Friday, December 31, 2010

Learning to Love It!

It was just a year ago today that Iris and I sat in a huddle of two next to our wood stove discussing what we would be doing in the new year. We drifted past the typical new year's resolutions of weight management, diet change and sleep habits into uncharted waters deciding to look at things we'd never done before, we'd never considered to be a possibility, or that we'd avoided because the process of getting there was so onerous.

In a moment of inspiration, Iris said, "I want to run a marathon! I hate running. I can't run. I can't breathe well enough to run. So, I am going to run a marathon."

She paused, and then a moment later added, "And I'm going to learn to love running."

The next morning, I walked into the bedroom and found Iris sitting up in bed with her Mac in her lap. She was typing furiously. With a flourish, she clicked here and there, paused to review the results and then slammed the lid shut.

Looking up at me she said, "I did it!"

"Did what?"

"I signed up for the New York City Marathon and I posted everywhere that I'm going to run in it!"

Throughout the day, Iris' emotions vacillated between excitement and dread. Wow, I'm going to run a marathon! What the hell was I thinking, I can't run a marathon! OK, I can run a marathon, I just need to figure out how! What if I can't do it?

She got online and began researching running, not just running, but running marathons. Having never run more than a half-mile or so, she was, let's say, an instructional blank slate. She googled and read all day long pausing every once and a while to either revel or fret. Around 10:30 at night, she settled on a running plan that would get her ready for a marathon in about six months.

Those of you who followed this blog last year may recall Iris' regular posts on her process, the challenges she encountered and the ways that she overcame them. Although she didn't get into the New York Marathon (this year), she completed a half-marathon in Key Largo in November, was accepted for the New York City half-marathon in March and is hoping to get into the New York City Marathon later in 2011.

For me, the most remarkable aspect of Iris' new year's resolution was the "I'm going to learn to love it!" part. Indeed, Iris has learned to love running, a mean feat for someone who absolutely hated running. She wakes up in the morning looking forward to her run. She reads about running technique and managing attitude. For Christmas, the thing that she wanted most was a GPS watch that monitors speed, distance, elevation and heart rate. She's become a runner.

My words don't adequately express the degree of Iris' transformation, so let me put it this way: If Iris can learn to love running, then pretty much anyone can learn to love anything.

So, as you and yours gather today and consider your new year's resolutions, I'd invite you to add the "and I'm going to learn to love it!" component. I'm going to go vegan... and I'm going to learn to love it. I'm going to join a gym and work out every day... and I'm going to learn to love it! I'm going to stay caught up on all my bill-paying and book-keeping... and I'm going to learn to love it. I'm going to spend more time with my mom... and I'm going to learn to love it!

You get the picture!

Happy New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Love your work

I've heard it said that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.  It's about being in your  zone, your element, your groove, whatever you want to call it. It's you in that place where time does strange things like stand still, or move at quantum speed.  The place seems to have endorphins galore and your energy level may be so high you could leap tall buildings in a single bound.

In the statement above, the intention seems to be around deciding to do the things we love.  So no career in phlebotomy if you can't stand the sight of blood.  I think it can then also be said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. Or, with a few other words, if you (happen to) love what you (are already) do(ing), you will never work a day in your life. On the other hand, if you are not happening to love your current occupations and activities, you are doomed to experiencing backbreaking work.

I have noticed that I don't stumble upon my love feelings as often as I would like, to make the above thought very useful for me.  My general day to day activities fluctuate between mundane and hysterical (for someone else watching).  Though never bored, I can hardly say I spend the day in heady time-stood-still moments.  For the most part, I work.

Last week wednesday was a great example (make sure you go back to that post for context). I ended that day with an intention to be on vacation for a week.  I woke up on thursday morning and re-affirmed my intention by deciding to do only the things I wanted to do. So, I was to revisit the glasses shop, and I decided I didn't feel like it and I wasn't going to. Every single thing I did, I did because I wanted to. In the early afternoon, I decided that I wanted to go visit the glasses shop, and so I did. All in all, I had a wonderful day, filled with enjoyment in the things I did.  The strange thing is that the things I did were pretty much the same things I do on other days, with far less euphoric results.

Now, at the end of that vacation week, I have a few realizations.

  1. I should be specific about what I'm vacationing from.  I slowed down the income generating work and quadrupled the 'let's re-arrange the furniture, redo the files, empty the closets, throw out junk' work.
  2. What I was actually doing didn't have much to do with how I felt.  I felt rested and refreshed based on how I was thinking.
  3. All my work is work I choose. I want to do it.
  4. Just deciding I wanted to be doing something increased the "love feelings" multiple-fold.
  5. I can (set a clear intention to) love what I do, and so not work a day in my life.
  6. Why avoid working? Why just set a clear intention to love my work?
I hope you spend 2011 doing what you love and loving what you do

A joyful heart is good medicine. - Proverbs 17:22

By the way, I still don't have the new glasses, but the glue is holding up pretty well!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking a Hint

You know how some people can't take a hint? Normally, I don't experience this phenomenon. The people around me always seem able to get what I'm hinting at. Even my more subtle hints like, "Look, if you use a plate, or a glass, or a fork, clean it and put it away when your're done", or, "I've got some work I really want to get done and need some uninterrupted time to do it", or, "Absolutely DO NOT leave anything combustable close to the wood stove."

You know, hints.

There are times when subtle hints just don't work. They reverberate through the air but find no place to perch. Eventually they die, fall to the floor and dissolve into pools of cluelessness.

It's at times like this, where I'd likely do better to consider Iris' post on understanding the Motivations of others before trying to communicate with them. But alas, that would be wise, at least more wise than I've been of late.

So, rather than slowing down and taking time to work through the not-so-complex matrix of motivations that leads to better understanding and communication, I chart a more direct and less time-consuming course, one in which I simply abandon subtlety altogether. It doesn't always effect the kind of warm, hand-holding, let's-sing-Kumbaya type of communication that mutual acceptance and understanding achieves, but it does effect something: something between earthquake and typhoon.

You know, if a 12-ounce hammer is too subtle, try a 16-ounce one. If that's too subtle, try a 24-ounce one. And so on. Despite my strong belief in a system of reconciliation based on mutual understanding, there are times when nothing beats the subtlety and nuance of a well-placed crate of verbal dynamite.

Last night, I was talking to a friend whom I hadn't spent much time with in years. She and her family stopped by for a visit, her two teenaged sons (whom I've know since their births) both having developed into remarkable young men. Like most kids, hers struggled with learning challenges along the way, challenges that they've overcome or are overcoming.

There's nothing extraordinary about struggling with challenges like dyslexia or attention deficit disorder or anorexia. Everyone is challenged in one way or another. However, to hear my friend describe the challenges faced by her and her children (more her), were you to leave out the details, you'd swear she was describing forced internment in labor camps, deprivation of food to the point of starvation and torture at the hands of insatiable sadists, not the reluctance of a school system to allocate the resources that she felt would have best served her children.

And although I'm up for a dramatic portrayal every once in a while, by the tenth time my friend launched into her lament, I decided to become less subtle in my responses.

The escalation path went something like this...

"Wow, Kate, despite all the difficulties they faced, the boys have turned out great!"

"Oh, I don't know about that. Jimmie still has difficulty with math and the school still refuses to provide him a tutor more than twice a week."

"Still, given how far he's come, I'm sure he'll continue to overcome the remaining challenges."

With a sense of indignation, she responded, "How can you say that! You don't know that he'll be alright. He may never overcome his dyslexia."

I paused considering what to say next, but never got the chance to speak as she continued, "People just don't understand how difficult it is for a child with dyslexia, how hard it is on his self-esteem. The school systems just don't care."

"Teachers don't care. Once they get their tenure they couldn't care less."

"Lord knows I've tried to get through to them, but know one listens. They just don't care!"

I tried to interject here and there, but was thwarted at every turn, my imaginary hammer increasing in size each time a specific lament was repeated.

Finally, I took a deep breath and blurted, "Well, you gotta admit, in the grand scheme, dyslexia ain't no big thing."

It was as though I'd cut the fuel line supplying her diatribe, her verbal engine sputtering to a halt. Her eyes welled with tears and she responded, "How can you say something like that! I'm offended that you can be so dismissive of something so terrible."

Seizing upon her rhetoric as a question, I responded, "Well, I've always been significantly dyslexic and in the end, it ain't no big thing. You just learn to deal with it." And then increasing the hammer size a bit, I added, "The biggest challenge for me occurred when adults decided to translate 'he sometimes mixes up letters' into 'he is dyslexic'. My casual challenge became a syndrome, it went from something I did to something I was."

