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"The Pocket": Digging for the North Star
“Lift the building!”
I’m eight years old, asleep in my baby blue room in the New York City apartment in which I was raised. Dreaming, I hear this breathy, pressing voice demanding me to “lift the building.” I pull myself out of the bed, and follow this voice out my front door, down the elevator, and out into the courtyard.
“Lift the building.” I hear it again as a swath of moonlight makes the brick wall glow in front of me. It’s clear what I must do. I walk up to the wall, find a crack in the mortar at knee height, and dig my fingers as far as they’ll go into a seam between the bricks. And with a deep breath, I strain, with all my young might, pulling up, neck veins bulging, now harder, now breathless, fingers raw. And at the moment I realize I have given it my all, and have not budged the brick wall even a bit…
I wake up in my bed, a little boy, sweating, panting, my thin white arms exhausted and useless but floating up away from my body of their own volition, as though they’ve been released from captivity.
This dream and its visceral impact stayed with me. For years, sometimes to this day, that feeling in my arms would come back, and I’d be right back there again. It seared deep into my operating system the mandate to do the hard thing, to try for the impossible feat, to seek out the deepest truth.
To be a champion for the long-shot cause.
I’m 41 now. I’ve had a winding 20-year career. On paper, I’ve had good jobs in New York City and in Los Angeles. When I got clear that system change and sustainability were my passions, I got an MBA in Sustainable Management. I helped build a great company. Throughout, I made good friends and learned a lot.
All of it was meaningful ... and adjacent at best to that pivotal mandate, that organizing principle from my childhood. And some little voice in me knew it, always. And I spent much of those 20 years moonlighting on a solo journey—searching, practicing to find my way back to that voice, to that north star.
Follow Your Curiosity
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
While at Vassar College, I majored in English literature. For my senior thesis, I went for a deep exploration of William Blake. It was an ambitious project about one of Blake’s epic poems. Blake had been witness to a societal shift away from the “imagination” writ large. In his rendering, the culture’s subjugation of instinct and emotion -- Imagination -- in favor of extreme “reason” and reductive materialism had been ruinous. To Blake, it was the central cause for the squelching of creative fire, individually and collectively. His work was complex and prophetic.
The project was big and broad and beautiful. It was a personal manifesto as much as a literary thesis. I was in complete flow and creative fire while researching and writing it… until midway when the fire was doused.
I felt like William Blake himself had abandoned me. Maybe I was too young. Maybe I didn’t have the right tools yet to go into such a gaping maw.
The poem excerpted above is a searching, questioning marvel about the tiger, and our relationship to it and to nature. There’s a vibe of danger in the fiery imagery. The speaker of the poem can only wonder in awe at the magnificence and fearsome presence of the tiger. But he can’t get close to its creative, destructive, Promethean power.
Wrestling with the big, monolithic question of the thesis was a cause I could champion. Even though I struggled and didn’t ‘succeed’ at the thesis — I think I got a B grade — I was completely lit during most of that journey. I remember one day in particular on a break from writing, biking around campus, hands off the handlebars, disc-man in hand, Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” blasting in my ears, feeling alive and in flow.
What it showed me, like the ‘lift the building’ dream, was what it felt like to follow the truth, to follow my curiosity, to go after unanswerable questions, and to write about the journey. Even if I only got halfway there.
Big Tree, Big Voice
I don’t think I could locate the moment when the chafing ramped up in earnest. As I said, a small voice in me always knew that I was adjacent at best to my calling, to my ikigai, the Japanese concept that equates to “reason for being.” But sometime in the past few years, the voice started getting louder.
And so in 2019, I began in earnest building an off-ramp from my role as COO of the food startup I co-owned and had helped build for ten years. I secured my outstanding replacement and helped forge some organizational resilience for the transition.
Then, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I read this book called Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen Harrod Buhner. The book deserves its own post and thesis, but suffice it to say, it was the invitation I needed to give that voice inside me the mic again.
In it, Buhner explores our “sensory gating channels,” pathways of higher-order intelligence, which we share with myriad other intelligent nonhuman beings. Our deepest task is to open wide those pathways of intelligence because …
“once sensory gating channels are expanded, [one] can take in more meanings, and the increased knowledge opens up significant new avenues of behavior, response, and innovation.”
What Buhner is talking about is exactly the “imagination” that William Blake espoused.
At that time in my life, I’d lived almost 40 years in the City (NYC, LA) albeit, gratefully, with frequent access to ex-urban nature. And when I read Plant Intelligence, the invitation that bellowed out loud was calling me to slow down, expand my intelligence and apparatus of perception.
And I started with trees. And with my third child, my baby girl Maren, born in October 2018.
