Cloud Column, Glassel School of Art, Houston

There is a staff trainer at my corporate job who ends quite a few of his discussions by saying “keep your head in the clouds and your feet in the section”. It is exactly the kind of advice I expect from a corporate trainer. It is the kind of quick and vague phrase that both challenges and grounds. It is a phrase that, at least for me is a struggle because I view it in terms of remaining in a specific box or role. What I have acquired in perspective is that leadership is not confined to a singular role. Then again, leadership has little to do with title.

I truly enjoy looking at the clouds on a nice day, yet rarely make time for it. Doing so requires me to be intentional and aware of the weather at any given time. I don’t currently work in an area with great window access, and by the time I usually head home, I am ready to start moving on to the next few tasks that keep up my home. Since I have transitioned to a new phone, I haven’t met my groove of picking up the phone to check weather like I once did with my “little red brick”. My goal is to start making more time for that level of awareness and presence as the Fall develops and I return to more routine outdoor activities.

When the “Cloud Column” sculpture arrived in Houston from artist Anish Kapoor, there was an immediate rush by many to say that it was an attempt to be Chicago’s “Cloud Gate” created in 2006. Cloud Gate is the shape of a kidney bean on it’s side, reflective just as is Column, though variably much larger. Cloud Gate is a major tour attraction of public art, routinely swarmed by groups of selfie ready parties puckering their lips or giving a peace sign to the camera. At the time, I struggled to call Houston’s rendition a copy or even a direct offshoot. It is wonderful in it’s own right, even if I can admit to seeing the same human behavior in Houston “for the ‘gram”. (Instagram, for the uninitiated).

Houston and Chicago both are blue collar cities in my opinion. Both have resilient populations that have a drive and work ethic instilled from a young age. Both can be celebrated in success of defying the odds and rebuilding from tragedy. Chicago has rebuilt from fire, Houston from flood.

There is a Mexican Bakery in Houston that I love, and will hopefully feature soon, that has among it’s treats, Bolillos. These are freshly baked small rolls, perfect to fill and use for sandwiches. They are a compact variation of the baguette. Bolillos are airy in various bubble-sized pockets as not never be overworked by the baker, crispy exterior to the bite, and substantial to the stomach. They don’t cost much, and are best fresh within a day or two from purchase. The Bolillo finds it’s origins in Mexico, but is also made across Central America. The bread that comes from this bakery always permeates the air in the most pleasant and mouthwatering way. It is something that almost stops me in my tracks and instantaneously reminds me to look around. To be intentional. To pay attention to more than a single task or thought.

When Hurricane Harvey struck, bakers in this exact bakery were flooded into their kitchen. They had power and each other, so they continued to just bake through the storm. What they produced, they donated to a local relief effort in need of food. This is what Houston is about. We create, we give of our talents, we serve one another. At our best, we make time for one another. We are intentional. And we dream with one another while we break bread.

When Pedro Ojeda, a prolific drummer, was researching rhythms and styles of Columbian records ranging from 1950 – 1970, he sought to find rhythmic-percussive patterns of commonality. He studied not only vinyl records of Latin culture which might not have always been as well preserved as other more widely distributed pieces, but also spent a journey tracking down many Columbian drum masters still alive today. The result was a documentary that plays out as almost a Masterclass in studio sessions of improvised jams. The record from the documentary, with the portion of a track you hear is called “Bolillo, Baqueta y Tombo” which I at once thought translated into something I could use about the bread I deeply enjoy. Instead, the rough though more accurate translation in English is “Bobbin, Drumstick and Tombo”.

I thought about wrapping this post up with an analogy about how improvised music, be it jazz, hip hop, jam band or descarga takes awareness of the environment around us to create. Innately, what you put into the production (or recipe) is only part of what you can expect to reap. There are many other external factors which quite frankly don’t always turn out the way we intend. But, whether we discuss a bread, music, relationships, or watching the clouds above, we can find the best parts if we stay aware.

 

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