Taking advantage of the sudden silence, I pressed on saying, "Probably the worst thing you can do for a kid facing the challenges of dyslexia is to make a big deal of it."

I stopped and braced myself as Kate's response escalated in seconds from dead-calm to gale-force winds. She was hurt. She was offended. She was amazed at my lack of caring and sensitivity.

I thought, "Hmm... now we're getting somewhere."

Seizing upon a pause to breathe, I said, "Kate it seems that you've made this more about you than about your kids. It's like you're craving recognition for all that you suffered through and overcome."

Sputter... sputter... traction... acceleration... gale-force.


"If you spend as much time lamenting your situation with others as you do with me, never really listening to what they have to say and never showing interest in their situations, I can't imagine that people would want to spend a hell of a lot of time with you."

Sputter... sputter...

At this point, her boyfriend chimed in mentioning that indeed a lot of people seemed to no longer be that keen on hanging out with them. He went on to say, "You know, when it comes to this, you really don't listen to anyone or give them a chance to express their thoughts and opinions."

As we sat there, it occurred to me that of all the friends who'd slowly begun to avoid Kate, who'd stopped calling and failed to return her calls, none of them had ever expressed what they were really feeling or why they were shutting down on her.

As I write this morning, I'm not sure that my response to situations like last night is good or optimal. Okay, I'm pretty sure that it's not optimal and based on how some people respond to me, I can see where at least they don't think it's good.

But I'm not sure. I like the freedom that comes with having no secrets and being someone with whom you know there's not some hidden opinion or agenda. Still at times I wonder.

What do you think?

Happy Wednesday,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy as You Want

"Go fuck yourself", he said, stumbling back into his chair, glaring at me through a vodka enhanced haze.

"Maybe later, but right now we're going to get you over to McLean. I already called and they're waiting for us. If you don't want to go with us, I can get some of their guys to come over and take you there."

I was trying to maintain my cool, but I could feel my blood pressure double, my face warming as the capillaries strained to managed the increased blood-flow.

"One thing's for certain, Dad; you can't stay here!"

"Go fuck yourself! This is my house too!"

"No Dad, it's Iris' and my house. You live here with us, but you can't stay if you're going to keep drinking like you've been. It's too dangerous."

It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, 2006.

Dad had been living with us since October. We'd spent most of August at his place sorting, packing, cleaning and getting it ready for sale. His 3000-square-foot condo was packed with furniture, tools, kitchen ware, clothes, books and nick-knacks that he and my mom had piled up over their forty-some-odd years together.

Since mom died in 2001, my dad had had some really good times and some really bad times. In the bad times, he'd developed a new favorite hobby: drive to the liquor store, purchase of liter of vodka, and then consume it on the way home.

The local police had taken a dim view of his new found pursuit. When he lost his license in 2003, it was the best thing ever. Since the cops knew him and his car, he didn't dare to drive (a friend who had borrowed his car for the day was pulled over in town simply because local law enforcement knew the car on sight and were "just checking".) So, dad ended up purchasing a bicycle that he rode everywhere, rain or shine, heat or cold.

He got into great shape.

Later in the year, he met Bridget, a wonderful woman just a year older than me. Although she lived in England and he in New Jersey, they fell in love. The long-distance relationship blossomed and he found new raison d'etre.

At seventy-five, he was in better condition than he'd been at fifty. He became witty, charming, dare I say, "happy?" He'd fly to Manchester to visit Bridget. He'd fly her to New Jersey to visit him. They'd meet in different places, spending time in Paris, then San Francisco, then Helsinki, then Hawaii. It was amazing to see him happy; we were happy for him.

But in his inimitable and indomitable way, my dad slowly managed to sabotage his new-found joy.

First, he decided that he should feel guilty about his love for Bridget, that he was somehow cheating on my mom, that he should be waiting to see her in heaven. I'd tell him, "Dad, what makes you think mom's up there just sitting around waiting for you to show up? You know her. She's probably already started up three new heavenly choirs and won't be able to get time off from the tour to meet you when you arrive."

Nonetheless, my dad has an uncanny ability to find supporters when he's building up a new stockpile of guilt and there were plenty who saw his seeing Bridget as a bad idea.

Second, Dad decided to only experience living when he was with Bridget. All other time became time waiting to be with her. Since they spent less than 20% of their time together, Dad managed to transform more than 80% of his life into a holding pattern, one filled with tedium and boredom. So, 80% tedious, 20% guilty, you do the math.

The drinking started again. Every once in a while, we'd get a call from someone who'd seen my dad driving around town drunk or a friend who'd found him passed out on the floor of his living room. We'd hop into the car and drive from Boston to Jersey to help him out.

Then one morning in the spring of 2006, I got a call from his AA sponsor who told me that Dad was in the hospital. He'd hit a bad run and become so dehydrated that IV'd him to replenish his system. Some additional tests had led them to find cancer in his liver.

He'd asked his friend not to call us because we'd think that he'd been drinking, which he had. So once again, we hopped into the car and drove to Jersey.

I guess the doctor's kid had a college tuition payment coming due or something, because he was all set to go nuclear on the cancer, combining radiation with a surgical strike. Iris called her boss at Harvard (who was an MD) and he put us in touch with a top oncologist at Mass General who agreed to see my dad as soon as he could make it up there.

A few months later we'd sold our house and bought a bigger place to make room for Dad; we'd got rid of all his superflous stuff, loaded up a panel truck with all that remained, and moved him from Jersey to Cambridge. We'd got him lined up with a cancer treatment plan that didn't require surgery, chemo or radiation. We'd got to experience my dad up close and personal, way personal.

Iris decided it was time for her to give it a try. She sat down next to Dad, put her hand on his arm and looked him in the eye. When he finally looked up at her, she sweetly said, "Lee, you know this isn't working. It's got so that we can't leave the house or else we come home and find you conked out on the floor, lying in blood or urin or both. I understand that you don't want to go with us, but if you don't, I'm going to call the police to come take you there."

There's something about someone calmly and sweetly describing her plan to call the cops that is quite compelling.

We spent most of the day getting Dad checked into the rehab center. He'd been drinking so much that they needed to IV him just to avoid physical withdrawal. We left that evening promising to come see him in the morning and to bring some books. We cancelled our Thanksgiving travel plans and on Thursday, along with Eila, checked him out for a couple of hours to share a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings at Frank's Steakhouse on Mass Ave.

Just the few days that he'd spent in rehab had already done him a world of good. Dad was clear and present. I wouldn't go so far as to say, "Happy!", but he was peaceful and contented.

OK, he was happy, in a subdued and quiet sort of way.

For all that had gone into creating it, it was a good Thanksgiving, one that I remember vividly.

Happy Christmas,

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Gift

He plopped down on to the couch, closed his eyes and let it soak him in. The sounds of the party emanated from every direction. He relaxed his neck and shoulders, his head lilting backward until the warm softness of couch established equilibrium.

His eyes closed, he wandered the room drifting from conversation to conversation. His Wall-Streeter cousins were congregated around the bar to his left, taking turns lamenting the newly proposed federal tax increases. His eyes still closed, he smiled, thinking, "Poor guys might miss a yacht payment."

He continued around the room, pausing to listen to his mom and aunts debating the "appropriate" way to make toll house cookies. His aunt Martha was vehemently insisting that pecans had no place in an "authentic" recipe. His mom, responding in a way that was only tangentially relevant, offered, "Well, if you use enough butter, you don't need nuts of any kind!"

After the sixth time his aunt Susie said, "I don't understand what the big deal is!", he moved on, following the sound of Budweiser and Chevy jingles to the back of the room. He stopped to listen to his dad and uncles pontificating on the plays that "should" have been run during the just-completed quarter of the Philadelphia/New England game.

Over the years, the guys had developed a manner of interaction that was almost choreographed, badly choreographed. It was like watching a basketball team moving down court using a technique that involved each team member stealing the ball from another. No brother actually ever finished making his point. In a moment taken to collect his thoughts or to simply breathe, another would swoop in, grab the conversational thread, and then dribble off with his own words of insight and wisdom. Since the only way finish a statement was to not stop talking, the brothers had each taken to speaking fast and loud, trying to say what he had to say before turning blue and passing out.

He smiled again, recalling his dad and brothers interacting exactly the same way when he was ten.

His revery was interrupted by the rush of frigid air and the sound of dogs frenetically scratching their ways to the front door. The cookie debaters and Wall Street lamenters all paused for a moment, craning to identify the source of the commotion. And then, like an ambulance siren racing out of the sudden sonic void, aunt Susie cried out, "Look, it's Carrie! Everyone, Carrie's here! She made it after all! And she brought a friend!"

