Monday, November 29, 2010

Listening, Hearing, Touching, Feeling

I was twenty-two, trying to make some money on the side... strike that, trying to make some money period (on the side would imply regular employment). I was working with the Glen Ellyn, Illinois Jaycees (United States Junior Chamber of Commerce) a pre-Internet social networking group who had decided to produce a musical a fundraiser. The semi-original work, The Wizard of Wacker (Drive) was a spoof on the Wizard of Oz.

I had been hired as the musical director; it was my job to pull together the pit orchestra, to translate the lyrics and melodies into arrangements, to coach the singers, and to conduct and perform the accompanying music. One night, I sat at my piano facing four volunteer firemen (two realtors, a broker downtown and the owner of a local hardware store) who were ready to work through the harmonies of their song. I'd worked hard to come up with a barbershop quartet arrangement of a relyricized John Denver tune and I was excited to hear it sung. I handed out the music, hit the opening chord and counted "one-two-three-and.."

Words evade me... which is rare... the guys enthusiastically embarked on a boisterous chorus of the music and lyrics sans pitch. I mean, they were "singing" the lyrics to the rhythm of the song, but the none of the notes were anywhere near what I'd written. I raised my hands to stop them finally clapping to get their attention. They all stopped, smiling at each other, proud of their work and happy to be singing.

I thought, "OK, they're screwing with me, right?"

"Alright, that was very funny. Thank you! Now, can we please get to singing what's on the pages in front of you?"

The guys all looked at each other questioningly, and then at me. As I looked from face to face, I heard laughter over by the stage-left curtains. The director was laughing uncontrollably slapping his assistant on the back with one hand while pointing in our direction with the other. Although he'd told me that the four impetuous troubadours before me represented the cream of the Jaycees musical crop, in fact, they were all tone-deaf.

I felt this gut-level sense of loss as I saw the four-part harmony I'd crafted so caretakingly crash to the floor and shatter. However, before I had the chance to thank the guys and send them on their ways, something welled up inside of me and spurt out of my mouth: "OK, let's take this one step at a time."

I tried to get everyone to sing just the melody. I tried to get them to just hum it. I tried to get them to just hum one phrase. Nothing.

Finally, I sat down on the piano bench, extended the index finger of my right hand, poked the G below middle C and let it ring. I poked it again and then again and then again. I looked up at the hardware store owner and said, "Bill, I want you to hum the note that I just played. I'll play it again and then you hum it, OK?"

He nodded. I poked. "Huummmmm..." Nowhere near what I played.

I poked. "Hmmmmmmm..." Different note, but no closer.

Poke. Hum. Stop.

"OK guys, does what I just played sound like what Bill hummed?"

They looked at each other and then off into space and then finally, one of the realtors said, "No! It's not!"


I poked again and this time hummed myself starting on a C# and sliding up and down until I got the G. I then asked the guys to tell me when the note I was humming slid into the note I'd played. Once they got that, I asked them to do it with each other. An hour later, every one of them could hum a G or a C or an F# without any coaching whatsoever.

We went on to learn the complete piece. They were great. It wasn't that they'd been tone-deaf and couldn't hear pitch, it was simply that they'd never associated pitch with music. They weren't aware of pitch. Music to them was just rhythm and words. Once they became aware of pitch as an element of music, they could learn pitch. Once they learned pitch, they could sing.

As you become aware, you learn what to look for, what to listen for, what to feel for. As you look, listen and touch, you become more aware and you seek more. The cycle of building awareness and then experimenting based on that awareness continues and you go from tone-deaf to expert singer, from insensitive oaf to self-aware lover, from class idiot to mathematical genius.

It's never about can versus can't. It's only in the rarest of instances that there's an actual limitation imposed by your capacity to do something. Your inability to do something is almost always due to a missing awareness and the subsequent follow-through and experimentation.

Really! There's almost nothing you can't learn to do and absolutely more than you think you can do.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Don't take life so seriously!

This morning I received a chain email that I thought was so cute, I could not resist editing and posting it here today. Thank you Simon and the original creator of this cute reminder not to take life so seriously! ~ Iris


Kiss a lot!

Relax in Nature

Have Fun

and...Be Happy!!!

I don't care if you lick windows,
take the special bus
or occasionally pee on yourself..

You hang in there sunshine, 
you're special!

Every sixty seconds you spend angry, upset or mad, is a full minute of happiness you'll never get back.

Today's Message of the Day is:

Life is short; Break the rules; Forgive quickly; Kiss slowly; Love truly; Laugh uncontrollably; and never regret anything that made you smile...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Reason I Decided to Stay

“I’m here now twenty-two years” the brown skinned, grey haired, shorts wearing old man told me while he moved me slowly onto the little boat that would bring me to one of the more exclusive snorkeling places in this area. “I bought a one-way ticket and never left” he continued with almost a smile on his leather face, while the little water waves hit the sides of the harbor wall and the soft wind made the palm tree leaves sing.

I sat myself on the small wooden seat and Joe started the black little motor in the back. With some very fluid movements he untied the Little Elizabeth and we were on our way. We rode the sea, which seemed more like a gigantic lake to me because of its flatness. We didn’t talk. The sound of the little motor snoring behind me, the sun on the water and my skin, it all gave me such a sense of peace. “This is a mediation” I realized. A little jealous I looked at Joe who takes his boat out every day. “What a blessing must it be”!

For fifteen minutes I enjoyed the quiet. Then I turned around and asked: “Joe, why did you decide to fly here twenty-two years ago?”

Joe started to tell me about his marriage that started when he was only eighteen years old. How fights and disagreements had broken the marriage in the two years after it started. Joe told me that he wasn’t a good boy at that time. He did drugs, drank and hung out with the wrong people. His wife was an angel, and she told him many times to become a man and quite the life he was living. He didn’t and one day she was gone when he got home. She had flown to Key West to start a new life as far away from him as possible.

Joes’ eyes drifted off, and I could see him repeat in his head the night he came home to an empty house.

When he started talking again he said the realization that she was gone came as a shock, but was not enough to change him. Instead he continued his lifestyle and ended up in jail years later for drugs trafficking. Only in jail he became clean and slowly started to change his life when he got out.

When Joe was 43, he got a letter from his first and only love Lizzy. It was a goodbye letter. She was very, very sick. She was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and the doctors gave her only another six months to life. She wrote him about the love she always felt for him and how she hoped it had helped him create a better life.

Four hours later he had left his hometown on a plane to Key West to see her. I saw some tears in his eyes and waited for him to continue.

“I felt so mixed, so confused” he said. “She was such an angel. She was the good one; the person I imagined had everything good come to her after she left. But what happened? She first married a jerk, and then her life got cut in half”.

“I didn’t know if she wanted to see me, I didn’t know what I could do to help her. There were so many things I didn’t know, outside of that I wanted to make good to her for all the pain I caused her. For all the love I promised to give her and then never did.”

Joe slowed down the boat. There was an orange buoy to which he tied the Little Elizabeth. Then he tenderly put his hand on the buoy and he seemed to say a prayer with his eyes closed while serenity filled the air.

He turned around to me, his blue eyes now empowered and with purpose.

“She had a beautiful little condo at Cudjoe Keys” he continued his story. The two-bedroom condo overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and when he arrived at her place she sat curled up in a chair on the porch. Their eyes met as soon as he climbed the stairs. He slowly walked up to her, while his heart bounced in his throat and he was not able to say a thing. She stretched out her arms and said “what took you so long”? He picked her up from the chair and held her in his arms until the sun had set and the temperature had dropped enough to make them both shiver.

