachers and schools were that why there are all these new programs to help out K-12”. Will we point to new public science that is working on vaccines and disease tracking and drug discovery and say, “All of this was driven by the events of The Before”?

Will Higher Education embrace (truly and deeply) remote teaching and learning as well as on premise and learn to do it well? Will new tools appear to help build true engagement through a screen?

Let us hope that we look back at The Before with awe and think of all of the great things that came from it, not just the death and loss of incomes. Let us hope that this is a period of growth, not just survival.

P.S. The image above is from gabrielletreanor.com. I really don’t know anything about her other than I like the framework she put out.

Exhaustion

I don’t know why but today I feel exhausted. Maybe it is the heat. This is the first hot weekend of the year. Both days in the 80s and I was busy outside most of the weekend. Maybe all the yard work and stuff caught up with me. Maybe it is the new dose of anti-anxiety meds. Maybe it is existential exhaustion from All Of It (™)

I had a nap but it was the kind where you don’t sleep well and you wake up more tired (or at least just as tired) as before you lay down to sleep. (Kim L – I had to Google this for the whole lay, lie, laid, lain thing – editor)

Maybe next week will be Ena’s last week on crutches. Let’s hope. Maybe she will get her CT scan and we will get a diagnosis for her chest pains. Let’s hope. Did I mention that we got a new hot water heater on Friday? Let’s hope it is the last of those kinds of house repairs for while. Let’s hope a nice evening and good night’s rest rejuvenates my energy cells. That’s kind of what I’m running on right now – fumes and hope.

A phone call from Charles

A couple of days ago, Charles and I talked on the phone. Charles and I have a long history of saying, “we should talk more often”. Finally, we followed through. We chatted like teens for over an hour talking of current life and history long since gone.

There was a period of reminiscing about Malls and what they meant to us and young adults – a place to gather with friends, a place to see who else it out, a place to eat and watch a movie and buy gifts. We talked about how those adventures brought, not only us kids together, but parents too. I remember my Mom talking Mrs. Durney or Mrs. Alison about plans – “I can drop the kids off at the Mall on my way to Albertsons and they can have lunch and see a movie. Can you pick them about 3PM? Great.”

We talked of old downtowns and department stores and the right of passage when you could catch the bus downtown or your parents would drop you off to spend the day downtown. I would go to Auerbach’s Department store (my sister worked there) and ZCMI.

We talked about Ye Olde Telephone days when you had the long curly cord on the phone in the kitchen and it had a small burn mark on it where it was drug across a burner at some point. We talked about having the long cord on the desk phone and how you or a sibling would drag the phone into the room and close the door. You carry dimes for the payphone in case you needed to call home.

We talked of sickness and health. But mostly, we enjoyed our friendship which is almost 20 years old. A bit of the crazy from COVID-19 evaporated from our lives for an hour.

I think with all the other “platforms” that are available (Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook, etc.). We forget the old phone call and how much it means to just talk to a friend. We said we would stay in touch and talk again soon. This time, I’ll call.

Give someone a call sometime. Stay in touch.

Funny what hits you…

I saw my toiletry bag hanging up in the bathroom and I thought, “I should put that away. I’m not going anywhere for a while”. That really struck me. I love travel and really enjoy the travel I do for work. I have a large national (international actually) network of friends and colleagues. I would travel about 4 to 6 times a year for work to conferences mostly. At each of these conferences, there is a circle of people who I have known for 10 to 20 years. Some, I don’t know so well that I would set up a call just to chat with them. Others, I really should reach out to see how they are doing.

Osprey toiletry bag hanging on a hook.

This virtual world doesn’t allow for the random reconnections while walking the hallways of EDUCAUSE with 8,000 other people. It doesn’t let me look across the room at CSG and see Jenn and have a bit of an “Oh boy, Jenn is here” leap of heart or Ron, or Klara or any of a dozen other people.

Yes, there are people I’m really close to whom I am trying to stay in touch with. We have virtual dinners with friends and family (not as much as we should). There are others, the next circle out, with whom I chat or email. But there is a whole world of people, one-step further out, that I used to travel with and see at least once a year who now seem out of reach.

Seeing my toiletry bag and thinking that I might not need it for another 18 months really pressed upon the loss of that circle of connection in this pandemic. The loss of those crowds and travel, the random connections, the chance encounters with a charming and funny person in the airport, the people who are the next circle out of your acquaintances, with whom you always enjoyed your hallway catch-up, some of whom always took you back to another point in your life and great memories from then. This is what my toiletry bag makes me think about. This is the loss that strikes me.

Stay well. Reach out and chat someone. We’re all in this together.