He opened his eyes and lifted his head from the couch. The dogs yelped as the aunts rushed in mass to envelop the new arrivals. The Wall-Streeters picked up a new lament, a couple of the cousins checking out Carrie's new friend, and the uncles, well, the uncles hadn't really noticed anything going on in the first place.

As the aunts slowly withdrew, Carrie guided her friend around the room for introductions, first to the cousins, then to the uncles, and finally, to him. He sighed. Although he liked Carrie, he didn't feel up to making small talk or trying to be interested in inane conversation about the latest this or that.

Carrie plopped on the couch next to him, hugged him and then still gripping his arm said, "I'd like to introduce you to my good friend Melissa. She works with me downtown and decided to stay in here for Christmas rather than driving home to Boston. So I asked her come join us. Melissa, this is my cousin Jimmy who I've been telling you about."

He tried to stand and shake Melissa's hand, but Carrie leaned into him, pinning him down on the couch and then motioned for Melissa to sit down next to them. He looked at Carrie and then at Melissa, deciding, "OK, might as well be sociable."

However, before he could get a word out, Carrie bounced off the couch and bounded back to hang out with football crew. He turned to Melissa, who seemed not to notice or care about Carrie's departure. She looked him in the eye and asked, "So, what's on your mind tonight?"

He hesitated, looked furtively around the room, and then finally said, "Oh, you don't really want to know."

He turned back to her, her eyes still intently focused on him, her face calm and relaxed. Without pausing, she asked, "Why not?"

"Was she serious?", he thought, "She's not much on social cues." And then aloud, "I mean... umm... well... you know... I mean, there's nothing interesting going on in my mind."

"What is going on in your mind?", she replied, her voice flowing like a deep and powerful river, calm on the surface, but so much more beneath.

He felt almost compelled to respond, saying, "Well, I gotta say that I've been sitting here just trying to blend into this couch, to go unnoticed and to avoid any conversations that are simply a sequence of monologues or rehashes of the same stuff we talked about last year, and the year before, and the year before that."

"What would you like to talk about?"

"Oh, you wouldn't be interested. I'm sure."

"Try me."

He looked at her trying to figure out what her angle was, wondering if she were for real. He searched her face, looking for any sign of guile or disinterest. But all he saw was that river, flowing by deep and mighty.

"What the hell", he thought and then said, "Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about..."

She watched and listened to him, following him through various threads and tangents and asking him thought-inspiring questions. When his train of thought ran off the rails, she'd effortlessly help him to right it, recalling how they'd got there and rolling back each of the steps. The more he talked, the more comfortable he became. He moved beyond explaining what he had been thinking into unexplored territory. He found a sense of energy and enthusiasm for his ideas and thoughts he'd lost ages ago.

Throughout his explorations, she was right there with him and never distracted. She didn't lead or direct, but neither did she follow. She was just there, in perfect sync with him.

After a while (he couldn't tell whether it had been minutes or hours), he turned to her, satisfied, feeling something like a sense of accomplishment, but different. He said, "Melissa, thank you. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've talked to someone who really listened to me, who wasn't just waiting for her turn to speak or trying to steer me in a certain direction."

She nodded and said, "Jimmy, you're welcome. It was my pleasure."

And then he said, "You know Melissa, this may sound a little goofy, but what I've learned from you tonight is that the greatest gift you can give anyone is that of your complete focus and attention, going where they want to go, taking as much time as is necessary to explore and understand, and doing it all without judgment or agenda."

He paused, breath a deep sigh of satisfaction and with it, "Thank you!"

Happy, Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swirl of thoughts

I've been sitting here for a few minutes wondering what to write.  My mind is swirling with thoughts, all quite related, yet, if displayed in print on a tv screen, would look jumbled and disconnected (unless you had autism, then you would definitely see the connections!). 

Jaedon  went to sleep at about 5:00 am this morning, so, you guessed it, so did I.  A few hours later, I was awake again, reluctant, but deciding to engage my day.  Simonne soon joins me in my bed and we have a good time chatting about anything and everything.  It's our time together.  She's usually awake before the boys.   Shortly, Zach joins us with hurricane like gyrations.  These movements storm him to the spot on the bed that I had just rested my glasses and before I knew it, someone announced "Mommy, your glasses broke!" Sigh.  The beginning of the end. 

My glasses prescription is about -6 diopters.  That basically means it's close to illegal for me to do anything without wearing them.  This kind of prescription looks really atrocious in glasses unless one has the super thin, anti-reflective coated lenses. $489.  I face the guy in the sterling optical with an earnest face as he shares this news.  Who knows how long the paper glue will last?  A lens falling out won't work while driving.  We strike a deal based on the promise of cash and off I go to deplete the yet still meager savings that were inching up to the goal of a Macbook Pro.  A promise of 48 hours or less to new glasses and I'm on my way home.

In the back of my mind, I'm ruminating on Jaedon snuggled up in bed at 2 in the afternoon.  As I tried to get him out of bed earlier, he vehemently told me "No!" and pulled the covers over his head.  I remember thinking how smart he was, even as my heart sank.  It was going to be a long day.

The truth is, it's easier to deal with day time emergencies and maybe get a few mundane things done, if Jay is in bed, out of the way.... Did I say that?  It's just that there is more to pay attention to...much more... when he is doing Tornado Jaedon. And I am exhausted.

Isaiah is talking to me on the phone from work, hearing the damage that replacing my glasses will do.  Somewhere in the conversation, he has a nap for a second or 2.  He had a smidge more sleep than I did last night.

So now it's 3:00 a.m. and Jay and I are both up. Tonight, I may fall asleep before he does.  I've unscrewed the light bulb in the kids room (to prevent Jay from turning back on the light) and locked the bathroom and my bedroom doors.

My system is screaming for a break and I'm going to give it one.  I'm going to remove everything from my to-do list except for
  • relaxing and otherwise caring for myself
  • wrapping presents
  • making crafty presents
  • thinking about 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men'
  • having fun
I'm doing that until next wednesday. 

So that's about 20% of the swirl of thoughts.  Thanks for listening.

P.S. By the way, the 48 hour window for new glasses has been extended to 1 week because of complications with my prescription and ordering lenses.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Sree, I started this article last week intending to post it on Friday and realized after four pages that the explanation was becoming increasingly long! This is the condensed version (that is still quite long!☺)

When you are by yourself.
Looking at your beliefs and learning to understand better who you are and what you want works very well when you are by yourself. You can look at your beliefs and use them to make decisions. For example: I love the taste of sugar, but it really makes me feel wired. I believe that feeling wired is bad for my heart. So I decide not to eat sugar today. Looking at my beliefs helps me to make choices and changes.

Realize that we all have different beliefs
Don’t fool yourself with the belief that you and your wife believe the same things because you've spent years together. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your kid (your flesh and blood) has your belief system simply because you are raising him. Your beliefs were created by your the experiences and interpretations you applied to them. You alone had those experiences. And the same can be said for anyone you encounter. We are all different. No matter how close we are, we have many different beliefs.

Understand your motivation
Seeing that we are all different, it's not difficult to understand that we also each have our own motivations to do what we do. When you encounter a person doing something you'd prefer he didn't, then I recommend first checking in with yourself to see what your motivation is in that moment. A very easy way to do this is by saying what you want and then continuing your sentence with because...

I want Charlie to stop screaming in this store, because... it makes everyone look at us and that makes me very uncomfortable.

I want to talk with my colleagues at this Christmas party because... I want to get to know more about their personal lives.

This process can dig deeper and deeper...
Everyone looking at me makes me very uncomfortable because...

I want to get to know more about their personal lives because...

It is important to understand your own motivations, because they define your behaviors. Since all the other party sees is your behavior and does not have access to your supporting beliefs and motivations, she can only guess what they are. You could end up in a situation where someone is judging your motivations as "right" or "wrong" even though all she has is a guess.

Recognize that others have motivations you're not aware of!
When we recognize that everyone else in the room has their own motivations too, and that they might not be what yours would be, then you are ready to engage, mingle and interact!

When a family comes together for Christmas, each member has his or her own motivations, and each fabricates the motivations of others. Mom will come so she can to bitch to uncle Charlie about aunt Ethel. Uncle Charlie comes because he likes to drink the whiskey that Grandpa Fred brings every year. Caroline wants to get everyone together because she believes it will bring peace and love to the family. Steve is looking forward to opening his presents.

Aligning motivations.
How can understanding each other’s motivations help?.
  1. Instead of sharing our motivation, we only share our immediate wants (sans motivation).