With his constant care and love Lizzy found the strength to stay on earth for two more full years. She taught him love, she taught him compassion, she taught him persistence and helped him create a purpose for when she would no longer be with him.

He promised her that he would start a little charter company and visit everyday with his clients the snorkeling place her ashes were spread. He promised her to tell their story every day for as long as he was physically able to, to honor their love and to inspire others to go for love and tell them to not throw away love as he once did.

Then he looks me deep into my eyes and says: “Time has come to go and snorkel. While you are looking at the perfect universe through your goggles and follow the path of the balloon fish, the crabs and the harpoons I want you to also look into yourself and see if there is a place that is not as bright, lively and colorful as this sea. And if you find a place like that, I urge you to not hide the blackness any longer, but open it up and let it flow away with the water and fish. Free yourself like I did once when I received Lizzy’s goodbye letter.

With that last comment, I felt a little push in my back and slid into the water.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What Will You Inspire Today?

What will you inspire today in others?

Will you inspire courage or will you inspire fear?

Will you inspire confidence or will you inspire doubt?

Will you inspire passion or apathy?

Will you inspire energy or fatigue?

...freedom or restraint?

...creativity or repetition?

...heroics or cowardice?

...happiness or unhappiness?

...can or can't?

...strength or weakness?

...thought or recollection?

There's nothing you can do to avoid it. You could sequester yourself in a monastery high atop a Tibetan mountain and your very absence would inspire someone to something.Today you will inspire others. To what will you inspire them?

How will you inspire others? Standing in line at the checkout, waiting for the gas station attendant, walking into the coffee shop, who will people see? Someone enthusiastic and excited about his day? Someone agitated and rushed? Someone distracted and miles away? Someone focused and present?

When someone tentatively brings you her new idea, how will you respond? Will you listen attentively or distractedly? Will you advise and direct or will you ask questions that facilitate insight and discovery? Will your guidance be cautionary or impetuous?

Who will people see at work? Someone inspired and engaged or someone watching the clock? Someone who cares and takes the time required to do well or someone who settles for good enough? Someone who takes challenges in stride or someone who is easily rattled?

Will you brilliant? Will you be dull? Will you be the font of energy? Will you be the drain? Will you be a gift? Will you be a debt? Will you bring peace? Will you bring strife? Will you be salve or salt?

There's nothing you can do to avoid it. Today you will inspire! You can do so intentionally or passively? Though now that the question has been raised, even to inspire passively would be intentional.

What are your intentions?

Happy Black Friday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


A few years ago,  I created the tradition of 1 week birthday celebrations.  The lead up to a single day of celebration just wasn't satisfying for me.  Mentally, I reflected on my own birthday at least a week before the day, and a few days after.  The children made it official.  With 5 of us at home, that's 5 weeks of birthday celebrations and 1 week of anniversary celebrations.

Thanksgiving isn't really a holiday I identify with.  It wasn't something I grew up with, and turkey was never my thing.  I appreciated it as a day off from work, similar to President's Day and Veterans Day.  Plus, who wouldn't buy into a holiday that encourages gratitude?

Fortunately for me, Jaedon was born on November 25.  So every year, right at the time that I start thinking about the 'right' way to celebrate thanksgiving, I think about Jay and our journey together so far, and a thankfullness wave whooshes over me.  My mind quickly visits so many other happy scenes and liberally soaks them with gratitude.  It's easy even to think about the day I've had and say "Wow!  I get to live my life!"  So now we've added another celebration week: 1 week for thanksgiving too!  Jaedon's bithday complicates it a bit, since there is inevitably an overlap of birthday week and thanksgiving week.

Now typically, we don't attend large family gatherings and eat very large quantities of food on Thanksgiving.  That has primarily been because my mom always works on Thanksgiving and what would a feast be without her?  I have occasionally eaten with friends and their families, but it's been good just to be home.  My daughter, however, has decided that the entire country cannot be feasting and leave her out of it.  Last year, she commandeered a feast.  We decided to invite some people over on what we call Thanksgiving Friday, because my mom is home (and will do the majority of the cooking).  We celebrated both the Thanksgiving holiday and Jaedon's birthday.

So here I am today.  It's Jay's birthday and the Thanksgiving Friday feast is scheduled.  Uncertain of who will show up, I decided to make a memory that does not depend on a crowd in attendance.  I am celebrating Thanksgiving, Jay's birthday AND launching the start of the 1 month of Christmas celebrations in the Clarke household.  Friday will be the official tree lighting ceremony, along with feasting, birthday singing, crafts, christmas carols, thanksgiving songs, and whatever else we think of.  I love this idea!

What about you?  What are your holiday celebrations like?  How are you creating celebrations for yourself so they mean something to you, not just to the original people centuries ago who thought the celebration was a good idea?

By the way, I'm really thankful for a lot.  I won't start my list here.  I have to say that I am thankful to this blog, to you wonderful readers who allow me to share my musings with you.  I was just looking at some of the articles I've written over the past year and wow!  I've written a lot.  I so appreciate the space this blog has provided for me to practice putting my thoughts into words.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration, and you have my permission to celebrate for an entire 7 day period!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Make Thanksgiving Happy!

OK you know what tomorrow is! It's a special day here in the US where we gather together with family and friends whom we haven't seen in ages. Time to reconnect. Time to share our gratitude. Time to feast.

Can you sense the excitement? The tightening in your chest as you wonder what aunt Susan's dietary restrictions are going to be this year? The acid rising up into your esophagus as you consider what will happen when your brother Billy sees that you did invite Dad even after he said that he'd rather eat McDonald's than share a meal with "that man". The slight discomfort in your shoulders as you anticipate your mom doing her darnedest to instruct you on the correct application of spice and how finely to mince garlic, reminding you of what great a cook your sister is.

Yes, there's a reason that the gathering is special, that we see people whom we don't see regularly. Sure, we might attribute the frequency of interaction to the geographical distances that separate us from one an other. However, the physical distances are often artifacts of even greater philosophical distances. So we gather together with people with whom we have nearly nothing in common save bloodline, marriage and history. We gather together to share, to love and to give thanks.

Compromised Gratitude
The problem is this: when you wake up every morning feeling a deep sense of gratitude that you live a thousand miles from your folks, you'll probably find yourself saying something like, "Hey, I'd better go check the turkey" as the room's gaze falls on you with your turn to share that for which you're thankful. I mean, what are you going to say? I feel extremely grateful that Thanksgiving is so special (i.e., occurs only once a year.)

Indeed, for many of us, Thanksgiving is the absolute best holiday. Sharing gratitude can be akin to rolling in a 10,000 megawatt happiness amplifier and cranking it to full blast. However, for others, the amplifier can get cross-wired and we end up amplifying the strains and stresses that we take in stride on your average Thursday.

Well it needn't be that way and it doesn't take much to change everything! I know what you're thinking: get out while you can! Make a break before it's too late! And believe it or not, flight is definitely an option, even if Thanksgiving is being held at our house.

Mark K did something akin to this last year. After, he heard that his dad was taking the private jet from Colorado to New Jersey to share Thanksgiving with Mark, his siblings and their families (swinging through Florida to pick up one sister and her family on the way), Mark sent Sasha and the kids to event and then hightailed it to our house in the Berkshires to share Thanksgiving with us. First time I'd seen him on time for anything.

However, there are less drastic measures that one can take to put the happy back into Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm not an advocate of cramming for tests: cramming is the antithesis of learning. However, cramming gratitude can have the effect of spraying ether into the carburetor of an engine that refuses to turn-over. A couple of squirts and the engine springs to life. So, run by Staples as you do your last minute shopping today and pick up a stack of 3x5 index cards. On your way home from the market, stop by the coffee shop for a little "me" time. It's time to create some gratitude crib notes for each person that you anticipate seeing tomorrow.