2, 9, 104 weeks

I had such high hopes that at today’s visit, Ena’s doctor would tell her she could start to wean off the crutches… but, no. She will spend at least two more weeks on crutches. We are both quite tired of her being on crutches. We are also tired (maybe in the royal sense) of the intermittent, though brief, chest pains. I hope that her CT scan gets scheduled soon so we can get an answer or at least rule out … I don’t know what it will rule out but by damn let’s get it ruled the f*ck out.

We would both really like to move away from management to cure. From crutches to walking. [Did you know you can get sick of the sound of crutches – the kind of springy clunking ka-chunk ka-chunk? – editor]

You know, just get around to dealing with COVID-19 and working from home and only grocery shopping every 3 weeks (Thank You InstaCart! and WholeFoods delivery).

So, welcome to Week 9 of the Great Seattle Stay-Away 2020. Yep. That’s right. I’m starting my 9th week of working from home. I’m tired of the smell of bleach. I feel like I work at a YMCA pool in Summer except for the fun-in-the-sun part. Maybe I work in the basement of the YMCA where there is a pool that they use a LOT of chlorine in because there are a LOT of little kids coming and going and going in the pool.

Some pandemic experts are predicting that we have two more years – that’s 104 more weeks – before COVID-19 (20, and 21?) finally burns itself out because basically almost everyone has caught it. See my post about August 2022 being the next Summer of Normalcy.

A very minor annoyance here – the name COVID-19 isn’t all that great. It stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019. I’m not saying we should have named it Cough-Until-You-Are-Blue Virus. But, SARS-CoV-2 (SARS Corona Virus 2) does make a lot of sense. It is a corona virus that is very similar to the SARS virus. It is the sequel in some ways. The same but different. Like in James Bond when they changed from Sean Connery to Roger Moore (Yes, I know David Niven was the next Bond but who remembers that?!). But once again, I digress.

Are things settling into a new rhythm? Is this a new way of life that we can all live for 18 more months? My hair will be quite long if this goes on for 18 more months. And they better fix the toilet paper and flour supply chains if that is the case.

Photo of english daisies up close in full bloom.

We are really lucky that we have a lovely house and a lovely yard. I go out and sit in the sun amongst the flowers in our “meadow”.* The “meadow” is lovely and full of spring sun and buzzing bugs and birdsong. I go out and breathe and sit and just be for a while. I just have some time when I’m not disinfecting something, or helping to manage Ena’s health, or working, or cooking, or cleaning, or worrying about all the things that could be added to that list above. Just sit and breathe. And listen to the life in the yard. And feel the sun on my back or face.

Breathe everyone. We may be in for the long haul. Stay well. Be healthy.

* Please note that our meadow is about 15 feet by 30 feet. It is not measured in acres or hectares (which I really don’t know the dimensions of other than it is a grouping of acres – maybe 20 acres? Dunno)

Appreciation – Art in the house

The bottom kind of fell out Tuesday. I was tired and had a nap (actually two) midday. I don’t know if I was on the back side of a anxiety period when all that anxious energy ran out or if it was emotional exhaustion from the Sunday – Monday (and every other day for the past 8 weeks) events. That night, I was having trouble falling asleep which is very rare for me.

As I was trying to fall asleep, I started thinking about some of the art objects we own and their story. I found this very comforting and full of appreciation for our life together. I thought I would do a post each week about some of these things. A switch from the regular angst and worry.

This was the first piece that came to mind. It was made by a friend of ours in Madison. Gretchen Olson. Gretchen lived a few blocks away. She also had a doodle named Bode. We would take Lola for a walk and stop and say “hi” to Gretchen and scratch Bode if they were out. Gretchen would host an art fair in her house around Christmas time. Each Christmastime, we would walk down with Lola and put her out back with Bode. At some point, while we were there, the dogs would get into the house and they would race around lacing through the people and furniture wagging like crazy. I was always waiting for the crash of bookcase full of pottery or a table full of glass but it never happened.

We already lived in Seattle when I bought this piece. I saw it on her Instagram account (@gretchenolsonarts) and wrote to her instantly saying, “Ooo! I would like that piece!” This sits out in the living room. It makes me smile and warms my heart with both its beauty – simple organic lines, lovely soft pale turquoise glaze, open form – and the memories that are bound to it.

We have many other pieces by Gretchen. She made this wine chiller for us as a special request. The small Bee Bowl was another Instagram – “Ooo. I want It Piece”.

Pottery wine cooler with red dot and organic circles in black

It is good to have things that you can look to for calm and warm remembrances. It is also good to realize that many of the things that bring us happiness and connect us to others are close at hand. All you have to do is sit calmly and look.

Stay well and healthy. I’m still looking for a new normal and new rhythms. I hope you are finding the places where there is peace for you in this turbulent time.