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Morning Riff 🎼

Riff 10


Sep 30, 2022

I was sketching at the bakery this morning when something caught my eye. A spray bottle with bright pink fluid swishing around was hanging from the belt loop of a server walking by.

It seemed funny to me at first: surely the cleaning ingredients aren't naturally that color. Why is it so bright?

The color is used to communicate: this fluid is a cleaning product, not water.

Pink signaled caution - you wouldn't want to accidentally drink it (sorry pink lemonade). The pink sat in stark contrast to its surroundings. In the wild, many toxic organisms exhibit similar properties - a neon tree frog, a vibrant plant, a hair color gone terribly wrong (or right).

In this case, pink created assurance that there was indeed cleaning product in this bottle and that tables weren't simply being wiped down with water.

How much of the the products we consume, the places we go, the modern world we walk through is intentionally colored to catch or escape our attention?

Riffed on a crisp morning in South Miami

Riff 09

Waking Up

Aug 23, 2022

Your little corner of the world seemed quiet this morning, still waking up to the day.

Your back planted on the ground, a soft blue sky revealed itself as blankets of clouds rolled over one another.

In the nearby oak, a tale of love was unfolding as a vibrant, cherry cardinal courted two females - dancing among the high branches of this surely ancient tree.

Further down, a peckish engineer hopped about, planning an excavation - a journey to the center of the tree. It's unclear whether this was an archeological endeavor to uncover its history as told by concentric tree rings or if it's simply another commercial endeavor - as I hear tree houses are all the rage with kids these days.

Was stretching outside after a morning jump rope as this scene unfolded

Riff 08

Touching Grass

July 30, 2022

A sea of grass dances with the Wind, harmonizing

Her supple touch bends their will and in turn, their being

She refrains - catching her breath, releasing a shimmering emerald wave across the horizon

Gently swaying, they drift in wake of the break  

Anticipation swells, awaiting her rhythmic set of caressing tones

Her tide washes over them, revealing a spectrum of comforting hues

Hues visible through the eyes of a child, who sees their spirit reflected in her own

Written mid-morning on a park bench in Robert Kennedy Park, Coconut Grove

Riff 07

On Variable Learning

July 28, 2022

I like learning new things. It's one of those experiences that inspires a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world around me. Learning makes me realize how little I know, especially as I start to dive deep into a new topic.

One of the techniques I use to accelerate my understanding of a subject is what I call Variable Learning - owing to variables in math. If a new term comes up that I'm unfamiliar with I'll continue on in conversation (or study) holding it as a variable in my mind with unknown definitions.

I'll take this as far as I can without looking it up, using context clues (from conversation or the text I'm reading) establishing my own framework for how this integrates into the broader topic. Once I do look it up, it's easily woven into my existing conceptual model of the domain because I've made conscious effort to establish my own definition and understanding.

I suppose it's not too different from solving for an unknown within an algebraic equation - there's a set of actions you can take to determine the value of a variable. Simply taking the actions and being able to say the value of the variable does not mean you understand it.

As Richard Feynman put simply: knowing the name of something is not the same as understanding it (video clip).

We must go deeper, exploring the hidden patterns - the ways concepts connect to what we know and to the domain at large. They're just conceptual variables, sure, but their value comes not as names or definitions - but in the way they form blocks that, overtime, build an interlaced scaffolding you can use to navigate new subjects and appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world around you.

I wrote this while walking in early afternoon on a sunny summer day, reflecting on new topics I'm learning.

Riff 06

The Speed of Life

September 29, 2021

This morning I saw two animals living life at a different pace.

I first watched a torrent of ants in streaming between a cracked sidewalk and the adjacent grass. Moments passed, then I witnessed a lime-green lizard slink up a thin palm tree towards its crown (where leaves fan outward).

The difference in the pace and intention of the two observations was striking. It made me think about the speed of life.

The speed of life seems to follow an inverse relationship between size and time.

The larger the life, the slower its pace.
The smaller the life, the faster its pace.

This was certainly true of the ants and the lizard, but seems to generally hold for living beings as well as living systems: a solar systems lifespan/pace is much longer/slower than a local ecosystem.

Our lifespan (at least for the time being) has an upward limit. We can only live so long.This constraint creates boundaries on the duration of our lifespan; however, it does not prevent us from manipulating the pace of our life.