Pull out a card for each person and write his name at the top of the card (you may want to use color coding either to indicate the person or the degree of dread). Now, for each person, write down something for which you're thankful. Move from card to card until you've created a healthy list for each person. You can do it!

By the way, avoid backhanded thankfulness, e.g., I'm thankful that I don't have to see you every day!

Stop Doing
A lot of Thanksgiving stress is due to overcompensating and trying too hard to make everything perfect. There comes a point where all the little details over which we've slaved will go completely unnoticed. Even seeing this, we struggle on in the fruitless pursuit of perfection.

So, write down all the tasks that you've laid out for yourself through the rest of today and tomorrow and draw a line through half of them. If you've really caught yourself up in making everything perfect, then at least half of what you've outlined for yourself is completely superfluous (if not counter productive). So, forgo that extra-special red wine that you need to drive an hour to get and pick up a couple of bottles of Two-buck Chuck or a 2007 Red Zinfandel (for some reason, they all seem to be good.) Or run back to the supermarket and buy a bunch of prepared salads rather than spending tonight slicing and dicing.

Abandon Tradition
I can't tell you how many people have roasted turkey only on Thanksgiving (and perhaps Christmas). I mean, I literally can't tell you; I have no idea. However, it seems that most people I know don't and therein lies a clue. What's up with spending hours preparing food that no one deigns to eat throughout the year?

A couple of years ago we abandoned tradition and went with: If I could eat anything on Thanksgiving, what would it be? Beyond the obvious answer, sushi, we started coming up with really cool lists. We spent one Thanksgiving sitting around the table with Fondue: a pot of hot oil, a pot of melted cheese, and a pot of molten chocolate. We all stood around the counter cutting meats, vegetables and fruits and then proceeded to cook, dine and converse all at once. It was great.

Other favorite Thanksgiving meals include barbecue ribs, blackened grouper and pasta!

Don't worry about old uncle Sudhir and his traditions, you might actually hear him say the likes of, "I've always hated Turkey!"

Share the Load
It's good to know that if you feel stressed, then others probably feel stressed as well. One of the best ways to de-stress is to do something, anything, to occupy your hands, to focus your mind. So, when someone asks, "Is there anything I can help with?", don't respond with, "Oh, no, I've got everything handled. Please just relax in the living room!"

Your insistance on your guests relaxing may in fact lead to greater stress on their parts. So, forget about stacking that last cord of wood before everyone arrives; leave it for your brothers tomorrow. And all that food prep that you'd planned for tonight after the kids are in bed, forget about it. You'll have plenty of would-be slicers and dicers looking for anything they can do to de-stress tomorrow.

Let it Roll
In the end, you can't make anyone happy. All you can do is the best you can to create a warm and welcoming environment and to roll with whatever happens. A clean house and great food don't even begin to compare to a warm, welcoming and light heart. So, take a deep breath, hold it for a second, and then as you exhale, let all the concern and worry flow out with it.

Let go and let it roll.

Happy Thanksgiving's Eve

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Musical Thank You

Today I want to share with you one fabulous, amazing gift my husband gave me. I am so grateful that he believes me, supports me and helps me grow in the most unexpected ways. Mark was so fabulous to record the song I wrote a couple of years ago and he created a demo version that is absolutely stunning. My husband has many talents, and music is clearly one of them!

Listen to the beautiful sax arrangements you will hear behind my voice and let yourself drift away with the sounds of this beautiful song.

Follow this link to the song: Waiting For The Sun

Mark, thank you for creating this master piece. Your musical arrangements are absolutely gorgeous and beautiful and you made this song come alive in a most incredible way. You are a true inspiration for me, and your love for me makes anything I set my mind on possible. Thank You. I love you. Let's make some more fabulous music together...

I also want to express gratitude to my friend Will Osborne. Will,  you show me where singing is about: soul and passion. Your big heart jumps from the stage when you are performing, and I realized that there is more to singing than just having the right notes. Thank you for believing in me and helping me climb out of my shell.

Here I am going to leave you my dear readers. Thanks for taking time to surf to Belief Makers today. Take good care and remember that expressing gratitude is a quick way of sharing your feeling good and your happiness. You can influence the happiness around you by expressing yourself.

Have a grateful day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Back on Track

This morning at 2am Mark drove the car onto our driveway and this meant we arrived back home from our wonderful trip to the Florida Keys. A 10-day trip that included my first half-marathon, my fathers visit from the Netherlands, sightseeing the Keys and just being out and about, enjoying the eighty-degrees weather.

Gotten back to a 40-degrees home, I dove into bed with all my warm travel clothes still on my body and continued the sleep I started in the car. I dreamt about running. Not that weird if you know that I created a new training schedule over the last two days for hopefully my first half marathon in New York City in March 2011.

Now back home, it is all about getting "back on track". What has to be done around the house? Wood piling, dusting, vacuuming, and grocery shopping. What has to be done for work? Contacting clients, finances and creating new goals. What has to be done related to our music? Preparing a No Room for Jello performance in December and a WillPower performance in January. What has to be done for the blog? Articles to be written, authors contacted and 2011 plans to be developed.

I can continue with my list of to do’s for a while. The holiday didn’t change the to-do’s I already had on my list before my holiday. I even added more to-do’s than I would have had otherwise, but I must tell you that I have a different experience with my list then before my holidays.

Today, I cleaned the fridge and freezer, piled wood, fixed the coffee maker, clean up stuff, went with Mark todo some shopping, and everything was fun and easy. Even though I have many more things to do then I have done today, I have been truly celebrating my achievements during the day. I was piling wood with a smile on my face.It was beautiful weather, I was working my body and it also cleans really nicely. That’s what the holiday has given me: a renewed sense of celebration for life, my husband, and everything I am doing with my time.

What about you? Have you taken time today to celebrate your achievements? How have you done that? Do you feel you celebrate yourself enough? How do you make sure you take time to enjoy and celebrate your achievements?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Elephant?

Do you have people in your life who are fragile? Ones who don't handle pressure well? Who take criticism personally and deeply? Who wear their emotional scars outwardly? Who attribute their current state to incidents from childhood? Who don't do well with change? Who get out of sorts when things don't go as planned?

Each of us knows or has known fragile people; each of us has been a fragile person. Fragility sometimes comes with overwork and exhaustion; it sometimes comes with long cycles of failure; it sometimes comes with buying into the beliefs and criticisms of others; it comes with tragedy and loss. Fragility can be physiological or psychological or spiritual.

When you're around fragile people, how do you behave? Do you tiptoe by hoping to not be noticed? Do you avoid "touchy" subjects? Do you try to be upbeat and encouraging? Do you go out of your way to ensure that everything you say can only be viewed as positive? Do you get finger cramps pointing out the bright side? Do you lament? Empathize? Pity?

We often change our own behaviors to accommodate the fragility of others.

Taking Out the Elephant
I had friend, Paul, who was the world's best firer. He was masterful at dealing with the elephant in the room. In the this case, the elephant would typically be someone whom everyone knows is over his head, screwing up big time, overpaid and yet thinks he's God's gift to the company. The one everyone knows needs to go and yet no one is saying anything, at least not to him.

Paul would walk right up to the unaware elephant and ask her if she wouldn't mind meeting with him for a bit. They'd depart into a conference room or office and an hour later she'd emerge happy... smiling... thanking him... fired. It was downright amazing.

Paul would then retrieve any staff members who might be experiencing survivor's guilt and one by one, they'd emerge from his office happy... smiling... thanking him... employed.

