Paying Attention


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Amy Calhoun has a nice quote in our cover story, “Penn at Pixar,” on what’s special for alumni working there. “The awe lasts longer,” says the associate director of Penn’s Digital Media Design major. “The feeling that they are really making magic continues for a long time.”

No wonder. Since Toy Story burst onto screens in 1995, the studio has amassed an amazing record combining quality and commercial success, winning 30 Academy Awards, including seven out of the 12 Oscars for Best Animated Feature presented to date. Frequent contributor and Gazette arts & culture blogger Molly Petrilla C’06 spoke with alumni ranging from people who’ve been with Pixar since the early days to DMD grads whose parents probably took them to see Toy Story when they were in kindergarten.

For me, there were two main takeaways from the article: First, Pixar does sound like an extremely cool place to work—what with John Goodman wandering by, petting zoos popping up randomly, and free-flowing champagne to celebrate the studio’s many accolades. Second, that old job-description standby “detail-oriented” does not come close to the level of obsessive attention required to make the Pixar magic so convincing.

To take just one example, Ana Lacaze Jordan EE’97 FA’97 told Molly about the several years she spent studying different types and patterns of rust to help convey the history and personalities of some of the vehicle characters in Cars 2. “I tend to be attracted by details,” Jordan said. “I like figuring out what makes things work, what makes things the way they are.”

Taking the time to see things clearly is something that Michael Baime M’81, the director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness, has been helping people to do for decades.

Baime has practiced meditation since he was a boy—before he had ever heard the word, and only knew that there was a different state of consciousness he could bring on “if I walked at a certain pace or closed my eyes a certain way.” He began formal study as soon as he could, with a 14th birthday present from his parents to pay for classes.

For a long time, Baime’s work teaching meditation went on in parallel with his medical practice, but he has gradually transitioned away from seeing patients to concentrate on running the mindfulness program and expanding its offerings.

In “Being There,” Kathryn Levy Feldman LPS’09 writes about his sessions for fellow health professionals, designed to make them more present in their encounters with patients and in their own lives. “It doesn’t take any more time; you don’t have to do anything more, or different,” Baime says. “You just have to be there, aware of what is already happening.”

Meditation also helped Wharton’s G. Richard Shell emerge from his “Odyssey years” after college to become a popular teacher at Penn, a widely recognized expert on negotiation, and the author of several books. His latest is Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, in which Shell shows readers how¬† to develop the self-awareness to honestly answer “Two Big Questions”: What is success? and How will I achieve it?

As Dave Zeitlin C’03 explains in “Shell’s Odyssey,” the book draws on lessons from a course Shell teaches called The Literature of Success: Historical and Ethical Perspectives, as well as his personal experience having taken a few significant detours on the way to finding his own career path at the relatively advanced age of 37.

Had Josh Tauberer Gr’11 been in Penn’s DMD program rather than gotten his PhD in linguistics at the University, he might be spending his days contemplating the intricacies of animating rust, hair, and fur. Instead, as Alyson Krueger C’07 describes in “Civic Hacker,” Tauberer has used his computer skills to reveal the workings of Congress and advocate for greater transparency in government data as the founder of the website

—John Prendergast C’80

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Last modified 08/27/13