We can adjust our perception of the pace of time which alters our experience living. One way to do this is by focusing in on a particular moment or task (this often causes me to lose track of time, and it will in turn seems to fly by). If I am feeling too rushed, zooming out to get broader context can be helpful (for me this tends slow my perception, affording me time to think).

So ask yourself: what's the speed of your life? Do you need to slow down or speed up? To zoom in or zoom out?

I thought of this on a walk this morning - these tend to help me slow down just a bit :)

Riff 05

Invisible Influence

September 27, 2021

This morning I was looking at a tree and practicing what I call active observation - curiously studying it branches.  

Have you ever thought about how and when branches form, why they grow in a particular direction, what causes them to sprout leaves or flowers?

Many factors impact a plant's appearance, behavior, and lifespan - these influences seem to play out across a few levels: fleeting, environmental, and historical.

Fleeting influences occur in small time intervals - a rainy storm, a particularly hot day, a random passing animal interacting with the plant. While these are isolated and may create short-term impacts on plant appearance and behavior (e.g. a wilted plant that needs water), if they begin to form a pattern they may begin to fall into the next category. It's hard to determine whether a fleeting influence is in fact fleeting or not without broader context and curiosity to understand a plants experience.

Environmental influences are recurring fleeting influences that slowly mold a plant over time - these include climate, the set of organisms and terrain around a plant (soil quality and richness comes into play at this level). Gravity, elevation, and access to light will undoubtedly change each plant's growth patterns. The challenge is that plants are generally, well...planted, so it's not easy for an individual plant to change their environment. Over generations they can have their seeds be carried elsewhere, but on their own and within their lifespan - they generally have to bloom wherever they start.

Historical influences extend beyond the plants lifetime. What was this patch of soil like before they sprouted, was it rich and full of a multitude of microorganisms conducive to a healthy, full plant life? Or was it barren and worn - forcing this plant into a challenging existence where survival is a game of chance left to environmental and fleeting influences?

We do not see these influences at a glance, but they are there and shape the life we see in front of us.

This active observation led me to question my own life. What influences led me to be where I am? Where will I continue to grow, where will I go, where will I branch out, in what dimensions will I stop growing. It's simple (but not easy) to classify all these invisible influences on who we are today. Perhaps we can do it for those we're closest to as well. But for those more distant to us, we lose the familiarity that comes from deep relationships - those people, places, and things lack connective tissue.  

So be curious, be kind. We cannot appreciate and understand the story of plant's without an open mind; we cannot imagine what's influenced them or (funnily enough) how they'll influence us.

Inspired by a beautiful, sprawling oak tree with meandering branches observed on a morning walk.

Riff 04

Active Observation

September 26, 2021

Sometimes I do a little practice I like to call active observation. I open myself up to appreciate and understand where I am and the world around me: the sounds, sights, smells, etc.

Meditation often centers around your internal experience: your thoughts, sensations, and breathe; however, when practicing active observation, I instead focus on my immediate environment.This starts by quieting my mind and intently observing everything around me.

Sound. With my eyes shut, I listen closely...Are there any distinct patterns I notice? Fleeting riffs that catch my ear? A steady droning from some distant place?

Sight. I open my eyes and look at my surroundings purposefully. What colors do I see? How close or far are things? What is still versus in motion? How does the light change objects appearance and perceived closeness, shape, etc.

Touch. I tune into my skin, to process what I'm feeling. How does the temperature and humidity feel on my face? What does the ground feel like under my feet (solid, soft, etc.)? I think about how the breeze cools me. I differentiate how these waves (from the breeze) feel and are experienced versus the sound waves I am listening to.

Smell. Can smell anything? If not, I try to close my eyes to reduce the sensory overload and focus in on this dimension of my experience. For whatever reason, it's easier for me to uncover smells after having observed my environment - perhaps my mind can use those other queues to focus in on what I should smell (or is creating that sensation to map to what I've observed).

Now that I'm grounded, connected and present; I'll get curious about my observations and seek to appreciate and understand the simplicity and complexity of my environment with fresh eyes. I'll  start to ask questions:

> What are the relationships between the objects, organisms, sounds in my current experience?

> How did this place come to be in this moment?

> Is this space in equilibrium? What does it mean for this this space around me to breathe?

If we recognize ourselves as an organism within a system, this exercise helps us process our immediate surroundings and ground ourselves in that moment.

I enjoy these observations and often come away with a greater appreciation for the world and the little things I take for granted. Occasionally, this will open me up to thoughts and associations I wouldn't otherwise have noticed. I'll feel deeply connected with the world around and in awe of how much we miss when we're closed off to experiencing each moment.