One day Paul tapped me on the shoulder and I thought, "Shit, the elephant is always the last to know. We should get him a friggin' Grim Reaper's hood just so you can see it coming."

However, I wasn't the elephant du jour (at least not that jour) and instead we spent an hour going over marketing plans. Afterwards, I asked Paul about this whole firing thing he does and how he does it.

Paul explained to me that the most important thing was to not see people as fragile. When you see people as fragile you undermine your ability to relate to them. Others will pick up quickly on your being careful around them and they'll begin to wonder what's up. They get scared. They get defensive. They stop trusting what you have to say. They keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He went on to explain that the important thing is to replace treating people as fragile with treating the with respect, and then out of respect, to be completely straight with them. No holding back. No whispers and gossip. Just look'em-in-the-eye straight-talk with deep respect.

Fragile = Disrespect
At the time, it was a lot for me to process, but as I did, it occurred to me that to do otherwise was a lack of respect, i.e., to be careful around someone is to show disrespect for him. Now, the disrespect may be merited, he may be a complete lunatic ready to go nuclear, and therefore the going nuclear part may command more respect than the person. Nonetheless, I tried on the notion that to be careful is to disrespect, and something about it resonated for me.

As I churned it around in my mind, I decided that I would add the word love:

look'em-in-the-eye straight-talk with deep love and respect.

I sometimes hesitate to use the word love because I hear Pastor Reitzel preaching, "I'm telling you this in love, y'all are going to hell!"

But yeah, let's add love to the mix.

Works in Theory
Armed with my new knowledge, I headed out of Paul's office thinking about all the people whom I'd been treating as fragile and I committed to straight-talk with respect. I grimace to think of some of my first encounters. It's one thing to decide that someone is not fragile (I think he's not fragile, I think he's not fragile, I think he's not fragile) and another to act on (uuuhhhh, what if he's fragile, what if he's fragile, what if he's fragile).

Even as I'd began speaking, doubt would stream into my mind like a water main turned on before all the pipe fittings have set. I'd find myself so flustered, that I'd hem and haw and finally go all Tourette's with the most challenging bits and pieces of straight-talk flying oblong out of my mouth in random order. I'd look up at faces that were astonished or bright red with anger or, worst of all, tearful; I'd stand up, apologize and flee.

Getting Some Respect
The problem didn't lie in not knowing what to say or not being able to articulate it; the problem lay in not knowing how to respect someone. Years of learning to pity or empathize or feel-sorry-for or be-careful-around were years learning to disrespect. It took a while to see how pity was a form of judgment, how empathy (no matter how often it seemed to be aligned) was presumptuous, how feeling sorry for someone else was actually all about me, and how being careful served no one.

So I worked to eradicate those activities from my being and began learning to respect others no matter what their situation, to see them as fundamentally strong even if they were currently in a weakened state, to see them as capable of managing their emotions and feelings, to seem them as complete in-and-of-themselves no matter how much more they may grow, to see them as deserving of honesty and straight-talk not matter how hard I perceive the message to be.

Again, I'm not talking about the I hafta be honest withchu, you suck! type of "honesty", just the heartfelt what you believe stated as belief, not truth type of honesty.

So, are there people in your life whom you treat as fragile? Do others treat you as fragile? Do you get frequent hankerings for peanuts or inclinations to suck water up your nose and spray it on your back? It may not be pretty at first, but try it out. See others as not fragile, but instead deserving straight talk delivered with deep love and respect.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Your Permanent Record

She looked hopefully across the desk as he casually flipped through the paper work forwarded him from the HR department. Occasionally, his eyebrows would rise and then fall as he craned his neck towards a particularly interesting item, a "hhmmm..." emanating from his throat or a slight whistle passing through his lips. Sympathetically, she'd lean forward with him, hoping that by mimicking his gestures, she'd somehow glean insight into what he was thinking, but she couldn't tell whether he was pleased or nonplussed.

Finally, he sat upright and tossed the papers to his left. Leaning forward on his elbows, he threaded his fingers, tilted his head to the right and looked her in the eye.

"Ms. Noordermeer, I must tell you that no one has ever scored as well as you did on our entrance exams! Not only did you show proficiency in your areas of expertise, but also in your communications and leadership skills."

She beamed, finding it impossible to conceal her excitement at the potential that was unfolding before her.

"You're more than qualified for the job for which you've applied. In fact, you're qualified for some senior level positions that have just opened. You're the best candidate we've ever seen!"

She couldn't believe it! The world was her oyster (whatever that means).

"There's just one problem", the needle skidded across the record.

"There are several issues we found here on your permanent record going back to that indelible-marker incident in second grade and the cigarettes confiscated from your locker second semester, freshman year of high school."

She sat back in her chair, the air escaping her lungs like a punctured life raft just three miles from shore.

"I'm sorry to say that, given these incidents, we won't be requiring your services. Permanent records don't lie!"

Over the years, I've spent lots of time in the world of resume builders: titles and positions, awards and accolades, degrees and publications, patents and inventions. In essence a resume is a self-reported permanent record. It's all the good stuff without those incidents, activities and accomplishments that you'd sooner forget.

I like looking at resumes of job applicants. In addition to providing critical insight into an applicant's ability to construct a resume and serving as a great starting place for questions, I find the phrasing and verbal constructions fascinating. It's as though the goal were to stretch the truth to a diameter so thin that it was one molecule away from breaking. I've met patent holders whose names were added simply because they were the one's who'd written up the patent or they added a tweak at the very end of the process. I've known PhD's who had not a clue about the application of their areas of expertise.

Over the years, I've developed my favorite questions for job applicants, my goal being to unearth their actual permanent records: not the ones maintained in the high school principal's office or the self-reported fictions submitted to the HR department, but instead, the ones etched into their being. Jonathan and I often compare notes on job interview techniques and questions. So, just in case you're planning on interviewing with Jonathan or me for a job, or perhaps if you're looking to mix it up a bit when hiring someone, here are some of them.

What Did You Do?
Few of us have the opportunity to work on projects as a sole contributor; we're almost always part of a team. However, resumes often list projects on which an applicant has worked without getting into the specifics of what she did on a day to day basis.

Sharon, I see here that you worked on a project to control the weather over Houston?

Yes I did. I'm quite proud the work we did.

How many people worked on the project?

Oh, well, umm, it was like, about a hundred or so.

And what was your role on the project?

I was project manager.

Great! We really could use some help with project management. Were you a project manager or the project manager?

Umm. Well, I was a project manager, but I had a lot of responsibilities.

How many project managers were there?

Hmmm... I think about thirty-five. There was a lot of project managing.

I see. So what exactly were your responsibilities?

I was team meeting coordinator.

Oh yes, I see that here as the title listed on your resume. What were your responsibilities as team meeting coordinator?

Well, I managed all the logistics regarding team meetings.

Mmm Hmm... for example?

I would ensure that all the appropriate participants were present at the appropriate time and appropriate place and that all the implements being utilized during the meeting were functional and in place.
It can take a bit of time to navigate from someone personally taking on global warming to ensuring that there were enough donuts for early morning meetings. My permanent record scoring is not based on the quality or type of work performed, but instead, on the disparity between what was is written and what was done, and how the number of questions required to reconcile the two.

Speed Bump Test
I used to ask to be scheduled to take job applicants to lunch. We'd walk out to the parking lot and I'd toss them the keys to my truck saying, "Why don't you drive?"

The parking lots at Bell Labs were huge with long driveways connecting them to the surrounding local roads. Being quite large, they were infested with strategically placed speed bumps. My truck had a suspension made for off-road use and I didn't pay particular attention to the speed bumps. I always liked to see how job applicants responded to the speed bumps as we left the parking lot; the range of reactions is quite amazing and they can tell you a lot about how people respond to challenges they might encounter at work.

