Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Core Challenge

So, what do think mankind's core challenge is?

Umm... happiness?

No, I said, "challenge."

OK then, unhappiness.

No that's, hmmm..., no that's not what I'm talking about.

What are you talking about?



Yeah, distraction.You know, it's like the games were to Rome. Pacify the mob, keep them entertained, get them baying for blood; just make sure it's the blood of someone other than you. Keep them distracted.

So, how's that apply today?

Nowadays it's all done electronically with television, radio and the Internet. You've got your news commentators and talk-radio personalities. You've got sitcoms and soaps. And shit, talk about the Roman games, you've got the NFL and the WWF.

Uhh huh...

It's like Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead. Toohey himself couldn't have invented something as insidious as Blue Man Group or Carrot Top.

Speaking of insidious,
what about Facebook and Twitter?

Don't get me started. They're the most insidious of all; you get the mob to distract itself, all the while collecting intel on every one of them in a way that makes the CIA look like a bunch rank amateurs.

But isn't distraction really just a side-effect?
I'm not sure of what, but it seems that
some people don't get distracted.

Hmm... OK, I can go with that. The root cause is stupidity.


Yeah, as in "a marked absence of intellectual acuity and common sense", stupidity.

So, is that genetic or something? Is it in the water?
How do people get so stupid that they're easily distracted?

Well, that's the frustration of it. It has nothing to do with the environment or genetics. It's simply that people never learn to think. They go to school for twenty years and memorize facts and how-to's, but they never learn to think from scratch. It never even occurs to most people that intellect is just like a buff body. Some people are born with it and most have to develop it.

Develop intellect? I thought IQ was something
that you were born with and that
there wasn't much you could do about it.

And who decided that?

Ummm... psychologists, I guess.

Exactly. Look, anyone can learn to think and anyone can become good at it. You just have to learn how, and then practice.

Anyone can develop intellectual
acuity and common sense?


So the root problem is that we don't think,
or at least, we're not good at it.

Yes. It's like we're a bunch of trust fund kids who've inherited these amazing intellectual physiologies and we have no appreciation of what we've been given.

Uhh, huh.

I swear, the lower primates look at us and think, "Shit, if I'd been born with a brain like that, I'd be..."

You think they're really thinking that?

Look, it's like being given a Stradivarius and using it to prop open the window.

And so we get distracted?

Sure. Think about it. The ones who aren't distracted are the ones who've let the window fall shut and have started playing. Once they start, they discover so many avenues to explore, that they could never be distracted.

Why not?

Because they're never bored.

So, you mean, they're happy?


So, if they were unhappy, then
they might look for distractions?


So the core challenge is happiness?

Friday, April 29, 2011

I Don't Fidget

We sit expectantly, waiting for commercial block to end. We've all crowed into our tiny living room to watch the first broadcast of the interview and performance we recorded at the Rutgers last week, a college music show that highlights local bands. Joey says, "Can't wait to see you on camera, man. Bet you're all over the place."

"What do you mean, man, I was totally dialed in for this one, completely focused."

"Yeah, and all over the place. Dude you fidget like crazy. Can't help it. It's like genetic or something."

"I don't fidget."

"Just watch man. I'll bet you ten bucks."

"You're on."

The strains of elevator music that accompany the college announcements fades, displaced by a low and sultry female voice saying, "We're back. As you know, each week we spend time with one of our local Jersey bands, getting to know them and their music. This week..."

I'm so excited I can barely stand it. I hear myself exhaling loudly and realize that I've been holding my breath. "OK", I tell myself, "Just relax. This is going to be really good. I definitely wasn't fidgeting."

The camera zooms back, panning to the right, revealing the four of us slopped onto a long cornered couch.

"So, tell me about your band's name. Where did you get..."

I stop hearing anything she's saying, completely distracted by, well, me. I'm all over the friggin' couch, sliding back and forth, feet flat on the floor, then legs crossed, then legs curled up beneath me. My hands start out nicely folded in my lap but soon appear to be making origami of a napkin or is it a dollar bill. I don;'t know; I don't remember doing anything with my hands. Now I'm leaning back, stretching my arms across the back of the couch, then crossing them in front of me, then placing them flat on my thighs, then back to origami.

"Tell us some more about your music. Who writes the songs..."

My eyes follow the conversation like a five year-old soccer players, incapable of holding their positions. They're quickly joined by my head pivoting wildly on my neck, it movement resembling that of the robots in the first Terminator movie. When I speak, my voice modulates all over the frequency spectrum, my eyes open wide with enthusiasm, my hands swinging in and out of the frame; it's absolutely frightful.

Fidgeting? How about spasming? I can barely watch, but I do. I hear the guys laughing, fully enjoying my performance and notice that I'm now standing to the side of the couch, pacing back and forth in the three-foot-square area that separates it from the wall. This is awful.

"We'd love to hear..."

The scene fades from the couch to the soundstage. I hear Dave counting off Middle of My Heart and we're in. We sound good, really good. I breath a sigh of relief, replenish my lungs and then hold my breath; here comes the sax solo. The camera pans to me and zooms in. This is going to be awful, I'm sure.

The camera guy's learned from the interview. He doesn't zoom too closely as I draw my horn to my mouth and dig into the chords of the bridge. I watch, waiting to see what spastic actions my body has in store for me (origami with my toes perhaps), but there aren't any. I play with intensity, my body moving easily to the music like a deeply rooted, fifty-year-old pine swaying in high wind. I seem completely focused, consumed, no fidgeting, nothing frenetic, just easy confidence.

"Where'd he come from?", I hear Joey commenting as my solo rises to the occasion.

Where, indeed.

I woke up this morning with pain in the tip of my tongue. As I stared into the mirror wondering where it had come from (the pain, not my tongue), I noticed my tongue exploring the back of my lower teeth, apparently checking to see whether or not they needed brushing. My teeth had probably kept my tongue awake all night long.

Before typing, I read Faith's post from yesterday, Redefining Acceptance, Again! and it got me to thinking: about Jaedon scratching himself, about my unruly tongue, about fidgeting in general and about sensory regulation, which is what I believe Jaedon and I are both trying to accomplish through our apparently self-harmful activities.

Over the last couple of years, I've learned that people who experience ADD and people who experience autism are on the same spectrum, just at different ends of it. Whereas people with autism are often over-inundated with sensory input, people with ADD can't seem to get enough of it. The results are the same, great discomfort, and oftentimes, the responses are the same, excessive physical stimulation.

In the case of a person with autism, the excessive behaviors (scratching, head-banging, walking in circles) serve to block out and distract from sensory experiences that are causing the discomfort. By comparison, they're soothing.

In the case of a person with ADD, the excessive behaviors don't block out, but add to the mix of sensory stimuli, making them louder and bigger. The resultant cacophony of stimuli is soothing.

For one person, there's too much going on, for another, too little. Yet, each experiences discomfort; each responds by increasing their sensory load. Each is just trying to get comfortable by achieving sensory equilibrium.

Of course, the experience for those around us can be, well, umm... entertaining?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Redefining Acceptance Again! (sigh)

I saw Jaedon scratching himself with his fingernails today and I had a really big negative reaction. If there is anything I would give him drugs to stop, it’s him hurting himself. (I don't even give Tylenol). Jay hasn’t done this before, and I felt floored. He has always liked being scratched, but now, he is scratching to the point of giving himself welts, and bruises, and I feel panicked. The world keeps spinning out of control. As soon as I gather in one thread, 4 more unravel.

