30 September 2023
The lab/studio/office/playground of Life Lab Notes
Happy International Podcast Day! We’re so fortunate to have found so many truly wonderful podcasts over the years, aren’t we? And what makes them so wonderful, Diary? In the words of writer and artist Sherry Coben, “I long for authentic, earned laughter and tears. Comedy deepened with drama, drama leavened with comedy – that’s my thing. Meaning and silliness. Reflecting life as I see it.” (Check out her episode of 12 Days of Christmas - Regifted: A Partridge in a Pear Tree - A True Story About My Best Friend Paulette. You can find it under the MORE! pull-down menu. Scroll down to 12 Days of Christmas - Regifted.)
Today of all days, let’s also gush over these three podcasts, which give us such heartwarmth, such hopeful musing, and the occasional chilling speculation.
Here are the titles, and links to where you can hear them on podlink.
• Articles of Interest (A critically-acclaimed series about what we wear. Smart and touching. By Avery Trufelman)
• The Memory Palace (An anthology by Nate DiMeo. Thought-provoking, will tug at your heart-strings.)
• The Truth (Radiotopia / PRX presents short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. So good!)
Well, Dear Diary, that’s all for now. May everyone’s notes on Life include peace and hope. And fun, obvs.
The year was 2015. That’s when Life Lab Notes started sharing its field observations from the lab of Life in a storytelling podcast. Since that time…well, it’s cliche to say it, but wow! So much has changed. Our world looks and feels different. (For many, it’s the same world, but more people are aware of its systemic unjustness.) The way we talk about ourselves and each other has shifted, which is a good thing. Take pronouns, for example. Of course, it’s tricky to accommodate other folks if you disagree with them, but many people are managing it and that’s also a good thing. I mean, who ever said we would all agree? (It’s definitely hotter though, amirite?)
It took us two years to settle on the name Life Lab Notes. That’s because names, labels, handles, are important. They give some information about the thing they’re attached to. They identify. It’s funny, we are natural born namers. Without thinking about it, we look for patterns, we herd things and people into different categories, usually on the tiniest shred of information! Like…their accent! Their skin colour! Whole big decisions made about them just based on that. Imagine! Pfft!
But that’s not what this post is about. Look at me, digressing all over the place. This post is about Stitcher, one of the podcast platforms we appear on, ending operations on August 29th. Their sister app, Pandora, will carry Life Lab Notes. Of course, you can find Life Lab Notes lots of other places, too. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Audible - our music and SFX designer and engineer, Phil Ward, listens to Life Lab Notes on his iCatcher app. I, myself, use Overcast.
So many places to get all kinds of information. It’s a bit overwhelming. Wherever you get your info, your podcasts, your news, I hope you check it with a few other places, and I don’t mean your loudest relatives at the holiday dinner. You know, try to take in all sides of the topic and really consider it through a neutral lens.
There I go again! My goodness, I’d better let you go. But do come back. Halloween is right around the corner, so we’ve got our idea cauldron out and we’re tossing story ideas in there and seeing what bubbles up. Whatever it is, we’ll share it with you. But not on Stitcher.
Our holiday episode features a new Lab Assistant - friend and collaborator Christina Wells Campbell. The first story in the episode is written and read by Silvie Zamora, the second is written and read by Christina, and can be found on her website: www.TentativeEquinox.com. Go there if you're a fan of inspiration and insight.
Here's her bio:
Christina is a theatre person: mostly actor, sometimes director, sometimes writer. She has a BA in Theatre and English from Simon Fraser University as well as a Diploma in Human Resource Management which she realizes seems like a strange tangent but is definitely related. She is the Artistic Director of Classic Chic Productions which produces classic works of theatre with all or mostly all female-identifying teams. She is also a Performing Arts Programmer at a Civic Arts Centre. She looks forward to being on stage, in the audience, and able to welcome audiences in person again—maybe by the autumnal equinox?
And here's a partial transcript of the episode:
You might think there would be a lot of pressure to put out the perfect end-of-year podcast, that is the perfect blend of a thoughtful review of the year, a humourous look at life’s outtakes, and an upbeat toast to the future. And you would be right. Especially this year.
Luckily, we know Christina Campbell. She IS a perfect blend of thoughtful, humourous, and upbeat, and she has graciously allowed us to include her latest blogpost, and it’s in her own voice. Also luckily, we’re able to look at small things and see big metaphors.
And so, Life Lab Notes presents two holiday pieces.The Shape of a Holiday, by Silvie Zamora; followed by Come Walk With Me, by Christina Campbell.
I’ve been making paper snowflakes.