For example, there are the crawlers. Once they see a speed bump, they slow to a crawl, not only for the speed bump, but throughout the parking lot. There are the brakers, who brake quickly, inch over the speed bump and then speed on. There are the oblivious who drive along chatting not noticing that there even are speed bumps (before, during or after). And finally, there are the air-timers who seem to view speed-bumps like home-made ramps for skateboards and BMX bikes.

A few years back, Jonathan added the caveat that I should explain my truck's suspension to any would-be air-timer lest he limit himself out of concern for my vehicle. Even then, it's amazing how differently people respond.

Where Was I?
The other day Jonathan called me with what he considered to be the perfect interview question. I have to admit, it's pretty amazing. Basically, as the interviewer, you ramble through gory financial detail regarding esoteric aspects of the business that would bore even the most passionate actuarial. After about ten minutes of diatribe, you stand up and look out the window for a moment apparently distracted. Returning to your seat, you turn to the applicant and ask, "OK, where was I now?"

Friggin' amazing question.

How'd We Get Here?
Assuming that the applicant successfully responds to Where was I? I came up with a variation on Jonathan's technique that I developed listening to Mark Kaufman, king of stream-of-consciousness non-sequitur. Rather than delving deeply into a single boring topic, you spend a few minutes on one topic and then abruptly move to another that is only related to the previous by the thinnest of threads. After several pivots from point to point, you stop abruptly and ask, "Wait, how did we get to fishing in Alaska?"

I have a white Styrofoam cube that I paint red. Now, I cut the cube into a bunch of smaller cubes of equal size by making two cuts in each dimension: downward with my saw moving from front to back, downward with my saw moving from side to side, and across with my saw moving from front to back. The result is that I have a bunch of cubes that have red sides and white sides.

The question is, how many cubes have so many red sides and so many whites side? For example, how many cubes have three red sides and three white sides?

The funny thing is that little kids often do much better with this question than their adult counterparts.

How'd I Get Here?
Talk about rambling on, how'd I get here. What's on your permanent record? How do you determine what's on the permanent record of others?

Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Last Night of Her Life

It was the the last night of her life which, fortunately for me, makes it easier to write about than were it to be, for example, the last night of my life. It's easier for several reasons, the foremost being that, not knowing that it was the last night of her life, she hadn't considered the evening to be significant or noteworthy, and not being significant nor noteworthy, she hadn't set pen to paper.

Of course noteworthy is often only recognized in the rear view mirror. So rarely do we notice noteworthy in the moment. In fact, statistically, the odds of knowing that something is noteworthy as it is happening is near zero. Further, knowing that what is about to happen will be noteworthy almost guarantees that someone, somewhere will do something so stupid as to make it not noteworthy, or worse, like Bill Beal being so concerned about the the shine of his Sousaphone that he forgot to put on his pants before marching onto the football field, displace the noteworthiness of the event with something even more, umm, dazzling?

But it was indeed the last night of her life, not in that romantic end of the world as we know it sense, but instead in the end of the world (period) sense. An insignificant evening that wouldn't deign to feign noteworthiness save for its having hosted her life's ending.

And therein lies the rub. Why is it that we so often see nothing noteworthy in the ongoingness of things, but instead, in their endings. If the ending of something is so significant as to make it "noteworthy", then why would not the middle of something, or the 20th of something, or the randomly selected instance of something? What is it about the last of something (or the first), that draws our attention, that somehow makes it significant… meaningful… noteworthy?

Are we such cretins that we can't see the sham of it. The births, the funerals... the weddings, the divorces... the launches, the bankruptcies... the purchases, the sales... the significant events that mean nothing, that occupy less than zero-point-zero-one-percent of our lives, the times we make noteworthy.

What if tonight were "the last night of"? So what? Why would it go from what it was to something else? Well, it wouldn't! It'd be only in your mind that it was different!

But I see that you resist, you squirm. Surely, its being the last night of her life would make it significant!? Surely we can't dismiss it as being fundamentally the same as any other night?

Well wake up stupid! It is no different.

If you want to make the last night of her life significant, if you want to make the last night of your life significant, then you better well make tonight significant!

Or for that matter, today, Friday, November 19, 2010.

Happy Friday,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Until the Day After

We got home late from Key West wondering whether or not Iris' dad and Ina had starved to death awaiting our return. We walked around the back of the house to the deck overlooking the Atlantic on three sides and found Cees and Ina enjoying beer, books and broiled fish that Cees had caught and cleaned. Relieved that no one had died, we decided to head out and grab some dinner for ourselves. We made our way up Route 1 toward Miami stopping to refuel at Summerland Key (a mile up the road) and then to Ramrod Key (three miles up the road) settling on Boondocks Grille, Draft House and Miniature Golf for dinner.

Doing my best to look cool emerging from our Ford Flex, we walked past a couple of geriatric motorcycle gangs (who appeared to prefer lawn chairs adjacent to their Harley's to tables and bars) into the open air barroom. Fortunately, in addition to twenty TVs providing access to football, basket ball and commentary, it was trivia night. The themes playing through loudspeakers strategically placed about the room ranged from "name that tune" to "order the planets in the solar system" to "how many years did Wayne Gretsky score more than 200 goals in a season." (Not that I was paying attention to them.)

As we reviewed the menu of rather pedestrian bar grub and locally grilled fish, Iris spied a "pasta" section. My gut reaction was "Chef Boyardee" (an American purveyor of canned spaghetti and meatballs), but nonetheless, per a conversation that Iris and I had conducted previously in the day, I withheld comment. Iris loves pasta, but pasta tends to abuse the privilege, so she's been really good about avoiding it. Nonetheless, she told herself that if she completed her half-marathon, she'd give herself permission to indulge. So with a, "Hey, tomorrow's a new day!", she ordered a plate of garlic chicken and broccoli Alfredo.

I ordered a BFD Burger (sans bun) and fries (OK, not much better) and we started talking with me only occasionally interrupting to call out the answer to a trivia question (totally nailed Mamma Told Me Not to Come by Three Dog Night). As we talked, I asked her about "tomorrow's a new day" adding my own tag line, "comma, until the day after". Iris looked at me as if to say, "huh?" Well actually, she said, "Huh?" And I thought to myself, "huh?"

I wasn't exactly sure where the comment had come from, but I went with it. So I came up with the following:

Tomorrow is a new day, until the day after tomorrow
Hence, tomorrow is a new day that runs from midnight tonight
to midnight tomorrow night
Hence, it's (now) not yet being midnight makes not only tomorrow new day,
but today as well
So, until midnight today, today is still a new day!

All this is an apparent oxymoron. Normally, the statement "tomorrow is a new day" is accompanied by the sentiment that "today" ain't! In fact, "tomorrow is a new day" is a sort of requiem for today. It's downright morbid. It's a R.I.P. for today. It's utter and complete surrender.

To be sure, there is often value in surrendering today. However, the value lies in relief, in renewal, in rebirth. There's nothing magical about midnight or 7:00 AM or noon. There's simply the organic renewal process that comes with "the next day". What if the value of renewal, rebirth and relief, and it's casual association with the transection of midnight has caused us to mandate that transection to be renewed? What if instead, any moment could be a new day, even if it were the same "day"?

OK, I didn't think all that before I added my little tag line, but I did so pretty much instantaneously with Iris' and my "huh?"

Pretty cool, huh?