    Father says "I want you to do your homework right now, Tommy!"

    Tommy refuses, so dad pushes a little harder and says "Look, I'm the boss in this house and as long as you live here, you'll do your homework".

    Tommy says, "No!"


    In this example Tommy doesn’t know or understand his father's motivation, e.g., I want you to do your homework, because it will help you get a scholarship to Northwestern and otherwise I can't afford to send you there.

    Dad doesn't know or understand why Tommy refuses to do his homework: my friends make fun of me all the time for getting better grades then them. They say I am a mamma's boy, and I'm not! I want to show them that I am cool.

    If dad and Tommy had shared their motivations, they would have come to the astonishing conclusion that they both want Tommy go to a great school and to be respected by his friends. Instead of fighting about homework and who's the boss, they could have made a plan together about how to get into school while at the same time impressing Tommy’s friends.

  2. Clashing Motivations.
    "Candice, if you go to school in that shirt, they will expel you for two days! You know that!", says mother with a sigh while trying to get her daughter into more appropriate school clothes. It would be awful to have her daughter miss two days of school in her already not-very-good school year.

    Candice responds sarcastically with a grin, “Ohh, yeah! That would be awwwwful.” And runs out to catch the school bus before her mom can stop her.

    In this situation, Mom wants Candice to go to school so she can eventually grow up to become a nurse. Candice wants to move to New York, work in the store of her friend Marty, and take acting lessons.

    It is very important to see that they each have very different motivations. When they are able to share their different motivations and accept them as both being valid, they can talk about why they want what they want and come to a deeper understanding of each other.

    "Mom, I love you a lot and I know you care about me, but I really want stop school and start acting!"

    "Candice, I never knew you were so passionate about acting! Have you ever heard about a bachelors degree in Liberal Arts, an education that can help you become a great all around actor?"

    It could be that Candice would respond to this conversation with, "Mom, now that we've talked about all this I realize I better finish high school."
  3. Judging other’s motivations.

    When we judge another’s motivation it makes further communications impossible.

    Mother: "My son says he wants to become a nurse and work with the elderly. What is he thinking? I've got to change his mind. He is ruining his future."

    Son: "My granddad worked his whole life taking care of his family. Now that he is old, no one cares about him sitting alone in his tiny apartment, not even capable of tying his shoes. I want him and others to be able to live dignified lives in their older years. I want to become a nurse to help them."

    If the mom is not willing to hear or understand the motivation of her son, this could break the relationship they have together.

The End!
I will stop here, before this version becomes as long as my first draft!

Let me recap. If we're involved with adults or children who do things we don't like or want, then it's important to stop focusing on what we want (or don't want) and start focusing on why we want or don't want it.

First, understand your own motivations. It may be that once you see them, you may simply relax and accept what the other person is doing. If not, you'll at least be able to better explain why you want what you want.

Second, before correcting or trying to change the behavior of the other person, find out what his or her motivation is. Once you understand it, you may agree with them.

Third, if you don't agree, rather than judging the other's motivation, work to better understand it. Also, share your own motivation. After seeing it, he or she may decide that you've got a good idea.

Fourth (and maybe this comes first), decide that underneath it all, you are motivated by what is best for the other person. Share that with them.

Anyway, my motivation for writing was to better explain motivation.

What was your motivation for reading?


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Take-a-Bow Tuesday

The crisp winter air invigorated me as Iris and I walked to the car from dinner on Sunday evening. It had been a long day and I still had much that I wanted to accomplish. I climbed behind the wheel, turned the key and pulled onto Main Street heading west towards home.

As the defroster filled the car with warm, dry air, my sense of fatigue returned. My get-it-done auto-pilot kicked in running the series of pre-launch activities that brings me focus, clarity and energy, but something inside me resisted as though the park brake were still engaged. My energy was increasing but compromised.

I looked at Iris and said, "Wow, I don't know why I feel so tired tonight. It's only eight o'clock and I still have so much to do tonight."

Iris looked at me smiling and said, "Maybe it's because you've been working for the last fourteen hours?"

"Huh?", I thought. "Oh yeah, all that stuff happened today."

I'd been so caught up with all I hadn't yet done, that I'd completely lost sight of all I had done.

Then Iris said, "You know, you should really try to get better at being grateful for yourself and acknowledging all you do!"


Part of me thought, "Yeah, that would be great, but then I'd probably end up slowing down and doing less."

But another part thought, "Hmmm, let's give that a shot."

I replayed my day from the beginning, trying to recall all the activities: firing up the wood stoves, cleaning up the kitchen, juicing the veggies, posting a blog, coding software, recording tracks for a couple of new songs, preparing lunch, working on new characters for my novel (that's another story), practicing trumpet, practicing bass, catching up on email, packing up gear and heading out to a five-hour rehearsal. Okay, so I did do something after all.

As I ran through my list, a sense of satisfaction welled up inside of me. A satisfaction that didn't make me feel complacent, but instead, inspired to continue.

I considered all this and it occurred to me that one of the side-effects of becoming really process-oriented (versus goal-oriented) in the pursuit of individual activities is that you often fail to notice all the goals you've accomplished. So I'm thinking my new mantra might be:

goals in the future,
process in the moment,
accomplishment in retrospect

That Iris has some good ideas.

This morning as I stood before the kitchen sink cleaning dishes and washing veggies, it occurred to me that, as the curtain draws on the end of the year, it's easy to get caught up in all that you didn't accomplish this year or all that you want to accomplish in the new year. It's easy for those two to squeeze out any recognition of what you did accomplish.

Perhaps it's time to take a moment to recognize our accomplishments (independent of whether or not we achieved our initial goals) and the accomplishments of those around us, to take a bow as the 2010 curtain is drawing to a close.

In celebration of the winter solstice, I'd like to declare today, Take-a-Bow Tuesday! So at lunch today (you can do this with your colleagues at work) or dinner tonight (with your family and friends), have each participant stand up and take a bow by listing his or her accomplishments of 2010. Others can chime in to inspire or add to the list. You can even applaud (holding applause to the end is optional).

Time to celebrate all that you've done!

Happy Take-a-Bow Tuesday!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Authentic for the Holidays

"The biscuits are great Aunt Virginia", he lied as he felt another under-masticated brick of flower, egg and who-knows-what-else splash into the soon to be overwhelmed pool of acid in his stomach.

She turned to look over her shoulder as she marched back into the kitchen with a stack of empty plates and then paused, her eyes focused just above his head. She asked, "I'm sorry dear, what did you say?"

"I said that the biscuits are really nice", he managed through a mouthful of her latest culinary effort.

She continued focusing at the spot above his head and then smiled, saying, "C'mon Charlie, you don't really think that!", and without another word, pivoted on her toes and pushed through the kitchen door.

Charlie just sat there wondering how she'd known, the hardened chunks of fat and flour slowly soaking up everything his mouth threw at them. He looked up to see what she might have seen above his head. Hmmm...

Imagine if everything you were thinking could be viewed as a movie playing just above your head. Whatever traversed your mind would be magically and instantly transformed into rolling, HD-quality imagery.

Now, let's say that film editors cut out all the boring stuff and only showed the stuff that would be relevant to the viewer. Let's add to that the qualification that the movie would only play when your words and actions were not accurately depicting what was really going on inside.

How would that change what you say?

If you're like most, then there are probably many people with whom you're not completely honest; you don't touch certain topics; you don't state your actual opinion when asked; you nod and smile, rather than converse; you make "nice" comments and keep the others to yourself.

If you're heading to any family gatherings over the holidays, you may suddenly find yourself in a group densely populated with the people with whom you're least honest.

There are a lot of causes for stress around the holidays and I believe that one of them is the increased frequency of inauthenticity: saying things for effect, keeping it all in, or hoping that no one asks. These all have the effect of holding your breath or spending hours inside a small, stuffy room. After a while you're dying for some clean, fresh air. It's no wonder that family get-togethers become family get-away-froms.

What if you could just go and be yourself? Say what you think? Mean what you say?

What if everyone would be grateful for it? Glad to see the real you? Happy to converse authentically?

Wouldn't that be great?

It's actually all doable. The answer lies in knowing how to go about it.

Why We Lie
There are four primary reasons that we don't say what we're thinking.
  1. Not hurting someone's feelings.
  2. Avoiding attack and having to defend our opinions.
  3. Avoiding anger.
  4. We don't believe it would do any good anyway.

Hurt Feelings
Many of us avoid saying what we're really thinking because we don't want to hurt the feelings of others. At first blush, this is admirable. However, as we look at our motivations, they may be less selfless than is immediately apparent.