The Rant

So what should I think about this scratching? Forget should. What did I think today, that has me PMSing, before PMS? Well, I almost yelled at him “Stop it!” and he looked very irritated, upset even, and went back to scratching his arm. As I continued to forcefully tell him not to do it, he pushed me away, quite forcefully. He screamed, and ran upstairs, but not before jumping and stomping, with screaming a little. I heard him upstairs crying. He’s not usually that quick to fly off, and doesn’t stay upset, and he doesn’t push back. Sigh. So he was really feeding off my angst. I was very angst, very panicked. I remember seeing bruises on his legs a few days ago, and wondering what they were. Now that I see fresh one on his legs, I know for sure what they are.

When he came back downstairs, somewhat recovered, I offered to change his pull-up. As I helped him in the bathroom, I had another mini crisis, or perhaps, a continuation of the current one. “God, can he be potty trained, please?” I have changed Jaedon now for 12 .5 years. Isn’t that enough? Must I have that, being on 24 hour alert for all kinds of thing, like failing to prevent a quart of extra virgin olive oil from being poured into the sink, or the new bottle of pure liquid castile soap that went into the bathroom sink? Not to mention the food I’m constantly protecting, telling him not to strip the paint off the wall, and the call from Isaiah on the cell phone seconds after he left for the supermarket telling me Jaedon was outside... Must I add preventing him from scratching himself to that list of 24/7 vigilance? I’m ready to trade something. I’m putting changing diapers back on the shelf, if I have to take protecting from scratches.

Calm Down Mildred
This reminds me of the Platform of Acceptance video another parent did. Scratching to bleeding is definitely not on my platform. What do I do with that?

It's funny how one thing prompts a full tantrum.  I've taken everything that I accepted and thrown them off the shelf.  One issue, became lumped in with everything else and I was looking at myself at 80 helping my 50+ year old son out of his pullups, no liquid soap in the house.

The Resolve
I don't have the answers just yet, but I fall back on what works for me, and gratitude works.  Complaining is a fast, wide road to deep unhappiness, and gratitude is the fast wide to deep contentment.  As I sit here typing this, my mind ran to many of the other similar thoughts I've had, and the fact that I've more than survived, I've done well, so far.  It's not that I've been wonderful and upbeat, but I feel what I feel, and I wallow, mourn, pick myself up, dust off, get going again.  Sometimes faster than others, and sometimes I even skip the wallowing and mourning bit.  As I encourage the kids with 'Every day in every way, I am getting better and better' and so I encourage myself.  And I'm thankful for it.  Thankful for the paradigm shifting experiences I've had, thankful for the change, thankful for the person that I am and that I'm becoming.

Jay is standing beside me now.  I think he wants a snack.  He's being sweet and gentle, waiting patiently, patting his head and his chest.  I love him a lot, and am very grateful for his presence in my life.  "Nuts" he says finally.  I'm hurrying to give them.

I'll take some time to process the scratching by itself and tell you what I discover.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What to Write?

I woke up this morning and could not think of a single topic to write about. "Interesting", I said out loud to myself as I listened to the birds slowly wake up to share their songs with the world. For someone who seems to never run out of things to say, I struggled with selecting my song to share with the world. I love engaging with myself, all of you, and the universe through my blogs. It helps me stretch my thinking, inspire debate, challenge my beliefs, and freely express my thoughts with the world. So why in the world am I running out of ideas about what to write?

Here's what I learned as I answered this question:

  1. I am intimidated by how well the other bloggers write and they seem to be getting better while I am getting worse. This was an interesting awareness as I would typically say that I am not competitive but my behavior obviously suggests otherwise. My comparisons are leading to self judgement which is obviously not helping my blogger's block. So why does competitiveness inspire some to do better while others do worse?

  2. I judge the value of my blog based on the comments I receive. Given the fact that my last few blogs have inspired 0 comments, I am assuming that my blogs must not be very good. So where exactly did the phrase "no news is good news" come from? How did I end up believing no news is bad news?

  3. My life is boring. This was an interesting awareness given I am my own life's designer. Why am I designing a boring life for myself? Why do I like being boring since I have done nothing to redesign my life and I fundamentally believe we are always designing exactly what we want.

  4. I am having a judging relapse. As I explore all my writer's block issues, they all boil down to judgment of myself and others. Why have I slipped back into major judgement mode? It is obvious to me that judging is adding no value to my life. This week, I plan to track everything I judge and create some insight for myself. Will you join me?

Love to all,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


"The problem is that I cannot coordinate my right and left hands", he said, holding his hands at eye level just in case I didn't know to what he was referring.

"Sure you can", I replied. "You just haven't figured how to do it yet. The thing is to start simply, really simply."

I walked over to one of the display pianos and began playing quarter notes with my right and left hands, the index finger of each hand on a C an octave apart. "You see, very, very simple."

I then altered my left hand, playing every other note. "Once you're comfortable coordinating the two hands, then you make simple changes like this."

I then doubled the speed of my right hand, eighth notes against half notes. "You continue slowly making the rhythms more complex, but never doing so until you're comfortable with the current rhythm."

Jung, a sixty-something engineer who emigrated from Korea to the US in the 60's responded in heavily accented English, "But I must learn Fur Elise by next week. That is when I must take exam."


"Yes, I take piano course at community college. It only one credit. Exam require me play two pieces. I must get good grade."

If it had been anyone else, I might have thought him kidding, but Jung looked so earnest. Here he was, an accomplished engineer with advanced degrees in math and science, and he was concerned about his grade for a one-credit piano course at the local community college.

"Jung, I don't know about your course, but if you really want to learn to play piano quickly and to become comfortable playing, you want to take the approach that I'm describing."

He paused, considering what I'd said, and then responded, "The other problem I have is remember all the notes to Fur Elise."

I sighed, hesitating to enable his grade-addiction, but couldn't resist. "OK, here's your problem. Each time you play, you probably start at the beginning of the song. So you remember everything in order. The problem is when you get lost, the only way you know how to get back on track is to start again from the beginning. Practice starting at arbitrary points in the music, bar 8, bar 20, bar 31, bar 16. Then you'll be able to remember it without even trying."

He paused again, considered what I'd said, and then responded, "But it very short piece."

"Not short enough that you can remember the whole thing, right? Look Jung, I guarantee you, if you do what I said, you'll have no problem remembering."

He shrugged and then asked, "So, what you think of this piano?"

I frequently find myself in situations where people are asking me, How'd you do that?, and the answer is consistently what we engineers refer to as the K.I.S.S. method, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Whether you're trying to learn to play piano or to program a computer, whether you're trying to lose weight or run a marathon, the quickest and most reliable way to do so is K.I.S.S.

Unfortunately, most explanations of K.I.S.S are quite complex: what exactly do you mean by simple? Who you calling stupid? So, let me see if I can explain K.I.S.S. simply.

To apply K.I.S.S. is to limit the number of things you try to change at one time, preferably to one thing at a time. If you're trying to get healthy, don't simultaneously start to diet and exercise. For that matter, don't cut out more than one food group at a time. In fact, don't cut out anything; start by adding new practices (one at a time) that displace the old ones.

For example, consider my buddy Mark K who has the ability to overly-complicate tasks such as car-parking, shoe-tying and sleeping. When he was told that it's lose-weight-or-die time, he concocted elaborate schemes by which he could continue to eat well while satisfying the conditions of his temporary stay of execution. He bought gadgets to measure and weigh food. He downloaded calculators to compute sugar levels and calorie counts. He ordered special foods from all over the Internet. He created extensive menus and consulted with a variety of experts. He made the process about as complicated as one can and not surprisingly, found it difficult to maintain.