How would life change if the renewal of tomorrow didn't require the passage of time? What if I could say, "Tomorrow is a new day, agreed?" and the quickly follow it with, "OK, it's now tomorrow. What're we gonna do?"

Tomorrow is a new day, a place of rebirth and renewal, a place of relief and reinvigoration! Tomorrow is now!

Happy tomorrow... err... today... err... Thursday!

PS, Iris' pasta was amazingly good!

Depression, Discovery, Delight

Last weekend, while sitting in an autism conference listening to the latest research connecting motor deficits to ASD, I felt fear, sadness, depression.  This is why I don't go to these things, I thought.  What is the point?  Can any of this help my son?

We have been friends since high school.  I was in her wedding, she was in mine, we went to the same college and grad. school.  Yet, there are stark differences in our lives and how we interact with the world on a day to day basis.  One significant difference is my being home and my children being home with me, so that when anyone calls me on the phone and I'm home, the conversation is speckled with "Yes? No today isn't a t.v. day" and "Could I have a minute? What do I have in my hand?"  My being less than present is very trying for my girlfriend.  I have made up that this is why she doesn't call very much.  I understand how she feels.  I decide to be irritated whenever Isaiah is less than fully present with me too.

I hear that humans tend to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. Some say we all just avoid pain.  I remember reading once that physical pain appears to be three times as painful as it is in reality.  One third of the pain comes from our past  memory of feeling something similar.  Another third comes from our anticipation of how painful the pain will be.  With pain three times magnified, avoidance seems like a good strategy.

Yet, like any compensatory strategy, there is a trade-off.  What do we lose by avoiding the discomfort we feel?  It's like the epidural during labor.  There is delicious release from the pain, but then someone has to tell you when to push to deliver your baby.  You feel nothing.  We anesthetize ourselves, so we can neither do desirable or undesirable feelings.  Well, this isn't really true.  We end up feeling mostly undesirable feelings, but we keep the avoidance dance in place so we avoid really magnifying those feelings and looking at them.  Sooner or later, they leak out or just erupt out.

So I hated autism conferences, couldn't read autism periodicals, watch documentaries about autism.  My friend feels thoroughly discombobulated when having a conversation with me while my kids are around, so doesn't call.  I feel unloved when Isaiah is being less than present while I'm talking so I don't talk.

As I sat in the conference, some newer thought patterns came to my rescue.  Why do I feel sad?  I won't go into the whole exploration (it's 12:33 am and I have a new early bedtime of 1:00 am) but I realized that I felt the information at the conference was inaccessible to me.  I couldn't make much of it useful for my son.  Not only couldn't I make it useful, but I couldn't right now afford to be a client of one of these amazing researchers and doctors.  That was my new discovery, and it came with relief.  Just beginning to wrap my hands around the issue was much more grounding that the tenuous tiptoeing I had been doing forever.   I noticed the disconnect between my beliefs about Jaedon being able to get what I would want for him, and my beliefs about Simonne and Zachary getting what I would want for them.  I took the opportunity to explore that for myself and adopt some of those beliefs for Jay.  I'll write about that in more detail another time.

The thing is, it had been at least 6 years since I was at an autism conference, mostly because it was uncomfortable.  I'm not thinking that I should have gone before this.  I just don't think I would have asked the questions to myself about my discomfort had I not gone.

Avoiding discomfort is avoiding the questions that the discomfort can help us ask, which can help us unearth the reason for the discomfort and not be uncomfortable anymore. In fact, having diffused the discomfort, we can move on to just plain happy!  So instead of avoiding pain, what about diving into pain, with the belief that there is happiness on the other side?  In fact, since there is happiness on the other side, the very decision to dive into the discomfort brings happiness.  Discomfort is my friend because of how I engage it to create answers for myself!

I hope you take a moment today to be curious about everything you feel, everything you respond to, everything you are thinking about avoiding.  That little twinge of discomfort, explored, could open doors to an amazing sense of contentment and delight.

P.S. Please frame these thoughts around things/issues you think may be getting in the way of your having an ecstatic life experience. I feel some discomfort about bungie jumping, but at this time, that isn't something that is getting in the way of where I want to go so I'm not exploring that right now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I wake up feeling the effects of lactic acid having swept through my body like ants swarming a neglected picknick basket on a hot summer day. Even the closed containers have been infiltrated. Every muscle, every joint aches. I assume it must be my having tried to get aerobic workouts using something other than my bicycle. Since arriving in Florida, I've run, I've swum, and I've tired all before my cardiovascular system even begins to kick in.

So, what to do? I decide to go rent a bike down in Key West and then to ride. We hop into the car and head towards the very beginning of US Route 1. At mile marker 4, I spot a massive sculpture of discarded bicycles stretching toward the sky with a sign to the left that reads, "Recycle!" I make a u-turn into the parking lot, the wheels of our rented Ford Flex churning up dust in the warm Florida morning, slide to a stop and wander in to the store.

Chris the owner/partner/mechanic/sales guy who bought a one-way plane ticket from Nebraska to Key West back in 2000 asks how he might be of assistance. I tell him that I'd like to rent a bike for a week and he pulls out a list of bicycle types, configurations and prices. As Iris and I look at the list, he asks where we're staying. Neither Iris or I can recall the address, but we mention that it's at mile marker 23. Chris says, "So, you gonna be riding all the way up there?"

I nod affirmatively.

He walks beside me, quickly scans the list and then points to the two bicycles that would fit the bill. Ten minutes later, Iris, her dad and his girlfriend are back in the car and I'm on my bike. We're heading down to mile marker 0. I'm still feeling aches and pains, but it feels good to be doing something where I can get my lungs working a bit.

Riding My Pains Away
After a couple of hours zooming up and down Duval Street, I decide to ride back "home". The sun is now high in the sky, but I figure, "What the heck, it's just another twenty-three miles."

I make my way up Route 1, crossing out of Key West onto Stock Island (I still don't know the difference between an island and a key) heading toward the air force base. Clearly there is some Floridian law regarding conservation of thought when applied to bicycle paths. So much thought went into providing bike paths within Key West that not a lot was left over for ones outside Key West. I manage to get past the air force base without getting hit nor running off the road nor clipping another bicycle as I squeeze past.

A couple more miles and I soar onto a bike path that puts plenty of distance between me and the passing drivers. I'd been particularly concerned about the drivers whose constant gaze to either the left or right indicated their never having seen the color of a Caribbean sea. The bike path is smooth and the riding goes easier. However, without the distraction of avoiding becoming road pizza, I notice that it's hot, and, uhh... hmm... I'm thirsty. Like really thirsty.

Heat, Sun, Thirst
Better get something to drink stat! I pedal faster leap-frogging from bridge to bridge certain that there will be a place to get something to drink soon. As I land on yet another bridge, I pass through a shaded area that is noticeably cooler. I stop, dismount my bike, roll it back to a strategically placed park bench that immediately transforms itself into a landing pad.

My arms stretch out to either side of me, I notice that I'm surrounded by mangroves and palm trees. The air feels delicious. I lean deeply into the bench and breathe. My own private oasis. I'm not sure how long I sit there... seconds ...minutes ...hours?

My revery is interrupted by the roar of an oncoming car making time. I look up at the road in time to see Iris blow by me sans Pop and Ina. I consider the unthinkable: maybe it would be smart to call Iris and see if she'll pull over so I can ride the rest of the way home with her. Hmmmmm....

I try once, but no answer. I try again, deciding to leave a message. Five words into my plea, I hear a beep, look at my phone and see that Iris is calling me. She'll pull over after the next bridge.

Hopping back on my bike, I kick into high gear seeing the next bridge just a mile ahead. As I cross the third next bridge, it occurs to me that car-time and bike-time measure distance quite differently, one of the more subtle variations on relativity.