I’ve found several templates online, in the usual “snowflake” shapes, plus fancier ones that reveal a ring of pine trees, stars, cats, Star Wars characters, and I invented one of a microphone and headphones.
The more ornate the template, the more helpful it is to fold the paper into the layered triangle you need to start with, then lightly draw the lines you’re going to cut along in pencil. But many of the designs involve simple lines, so you can pretty much just follow the template by eye, with your scissors. Even though the lines are strategically placed, you can eyeball it as you cut the required shapes.
The only tricky part about that method, for me, is that I can get mixed up about what part I’m cutting to save and what part I’m cutting away. I hope that makes sense. There’s this tree one I’ve been trying to get just right. Each tree in the circle is supposed to look like a thick outline of a tree, with the centre of it open - cut out. as if you’d drawn a simple outline of a tree with a marker, but you didn’t fill it in. I’ve done several now. The first time, I ended up with the centre part only. I had accidentally cut away the outline, leaving just a very small, chunky tree. Another time I inadvertently cut the part that connects the repeating images, so when I unfolded it, I had six separate trees.
I kept at it, and have finally ended up with a decent looking Christmas tree snowflake, even though I couldn’t make it have all of the boughs. There’s only two. The template has three. But it’s definitely an outline of a tree. The imperfect pattern repeats in a circle and it looks…different, but kind of nice, still.
Can’t visit - won’t visit our family this year, or our friends, so no caroling house to house in a big group. No sitting close, eating, talking, laughing, hugging the people we usually only see once a year. We’ve cut away at all of the things that make up our holiday traditions, and what we’re looking at is not quite right. Not enough boughs. Doesn’t look like the template.
Last year at this time, we sure didn’t know how different this year would be. Weirdly, painfully, worryingly different.
The traditions just won’t look the same, but we can make sure the important parts are there, the connections between us, even if they don’t end up looking like the template.
Let this year be different. Let there be merriment in small screens with shaky wifi. Let there be fewer gifts. Let there be smaller feasts. Let there be sadness where there should be, and let there be light.
The Shape of a Holiday was written and read by Silvie Zamora. Come Walk With Me was written and read by Christina Campbell. You can find Christina’s excellent blog, Tentative Equinox, at TentativeEquinox dot com. You can find us at LifeLabNotes dot com, and on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @LifeLabNotes. Happy Holidays. Hey, happy all the days!
Wow. These are uncertain times, aren't they? They were uncertain a few months ago, but now that uncertainty is dialed way up. It hits us in every area - job, free time, friend time, alone time, travel, dreams of the future, school, art and music. It has hit us here at the Lab, too, and finally, thanks to a friend who created a brilliant little art work ("Answering Service" - dial 888-691-3111 and explore!) we've started a new notebook for our Notes on the Lab of Life, and here we are.
Please have a listen, and of course, share if you're so inclined.
Take care, stay safe, and wash your hands. A lot.
Here's the transcript of the piece, written and recorded by Silvie Zamora.
The crash of hailstorms, the blast of hurricanes, the violence of tempests, the fury of winds, and the malice of thunderbolts. There are means to impede these “powers of the air,” they thought back in the Middle Ages, and one of those ways was to ring a bell. A consecrated bell, a big one, hung from a belltower.
Cut to today, this morning at 11. In fact, every morning at 11 (or a couple minutes before or after) the bell tolls.
It doesn’t go to eleven, by the way. Not every day, anyway. Sometimes 12, sometimes 9 or 10. Today was 13.
I had taken to rushing to the nearest window, and breathing in the sound.
I wanted to find the source. To thank this person for those few seconds of peace. The ceasing of whatever important thing I was doing, so I could just stop and be.
I imagined a monk, signaling the beginning of a daily meditation with that beautiful, resonant G flat tone.
We couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Whichever window you opened, there it was. Last week, after days of guessing, my husband raced out the front door and down the street in an easterly direction. He came back triumphant. He had found her. And the next day, he took me there to watch it happen.
It was the house with the lawn signs proclaiming NO 5G, and STOP THE ALIEN TAKE OVER. There were pictures of aliens, the green-headed kind, heavier on top, with big, black eyes. You’ve seen them. You can get masks, party balloons, and all manner of tchotchkes with them emblazoned on them.
And there was a bell. Not the kind that swings, the kind you strike with a mallet or pull on a rope that causes the clapper inside to strike the sound bow. To use the proper term, it was hung dead.
She came out of her house cheerily. We asked if we could video her. She declined, with a big smile. She rang the bell.
We looked at her many alien images, bumper stickers, lawn signs, all warning of doom. And we listened to the sound that for centuries was used to call to worship, to commemorate weddings, to memorialize/remember the dead, to drive away all the spirits of the tempest, the powers of the air.