Were he to have applied K.I.S.S. he might have started by juicing every morning and doing nothing else. Once he got the juicing down, he might have added grilled fish every afternoon at 2:00 or eliminated wheat products. One thing at a time, each step building on the success of the previous one.

Now you might be thinking, "His situation is too dyer to do just one thing at a time. He needs to cut out sugar right away. He needs to exercise, now! He needs to start a program of vitamins and supplements."

Ideally, you'd be correct, but it ain't an ideal world. What you're really saying is, "But he has to play Fur Elise by next week."

The problem is that he might sustain the all-or-nothing approach for a bit, but eventually it would degrade to nothing.

If you really want to change, to learn, to understand, then break down the task into small incremental steps that build upon one another and then pursue them one step at a time, never proceeding to the next until you've nailed the current one: K.I.S.S.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lying Awake, Waiting

Lying in her bed, her eyes wide open and focused on the ceiling, she holds her breath and strains to hear what is happening in the kitchen below, listening for the telltale sounds of violence. If she hears them, she will bound down the stairs, step between them, and stop them.

The arguing has escalated from hushed complaints to screamed taunts as it does on nights when they drink too much, which seems like most nights. The voices, sarcasm and anger are difficult to miss. What she tries so desperately to hear are not the sounds of words, but the sounds of physical interaction, a push, a thud, a slap, a crack.

While other seven-year-olds in the small Dutch community lie sleeping, she lies wide-awake, holding her breath, listening, ready to intervene.

Sometimes I lie awake at night listening to Iris breathing, enjoying the warmth and softness of her lying next to me. Normally, she breaths deeply and slowly, but every once in a while she'll momentarily hold her breath as though she were still straining to hear her parents, readying herself to intervene. She'll release it, breath quickly and shallowly for a few seconds, and then hold her breath again.

After her parents split up, Iris stayed with her brother and her dad until one night, when she was just fourteen, her dad came home from the pub drunk and angry. He looked at her and somehow got it into his head the Iris was in fact her mother. He screamed and then chased her through the house until she found refuge behind the locked door of her bedroom. The next day, after he'd gone to work, she loaded all her belongings into a shopping cart and pushed them to her mom's house.

It didn't take long living with her mom to notice that something wasn't right. Putting together bits and pieces, she recognized her mom's schizophrenia and that she needed help, but Iris had no idea what to do. None of the other adults in her life seemed to understand that her mom wasn't just difficult to deal with, that more was going on.

One day, Iris walked into a local social welfare office and found someone to talk to, someone who understood her situation and her mom's condition. He told Iris that he could come to see her mom, but only if her mom invited him in.

Iris intervened, and her mom received assistance.

Iris has a long history of intervening, of recognizing a problem and not turning a blind eye to it, of taking on the burden whether rightly hers or not.

It can be hard when at seven you're the most responsible person in the household. I sometimes think about that as I lie awake listening to Iris breathing and it's easy to drift down the rivers of sadness, but then I stop and wonder who'd she be without those experiences. Would she be as strong and courageous? Would she be so easy with change and adversity? Would she be as resourceful and able?

As I ponder these questions, my sense of sorrow is replaced by a sense of gratitude and wonder.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Good Will Hunting

Yesterday, the last thing we did before going to bed was watching the movie Good Will Hunting. Mark and I cuddled on the chair together and while tired, we easily stayed awake with this marvelous piece where 20-year old Southie Will Hunting is a smart-ass genius with anger issues. Through court order he ends up working with a professor at MIT on advanced mathematics and has to do weekly therapist sessions. Will Hunting is played by Matt Damon, his best friend Chuckie is played by Ben Afflick and the therapist is Stellan SkarsgÄrd.

My favorite scene in the movie came when Will is talking to his best friend at the end of a hard workday in construction about how in twenty years they both will have families and all will be living in South Boston together. Chuckie responds that it would be an insult to his friends for Will to waste his potential that way, and that it’s his wish that Will wills leave some day to pursue something greater. “I pick you up every day and bring you coffee”, he says. “The 10 seconds while walking from my car to your house are the best. You know why? Because I hope you might be gone, left this place. That you will have decided to do something better with your life.”

In my opinion Chuckie is a great friend. One that loves and supports his friend, and wants him to grow and succeed in the world, independent of what that would mean for their relationship. So often we want people to behave a certain way. Have them do things that we are comfortable with, or things we understand.

This movie also shows that the reasons we want people to be a certain way is motivated by personal reasons, nothing to do with the friend. For example: the mathematician wants the boy to deliver to his full potential. The boy can do all these things that he is not able to. He cannot stand seeing the boy wasting the skills that he has tried to reach for all his live. The same counts for Chuckie. He believes he doesn't have the needed skills to change his life drastically and expects himself to still work in construction and live in the same neighborhood. But he believes that Will can do better and so tells him to do something with his live instead of holding on to what he has here.

- Write down five names of people in your life.
- Write down what you want for them. For example: you want your child to grow up happy.
- Research deeper what these statements mean. Continue of last example: my child will live independently and have a good job. Independently means being able to make his own money and do not needing help. A good job is one that helps him provide stability in finance and healthcare. Continue specifying your notes as far as possible.
- Look at what you have written down. Realize that all these wishes and specific wants for the person are made by you. Which of your wants have you shared with that person as something that is good for them, or something that they should do? Which of your wants have you shared with that person as something that you want for them? Can you hear the difference in approach?
- What do you think when people are not behaving the way you want them to behave? How do you feel when your wants for them seem not to line up with reality? Why?

Be loving without smothering; be encouraging without pushing; “want” for your friend without making it “have too’s”

I wish you a great easter Sunday!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When was the last time...?

When was the last time you...

...looked someone in the eye, articulating clearly, specifically, in personal terms, and gave them a genuine, heartfelt compliment at the appropriate moment?

...received a compliment - fully, genuinely received it, accepting the feelings of the person giving it and also of your own as you heard it, let it land, celebrated yourself a bit and then let it go, without self-deprecation, deflection or redirection?


Thursday, April 21, 2011


It was so far, the end could well have been the horizon. All we could see were trees and more trees. The compass said we were going in the right direction and we should keep walking, but sometimes technology is wrong, right?? They say it’s insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I wanted to see the end of these trees and who could say that we were really making any progress? I felt insane.  Maybe I should change direction…

As far as we could tell, the compass was working.  It’s not the one on the Iphone, so not very high tech. This one was older than I was. So, unless the maps are all wrong, and all the people who had walked this way before were wrong…. But it was so far! It looked impossible to get as far as we need to go by just walking. Who knew what else we would find along the way?

Trust. We can trust our instincts that got us on this path in the first place. Trust. We can trust the technology we are using to help us chart our path. Trust. We can trust the voices in our head, the people who went ahead who said that the trip was long, but that we would make it, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So the decision is made.  We move on.  We rest, and we walk and we rest and we walk. No point in doing a sprint. This is a marathon. Trips like these aren’t for the eager fly by night, the sprinter who runs out of steam at 400m. This trip is for the steady, the person who won’t forget the why, getting lost in the how. As I talk to myself about the insanity of the task, I think about the why. I get lost in the big picture. I notice that this big picture does not pull me forward, it slows me down. The big picture is bigger than the end of this trip, and with no visible end in sight, that big picture is daunting. Forget the big picture. Follow the plan.  Put one foot in front of the other. You are almost there.