Five miles later, I catch the turquoise of Iris' straw hat highlighted by a shaft of light poking through the mangroves under which she's standing. She has her camera pointed at me as I glide in for a landing next to her. We walk over to the car, I wrestle the front wheel from the fork and toss the bike in back. Words alone cannot describe the sense of gratitude I feel for air conditioning as I slop into the driver's seat.

Soaking in the cool, no longer distracted by the heat and the cars and the sun, the lactic acid cries out, "Don't forget about me!"

Damn, I thought I'd had that licked!

We drive home, pull into the parking space and walk into the rental house. Emerging from the shower, I flip on the TV, walk over to the couch and sit down lilting a bit to my left. Within thirty-seconds, nothing remains that could be called posture. I pull a blanket over me and notice that I have chills. Hmmmm... this lactic acid is a bitch.

Then it dawns on me: "Topeka! This ain't lactic acid, this is fever!"

Just recognizing it, I feel a thousand times better. I ask Iris if she's brought any aspirin; she disappears and returns with a couple of Advil. I close my eyes shivering, but happy.

Some time later, I open them. The sun has almost set and Iris is heading out the door to pick up her dad and Ina. She kisses me on the head an leaves. I close my eyes again and wake up to a drop of sweat rolling into my ear. The fever evaporates with the sweat; well, more accurately, the fever gets wiped away with the sweat (as does the sense of lactic acid build up).

It's kind of amazing how freeing it is just to know what's going on. Confronted by a challenge, it's not always clear, well at least not always to me. But, just knowing what it is makes it better, even if nothing else has changed. Thirty mile rides through summer heat without water might be good for... OK, they're not really good for much of anything. However, a couple of Advil works pretty darn well for fever.

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Over time, your surroundings become neutral.
Werner Ulrich

It seems that no matter what, your everyday experience becomes normal.

Of Course I Run
When Iris began running in January, she'd never run a mile. She wasn't sure that she could run a mile. She hated idea of running, let alone running itself.

Yesterday she finished a half-marathon with a time that placed her just about midway in her age group. She was excited and energized. She was enthusiastic about her next race, about moving on to a full marathon, about being a runner. Nowadays, she gets up and can't wait to head out the door and run. I dare say that she now cannot imagine not running. To run is now normal.

Life is rich with scenarios in which the incomprehensible becomes normal. My friend Jonathan recently cut all sugar from his diet. He didn't do so by sneaking in sugar substitutes (artificial nor organic), but instead simply stopped consuming sugar (even the stuff that plays Where's Waldo in the list of ingredients). In addition to dropping a quick fifteen pounds and feeling great, he's come to not miss sugar. No sugar is now normal.

Text Addicts
Life is full of things without which we couldn't carry on, and yet when they're taken away, we continue. From within you see an impossible situation; from without you see a ridiculous one. Rich folk who can't imagine the loss of their homes, automobiles and holidays. Alcoholics can't imagine getting through the night without alcohol. Foodaholics without food. Smokers without cigarettes. 80% of the planet without cellphones. Smart people without their Macintoshes.

Oftentimes, it's our belief that normalcy is somehow static that makes it difficult to effect change. It's not the things, but the the sensations we derive from their presence or sudden absence.

When you first stop (smoking, drinking, eating sugar, texting, driving a Carrera S, playing a custom Les Paul, doting on your kids), you experience withdrawal, not in the strict biochemical sense, but their are biochemical symptoms (any feeling has an associated chemistry). Sometimes the sense of withdrawal is so strong that you can't imagine going on that way, so you cave. However, people who continue don't succeed in overcoming the emptiness, the cravings or the longing of withdrawal. Instead, the withdrawal withdraws rolling back into the sea of emotion like a wave that has broken on the beach. The longing and craving are not overcome, they simply dip below the horizon of your past, as a new sense of normalcy rises above the horizon of your future. Not having becomes normal, natural, easy.

Still, we often imagine those initial sensations being somehow permanent, not just tonight, but every night here on out. We might even project them as amplified by time rather than diminished, as we would project our sense of fatigue after a second, third and fourth night sans sleep: if it's this bad today, how much worse will it be tomorrow?

All these tricks we play on ourselves. Yet the magic seems real, pervasively and convincingly real.

But it's not. It's just the last ditch effort of beliefs that have nothing left to lose.

Normalcy Enablers
Sometimes our sense of normalcy is wrapped up in the sense of normalcy we facilitate for others. This is something I've been wrestling with lately. In many ways I do a lot of care-taking. Not in the classic sense of mom bringing you comfort food when you're sick, but in the sense of taking care of things that others could do for themselves (but perhaps less quickly, less easily, or less effectively).

I like doing things for others, especially if my doing provides them significant benefit that would have been difficult to otherwise obtain: helping people out financially, spinning up new websites, solving technology problems, drawing up business plans, creating marketing materials, etc. I like doing simple things for others as well: preparing meals, picking up and dropping off, finding nice places for dinner. More than like, I find great enjoyment and satisfaction doing these things.

The struggle for me comes when my doing so becomes normal, expected, when people don't see what I've done as temporary patch, but instead as a lifestyle change, when the loaned car morphs into a gifted car, when the marketing people whom I've helped out in a pinch begin to send me routine writing assignments, when the IT guy whose crashed system I've recovered asks me if I've been running the regular backups on his systems, when the drummer for whom I've started to maintain a set of just-in-case parts assumes that I'll just be bringing a drum rug and throne to the next gig and leaves his at home. Each of these is a relatively small thing, and yet they add up as I become part of others' senses of normalcy.

I'm My Own Worst Enemy
I must admit that I am the primary enabler of this phenomenon. First, I like being helpful. Second, I don't use phrases like, "I did thus and such this time, but don't expect me to do it again!" Third, my own sense of independence is so strong that I simply can't imagine allowing a situation where someone has to bail me out a second time (let alone a third or fourth) and I project that sense of independence onto others. Fourth, I maintain an undercurrent of Southern Baptist judgment that I should put others first.

Even seeing this, I'm reluctant to stop enabling.

Just last night Iris and I were talking about the innocuous topic of food. Iris and I are amazingly compatible philosophically and practically, except in two areas: 1) response to visual and aural stimuli, and 2) food. Pretty much any food that works for Iris doesn't work for me and vice versa.

Iris can eat fatty foods all day long and never gain a pound. However, if she eats too many carbohydrates, her digestive system goes on strike. I can eat pasta ever night, feel great and drop weight, but fatty foods cling to me to like velcro. I like to eat infrequently and irregularly (only when I finally get hungry); Iris' variance in blood sugar levels mandates frequent, regular dining.

Being as busy as we are, preparing two of each meal has been impractical, so over the last few years I've opted to prepare meals in tune with Iris' diet and schedule. It's been working well for Iris and for me it's created an opportunity to experience being fat. In fact, I've made all this normal.

So this morning, sitting here in the Key Largo Starbucks, I'm contemplating how to go about reestablishing normal for me, and as a side-effect, for others. Half-baked and all, I'm sharing my contemplation with you.

Happy Sunday,

Falling of the clouds

My ultimate test that we are able to learn to enjoy and implement new skills after becoming a grown up and ended at on November 13, 2010 at 8:57:47am.

After been a “I cannot, I want not, I hate it and I will not-run” person for 37 years, I decided to learn to enjoy the process running and do a marathon in November 2010. With pleasure and excitement I ran yesterday my fist half marathon ever and it proofs to me that I can change radically and make changes in my life that are long-term, and fun. It improves my health and metal wellbeing and makes me grow into a more lovably interesting caring human.

