Category Archives: innovations

‘Surprises, a story’


When Does the Heart Rest? asks the slam-poet…

[ When Does the Heart Rest? ]   by Taylor Mali

Our Science Teacher asked the question,
and we laughed at the kid who said:
When you sleep?

I raised my hand with what I was sure
was the correct answer –
When you die—

and then put it down quietly
when Angel got it right.
Between beats.

That didn’t seem like enough time to me.
Still doesn’t.
But it was Angel again in the schoolyard

standing up for the heart
when the older kid said the strongest muscle
in the human body was the jaw.
No, it is the heart.

The bully said we should have a contest—
between my jaw and your heart—
and we all laughed because it didn’t seem like a fair fight.

And it still doesn’t.
Because the heart rests and keeps working.
Between beats.

And my money is on Angel
and his heart,
not the bully and his jaw.

And anyone who thinks otherwise
can eat their heart out.

(Excerpted from a collection published in NYC 2009 called The Last Time as We Are, courtesy of writebloody publications)


Wesley and Haven Music: Singing at Smith

When I rule the world, everyone will have a nametag... (rant)

Art comes from being in an alpha state for me, in water.

I learn things backwards sometimes. This was the year I learned about how to really conduct independent study. This was the year I learned about friends and how you don’t always agree. It was a year of listening to music together, and jokes, and studying hard, and working endlessly on projects or papers or dishes (see apron) or figuring out next moves.

I spent a lot of time in the bathtub at Wesley. I didn’t have enough clothes. I could not seem to get warm and stay that way. There was not one I could get to easily on the 2nd floor of Haven. I felt like one of the prune people when I got out, but warmer for a little.

I miss them, even though it has been so long. We learned how to mangle the lyrics to songs we listened to together in our rooms (on stereos! … remember stereos?) including “City of New Orleans” and “Lulu’s Back in Town.”

We heard the Smiffenpoofs (was that what they were called?), and the Princeton Nassoons sing in this house. We heard annoying housemates screeching up and down the halls in their nightgowns very late. We heard the singing and showering and coffee pots and papers of our fellow students and occasionally even their boyfriends.


If they were in San Francisco today. I would take them to Lovejoy’s Tea Room for some beverages and reminiscence. Ply them with truffles. Spoil them with love.

Perhaps it was Carole McSheffrey who invited the jug band to sing in our living room. I will never forget the banjo. I memorized the words to ‘Barnyard Dance’ during long cold walks across the campus to the studio. I think this is the year we were snowed in. People were skiing cross country in to work in Boston. Robert J. Lurtsema was still alive. A heck of a long time ago.

The radiator clanked, so I named it, but it still would not shut up since pressure and cold in 100-year-old houses do funny things to steam heat. Its a wonder I did not burn all my hair off sleeping next to it. I sure did burn my elbows and knees a few times. That sucker got hot!

Remember the Fire Rope Test, team? I felt grateful we didn’t have to dress for it silly gym costumes like I did in elementary school. They were sort of like… rompers.

Craft (not a pejorative)

We think we know what our deliverables are.

A report written, edited, and turned in to an editor. A prospectus written and published. An application drafted, polished, published, submitted to the grantor. A photograph captured and edited and submitted. A garden weeded. A dinner cooked. A team built? A boat launched?

You and I have different jobs, most likely. We each have a way of crafting a solution to our professional problems. Stand and fight. The Socratic Method. Machiavellian Strategy. The Golden Rule. Citing the Federal Code or the company manual, or what have you.

How ever you do it, this is my contention:  “craft” amounts to how you solve a problem. How you learn about the possibilities and come up with an elegant solution. How you try to make your life, your world, your job, your team, or the assignment you are now working on a little easier for the next person to come along.

Not a pejorative. Not as in “You are so *crafty,* aren’t you?” (spoken in the same tone as the phrase ‘Oh, that is so *Berkeley*!’)  Not.

Craft as word and as concept should stand alone. It is brave imagining; it is careful and thoughtful construction. It is dignified. It is true artistry. Think of it as in ‘the craft of writing.’

Anyone who thinks of craft’s true definition otherwise deserves to be put on the cast of a Reality TV program called When the Zombies Take Over Your Local Mall.

Patrick T. Dougherty

I first became aware of Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture and work during the Big Willow / Callanish Standing Stones inspired event and ensuing year (2006 to 2007) sponsored by the Scottish Basketweavers Circle (aka the Scottish BA). I last saw his work at the Palo Alto Arts Center, on a magical misty morning while the construction was ongoing and there were a number of volunteers working. It was early in January 2011.

The magic never seems to end with Patrick.

Patrick is based in North Carolina. His work is eloquently documented at, his web site. He is an American, but somehow the Scots seemed to take to him immediately.