First, the reason that we avoid saying this or commenting on that lies not in the nature of this or that, but instead in the negative judgments that we hold regarding this or that.

For example, there's no problem with your brother Henry's soup requiring a bit more seasoning and a bit less fat and grissel. The problem arises when you transform that simple assessment into, "Gosh, this soup tastes like crap! What the hell does he think he's doing trying to cook? If he's gonna practice, why can't he practice on someone else? It's Christmas for Christ's sake!"

It's not the assessment (adding seasoning or draining fat) that gives cause for hesitation, it's the judgments that you pile onto the assessment.

The good news is that the judgments are your problem, not Henry's; they're for you to work through. In all likelihood, the straight-ahead, judgement-free assessment would be welcome. It may even open the door for new avenues of conversation and a chance to cook together.

Indeed, whenever we hesitate for fear of hurting feelings, it's a sure-fire sign that we're harboring judgments regarding the person or her actions. When we leave those judgments unattended, they grow, creating distance between us.

The key to saying what you think is to distinguish assessment from judgment, clearly state the judgment-free part, and then independently work through your judgments (alone, with the person or with someone else).

Defending Yourself
Growing up a decidedly right-brained flake with a brother and father who were decidedly left-brained engineers, I learned early that my opinions regarding problem solving were not always valued. I'd find my dad and my brother working in our basement shop repairing a radio or television, or out in the garage bent over an ailing carburetor, ask what they were doing, and then try to be helpful.

Usually, just the fact that I had to ask put me out of the running for credible source of help. Nonetheless, ask and offer I would.

It's not so much that I miss social cues (e.g., my brother looking at my dad as if to say, "Here he goes again!" or my dad looking back as if to say, "What are you gonna do?"), it's that I somehow always manage to translate them into encouragement. So, I would offer up, "Hey, that the little flappy thing on the top of the whatchamacallit seems sticky" or "I don't know what you're working on, but this circuit board over hear smells funny."

I would end up being asked why I thought the sticky flap or the smelly board had anything to do with anything and I usually had no clue other than they were the things that were out of pattern with the rest. Eventually I'd wander off leaving them to their work.

The thing that got me through it was deciding that opinions where just that. They weren't right or wrong. So, I could explain why I thought what I thought without defending why I thought it. And I think therein lies the key to being open not matter what.

Avoiding Anger
Most of us first learn to lie in efforts to avoid punishment (corporal or otherwise). We do it because it works. However, as adults, we start to avoid any sense of anger or hostility, often paving the way for even greater anger and hostility at a later date.

For me, a key to staying honest has been realizing that when you lie to avoid anger, you inadvertently make a long-term commitment to the lie. The cost of that commitment can multiply over time. For example, I've worked with lots of guys for whom the maintenance of lies regarding what happened on business trips became a full time occupation. They'd carefully scrutinize who'd been invited to what affairs to ensure that they weren't in the room at the same time with the wrong two people. You could see the maintenance costs wearing them down.

Lying to avoid anger is like signing up for a high interest mortgage on future communications. Better to pay as you go.

What's It Matter
I've gotta say that the times when I now keep things to myself are when I've come to believe that saying something won't do any good. This is usually only after I've said it ten or eleven times, but nonetheless.

Of course, you can't tell when or where someone will be ready to hear something that you have to say, but there are times that I just decide on their behalf that they're not gonna listen or hear.

And of course, this only happens when I'm hanging on to the outcome. So, lately I've begun to transform the sense of frustration that comes with "what's it matter" into an alert that says, "hey, let go of this!"

Once I let go of the outcome I can go all night saying whatever I think without a care.

Breathe In, Breathe Out
I believe that the integrity between thought and action has as strong an impact on how we feel as the quality of the air we breath. When we transform hesitation to speak honestly into indicator of harbored judgment, we clear the way to speak openly without judgment (improving our relationships) and to work through and free ourselves of the judgments (lightening our internal loads).

What's playing above you head today?

Happy Monday,

Sunday, December 19, 2010


One of the things that seems to be pretty ingrained in us humans is a sense of normalcy. In fact normalcy (or feeling normal) may be the single greatest driving factor in our daily lives.

We get up each morning and do what we normally do. When doing something other than what is normal, we take note of it; the common thread uniting special days is that they involve doing what we don't normally do.

Although we may daily experience aches and pains, or allergy symptoms, or stress and tension, we don't determine that we are "sick" unless we experience symptoms that are not "normal".

Normalcy defines our tastes to the point that we often don't like new foods even before we've tried them. It hones our sensibilities so that we may routinely experience events that cause trauma in others and yet not notice them ourselves.

The absence of normal can lead to discomfort and anxiety. When we go to new environments, we often carry with us elements of our normal lives helping us to quickly establish a semblance of normalcy.

Think about it. Normal is really important to us.

It's powerful.

It's limiting.

It's more limiting than anything else we experience.

Why? Because we don't think of normal as a statistical measurement of what happens on average. We think of it as somehow being more thank that, something meaningful, purposeful.

In fact, normal is purposeful, but the purpose does not lie in normalcy itself. Instead, it lies in our human need for anchor points, landmarks that let us know where we are. The anchor points could be pretty much anything that provides a sense of constancy and place. But since we tend not to think about ourselves and our sensibilities in those terms, we default to normal.

I've written before about my daughter Eila's quest for what she would do in life, how she pursued academics, and then music and drama, and then fashion design and so on. She did well in all these, and yet always felt that there was something more, something she couldn't put her finger on.

Her breakthrough came when she realized that she'd been afraid to abandon her anchor points. For Eila, who had always been a great student, anchor points were found in school grades. One day she told me, "Dad, I know why I've been so afraid to just leave school and go for what I want! When I'm in school, there's always someone grading me. It gives me a sense of who I am and how I fit in. But you know what? I've decided that I don't need anyone to grade me anymore!"

At twenty, Eila threw off the chains that bound her to her anchor points and it completely changed her life.

In the telling, Eila's actions may not seem like such a big deal. As an adult, you gotta move past looking for the gold stars at the top of your homework assignments or the affirmation from others that you're on the right path, right? And yet, most attempts to do so are simply forms of substitution, trading one source of affirmation for another.

Only rarely do we encounter folks who dare to become self-referential in regard to their assessment of course, direction and quality of work. When we do, we often caution against it. We cry out from our well anchored places in space and time, "A person has to be grounded in reality. You can't just run off and decide which way is up and which is down! How do you know if what you're doing is any good?"

And yet, our anchor points themselves are just statistical phenomena, happenstance, luck of the draw... normalcy. Had you been born in another place and another time, your anchor points would be completely different.

What's normal for you? (Perhaps it's best seen in the light of what's not.)

How do you handle situations that are not normal? Are they cause for consternation or celebration, either or both? If either, in what circumstance does an absence of normalcy lead to your being ill-at-ease? In what circumstances does it lead to relaxation? How can you learn from the contrast to be comfortable not matter what?

What are your anchor points? Which ones have you defined deliberately? Which ones are artifacts of normalcy? What would your anchor points be if you were going to draw them up from scratch? What would change as a result?


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Multi-tasking is good!?

Multitasking is a good thing, right?  I mean, in this age of extreme time poverty, being able to do more than one thing in any given moment is extremely valuable.  I remember having a phone conversation with Mark T. while he was using an exercise machine.  I really like talking on the phone while cooking or cleaning, especially if the phone conversation is insightful, yet relaxed.

I find myself multitasking quite a bit.  I'm making food, talking on the phone and explaining to Zachary that 'th' can have two types of sound.  Somewhere in there, I answer the door, clean up pencil shavings from the floor, and narrowly rescue the dinner from burning.  The day becomes a constant adrenaline rush. I'm wondering if I'm addicted.

I'm doing task one on my list for today.  Before I even know what I'm doing, my mind is off on another task, and my body is hurrying to follow.  I constantly scan the mental 'to-do' list and indulgently touch a bit of item 4, then hop over to item 7, then back to item 2, just to have item 4 un-pause itself and demand my attention again.  As I run from task to task, I'm noticing that by early afternoon, I'm exhausted, yet with a nagging feeling of not getting anything done.  That nagging feeling can spur me to an even greater flurry of multi-tasking activity.  This seems to bear out Lord Chesterfield's point:

“... steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”

While I admit resistance to the idea of a 'weak and frivolous mind', my multitasking behaviors seem to work for some tasks, and not for others.  While crocheting and watching tv can happen for me at the same time (I can crochet without looking at my hands all the time, and much of my tv watching is tv listening), crocheting and driving cannot.  Perhaps that's because they use the same set of resources (my hands and eyes).  I would have to stop crocheting to drive (drive well, anyway).  In fact, the multitasking that I typically do, requires me to stop (paying attention to) one thing, so that I can pay attention to the other.  The 3-4 activities highest on the list jostle for the top, constantly replacing each other.