OneAfter walking on clouds all day I roughly fell off at night. Now I am utterly confused.

How long have you walked on clouds before? Did you fell off? How fast? Can we walk on clouds and stay there forever and slowly be elevated towards heaven, or do you believe we are meant to fall off easily because it keeps us eager and willing to go for that feeling again?

I feel I have been here before. I seem to recognize the pattern. Did I land in one of the patterns so beautifully described in the book “One” by Richard Bach?

Hmmm... Which choices to make today?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Race Day (The Other End)

Quarter Mile to Go

Crossing the Finish Line

I did it!

Celebrating with Ina


Race Day

"Ba-da-ba-da... Ba-da-ba-da..."

What was that? I open my eyes and turn toward the light leaking from under the cover of my iPad. Oh, yeah, time to get up.

"Brrrrring... brrrring... brrrrring...", My Droid cries out as if to say, "Wait for me!"

Ten seconds later... "Brrrrr... brrrrr... brrrr...", Iris' phone, the last of our failsafe system chimes in.

It's time to get get up. It's race day!

The other night, before our 6AM flight out of Hartford, Iris woke up every hour, not certain that her phone's alarm would go off, not knowing that we'd hear it, checking just in case. So last night I suggested setting three alarms, my iPad, my phone and her phone. She slept through.

It's 5AM, not a trace of sun on the eastern horizon, the stars still filling the sky. A cool Caribbean breeze sweeps through the sliding glass door and Iris returns from the balcony voicing her relief that the morning promises not to be too hot.

The race starts in just ninety minutes. Before then Iris will run a quick inventory of cloths and equipment. She'll fill her two small water bottles with Orange Gatorade, consume two 16-ounce cups of Fruit Punch Gatorade, a banana and cliff bar. She'll pull on her running shorts, tanktop and headband and don her pink Nike running shoes. Finally, she'll clip on her race bib, number 736. She comments, "When you have a race, It's nice to get up before you wake up. That way you're not bouncing around waiting. Instead, you're just trying to wake up."

A few minutes pass and Iris has clearly awakened. She paces from the bedroom through the living room to sliding glass door, peering out to see if anything has changed from twenty seconds ago. She peers into the mirror inspecting her attitude. She leafs through the guest book of the condo we've rented for the four days here in Key Largo. The only sounds are my fingers flowing across the keyboard of my Mac Book, Iris' occasional sighs and deep breaths, the turning of pages and the clock ticking.

It's race day.

At 5:45, Iris' dad Cees and his girlfriend Ina emerge from their bedroom to wish her luck. We head out the door.

More to come...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hi ! Come on in !

If a fish is born in your aquarium and you call it John, write out a birth certificate, tell him about his family history, and two minutes later he gets eaten by another fish - that's tragic. But it's only tragic because you projected a separate self where there was none. You got hold of a fraction of a dynamic process, a molecular dance, and made a separate entity out of it.

That’s a short passage from a very famous bestseller; you’d recognize the book and author if I named them. And I will, later. The reason I posted this is to hear what thoughts and reactions this piece brings up in you, dear readers of this blog. Please write a comment below - doesn’t have to be profound or ‘fully-baked’, or even in complete sentences, really. As the welcome line up top reads – any “insights, questions, suggestions, assertions and musings”.

Delight, Commerce and Insight

As I consumed the delicious morsels of Sree's "less than fully baked" philosophical meal Serenity, Courage and Wisdom, I was taken by how ultimately, everything (really everything) is quite simple. Sure, there's nothing simple that can't be made complicated, especially with years of university training. However, the complicators often stand to benefit from the complication. After all, who'd need experts if everything were simple?

Sree's model of control is pure and simple, there's stuff you can completely control, stuff over which you have absolutely no control and stuff in the middle. The key is knowing which is which (insight) and then being clear on what you're willing to exchange to get what you want (commerce).

Grant Me Delight
As I thought about Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer, it occurred to me that his application of the word serenity may be selling us short on the possibilities afforded in any situation. It does so on two fronts: 1) the emotion is more passive than active. 2) it's applied only to the situations in which we have no control. So, I thought, "what if we first replace serenity with delight?"

Grant me the ability to take
delight in the things I cannot change

Second, how about taking delight period, in things we can't change, in things we can change, and in everything between. Fortunately, within Sree's hierarchy of control, the one thing over which you have complete control is your thoughts, feelings and actions. That being the case the control of your thoughts, feelings and actions runs orthogonally across the rest of the spectrum. Although you can't fully control it, you can take delight in 1) what others think... 2) what others do with their stuff... 3) What others do in your presence... and 4) What others do with your stuff.

So, serenity (now delight) is not juxtaposed to courage, but instead the emotion that you can apply to any situation regardless of the degree of control allotted you. That being the case, there's no need for courage as, being delighted, you would be fearful.

What's My Motivation Here?
Of course a question that might come to mind is, "If I were to take delight in situations that I want to change, why would I ever change them?"

Indeed we often get upset, cranky, dissatisfied or fearful (hence the need for courage) in order to motivate ourselves to take action. Our actions are in fact reactions to emotional distress and discomfort. However, that's just one paradigm (one way of looking at our motivations and actions).

Alternatively, one could take action solely based on the desire for something other than what he has independently of how he feels about what he has. For example, you could take delight in watching a great performance and then leave early to take delight in an intimate dinner and then leave dinner to take delight in whatever might follow an intimate dinner; a sequence of actions that requires no motivation through discomfort or distress.

You could take delight in how energetically and enthusiastically your child burns through the knee's of his britches while simultaneously exploring opportunities to prevent the britches from failing. You could take delight in the creative ways in which you're maligned by others while working to correct the impressions they've left or not.

Grant me the ability to take delight
in things I can change, in things I can't change and
in all the other ones as well.

So, you're delighted no matter what, you have no fear (hence, no need of courage), what's next?

And wisdom to know the difference.

Wise Guy
I like the notion of wisdom and I don't. I like it, because I see wisdom as much stronger than say knowledge or education. However, for me, wisdom implies some apriori understanding that I've gained access to through experience, almost an absolute. Surely, there are advantages to knowing when you're futilely beating your head against a wall and when the apparently solid wall is about to rupture. And there are certainly good rules of thumb, e.g., you can't control what others think. However, I tend to see these as points of calibration rather than absolute guidelines.

In fact, you can control what others think. Propagandists are quite good at effecting this. Perhaps not with 100% guarantees, but they do pretty well. Doctors do it biochemically. Some neurologists are looking at how to do it electrically. So, the question of what one can or can't control may be a bit misleading. Perhaps, the more useful one is: what does it cost to control? What does it cost in terms of time and energy? What does it cost in terms of relationship? What does it cost in terms of your delight?

Shifting from a degree of control model to a cost of control model leads to notions of commerce rather than courage. In fact, the two are quite closely related. Fear is essentially the strongly emoted version of not wanting to bear the cost of an action. Likewise, courage is the decision to nonetheless pursue that action despite the potential cost. When we move from the can/can't model to the cost/benefit model, we become more creative in how we effect control. It's no longer a mind-over-matter, battle of the wills; it's simply a matter of what's in it for you, what's in it for me.

So the question of what you can or can't control is no longer a gift from God, but simply the insight gained through your experience coupled with the development of your negotiating skills.

All that said, I guess I would paraphrase Niebuhr's prayer to read:
God, teach me to delight in all things,
those that I cannot change,
those that I can change,
and all the other ones.

Grant me the insight to see how
to best effect the change I want,
and the skill to negotiate
happily and equitably.

Wow, Sree, look at all that you made me think this morning.

Happy Friday!