He has worked on every location from the pollarded sycamore trees in front of City Hall at San Francisco Civic Center Plaza (2010) to creating a willow stroll / souk / dachau at the Palo Alto Art Center (2011/12), to conjuring Toad Hall in Southern California and points beyond (Hawaii, Scotland, France…). His work spans decades. He is a genius of collaborative coaching and big vision. A master.

Check him out! You will not regret it.

Crips R Us

As a walking talking but not obviously disabled person, I was gratified to hear, to see, and to experience the wonders of a talk by Dr. Richard Pimentel yesterday at the Pacific Gas and Electric Auditorium at 71 Beale Street in San Francisco. “Shattering Myths About Disabled Persons in the Workplace” was the title. It could have been more generic. Dr. Pimentel and the sign language interpreters could not have. When they made this man, they may have broken the mold. He rocked the house, with about 400 of us in attendance at this free noontime talk. He is a great storyteller, a dynamic speaker, and a fantastic promoter of civil rights.

San Francisco is a big juicy city and we have everything there. You can get a lap dance around the corner from where I work at 7th street, right on Market street at lunch time. Probably only takes a few minutes depending on your wallet and your interest, though I have never had one … I’m sure its great if that is your cup of tea. Speaking of tea you can also have many types of rare and choice Chinese tea in the same city, just about a mile south, might perk you up more than a lap dance, at a classic tea house in Chinatown. Or you could go to the PG&E building, arrive by noon, and enter the auditorium (after getting through registration, security, the guides, and the gates), and if you show up you could get some of the wrinkles ironed out of your brain and some education about affirmative action.

Why would you hire a disabled person? To give them a chance. Why would you keep hiring disabled people? Because the person you hired the first time you did it was such a fantastic employee that you decided that you were never going to rule out a potential candidate before interviewing them thoroughly and reviewing the possibilities and deciding whether or not this looked like the most promising choice, even if that candidate rolled to work instead of walking, even if they could not hear you when you called unless their assistive technology was pointed at you properly, even if they had a disability you could not recognize. Even if.

The speaker, Dr. Pimentel, addressed us all as human beings. That’s what we are; that’s our common ground. We come in as human beings, we leave as human beings. We want work, we want play, we want food and love and shelter just like anyone else. Some of us are veterans, some are wounded warriors, some of us wear our warrior marks underneath or from earlier battles.

All of us need meaningful work so that we can help build this country collectively into the greatest thing it has ever been. Do you not agree?

Thank you Dr. Pimentel for considering the consequences of addressing us truthfully about your journey and deciding that from the time from when they dropped that bomb on the beer bunker of the 101st airborne in Vietnam in 1966 until now… you have learned many valuable truths. Thank you for deciding that the story was worth telling, that in spite of the physical harm you suffered during your service that you have learned a few things that we could all benefit from. It was a great honor to hear you. It is a short ride from 7th and Market to the PG&E tower, and highly worth it. We were all made richer by sharing your experiences. You rock!

Michael Pachovis once said (when talking about how the disabled community works, specifically about how could help the Ashkenaz after it was threatened with closure), that many of us are involved in high tech and many of us support each other. That was an understatement, but it is enough to alert everyone: we are here, we are not going away, and we won’t be persuaded to stay inside and not live the same lives you are all trying to live. Not now, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.

Thank you also for helping me to be a better and braver civil rights advocate. You set a great example, and you are someone we all could learn from.

Thank you Dr. Pimentel for reminding all the hiring managers and staff and friends of PG&E that this is the truth, and that the truth is beautiful, and that it is also much stranger than fiction. Every time.

Electric Rainbow Jelly: appearances still manage to deceive us

Way back in 2003, I worked at an organic cotton spinning mill in the base of the Iron Triangle in Richmond, CA.  We made organic cotton yarn from naturally colored fiber: Foxfibre®.

During that period I also worked at several teaching jobs and wrote some community service grants. The cotton mill gig was < 30 hours a week, and I was hungry for more work at the time. One of the best jobs I had at the time was teaching home-school kids in mathematics and applied (read:kitchen) science.

Home school kids seem to be part of a special group, at least all the ones I’ve met seemed so. Very bright, very engaged with the world. They want to *know* things. Very exciting students to have.

One of the classes I taught was offered at a private home in West Berkeley, and it didn’t last long,  because I couldn’t keep up with it.

It was two hours or more of preparation for every hour of class time, and usually more. It was assembling a lot of materials and technology and schlepping them all over to someone else’s kitchen and working in an extremely tight space (a beautiful space, but extremely tight) with seven or more brilliant 9-year-olds. This is my favorite age (the age of enthusiasm and inquiry, but the magic is still there), and these were great students. It was a hard class to give up.