She told us, “They say let freedom ring, but nobody rings bells anymore.”
I don’t know what she wishes her bell ringing will do. Is she hoping to bring people, searching for the source, to the portent of her lawn signs? Is she calling us to prayer for ourselves? Is she hoping, in the words of a French prayer in the ritual of consecrating bells, to “put to flight the fiery darts of the enemy of men?”
The crash of hailstorms, the blast of hurricanes, the violence of tempests, the fury of winds, and the malice of thunderbolts.
To calm the storm without and the storm within, I’m very grateful for a few seconds of pause, with my own breath, with a beautiful tone that floats on the powers of the air.
You know the song. "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..."
Several months ago, we decided that those gifts would make excellent writing prompts for our circle of crackerjack writers to play with. Turns out we were right, about the inspiration and about how crackerjack* our writers truly are.
So this is it! Our twelvetide of original stories, music, and poetry for your holiday merriment. We'll be posting a new audio treat every day from December 14th through the 25th. (If you're thinking the actual season 'the twelve days of Christmas' goes from Christmas to Epiphany, of course you're right. But we're leading up to Christmas with this little shindig, instead of leading away from it. That's how we roll at Life Lab Notes.)
Please enjoy all the brilliantly creative work that went into this project. So many talented people and so much heart.
"The 12 Days of Christmas - Regifted!" Team
Zheryk Badugu • Alina Phelan Ballou • Claire Barnhart • Alysha Brady • Tom Clark • Sherry Coben • Alexis de la Rosa • Crystal de la Rosa • Keith Ferguson • Liesel Hanson • Robyn Heller • Susan C Hunter • Joanna Ke • Farrah Kiyomura • Lynn Odell • Sarah Parga • Robyn Roth • Michael Santell • Denny Siegel • Andrew Stubblefield • Justin Vasquez • Phil Ward • Wes Weddell • Silvie Zamora
If you've listened to the 5/16/19 podcast, you already know what happened. (If not, what are you waiting for, the real Flash Fiction Day?)
I don't remember where I got the idea that May 16th was National Flash Fiction Day. Maybe I dreamt it. However it entered my brain, I definitely consciously entered it into my calendar, and dutifully reminded myself a few days ago, "I'd better get a very short story ready to post!"
May 16th is not National Flash Fiction Day. That'll be in June 15th in the U.K. and the 22nd in New Zealand. I don't know if we even have one in the U.S.
But May 16th is International Global Accessibility Awareness Day. For a compelling and vital look at this issue, have a look around www.globalaccessibilityawarenessday.org. This is from their website:
Whether you participate in a public or private event to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, on May 16, we encourage designers, developers, usability professionals, and everyone else to take an hour to experience first-hand the impact of digital accessibility (or lack there of).
On May 16, unplug your mouse (blind users do not use the mouse), launch your screen reader, and spend an hour using some of your favorite sites strictly using the keyboard alone (tab/shift tab, arrow keys, enter and spacebar) and not the mouse/trackpad. Why not turn off your screen and depend strictly on the information conveyed by the screen reader.
Whether or not you are a web developer, or a public building owner or manager, or a person who might inadvertently leave a scooter in the middle of a sidewalk, you are a person connected to all the other people.
Awareness is very good thing. It builds strong empathy bones!
Oh, yeah. And the flash fiction! It's 368 words. It was written before I realized our official Life Lab calendar was inaccurate, so it has nothing to do with accessibility. (I think.)
She took her time, and showed the pictures with care.
“Tomato. You - you want a tomato? The tomatoes are in produce. Right over there.” Pale blue eyes followed the young woman’s point, flickered a second, then fixed on the produce sign. Then back to the phone held carefully in her thin hand.
“Okay. I have to get back to -- okay. Bread. Two aisles down. That way. THAT WAY.” A shopper at the nearby specialty cheeses case darted a curious glance from over a chunk of emmentaler. Another walked briskly around them. The lady with the pale blue eyes moved her bent finger across the screen again, then raised the phone up to the young woman’s face. Another image. Another interruption.
“Ma’am. That’s toilet paper. It’s over by pharmacy.”
The older lady looked off toward the far end of the store, past ten or twelve aisles, each with a sentinel tower of sale items, and various scattered stands of candy, greeting cards, small toys, and off-brand ear buds and phone chargers. She looked back at the young woman with a sheepish smile.
“Okay, ma’am? Just walk that way and you’ll see it. Okay? Do you need a cart? Let’s get you a cart!” She swept past her, and returned pushing a cart with a stubborn wheel and a dangling child safety harness strap. “Here you go!”