A friend of mine had declared 2010 the "Year of Mono-Tasking" (doing one thing at a time).   I'm thinking of adopting that for 2011 with a few modifications.  First, let's define multitasking as 'doing any 2 or more things at the same time without an apparent reduction in the execution efficiency for each individual thing.' So, driving and listening to my audiobooks works in that definition, but playing the flute and typing email does not.  Even with my driving example, there is some kind of built in priority in the tasks so if it becomes critical to really pay attention to one (a deer runs across the street), the higher priority task (driving safely) takes over all the resources and multitasking stops.

By my own definition, much of what I called multitasking was really just mono-tasking, without me finishing the task I started.  I do gain an illusion of enterprise and industry.  Because of the perpetual list of open items screaming for attention, I stop being fully in the moment with any one item.  I stop being present.  In addition to that, it takes almost the entire day to complete any one thing!

I will give myself the present of being present this holiday season.
  • So I will schedule the things I need to get done (yes, write it down. sigh) and I will finish what I start.  If I don't finish a task within the allotted time, I'll schedule it for another time.
  • I will only multi-task if I see both tasks can really be done at the same time.  No more schooling while checking email.
  • When I find myself surfing my mental list, I'll stop myself, take a breath...and get back into the moment.
So I think the 2011 slogan is Giving the present of being present in 2011.   Or maybe it is Staying Present and Finishing what I start.....I'll keep working on the wording, but you get the gist.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I work in a world of decidedly left-brained people. People with IQs in the 140-plus range. People who can work math problems in their heads. People who understand physics and calculus. People who design chips and circuits. People whom you would identify as "nerds" (at least when I was in high school) or perhaps as Asberger's-ish.

It is a world that I am in and yet not of. A world where I am able to thrive and at the same time will often have no clue as to what people are talking about, or more importantly, why they're talking about it. In this world, I grew up on the wrong side of the cerebral tracks: decidedly so. In contrast to my nerdish colleagues, I would have been identified by the gracious term "flake". Though nowadays I believe that would be, umm, well, "flake".

What's Your Process
Yesterday as I sat talking with some of the guys, we launched into the topic of programming process: exactly how do you go about translating ideas into code?

The majority of the folks in the room (all but one) take a very structured approach. They develop requirements for what the software should do when it's done. They identify the functional components necessary to satisfying the requirements and organize them into an architecture. They then systematically work through each component, designing it, reviewing the design to ensure that it indeed fulfills the functional requirements, and then finally, coding it.

The minority in the group ask a few questions about what the software is supposed to do and then start coding knowing that the architecture will emerge as he, I mean they go.

Neither the majority nor the minority could imagine writing software in the manner of the other. From the majority, there were questions like: "How can you know what to write, when you're not even sure of the structure yet?" and "How do you know you're not digging yourself into a big hole or painting yourself in a corner if you haven't worked through all the details?"

From the minority the questions were more on the order of: "How do know what the architecture will be until you've played with some of the pieces?" and "Why would you try to figure out all the details when only a few of them actually matter?"

It was fun.

You Say Pee, I Say Pie
We began talking more generally about right- and left-brainedness. One of the guys mentioned a man who was able to look at a printout of π calculated to the twenty-some-odd-thousand decimal places and then write it out. It took him six hours with auditors watching and verifying each step. He didn't miss even one digit.

The same guy (whom many would tag with Asperger's if not autism) recognized early that his social skills were not as well honed as some of his others. So he decided to compensate by learning how to be more social. He studied jokes and humor and so one, becoming more social.

This reminded me of watching my dad as a kid.

On the one hand, if you give my dad a very large number, he's able to see all the prime factors (i.e. he's able to break the number down into a set of prime numbers that, when multiplied together, equal the first number). Prime number factorization is something for which there are no computational short-cuts; the only way for computers to do it is to try all possible combinations. This takes a really long time. As such, prime number factorization forms the basis for secure encryption algorithms, codes that require years to crack, even for high-end super-computers. Yet, for some reason, my dad just sees them.

On the other hand, if you give my dad a social setting without the aid of a compass, he can get desperately lost in no time at all. He recognized this early, so he decided to learn to be social. As a kid, I can remember my dad taking a break from math-torturing, err, tutoring, and pulling out a cassette of jokes that he would listen to over and over, not only memorizing the joke, but also trying learn the timing and inflection of delivery.

Even nowadays, when my dad suddenly finds himself in foreign social territory, he'll pull a joke out of his survival kit. It's not a basis for ongoing socialization, but it helps in a pinch.

As we talked, one of the engineers said, "Wow, your family sounds a lot like mine! My mom and two of my brothers are very musical, completely right-brained. My dad, another brother and I are engineers and completely left-brained. I've always wanted to play music, but there's just no way I can do it; I'm so totally left-brained. I wonder if there's a way I can compensate for that?"

I told him about Drawing with the Right Side of Your Brain, by Betty Edwards. A book in which Edwards teaches how to get your left-brain out of the way so that your right brain can do what it does best: see and reproduce what's actually there (not what your right brain structures it to be). He responded, "Wow, I've always wanted to draw. If there were a way that I could... that would be amazing."

Later in the day, he emailed me, letting me know that he'd ordered the book. I can't wait to see what pans out.

To me, the most striking thing about our conversation yesterday morning was how often the contraction "can't" cropped up, typically in the structure "Someone who... can't...", e.g., Someone who is really left-brained, can't learn to draw. Throughout the day, I started listening for "can't". It was a lot like when you're expecting a baby and suddenly you notice how many people are pregnant or when you're looking to buy a car and you notice how many people are driving the make and model you're considering. There were can'ts everywhere.

And I realized it was all a form of under-compensation. The belief of cannot-ness was so pervasive and strong, that there was no compensation whatsoever. Why even try?

Over the years, I've known lots of folks who've worked through Drawing with the Right Side of Your Brain and invariably surprised themselves with their latent abilities.

Some Questions
In what areas has your cannot-ness reached a level where you're under-compensating? Do you actively encourage under-compensation in others? What if the cannot-ness is just a curtain behind which your latent abilities are hiding? What would you accomplish if you suddenly could?

Happy Friday,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Je Suis

Premise #1: All that is is and that's all there is.
Premise #2: Anything else (e.g. meaning)
is simply a matter of perception and perspective.

Karmic Buildup
The small disabled child does not see himself as tragic. Early on, he doesn't see his self. He just is. The tragedy in his disability is thrust upon him by others. Others who use a sense of tragedy for motivation or because they fear not seeing his situation as tragic or because they know they should see it as tragic.

And yet, he's not tragic. He just is. He just shows up every morning wandering into consciousness. Over time he puts the pieces together and determines that no one sees him. All they see is tragedy. The tragedy accumulates like bad karma that covers him, hiding his self.

He's tries to be seen, but can't. Some seeing the tragedy rather than the child avoid him out of discomfort. Some overcompensate making him feel different or stupid. And occasionally some come along and see just him.

He may ultimately choose to ignore the perspectives of others, he may buy in deciding that he is indeed tragic.

You Say Tomato...
Five people are involved in a near fatal accident.

One sees it as a wake-up call.

One interprets it as a warning.

One becomes depressed over the apparent futility of life, afraid to hope for the future because you never know when you'll be gone.

One engages life completely, taking on new challenges, planning new adventures, because you never know when you'll be gone.

One becomes a paramedic so that she can help others who find themselves suddenly thrust into a similar experience.

Majority Rules
For most, gaining perspective is simply a matter of learning to align with majority opinion.

False Pessimism
One sees a flower; another sees a weed.

One sees a depressing cloudy day; another sees sweet relief from the hot sun.

One sees an opportunity to ride fresh powder; another sees an opportunity to get stuck in traffic.

One sees the tragic end of employment; another sees the glorious beginning of a new adventure.

In all instances, both are neither right or wrong.

There's nothing inherently depressing about a cloudy day. Sure, we can draw correlations between incidents of depression and deprivation of sunlight. But the correlations represent third and fourth order effects. There's nothing in the nature of clouds that is depressing.

There's nothing in the nature of a heavy snowfall that's cause for concern, except insofar as it interferes with plans. And even that is subject to perspective. The degree of unhappiness is directly proportional to the unwillingness to relinquish the plan. The degree of happiness is directly proportional to the willingness to plan anew based on new information (e.g., there's three feet of snow outside).