Deep in thought, I didn’t notice that Amon had been busy checking his charts, the compass and the various other bits of paper and equipment we had to let us know where we were. I am roused from my contemplative revere by the sound of his boots quickly crunching the dry leaves. He had broken into a run. Am.... his name froze on my lips as I too see the wonderful welcome sight before us. He is racing towards it, new energy in his limbs. Energy rushes through me, for the first time in weeks. I pick up my heels and follow him and we both rush headlong to the sight at the edge of the woods.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Touched by an Angel

I have always believed in Angels. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by fate, kindness, intuition, and most importantly life experiences. People have always shown up in my life exactly when I needed them. I didn't always know that I needed them at the time but my experiences speak for themselves. Reading Mark's blog today was another opportunity to experience an angel. You see, I knew that I wanted to write about my angels for the past few weeks but as you know, I have not written. Technically, I have been having travel and computer glitches, cosmically, I was waiting to be reminded about all the angels in my life. Take Mark for example. Let's call him an "acquired taste angel". Like my experience with wine, I didn't like it much at first and now I absolutely love it. I didn't know Mark was an angel when we first met but his love, spirit, and constant challenge has changed my life forever. He brought us here to this beautiful place, shared his amazing wife with us, and provides just the right amount of stimulus to encourage greatness.

Now let's explore Iris. She is an angel too. I realized this over this amazingly cold and snowy Berkshire winter when her smiling face appeared in our glass doorway each morning to play with David (for anyone new to these amazing blogs, David is our son who was blessed with autism). I have no doubt that if she had to drive the ATV to get to our house, she would. I realized her love for working with children was the difference between dedication and passion. Given all of our challenges this past year, I am confident we made it through with our dedication to happiness above all else thanks to our angel, Iris.

I have been exploring the possibility that David experiences lots of angels in his life. We see many of them like Iris every week. I believe there are many others that only David can see. I am home on vacation this week and have had an opportunity to observe him all day long in his playroom. It became clear to me why autism was once referred to as "childhood schizophrenia". David talks and plays with his angels all day long. They are incredibly creative, always know how to play his games, provide him opportunities to grow, and laugh a lot. I have decided they must be angels because they never get upset, tired, or jealous, they never judge, they always love unconditionally, and five years into David's home based program, he still prefers to stay with his angels than join our world. In addition to the angels we can't see, he also prefers the angels we can to most other people except his sister who is obviously an angel too.

Are you an angel? To whom are you an angel? To whom do you want to be angel? Are we all angels?

Love to all,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


"People say that's healthy", George chuckled, gesturing to the joggers who passed our idling twenty-four-foot panel truck, their faces now visible in the long winter light rising behind us, puffs of crystalized breath marking their passage.

"Look at that guy", he continued, pointing a lanky forty-something sporting a half-frozen mustache and grimace that spoke volumes, "Does he look healthy to you?"

I shrugged never quite sure of how to respond to George, never knowing exactly what my role was in our conversations.

He reached through the little doorway that provided access from the cab to the cargo space, withdrew a package of carmel clusters, ripped it open and popped one into his mouth. Turning to me, his lips drawn into a big smile that undulated as he chewed, he pointed to himself and with caramel-compromised diction said, "See my face. That's what a healthy face looks like. What we're delivering here is health food!"

I just kind of smiled back, laughed nervously and shook my head mumbling a quick, "No thanks!", as he extended a second package to me.

It was 7:00 AM and it'd already been a long day. I'd met George at 3:00 in Elmhurst, the Illinois headquarters of the Fundraising Company of America. We'd loaded two trucks with Caramel Turtles, Tootsie-Rolls, M&M's, Wildflower Honey, Smoked Sausages, Cheeses, and assorted fundraising paraphernalia and caravanned our way to Quincy to make our early morning delivery to the High School. The marching band had been raising money for new uniforms.

Normally, it would have just been me, but the band members had outdone themselves, the orders exceeding the capacity of my truck and nearly filling George's. We'd arrived early and found a parking lot overlooking the Mississipi where we sat waiting for the sun to rise and the school to open.

I really liked George, he was a really good guy who had helped me out of a jam, but I never quite knew how to respond to his, umm, humor.

Back in Boston, when we found out that Rene was pregnant, we decided to move back to Illinois, to be closer to her folks. I dropped out of Berklee, we loaded our stuff into a U-Haul and drove home to Wheaton.

After a couple of days staying with Rene's folks, we found a garden apartment next to the train tracks in Glen Ellyn. At $225/month it was pricy, but we really wanted two bedrooms (we were starting a family). The security deposit and first month's rent left me with $126 to my name, so I needed to find a job quickly.

The next morning, I stopped by the high school to visit Chet Balzer, the band director and guy most responsible for helping me graduate. As we sat talking, George bounded through the door of the band office and before I had chance to shake his hand or say hello, Chet had given the lowdown on my situation and George was offering me a job. Although his partner in Michigan had told him, "No more than four dollars an hour", George said he could effectively make it five by recording my forty-hours a week as fifty. I was after all a married man about to have a kid and four dollars an hour would be disgraceful.

By the time I finally did shake George's hand, it was in acceptance of his job offer. I started the next morning.

Rene and I moved into our new place that afternoon and the next day I was off to learn about the fundraising business.

I don't know where George is today or what he's doing. He'd be in his eighties by now, probably still conducting his unique health program and gregariously pursuing life.

At twenty-two, with $126 in my pocket, a child on the way and no prospects for work, he was an angel.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, April 18, 2011

When You Lose Control

There are some things about which you can do nothing.

For some of us they are far more numerous than we believe.

However, for most of us, the opposite is true.

The number of things over which we have influence is beyond measure.

And yet, we tend not to see it.


My guess is that we've adopted the binary (either or) system of influence, i.e., control.

When considering whether or not we can do something (in response to challenging situations, other people's issues, the global economy, etc.), we typically consider the question, "over what do I have control?"

The problem is that there is in fact very little if anything over which any of us has actual control.

Strike that.

There's absolutely nothing
over which any of us
has actual control.

Control is at best an illusion and at worst a scam.

Whenever we honestly estimate our power to control something we come up empty. All the myths, scams and lies fade to black leaving a dark void.

And we feel powerless.

The problem is not that we can't control things (we never could); the problem is that we believed we could control things (and we never could).

Often times the illusion of control is so strong that when confronted with the recognition of the obvious (that things are out of control), we're stunned.



Of course, there would be no dismay were we to have recognized that we were never in control in the first place.

All any of us ever has is influence.

The problem with influence is that we completely undervalue it and we're typically no good at it. Given the choice, we'll always opt for control rather than influence.

Put me in charge…

Make me the boss…

If I were running things…

But even when made the boss, even when elected to office, even when put in charge, we still have no control.

Given a position of authority, others will often be compliant with our direction. Yet their compliance is not attributable to control, it results from aligned goals and expectations. Knock them out of alignment and control evaporates.

All this is of course great news!

Great news for anyone who feels that life is out of control.

You my friend have taken the first steps towards recovery: recognition and perhaps even acceptance.

Your kid just bounded through the door and defiantly showed you the new stud piercing his left nostril, the one that you'd vehemently prohibited.

Your best employee just resigned because she's taking a new job with a competing firm.

Your mom's boyfriend called to tell you she's in the ICU and he's not sure what's happening.

The toilet that had been leaking a bit is now leaking a lot and you can't get any plumbers to return your phone calls.