I started taking her for morning stroller walks in my LA neighborhood. I felt the trees along the walk with greater specificity, deeper awe. I was drawn to certain ones. One in particular Maren and I started calling “ambassador” or as she said, “Baba”.
And day by day, month after month, we would strike up little conversations, place our hands on his trunk, get excited to see him as we came closer to his corner. We’d ask him to send blessings to his kin on our behalf.
And then, covid struck. Our world shut down. Our life got small and homebound. Fear and anxiety choked the airwaves. I washed every veg and fruit I brought back from the market, disinfected everything. We all did.
And suddenly, the only outdoor solace and the only non-nuclear-family friend I could physically lean on and touch was Baba and the rest of those neighborhood trees. And so I did.
Then, once the kids’ school year (of distance learning) was over, we packed up our brood and road-tripped to the Roaring Fork Valley Colorado for a little two week R&R.
And the moment we got out of the car at our little airbnb in Old Snowmass, I heard it. Not faint, not little, not distant, but the clearest invitation from the entire forest of pines and aspens surrounding me. A big voice calling, come and stay, this is home.
So we did. And we never went back.
This Pocket of Time
So here I am, a voting resident of the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. 41 years old and in this personal moment of transition. I’m in this pocket of time in my life: in deep inquiry about what’s next, and how I can best be of service. I’m developing my sense-making apparatus as it relates to all that is going on in these complex times. I’m leaning on half a lifetime of learnings about how to navigate such a pocket of time.
What’s more, this personal pocket of disruption seems echoed in the collective moment. The obvious, like the pandemic, the quarantine, the uncertainty. The insane political moment in the States. We have unrest and epidemic inequality. We have growing doubt in our institutions, systemic fragility, climate change, and mistrust of information flows. We have conspiracy theories, digital addiction, and algorithmic mind-control—if you can believe it all.
We’re a mess.
We are in a mess.
And we all want things to be better.
We are in a moment of transition, a pocket of time. We have an opportunity, an invitation, to forge a new path out of this tragic, pregnant pause. And I’m here for it. I have more to learn and more questions than answers. But I’m all in for the exploration. So this:
What “The Pocket” Is
The Pocket is a space for exploring the tools, techniques, and mental models that help in navigating any such pocket in life. The Pocket can be a place to hone personal sovereignty and sensemaking. It can be a place to explore the path of resilience and growth in an organization. It can be a place to slow down, level up, tune in: a slipstream to slip into.
For 20 years, I’ve been searching out ways to turn the volume up on the small voice inside that hailed for me to be the champion for the cause and to be at the knife’s edge of the deeper inquiry of our time and moment. And so I was always chafing for more depth, wherever my career took me.
Through 20 years as a worker bee, I was moonlighting as a seeker: scouring the literature for the code to the operating system, going to various therapies to get back to the heart of things, seeking out coaching and support, and developing practices and tools and techniques to unbuild the edifices that had grown up around the little potent voice, the unbridled Imagination.
And I’m keen to continue and share all that learning and inquiry. Because I think this pocket of time calls for more of us to be lit up and in the right relationship with that voice in our hearts.
In this day and age, more than ever before in the history of mankind, we need deep thinking, discernment, and reflection just to have a modicum of sovereignty.
This time calls for more of us to bring all of us to the proverbial table.
In The Pocket
That’s my aim: to bring all of me to this undertaking, and I contain multitudes. I’m an entrepreneur and strategist, writer and poet, a hobby musician and lover of music, and an in-home practitioner of the culinary arts (aka, I’m the household cook and I often take it damn seriously.) But I grew into a worker bee who too often put in silos all these other hobbies and passions in order to be so-called effective in the so-called real world.
So on a more artful level, The Pocket is about putting all the parts and passions of me together in experimenting with the written word and generating something that’s more than the sum of its parts.
And this is akin to what the musical term “in the pocket” means. That’s when musicians, particularly the rhythm section, come together to make what might be called “the groove” that gets your head moving. It’s when the parts come together to make something exquisite and greater than their sum. It’s magic. It’s alchemy. It's a sublime emergence.
But it’s also technique: it depends on timing, on feeling into patterns, and most importantly, on the ability to listen.
And that is the modus operandi of this publication: to create this space for exploring and sense-making with all the beauty and synchrony that creativity and imagination can muster.
So, this is The Pocket. It’s me, digging around to get myself right with my north stars. This is me, learning and sharing the tools, techniques, lenses and models that work for me in attuning to the moment and to the complexity of now. This is me, getting it right, or flailing about with my sense-making and sovereignty like a teenager with a new, beat-up guitar making noise in a garage, finding my way every now and again, earnestly, reflectively, into the groove. And sharing it all with you.
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