There's nothing inherently tragic about job loss... or losing your home... or bankruptcy. In all cases, you still wake up the next morning. You still breath air. You drink water. You talk. You walk. Again the tragedy is proportional not to the degree of fiscal loss, but instead, to the sense of loss. The sense of loss is proportional to the degree to which we hang on to what was rather than moving ahead with what is.

What Does this All Mean?
In the end, there is no inherent meaning in anything.

To find meaning, you can look to god. You can look to the heavens. You can look to education. You can look to occupation. You can look to family. You can look to friends. But you won't find it there.

I would dare say that were the meaning of life to exist a priori, then you'd find some agreement among its purveyors. Religious leaders would coalesce about it, rather than staking out territory and dismissing one another.

If the meaning of life were to be found in academics, in careers, in family, in friends, you'd know about it.

Nope, there is nothing inherently meaningful in anything. One woman's meaningful pursuit is another's waste of time. One man's ultimate goal is another's most hated vice.

The Philosophical Key to Happiness
I believe that sustained happiness (happiness that is not situationally dependent) can be found in existentialism. I know that existentialism is a classic haven for the chronically depressed, but that's an artifact of intelligence, not the nature of existentialism. The lamenting existentialist cries out: life has no meaning with the implications being all is lost.

Surely, the lamenter lacks creativity if not intelligence. If life is void of inherent meaning... well... let's just say that you see a door closed and I see one opened. Is being handed a blank sheet of paper and a pencil terrifying or freeing?

If there's no inherent meaning and if you want meaning, then you can look elsewhere or you can simply create your own. You can look at any situation and make it good, make it bad, make it glorious or make it tragic. It's up to you.

The funny thing is that we tend to deny that this is the case believing that there are situations that are inherently tragic or glorious or bad or good. However, all the evidence points to the contrary. In any situation, you'll find people responding differently based on their perspectives and beliefs. Were there to be some deeply ingrained, inherent sensibility, it would take control. But there's not. There are common threads and themes. However, there is no inherent meaning.

I've become acquainted with the discomfort people experience around the notion that there is no inherent fundamental meaning to anything. What would become of the world if everyone just started making their own rules and all that. However, my thought is: What would become of the world if everyone felt fulfilled and happy independent of situation?

We've marched down several millennia of pursuing things one way. Perhaps it's time for a change?

Happy Wednesday,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ahh Hah!

Last weekend, I had an epiphany. As you know, one man's epiphany is another man's "well-duh!", and mine was no exception. Doubtless, many of you will be thinking, "well duh!" once you hear it. Nonetheless, my epiphany has been absolutely life changing, or at least season changing.

Like most epiphanies, my moment of enlightenment was simply the tipping point, the last straw in a succession of many, the tiny drop of evidence that rolled off the roof and into the barrel causing it to burst at the seems spilling insight in all directions.

My journey to enlightenment began on Thanksgiving. The temperature had dropped into the lower thirties (Fahrenheit) and we were climbing into the car to drive to Boston. As I walked outside, I noticed this sensation in my toes, I looked down at my sandle-clad feet and thought, "Hmmm... perhaps it's getting too cold to be wearing sandals?" I walked back into the house, grabbed a pair of Ecco's and threw them into the back of the car, just in case.

When we got home that night, they were still in the back of the car, but it dawned on me that they might not be for long. We walked into the house and I decided, "Hmmm... maybe we should turn on the heat tonight?"

The next day, I walked outside and then immediately returned to the house, slipped out of my sandals, donned some wool socks, and then slipped (albeit with a bit more effort) back into them. Emerging again into the crisp morning air, I heard it! Like the cacophony of a thousand drunken, tone-deaf trumpeters performing free-form jazz at Yankee stadium, the heralds of Armageddon had begun to sing! The brazen, bald truth was undeniable! The sounds of an alien fleet landing in the valley below echoed from the mountain walls of Catamount (the ski mountain across the street); they'd begun making snow!

My heart sank, no matter how long I persisted in wearing sandals and shorts, in driving with the windows open, in mowing the lawn, there was little I could do to stave off the inevitable. Winter was indeed coming.

Nonetheless, throughout the following week, I indeed persisted. Scott, the general manager at Carr's Hardware saw me (head and shoulders) walk into the store and then ran over to see. "I thought for sure you'd have put on some shoes by now! At least some long pants."

But no, not me. If I just hold my ground, perhaps winter will pass by unnoticed. Maybe it will give up? But my grip was slipping. It started with the socks, and then with sweat-pants. How far behind could shoes be?

The next week, they cranked up the snow machines early Friday morning and let them run all day... and then all night... and then all the next day. Once the heralds of Armageddon get rolling, they never quit. They sang day and night for the entire week.

I began dreaming about the impending onslaught of snow and ice, about trying to get the plow guys (I call them Jethro and Jeb) to show up before the snow is so deep that they can't make it up the driveway, about calling the tow truck to fish out Scott's or Mark Kaufman's cars (both of whom have nonchalantly headed up the occasional ski slope that leads from the road to our house casually bypassing our cars parked at the bottom). I began wondering whether or not four cords of wood would be enough? I began dreading the inevitable.

The next Saturday, it hit me! The barrel burst, the walls caved, the stupid inside me fled. After eight straight days of heralding, I grabbed Iris by the hand and said, "Let's go to Pittsfield!"

We drove up to North's Services Inc, arriving at a minute before nine, just before they open. A few minutes later, we were talking with Chris North, the owner. I told him that I wanted to purchase an ATV equipped with a snow plow.

Chris showed us what he had available and described some of the various options. As he talked, he handed Iris a catalog of accessories. Iris had been a bit dubious regarding my "plan", but as she thumbed threw the catalog, seeing salt-spreaders and garden rakes and rototillers, she started to get excited. We left with a contract and an agreement to pick up our ATV on Tuesday.

The next day, I put on socks and shoes and a winter jacket. I headed to K-Mart and bought some long underwear and winter overalls. I stopped at the Outfitter store in Great Barrington and picked up some lined jeans, gloves and couple of hats.

Everything changed!

I'd decided not only to accept the inevitable, but to embrace it. My strong powers of denial had given way to a newfound enthusiasm! Better than facing reality, I was loving it, anticipating it like a kid anticipates Christmas. Bring it on! I'm ready.

I began looking out the window, wondering when it would snow, not fearing or dreading it, but instead, wanting it, looking forward to it. I'd head out of the house and then back in again, not because I was cold, but because I was dressed too warmly. As my enthusiasm for winter began permeating my being, I found my attitude towards all things improving. It wasn't as though I'd had a bad attitude, simply a sub-optimal one.

And then I thought: Wow, wherever in life you harbor a negative attitude, whatever the object of it might be, it affects your attitude in all things! Denial can only take you so far. Facing it can get you a bit further. But embracing it! Ahh... therein lies the answer!

Or something like that!

Happy Winter Sunday!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


When I was a kid, I worried.

I worried about pretty much anything.

My parents nominally attended an easy going, non-doctrinal Methodist church. However, whenever we were in South Carolina with my mom's kin, we'd go to the Southern Baptist Church in Chesnee where my grandmother played the organ (a Hammond B3) and my grandfather led the congregation singing.

Before the service, I'd always go to Sunday school in the church basement. One morning, I had an inspired Sunday school teacher. Seeing a yankee Methodist heathen amidst her throng of students, she felt it important to save my four-year-old soul, immediately. So she'd laid into the hell-fire and brimstone stuff.

I was a rather imaginative kid. Hearing about people writhing in pain and agony as if their skin were on fire, it didn't take me long to start begging Jesus to forgive my sins (whatever sins were) and take me to heaven when I died.

I left Sunday school, feeling better. Well, not better than before Sunday school, but better than in the middle of Sunday school. And then I thought, "What about Dave?" (Dave's my younger brother.)

Dave was three at the time and I wanted to make sure that he too was saved. I thought maybe he'd already got saved, so I started by asking him if he'd accepted Jesus into his heart?

He didn't seem that interested, so I said, "Hey Dave, do you want to accept Jesus into your heart so you get to goto heaven instead of hell?"

He looked at me and said, "OK"

I felt better.

Inadvertent Murder
That winter, we were standing outside waiting for the bus for Kindergarden. Jackie Jacoby and I were playing around pushing each other, and just as the bus pulled up, I pushed Jackie who tripped and fell off the curb. Jackie got up laughing and we climbed into the bus, but I started thinking, "What if I'd pushed Jackie harder and he'd fallen out in the street in front of the bus? He might of died, and then I would have gone to hell?"