The doctor just told you it's cancer.

Do things seem out of control? They are! And nothing's changed, except you.

It's time to learn influence.

Time to...

...better understand the motivations of the people whom you can't control.

...figure out how to align goals and expectations.

...get people to do what you want because they want to.

...understand what's in it for them.

Time to let loose the reigns of control and learn influence.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Falling from Grace

I piled a whole bunch of pillows behind my back– four to be precise – and buried myself under the thick green white covered blankets. I was so cold, that it took a long time for me to warm up. I listened to the clock tick slowly. I could not bring myself to do anything. Even turning from back to side was too much.

My throat throbbed and my head spun, while sweating in my bed that Sunday afternoon. There was a dizzying pressure behind my eyes and nose, as if the bone had contracted and given my brains less space. Life was continuing outside, I could hear some trucks and airplanes pass along, but for me time seemed to blend in.

I had called in sick a couple of hours earlier and I felt guilty about it. I felt so guilty that I felt compelled to write about it between my fever naps. I wrote about falling from grace. To become sick the night after a fabulous birthday party, cannot be called sick, it’s called lazy. That’s what I heard growing up, and it ‘s one of the beliefs I kept, because it keeps me jumping out if bed after a night of fun. Now it was payback time. Holding on to this belief meant that I was lazy and not sick. I dealt with it by accepting I was lazy that day. And when it had not disappeared by Monday, I decided that maybe I hadn’t been lazy, and maybe this was one of those rare instances that I truly was sick.

The other thing I wrote down that first feverish afternoon was:

Power of little words: write simple in your own voice.

Reading this sentence back, I was first in awe by the sentence. Did I come up with that? Then I realized that it was short hand. I read a book called “Power of Little Words”, in which they advocate to write simple short sentences in your own voice as a way to make your text understandable for others.

And this rang true to me. It also made me think again about why a person writes. Do we write to get a story of our chest? Do we write to have someone else understand something? Do we do both?

For me, when this blog started I wrote because I wanted the reader to get a better understanding of beliefs and the power that comes when you take ownership of them. I wasn’t a writer, but started to write to get my message out. Now I write every day. But it’s no longer focused on what I believe the reader wants to hear; it’s focused on recovering a story untold. Sometimes I write complete articles, more often I write pieces of articles. In my feverish state I even started a book.

Like Faith, I am at a loss at this point about what to share on this blog, and what to keep for my Thursday night writer buddies. But, if you keep on hanging in, I will figure it out!

Suggestions surely welcome!

Four Years without Sex

I was sitting in a classroom full of women. One of the women was telling about a man with whom she feared having sex, a man she had just met. She told us that the reason she was fearful was that she had not had sex in three years.

I looked at her in disbelief. She was a good looking woman, around forty, slim, fit (without being overly fit) with long blond hair and a nice smile. She was intelligent and with a nice energy. How could she have spent three years without sex? Why would she be scared?

Looking back, knowing what I know today, I can see that she had plenty of reasons to be worried. I still don't know her reasons for not having had sex in three years. They might have included something about finding it hard to trust a man. If you are a woman and you do not trust a man, your vagina will tighten up and sex will be painfull. If you are a woman and you have not had a male character to trust, you might have built up a lot of male character in yourself. A woman with a lot of male character ends up being very controlling. A woman who is used to being in control will find it very scary to surrender that control. In good sex one of the partners must surrender.

At the time I didn't understand why having sex after not having had it for a long long time could be scary and could be painful, physically and psychologically. Now I do. After that day in the classroom I did not have sex for thee years, for me that made a total of four years and forty days.

I want to tell you about how it got to that point and about breaking the spell and getting out of it..

Four Years without Sex
I never planned not to have sex. I didn't think that I was scared of sex. I didn't feel scared of men, nor of women or wether or not I might be lesbian. Mostly, I longed for intimacy, verbal and physical.

My last relationship ended in physical abuse, but this wasn't my last sex. I soon met an interesting guy, the guy who would be the be my last sex partner in four years. I didn't consider him as being bad at sex, but I had the most terrible back pains that made sex a bit complicated and physically painful. So I didn't look for new adventures until spring came.

There is something about spring. The first sun, the cool fresh air. The flowers blooming. It's a time to flirt and date. So I did. We went on a romantic date in the forest. Holding hands, flirting, kissing. Being kissed by the first sun and by a handsome guy brought forth a lot of nice energy. All this energy made me think: now it's time to clean out - and I started to get a posttraumatic stress reaction from the abuse I had experienced with my ex.

Post traumatic stress reactions can vary. For me it ment trembling and crying for no reason. It lasted ten to twenty minutes, stopped and then it started again. I didn't experience any scary pictures flashing in my mind; it was all very physical. Fortunately, I had read about it and recognized what was going on, so I just relaxed, waiting for the body to finish.

I hadn't seen my previous experience as having been scary or traumatic, but they must have been, so much so that my brain wanted me to never experience it again. So for a while I kept away from anything that could have turned into a romance.

Being Alone
After a while I started to long for the love and caring that you can get from an intimate partner. The longing could be painful. It could feel as if my heart were being ripped apart. To avoid the pain, I tried to comfort myself. I learned to give myself what I most wanted to receive from others. As I learned to do this, people would see me and believe that I was doing great on my own.

But the longing never went away. A longing to be held. A longing to be touched. A longing too be seen and heard.

My longing was painful, particularly because I knew that no matter how much I tried, I could not fulfill it by myself.

Whenever I approached a man (or he approached me), my longing would take over and I would experience a kind of neediness. No one likes neediness. So my longing to be touched and held and heard and seen would end up scaring most good men away.

Breaking the Spell
I honestly didn't know how to break the spell. I watched myself finding it more and more difficult to connect with men. I found that I got more and more sensitive; it became easier and easier to feel rejected. I kind of gave up. At times I even thought "What if I've had sex for the last time in my life?" I even lost interest in my sex-toys. But I didn't give up all hope. I thought that there must be something I could do.

I decided to grow my feeling of love. I decided to become more feminine. I wasn't sure about the feminine part, so I started with the love.

My first step was to learn reiki. Reiki is a japenses healing. To heal is also to give love. I went to my first Reiki class, I liked it and wanted more. But I wasnt particularly fond of the teacher, so I looked for a new one. I found Padam, Padam Christos. He was Dutch but had lived in Denmark for a long time. On his web site, he told about his name, about his Reiki and about a Tantric teacher who had inspired him to propose to his girlfriend only two weeks after he thought the relationship was over.

His description of this tantric teacher inspired me. I needed a break from work. Maybe tantra could bring me more feminine energy, and maybe more feminine energy would bring me more men?

I signed up for the tantra training, levels 1 and 2 (even though level 2 sounded a bit daring). At level 2 they asked for a test for sexual transmitted diseases and that scared me. I did want to have sex, and it had been a loooooong time, but planing to have sex at the training? With a complete stranger?

The second thing that scared me was being asked to bring clothing that would help me dress up as a slut. A SLUT????

I ended up taking the test (just in case) and I went out shopping for a slutty dress. I brought different dresses (it took me a loooooooong time to find something), and as I look at them now, the clothing I brought with me wasn't very slutty.

Most of the training at level 1 was about gazing in each other's eyes and feeling the energy. In the breaks I soon tried to tune in to the energy of a single Dutch guy. We started to do more exersices together. He asked if he could sleep in my bed one night. We had sex.