The pale, blue eyes looked down at her phone. The screen was dark. She pushed and pressed with a quavering finger, swiped and pressed, and pressed again. She turned the screen toward the young woman’s face.
“Shampoo. Yup. Also right by the pharmacy. You can’t miss it.”
With a nod, the silver-haired lady turned measured steps toward the nearest aisle.
“Your cart. Lady! You need your cart! I have to stock the shelves. I can’t -- ugh!”
And so they went through the entire store, gathering a tomato, bread, toilet paper, shampoo, and, on impulse, an off-brand phone charger.
The young woman could not explain why she let herself be drawn into this task, which took just shy of 45 minutes and extended through her break. But at the end, she did not, in the least, mind having her picture taken.
It might be just for me, and maybe just for a day or two.
I'm a natural-born planner. I love analyzing systems. I eat up details and burp up joy. I'm so serious about organizing things, that you could say I have the heart of a border collie.
But today, I'm nearing the end (I hope) of my third sickness of 2019. I've had lots of downtime to think and to enjoy the fact that no one could have expected me to accomplish anything this week, what with the chills and fever and all. I actually had some time off from some cool project ideas I've been working on. That led me to wonder why I wanted time off from cool projects, and that led me to the realization that organizing and planning can be overdone. For me. I can get so overwhelmed by that part of a project, that I don't end up with the time or energy to do the rest of it.
I am by no means suggesting that anyone, myself included, should stop thinking things through. I say, go on and follow your heart, but your mind should go, too. Planning and organizing should be part of the whole project. It's one of the rooms of the house, not the sidewalk out front. It should bring up potential challenges and problems, and with that, potential solutions, and maybe even more ideas for the scope of the project. It's important.
Of course, the more stuff you bring up, the more stuff you have to put somewhere, in categories or zones or columns or lists. There needs to be some kind of order that will help you find it all later, so you can build on it and use it. That can be overwhelming! And it can help you forget the essence of the project, and the fun part of making a thing happen.
And that, my friends, can mean that the next time a cool project idea pops into your head (I mean, my head), you (I mean, I) might hold up a hand and say, "No thanks, Cool Project Idea. I can't handle anything overwhelming right now."
So to avoid that particular nonsense, I'm going to take the next couple of days to practice diving in to a project idea or two, without concerning myself too much with order. If notes, drawings, photos, scraps of thoughts, are strewn about, so be it. I'm just going to play with the cool project ideas. I'm going to pretend the research has been done and I already know the answers. If I want to design the costumes with no regard to cost, I will. If I want to stage the new and innovative curtain call before writing the show, I will point to my cat and say, "She's in charge of the timeline." Oh, I'll circle back around and create the order, but not before curiosity and playfulness have had their way. I can't let Potential Overwhelm Syndrome (just made it up) deprive me of Available Fun Condition (also made up).
Take care, take time off, and wash your hands often.
Many thanks to Phil Ward, as ever, for the music and engineering for this episode.
Here's the sticky note I'm talking about. (It was on a Queen Gertrude monologue from Hamlet.) Funny how these little things can suddenly mean a whole lot.
I hope the episode speaks to you. Many thanks for listening!
The informal definition of a post-mortem is “a discussion of an event after it has happened, especially of what was wrong with it or why it failed." (Thanks, Cambridge Dictionary. But no thanks for the ad for the hoodie that looks like a man’s hairy chest. Hard to miss and harder to forget.)
I was one of those kids who really liked the Back to School season. The school supplies, the clean start to a new school year, the books, the weather change. Then came my birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.
Maybe that's why it was never a challenge for me to say, or hear, "Happy Holidays." It always seemed like a great way to scoop all those happy times together and just wish happiness.
As I grew up and my world got bigger, I realized my Canadian friends had Thanksgiving on a different day. My British friends had "Mothering Sunday," and not on "Mother's Day." I met people who celebrated Christmas, but very differently from my family's traditions. I met Jewish friends who celebrated Hanukkah, or even both Hanukkah and Christmas.
Today, we can easily see into the everyday lives of people all over the world. We can eat foods, see art, hear music, from all the cultures. There are apps (as well as old-fashioned books) that will help us learn just about any language we care to try out. Most importantly, most beautifully, we can encounter this profuse variety very close to us. We don't have to travel around the globe in person or via our devices. We live close to each other. Really close. And that is our strength and our challenge.
Life Lab Notes hopes you find joy, peace, and prosperity today. Whatever you're celebrating today. Also, tomorrow. And here's to a really excellent next Thursday. Happy Holidays. Happy all-your-days.