I knew that hell was for murderers and sinners, and I started worrying about accidentally becoming a murderer and inadvertently winning a one-way ticket. My mind became consumed with how not to become a murderer. I stopped any activities that might lead to me accidentally killing someone. At first they included your basic rough-housing (wrestling and pushing), but then I decided I'd better not play baseball, because I'd heard a story about a kid who'd got hit in the head at a major league game and died as a result.

Lacking confidence in my initiatives, I'd start asking my mom, "Mom, I accepted Jesus into my heart, but how can I know that I'm not going to go to hell?"

At first my mom would sit and talk with me a bit about it, quietly assuring me that I wasn't going to hell, that when I died, I was going to live in heaven forever and ever. But after weeks of my seeking reassurance many times a day, the conversation degraded to: "Mom, am I going to hell?" and "No, you're not going to hell!", my mom's exasperation building throughout the day, the "How many times have I told you" being more attitudinal than verbal.

Forever and Ever
One day I stopped thinking about the hell part and started thinking about the forever and ever part. I tried to imagine forever and ever. I started thinking about infinity and eternity, trying to comprehend them, to count them. It totally freaked me out. Forget about hell and heaven. I don't want to do anything forever!

I'd lie in bed at night staring at my ceiling trying to imagine eternity. My mom would come in to check on me and then sit down on the bed beside me and rub my legs. She'd ask me what I was thinking about, but after the first few times, I gave up trying to explain it.

Deseases Everywhere
Over time, I got distracted from infinity by medical shows on television. Anytime they depicted someone with a life-threatening desease, I was sure that I had it, especially if the victim was a child. I started taking measures to ensure that I didn't get sick. I'd wash my hands until they were raw. I'd replay my day checking to see if I'd touched anything that might have had germs on it. If someone sneezed on me, I'd run into the house and scrub myself with a washcloth. I wasn't taking any chances.

I started quizzing my friends' parents when invited to lunch or dinner at their homes. I'd ask when the meat had been purchased and whether or not it had been thoroughly cooked. Did you wash the string beans? How old is this ketchup?

When my mom started getting into organics, it got worse. Were these potato chips preserved with BHA or BHT? Did you know that preservatives can give you cancer? Is there aluminum in this? Did you know that aluminum can give you dementia? At six, I wasn't exactly sure what cancer and dementia were, but I knew they weren't good. My friends' parents weren't always as patient as my mom.

My Latest Obsession
I moved from one object of worry to the next. Watching the evening news with my dad or overhearing the latest urban legend at school always left me wondering, contemplating, worrying and then obsessing. A comet that would wipe out the planet in 2004. A gas main explosion in Chicago killing several people... Cancer... Heart attacks... Venereal deseases... my life was one long succession of objects of worry and obsession.

Over time, I stopped seeking reassurance from the people around me and internalizing my fears and worries. Mainly because it would become so annoying to everyone that even I could see it, but also because it simply never worked.

As I became an adult, I adopted new worries, paying bills, supporting my family, being good enough.

And then one day, I came to a remarkable conclusion, one that changed absolutely everything.

My strategy of convincing myself that whatever concerns me is not going to happen never works (or at least not for long). The only way for me to effectively deal with my fear, anxiety, worry and obsession is to accept that the object of my concern may indeed happen, and if it does, I'll figure out what to do, that everything will be alright.

Knowing that if I fail, I'll just get up the next day and try again or try something else, is so much easier than running around trying not to fail, or seeking assurance that I won't fail, or worrying about failing. Knowing that being alone is fine, is way better than worrying about being alone.

This first conclusion got boosted by a secondary conclusion that even if I can't figure it out now, I'll be able to figure it out then.

My days of anxiety became isolated hours of anxiety and then isolated minutes and then seconds. After forty-years squandering a fortune in consciousness trying to avoid the objects of my fears, I'd found a consciousness-efficient solution: embrace them.

No matter what happens, it'll be alright. In short: it's all good.

The funny thing is that knowing that it's all good, that it'll be alright no matter what, didn't lead to my adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward my life. Instead, I feel more empowered and in control. Any time I do experience being anxious, it's not longer a deer frozen in the headlights experience, but instead a caged lion pacing experience.

Go figure.

Happy Saturday,

Friday, December 10, 2010


Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all--young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current is what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, "I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom."

The other creatures laughed and said, "Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks and you will die quicker than boredom!"

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, "See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!"

And the one carried in the current said, "I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure."

But they cried the more, "Savior!" all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Savior.

From Illusions (The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah)
Richard Bach

I love Richard Bach's preface to Illusions. It captures so well the essence of what it takes to achieve all that we are capable of achieving and the primary reason that we don't.

So often, those whom we recognize as achievers are simply the beneficiaries of strong genes, significant resources, situational advantage or luck. It's not that they overcome great obstacles and stretch the boundaries of what is possible; it's simply that they were in the right place at the right time.

And yet we celebrate them because they've attained heights beyond the reach of most of us. We never recognize that their base camps were established also beyond the reach of most of us or that they too have clung to their alpine river beds, never beginning to the transformation from potential to reality.

Meanwhile, those who have achieved the most, those who've covered unfathomable distances from the depths of dispair or poverty or mediocracy to the something unimaginable to their peers, go unnoticed. The obstacles overcome and the distances traveled cannot be appreciated because we see not the vector, but the end-point.

Achievement lies not in where you end up, but instead, in how far you've come. And the critical first step in going far is letting go of that to which you cling.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In The Element

Ken Robinson says that being in your element means doing the thing that you have both an aptitude and a passion for.  Sometimes we simplify these ideas so that children think they have to look for a concrete element like math or science or writing.  What if the element isn't so easily defined?  What if the element has several components that look like several 'elements'?  I've been reflecting on a few recent experiences that have felt euphoric.  I was definitely in my element.  Is my element several things or is it one thing?  Are there common threads throughout all these experiences and is it necessary to define it as one thing?
  • I facilitated a discussion with some elementary school teachers on the topic Why we learn (because we want to).  I loved interacting with the teachers and weaving all their thoughts together into a cohesive discussion.  I had fun with an icebreaker activity in which I was very badly teaching everyone how to crochet, and making it relevant to a 6 year old learning to read.
  • I sat listening to my friend who was helping her boss to plan a staff development seminar that was to take place the following day.  She shared his ideas and what she thought her role was.  I helped her create visual images that illustrated the things they wanted to talk about.  The  part I really loved was getting inside her thoughts, and those of her boss, and really understanding the connections that were not as explicitly stated, but were needed to effectively communicate the ideas.
  • Isaiah and I worked together to create a 20 minute set of songs, oration and reflection celebrating Jaedon's 12th birthday a few weeks ago.  We did this at church a few days before the actual birthday. I scripted the 20 minutes and was really in my zone building the story from the various pieces.  I particularly enjoyed a segment of one of the rehearsals where I was sharing my interpretation of one of the songs to the 2 girls who were going to sing it.  It felt as if they were singing and enjoying the song and not really feeling it.  Helping them to connect with the song more deeply, and seeing the connection happen on their faces was very satisfying for me.  It didn't really matter that we eventually decided not to do the song.
  • I'm in the zone in many of my homeschool adventures.  Here's one from today:  Simonne was drawing a dog, a character in an ongoing story co-authored by Zachary.  S: "Mommy, do real dogs have pink noses or is that just in cartoons?"  F: "That depends on the color of the dog's hair.  Dogs with white hair or light colored hair are likely to have pink noses because they don't have a lot of melanin." S: "Melanin?" F: "Yeah, melanin is the thing that causes your skin to be brown.  The dogs with darker hair often have more melanin.." ... and a few more exchanges about melanin.  I was very excited to help her create a connection between something we had talked about in another context and this picture she was drawing.
What's the common theme? I'd love to hear what you notice. I'm noticing a common thread of building connections.  I think building the connections are very satisfying for me.  I often tell people that I hope my kids are benefitting from our explorations, but I certainly am. Every time I make a new connection, I see relevance in a bit of information, I'm excited.  I also really like sharing my connections with people.  The bit of information themselves are very boring without the connections, and the more connections I find, the richer the info becomes.  I have to tell people.

As an aside, something I've been really working on in the past few years is not answering questions that people are not asking.   In other words, restraining myself from sharing my wonderful connections with people who may not find them relevant.  I'm not answering a question they were even thinking about, much less asking.

I've found, though, that if I listen, I'll hear questions people are asking, and then the connections I've found can be added to the connections they have found and the whole gigantic network can really hum with excitement and enthusiasm from the energy pulsing through the connections.

What does it look like when you are in your element?