The first time was okay. The second time was better. And then I got scared. My whole body got tense. He didn't interfere, he just kept a hand on my back and kept affirming me saying, "It's OK".

Thinking back, the sex couldn't have been that great for him. My vagina must have been really, really tense. But maybe he didn't know what good was, yet.

The sex wasn't enough to break the spell completely, but it was enough for me to know that I was afraid of sex because I was afraid that more fear would come up. So I started in a group doing soft tantric exercises to connect more deeply with people. Step by step, I started to open up, to become more feminine and more trusting, and then, magically, I started to meet men, to feel attracted, and to have sex.

I wonder how often we have things we don't do, obstacles that we can't overcome, until we break the magic spell.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Because You Can

This morning, you awoke with more power than you're willing to acknowledge.


You awoke with the power to make a difference, the power to decide between...

Joy and sorrow

Wealth and poverty

Acceptance and rejection

Warmth and cold

Creativity and frustration

Success and failure

Slavery and freedom

Love and hate

Oppression and liberation

Life and death

You awoke with more power than you'll experience the whole day long. It flowed through your being, top to bottom, left to right, back to front in perpetual motion, refusing to acquiesce, threatening to change everything, held in check by just one irresistible force: you.

Was your resistance to it active and obvious or passive and covert? No doubt you had good reasons to deny the power that coursed through your veins: your job, your kids, your partner, expectations of others, ailments, incapacity. Everyone's gotta make a living... Feed her children... Worship her god... Pay her due... There are more reasons than one can count.

So you stuffed the genie back into its bottle to wait until tomorrow. But it won't wait. Denying your power doesn't negate it. All day long you'll exert your power in decisions, some of them made with astute awareness and others with casual indifference. Whether casual or formal, you'll make choices today and the power you have will be made manifest through them. In some cases it will be immediately obvious, in others, the impact won't be seen for generations.

You can deny your power, but you cannot avoid it; your power will find a way. It may erupt violently in the form of decisive action or it may seep slowly through a series of seemingly unrelated decisions. Your power will find a way.

When you deny the power that flows through you, you divert it to tiny streams that collect the denied power of those around you. Those streams contribute to larger ones and then to rivers, building mass and speed, the denied power of millions careening through history, carving away at humanity and reshaping it. It is not the immense power of the few, but the denied power of the millions that leads to tyranny, oppression, slavery, genocide and holocaust.

Still, the power of just one can change everything: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, loving the unlovable, listening to the unheard, teaching the uneducable, encouraging the saints.

Today you awoke with more power than you can imagine.


Happy Saturday,

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Changes Everything

Did you at least tell her what you had in mind?

Sure I did. I told her straight up that this could be big, REALLY big. I said, "This is going to change everything!'

How exactly did that tell her? Did you share specifically what you had in mind?

Specifically? Well, she didn't ask, "What do you mean by REALLY big", or, "What exactly do you mean by EVERYTHING?", so I assumed she knew what I meant.

Uh, huh. What DID you mean?

I meant that this writing thing was gonna be really big, huge; it was gonna change everything.

Change everything?

Yeah, everything!

For example…

For example, it's gonna cause people to THINK. You know how they hate doing that. Well, writing is not only gonna force them to think; they're gonna think and love it, really love it.

OK, so she's gonna email these little, whadyacall'em, "writing prompts" to people…

To MILLIONS of people!

OK, to MILLIONS of people, every day she's gonna send these things to MILLIONS of people and that's going to cause MILLIONS of people who hate thinking to love thinking?

Exactly! I mean, for example.

What else? For example…

For example, as people learn to LOVE thinking, one of two things will happen. Either the people in their lives (friends, family, coworkers) will learn to love people who think, or they won't.


So if the people in their lives start loving people who think, they may want to try thinking themselves. Before you know it, we've gone from one million people thinking to TEN MILLION people thinking.

And if they don't fully appreciate the nouveau socratics among them?

Well, then you'll get… hmm… martyrs… sure, they'll either embrace'em or kill'em.

That's it? That's your plan? She's gonna send emails to people…


She sends emails to MILLIONS of people EVERY DAY asking them to write about some random topic and that's gonna cause MILLIONS of people to think and resultingly, to LOVE to THINK and then their thinking will either inspire others to THINK or to KILL them? That's your plan?

Well, I never actually used the word "plan". I just said that it would be really big and that it would CHANGE EVERYTHING.

And what was it that you mentioned about irradiating lawyers?

Not irradiating, eradicating. And I didn't mean the actual people, just the profession.

OK, what was it you said about eradicating the legal profession?

Well, as people become better thinkers, they'll be come happier. Happy people don't burgle or rob or kill or even sue. So the legal profession will go the way of blacksmithing.

And alcoholism?

Sure, alcoholism will be one of the first things to go. Imagine flying cross country and sitting down next to someone who was completely fascinating or going to a party where people aren't talking about their latest vacations or acquisitions or the local gossip. There'll be no reason to numb your brain.

And you think that she understood all this from what you said?

Ummm… well, now that you mention it, maybe not. But that's just because she's not writing herself. She's just sending out the writing prompts.

So, she's sending these things out, but she's not responding to them herself.

Hmmm… well, strictly speaking, I don't know that. It's just a theory. Still, you gotta admit, if people started thinking, things would change, right?

Sigh… you're hopeless.

Are you kidding? I'm terrifically hopeful! Awesomely hopeful! Why would you think of me as hopeless?

You don't understand, I didn't mean that… hmmm… OK, it's not that YOU are hopeless; it's just that…

Just that what?

It's just that… that, I AM HOPELESS regarding you. Shit, did you hear what I just said?

Of course I did. What did you MEAN by it, by "I AM HOPELESS?"

I meant that… shit… I meant that I've given up on ME and as a result, I'm reluctant, strike that, I'm totally resistant to anyone with hope.

That's what you meant?

Sigh… yes, that's what I meant.


So, I guess that I've been evaluating everything that you've been saying through my own cynical filter of hopelessness.


So, sigh... seeing that changes friggin' everything!

See, I told you it would!

Happy Friday,

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I've started writing (almost) every day.  It's the good news, and the bad news all at once.
  • I allow myself to just write without thinking about my thoughts
  • I stop writing when my allotted time is done, unless I choose to continue
  • I don't think about my audience, so I practice not censoring my thoughts
  • The piece I've written is only as organized as the flow of my thoughts in the moment
I have to tell you that almost all my previous writing is carefully thought out, mostly organized in my head before I even sit in front of the computer.   Like it was when I was teaching, the lesson was complete before I started to write my notes.  I don't do too much editing, I don't always enjoy re-reading my own writing.  (I'm a great editor for other people!)   As part of my careful thought, I always imagine all my possible audiences, so I'm always speaking to someone, filtering so that they can hear me, thinking about the image I'm projecting. 

So the experience of frequent timed writing is messing with me.  Actually, It's taking me on a journey, and I'm in an unfamiliar place.  I'm in between here and there (although there is a moving target).  This in between place insists I trust myself and express my thoughts as they come, which has produced several pieces that I can't yet share.  I hardly write without thinking about sharing it, yet these pieces fall in those categories.  In them, I feel naked, random, caught in awhirlwind of thought.  And that may indeed be the good news, but the flip side is the dirth of what I'll call 'publically appropriate writing'.  It's as if I now have two modes I can be to write, uncensored and censored.  I'm not yet sure how censored I want to be.  I'm re-examining the rules about what I'm willing to write about and why, about my willingness to expose my thoughts in black and white.