Written in the morning in Little Havana, Miami to a backdrop of cock-a-doodle-dos from our resident Roosters.

Riff 03

A symphony of soloists

August 17, 2021

A vibrant pink curtain moved over the sky. Clouds edges were spotlighted by the suns closing act. The earth was rolling away from her light, tucking my (side of the) world in for the night. I did not want this day to end, I was hungry for an encore.

Click. I was no longer in my seat, but far, far away. The earth was a small, a pale blue face among the seemingly endless audience of the universe. From this view, I learned the Sun was not a lone performer, but part of an ancient orchestra we call Stars.

Click. I guess she liked that perspective because I found myself in the perfect seat to witness what came next. The clouds were small from this point of view and hugged the earth's curves like a pillow - I was in orbit. The Sun peeked over the horizon, teasing me with one more smile, a momentous silence drew over the audience. Then, she began.

Her finale electrified the clouds, they danced and grinned back at her as she slid off towards the backstage. The twilight from her performance was felt throughout the atmosphere, a lingering warmth, still enchanting the clouds as they walked away.

Gradually their excitement cooled. They nestled in with the earth to rest, and this time, I joined them.  

*I riffed off a note inside the cover of my copy of Carlo Rovelli's Helgoland dated June 10, 2021. I re-wrote this one a few times :)

Riff 02

A familiar face

August 12, 2021

I stepped in front of the mirror, looking up to start my day - when my face began to change before my eyes. My skin grew worn and wrinkled. My hair greyed. It was a familiar face, but not one I'd seen before. A tinge of a smile formed on the face in the mirror.

The light from the world around me switched off. I was falling. I fell through my floor, the world, and then the universe - I was now tumbling through a dark void. I do not know how long I fell - there was no perception of time in this place. Then suddenly... I was at rest. There was no floor, no perceivable texture to the space I found myself in, but I knew I had stopped.

A light flickered. I turned and saw what appeared to be a cloud. Projected on its amorphous outline were hazy clips of people moving, laughing, living. I felt no physical sensation, but was somehow moving through this space, more clouds flashing around me as I neared and fading as I left them behind. I saw a familiar face in one, like the one in the mirror. I realized these were his memories...my memories? What do you call a memory that hasn't happened yet?

Whatever they were, they were blurry and the images playing on them were hard to make out. The clouds moved like they were alive and with each movement, the images distorted. I reached out to one passing by, my hands dancing through the mist. There was a playful resistance and texture to them similar to the sensation of wind running through your fingers in a car. But the resistance was not physical (there was no physical sensation in this place) it felt like I was immersing my hand into an emotional symphony. A torrent of feelings rushed into my hand and through my entire being. I tried to pull myself into that cloud, but there was nothing to grasp... and in a moment it was behind me, fading with the rest into the darkness.

I turned my gaze forward. A wave of clouds formed and began lighting up the horizon. More appeared rapidly and their intensity grew to a blinding crescendo of pure white light. My hands flew towards my my eyes to shield them as they closed. I felt the radiating energy wash over me. I felt small and wondering how my silhouette projected into the void behind me. As the shine began to dim I felt a subtle smile form, inviting me to relax. I slowly opened one of my eyes and peered through my fingers...

I wrote the draft for this while walking in the morning using voice to text so it might be a bit choppy.

Riff 01

What is Morning Riff?

July 29, 2021

Most mornings I spend a little time playing with thoughts on my mind - ideas, reflections, questions, problems, etc. These riffs helps me get thoughts out of my head onto a page (screen) where I can tinker and play with them freely. It's a great exercise that I highly recommend to anyone.

The problem is that these ideas rarely make it out of the pages of my journal and I'd like to change that. Morning Riff is an experiment to encourage me to share more thoughts and work publicly.

Everything in this space is a draft. Most riffs are off the cuff with little to no editing. I will likely be missing citations as tracking down sources pulls me out of flow when I'm jamming on ideas. Whenever possible I'll come back and add citations (if you think I'm missing something let me know and I'll make sure to add in a footnote).

My hope is that this will help me to get ideas out of my head (and hopefully jam on them with others).

If you're interested in creating your own morning riff let me know. I'm considering creating a space for people to safely share budding ideas that aren't subject to the level of scrutiny you find on other platforms.  If people are interested, we can figure out a way to riff off of others ideas (like a git branch).