One of the great things we did in class was an experiment called Electric Rainbow Jelly. It came out of a book in the library with the same name. Great book. Not a hard experiment, either, except a little tricky to assemble everything.

For instance, did you know that AA batteries have little carbon rods inside them? Well, if you are going to make Electric Rainbow Jelly you need to: you’ve got to hacksaw the end off of one or two of those suckers and pull the rod out with tweezers. You’d like the rod to be intact, so be careful.

Buy the book; you’ll see….

One of the supplies I had to assemble for that experiment was “indicator solution” so that I could prepare gelatin which would react to having various different pH(s) in various places, creating a rainbow. Indicator solution is commonly used in swimming pool test kits, in hydroponic gardens, and in various other places where you need to test the relative acidity, neutrality, or basicity of a solution.

We don’t have a swimming pool supply store handy in West Berkeley, and the hardware store didn’t have it (not the ones I checked anyway), and… oh hey, the Berkeley Indoor Garden Center!  So I went over there to get some after calling to check and see whether they knew what it was I was after and whether it was in stock. Its a few doors down from where I got my very first measles shot at West Berkeley Health Center, but that was back around the early Miocene Era.

It looks like the storefront of the Indoor Garden Center might actually have been a hardware store once, or a feed store (West Berkeley used to have a lot of horses, but not for about a century now), or even a grocery. It is a wooden building with great wood framed windows, a hardwood floor, and a lot of very bright full-spectrum lights in certain places. I’d never been in a Indoor Garden store before and didn’t know what to expect, but I got the solution and took it home and added it to my stack of supplies.

Later that day I was working over at my ex’s house, and he gave me some electrical leads I needed for the experiment too. He used to do a lot of the work on his own car, and didn’t mind loaning them in the interest of science. I told him about getting the pH test solution at the Indoor Center, how I’d never been in a hydroponic garden store before.  I mentioned how odd it was to me to be in that store earlier that day, confusing even. He inquired what exactly I meant. I said:  “Well, everyone working there was really young, extremely white, and they all had…. really long natty dredlocks!”

It is difficult to describe the look he gave me, almost a look which changed pH as it grew on his face. But it went from wonder to disbelief to incredulity, and then he was laughing uncontrollably. At me. He rarely laughs uncontrollably, so I took notice, and thus figured out that I was actually the object of his incredulity and that somehow I had both amused and amazed him.

Then I figured out  _why_ he was laughing at me. Then I started laughing. It was a great moment of connection in our relationship (now a simple friendship), all of it pre-verbal. We understood.

Sometimes I am confused by the Look of Things, is the Moral of the Story. Appearances still mislead, or rather, appearances sometimes cause me to question my assumptions about Everything Else.

So, its interesting that Electric Rainbow Jelly (the experiment, which the kids really loved and was way fun and was the closest I ever came to having the feeling of teaching a team of young Wizards, by the way) — taught me something about myself I hadn’t expected to learn: that I had these assumptions about garden stores and what they sold and why they sold it, and all that, … and that those assumptions were based on nothing very reliable (past experience in garden stores? leading a fairly Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm lifestyle? whatever!) or useful in certain situations.

Always good to learn something new, even after tripping over a wheelbarrow full of assumptions.

So it is with great humility that I read / remembered some of what happened on Day 2 of the Mosaic Mural Class… a friend had written me and asked how it was going, and this is what I wrote back:

Yesterday Isaiah was talking about the grout “rivers” we are making on the building (using concrete mixed with 3 parts sand and ICI pigment and water), saying how Laurel True (who runs the school we are taking the class in) hates them, hates going over them, buffing them, filling them, using them.
“I don’t want to do it, Daddy. Daddy Isaiah!  I don’t like it!  I don’t want to do it!”

Earlier in the day he said something, quoting himself and his Mosaic Bible and (irony, humility, and self-deprecation all present) saying that the quotation was in the Book of Isaiah, and then we laughed… after I said, “…. you mean its in the Old Testament?  Is that why they call them the Mosaic Laws?  Don’t eat mosaic grout pigment on Sundays? Like that?”

Its an erudite group. They laughed.

So, when he did this routine about Laurel hating the grout rivers, calling himself Daddy Isaiah, I said:  “Now you sound like a rapper!  Daddy Isaiah! Whoa!  We’re going to have to find you some bling, dude!”

He laughed. All his bling is all over the walls of South Philadelphia, Jingletown, and the world.

Isaiah Zagar:  rapper, mosaic law daddy, prophet in the temple of the pharisees, teacher, visionary, all that…. no question. No assumptions there.

Julia Zagar: daughter of the one of the Disney dream team, visionary, lover of birds, mosaic Momma, traveller, gallery owner, great hearted giver, patient artist, all that. Also no question.

Appearances sometimes still manage to deceive me. Not for long, though. Not for long.