At any rate, I'm pretty excited about where this could all lead!  Meanwhile, here's something I wrote recently.  Perhaps it's a poem.  I tuned out of all those language arts classes so I'm not sure....

Your love, your thoughts, your attention,

your laugh, your song.

All the things that are you.

All that you give to me.

All that I get to see.

The miracle in progress in you.

The miracle unfolding, enveloping me.

It’s astonishing.

It’s amazing.

It’s incredible to be

so close,

to touch, to feel, to hear, to breathe ….


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Acquired Taste

I'm what you might call an acquired taste.

Some would say that I get "annoying at times". OK, pretty much anyone who knows me would say that. Some might even go so far as to use phrases such as "inspires homicidal thoughts." The thing is that my attributes that people find so, err, inspirational are all ones that you might consider to be "good".
  • I pay attention and listen carefully to what people say.
  • I follow all the threads of a conversation (including the non-sequiturs) and can roll them back up when a main thread gets lost.
  • I tend to trust people and take them at face value.
  • I notice missing details and inconstancies, and then ask about them.
  • I quickly buy into someone's stated intentions and try to help facilitate them.
  • I have more energy than the energizer bunny.
  • I sincerely want the best for people.
  • I believe without a doubt that open and direct communication is the best way to go.
  • Not being a respecter of title or position, I'm the same person with everyone.
  • I never give up.

Taken in part, many (if not all) of these attributes sound pretty good, right? However, bring them together and well... engagement leads to discomfort leads to annoyance leads to homicidal thoughts.

You might say that I'm gifted in that regard. If you could make millions unearthing and pushing buttons all the time thinking, "Wow, I wonder what this one does?", I'd have more guitars and keyboards than I could ever hope to play.

Lately, I've been trying to figure out ways to better manage my interactions with folks without compromising who I want to be. I've been trying to become more palatable. So far, I'm pretty bad at it.

The best solution I've encountered was offered by Iris who suggested the installation of an On/Off button, preferably one that could be accessed quickly and easily, e.g., a Staples "That Was Easy!" button in the middle of my forehead.

Outside of that, I've been working on techniques such as ignorance. For example...

Ignore the fact that a fifty-year-old guy just mentioned for the eleventh time in four minutes and twenty-six seconds that his absence of self-confidences goes back to something that his dad said to him when he was eight.

Or... ignore how whenever you ask her what she thinks, she first looks to him before answering.

Or... ignore all the inconstancies in timeline and detail that by comparison would make Mark Kaufman seem organized and congruent.

Or... ignore that someone has consistently responded to questions regarding the basis of his assertions with restatements of his credentials.

Or... ignore how she consistently refocuses the conversation on her by pivoting on any number of keywords.

The problem with actively ignoring something is that I become hyper-focused on the object of my ignorance. I end up with this buildup of unasked questions and unstated observations. They bounce around in my head like water molecules dancing in a tea kettle until the pressure reaches the tipping point and they race through the first conversational-opening like the shrill whistle announcing the boiling point.

Ignorance doesn't work, at least not for me.

I've also tried silence. I follow the conversation as I would normally, but simply don't say anything. This too is fraught with challenges. First of all, I've only managed verbal silence; my body language tends to be quite loud, and I still haven't got the knack of controlling non-verbal utterances, sighs, etc. Second, even my verbal silence is short-lived, I can go maybe ten minutes before I find myself raising my hand requesting permission to ask a 'simple' question. Sigh...

Ignorance and silence having failed me, I've tried avoidance, although I must admit, I'm not always the instigator of this technique being applied. Avoidance works great as long as you have no reason to interact, but when you do, well... I guess avoidance isn't really a solution.

Finally, I've tried distraction, or perhaps more accurately, others have tried distraction on me. This is also quite effective as long as the evening ends before the distraction. If not, then without fail I roll everything back to the point of distraction and pick up where we left off.


There of course is the obvious question of manner. I know that if my manner is calm and easy people perceive it as loving and accepting. I'm pretty good at this until I begin getting excited about the topic of conversation or the hunt for answers. When I do, my self-awareness does a quick exit stage-left and I have no clue as to the wild-eyed demon that people see before them. That one is going to take practice on my part and I'm not sure that there are enough resilient people around for me to get any good at it.

In the mean time, there are people for whom the balance of annoyance and pleasure seems to be tipping to the pleasure side. In the mean time.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Momentary Lapses

"What does a patent count have to do with intelligence?", I interrupted. "I've known lots of guys with lots of patents who were completely incapable of thought."

At first Sasha seemed ready to plow forward undeterred. Suddenly, like someone who glancing up at his rearview mirror catches a glimpse of a long-lost friend walking along the road, hits the brakes and turns to verify, he stopped talking and turned to look at me. Was I serious? Did I really mean what I'd just said?

Jonathan added, "Yeah, we've known Nobel Laureates who weren't really great at thinking."

Sasha, who has a habit of confusing decoration with substance, looked back and forth at Jonathan and me. It was like the quieting of a tea kettle just before it rolls into full boil. We were, for the lack of a better word, serious, and perhaps not crazy. He hesitated wondering whether or not he there was any merit in what we were saying.

"But, then, how can you tell when people know what they're talking about? I mean, I've got a lot more experience than either of you guys with..."

Noticing our heads moving slowly left and right, he stopped.

"Sasha, I don't care how many degrees or patents or awards you have if what you're saying makes no sense, isn't well reasoned or involves unfounded assumptions", I said, trying to close the gap between his world and ours. "I simply take it all at face value and evaluate it regardless of who you are."

"But, what about expertise and experience?", Sasha pleaded. "You have to take that into consideration."

"I try not to", I replied, "but I must admit a bias against so-called experts. The label tends to be acquired at the onset of non-thought. Expert is often a designation applied to someone with domain-specific knowledge, independent of skill. In the case of skilled expertise, no label is required, the skill speaks for itself. However, in the case of knowledge-oriented expertise, the label tends to get dropped more often than prominent names at a Hollywood party. The more it's invoked, the less I trust what is being said."

Sasha's lips agitated of their own accord trying to form words, but without direction from the command center, nothing intelligible emerged. His entire being seemed consumed in making sense of all the gibberish I'd spouted. Looking into his eyes I could see a thought forming like the first hint of dawn after a cold, dark night. Was the sun really just over the horizon or was it wishful thinking on my part?

In a momentary lapse of Sashaness, he said, "So you really don't care who says something, you just listen to what he says? It doesn't matter if he's a complete novice or an experienced expert?"

"Yes, and no", I responded. "Yes, I simply listen to what is being said, regardless of who says it. No, it does in fact matter whether the speaker is a novice or an expert, but not in the way you think it does."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this: if someone is an expert, then the likelihood of her simply repeating something she's heard or said before increases significantly. Experts tend towards schtick. However, novices can only spout insights that they've drawn in the moment. You're more likely to get meaningful insight from a novice than an expert unless the expert is disciplined and present."

Jonathan chuckled, "You're living up to your title tonight."

"What, you mean Patron Saint of Lost Causes?"

He chuckled again as Sasha stared across the Dockside lost in thought.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sleeping Shortly

As of about 5:00 AM eastern time (US), I began my fifty-fifth year on the planet and I must say that I've been enjoying the trip. This place (i.e., earth) has a lot to offer and I feel as though I've just barely scratched the surface. So much to do, so little time.

Speaking of time, on Saturday morning I received an email from my buddy Jonathan directing me to a Wall Street Journal article on Yahoo entitled The Sleepless Elite, Why some people can run on little sleep and get so much done. The article describes research being conducted on a very small population of people who seem to thrive on five to six hours of sleep per night, or "Short Sleepers".

Apparently the descriptions reminded Jonathan of yours truly and as I read the article I had to admit they sure sounded familiar. The article describes short sleepers as...
...people who are simultaneously night owls and early birds. They typically turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later to barrel through the day without needing naps or caffeine.

They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them...

To date, only a handful of small studies have looked at short sleepers -- in part because they're hard to find. They rarely go to sleep clinics and don't think they have a disorder...

Not only are their circadian rhythms different from most people, so are their moods (very upbeat)...
They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.

Hmmm... OK, so there were many clues that seemed to indicate I might be part of a new group with a disorder and a catchy name. However, unlike so many disorders, mine seemed to be desirable. Apparently, people studying short sleepers don't want to cure them. Instead, they want to learn how short sleepers sleep shortly so that they can teach others to do so as well.

The article stated that there is currently no way to teach yourself to be a short sleeper and of course this is the part where I thought, "Wow, it's really hard for PhD's to be creative after spending all those years proving orthodoxy."

So, I wrote one of the researchers conducting the studies and offered my assistance. I'll let you know how it goes, but my first clue would be the question: Are people energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious because they're short sleepers or are they short sleepers because they're energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious?

As I mentioned, I'll let you know where this goes. For now, I'm going to energetically, optimistically, and ambitiously celebrate my birthday and my latest disorder.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


It's Sunday morning, April 10, 2011. The house is quiet. Well, not really. There's the ticking of the wall clock, the whirring of computer fans and disks, and of course my tinnitus, the sound of high-pitched crickets that follows me everywhere. Nonetheless, for me, it's quiet and peaceful.

I woke up this morning thinking about grace and cordiality. It's hard to explain it (that usually precedes an explanation of something that I don't understand), but there's a difference between being gracious and being cordial that gets lost on us.

On the surface they can appear to be the same. The gracious and the cordial both listen politely as you speak. They speak respectfully and with kindness. They express gratitude for gifts and deeds performed on their behalf.

Yet there is an honesty in grace absent in cordiality. The gracious express all their opinions with respect and honor, even those opinions that others might take as negative or unflattering. The cordial keep to themselves opinions that others might take negatively.

Perhaps the difference isn't honesty, but, judgment. The gracious perceive nothing in another person as being 'bad', even those attributes that they would seek to change. The cordial maintain judgments of others that may not be expressed due to the rules of cordiality.

So honesty is part of it. However, you can't move from cordiality to grace by becoming more honest; you can only do it by eradicating judgment. Even those highly skiled in cordiality, diplomatic in every respect, stumble when expressing judgments to the one judged. It's nearly impossible to do so without a hint irritation or impatience or discomfort. So those skilled in cordiality avoid expressing their judgments.

The cordial overlook the indiscretions and blunders of others; if they do speak of them, they do so through innuendo and rarely to the one who committed them. The gracious speak of indiscretions and blunders openly and easily, directly addressing the one who committed them with apparent disregard for how he might respond.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the response to grace is never anger or defensiveness. The words of the gracious are disarming; they provide the one addressed the opportunity to hear them without judgment, an absence of judgment temporarily borrowed from the speaker.

I think that grace is far rarer than cordiality; however, I think it's probably much easier to be gracious than cordial. To be cordial requires skill and often training. One must be aware of how people respond to what she says. She must be careful to pick the right words. She must know how to shift conversations and how to navigate around uncomfortable topics.

The graceful one needn't do any of that. Instead, she just says whatever she's thinking without thought of the 'right' words or the 'appropriate' timing. Grace is easier.

I think that's it, but I'm just beginning to figure this out.

Happy Graceful Sunday,

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nothing Personal

"You don't understand!", he said indignantly, "What if she actually meant it to be personal? How else am I supposed to respond?"

I paused for a moment wondering whether to address his stated void of creativity or the fact that he had absolutely no clue as to what we were talking about. Misreading my hesitation, his lips began forming a smile of triumph as I determined to go with the latter.

"You're completely missing the point", I responded. "It doesn't matter whether or not she means it personally. All that is required is for you not to take it personally."

He sputtered and then went quiet.

I continued, "Even if she says something insulting to you or something that you might consider to be 'hurtful', it's still all about her. It could be that she had a really bad day. It could be that time of the month. It could be that she's upset with you coming home late for dinner. Her reasons are her reasons and they ultimately have nothing to do with you."

Silence, then, "I don't get it. If she's upset with me, then it's about me, right?"

I shake my head slowly left, right, left, right, my eyes focused on his. Then I ask, "Look, have you ever been upset about something and then taken it out on whoever happened to be in your line of fire? You know, you get cut off by someone driving and you take it out on your passenger who's supposed to be giving you directions. You find out one afternoon that you've been passed up for a promotion you thought was a sure thing and later that night everything your kids do seems to annoy you."

"Well, yeah, maybe. OK sure, I've done things like that. The old 'kick the dog' bit."

"On the other hand, have you ever had a really great day and found that the things that normally annoy you don't?"

"Sure, like when I landed that big contract with Goodrich and the CEO brought me up on stage at the annual meeting to hand me an additional bonus check. I know what you're talking about. Susie could have wrecked the BMW that day and it wouldn't have bothered me a bit."

"Right, but if she'd wrecked the BMW on a day that trains were running two hours late, it'd be a different story."


"So, you have the same stimulus, Susie wrecking the BMW, and completely different responses. On one day, you couldn't care less about the car and you're all about Susie being alright. On another day, losing the car is the end of the world and you lose it with her. You start saying things like, 'How many times have I told you…' or 'I knew I shouldn't have let you drive that thing'. You get really personal. The question is this: Is your response about Susie or is it about you?"

"Well, I guess it's about me. But, what if I say something that is really personal to Susie, something that really hits her in the gut. Even if it's just because I'm upset, doesn't that hurt her?"

"That, my friend, would be up to Susie. She also has the option of taking things personally or not."

"So even if Susie tells me that I'm a terrible father or that I'm awful in bed or that she wishes she'd married her old boyfriend instead of me, that has nothing to do with me? It's all about what's going on for her?"


"But, how do you do process all that? I mean, there must be some truth to what she's saying; otherwise, she wouldn't say it."

"Wether or not what she's saying is true and how you handle it are separate issues. When Iris is really upset with me, I've found the best way to handle it is to listen to her as though I were a friend listening to another friend vent about her husband. If I just let her vent without taking it personally, without getting defensive, without even responding, she has the opportunity to get out all that emotion.

Lots of times, even as she hears what she's saying, she'll recognize it as not being true or not really representing what's going on for her. She gets it out and then, if there's something we need to talk about or change, we look at it, all without taking it personally."

"So, you really do that, like all the time?"

"Not all the time, but I'm getting better and better at it. You know why? Because it works a hell of a lot better than the alternative."

"Hmmm… So, take nothing personally huh? Sounds a bit crazy, but it can't work any worse than what I've been doing."

Happy Saturday,

Friday, April 8, 2011

How about ...

How about ...

  • ...firmly, resolutely, dig-our-heels-in stubbornly, even in the face of grave provocation, absolutely REFUSING to judge another human being?

  • ...cutting out every disrespectful word in our speech - every single little cotton-pickin' instance, whether conscious or unthinking, deliberate or flippant, justified or not?

Sweet and Strong

Last weekend as my grandson Logan and I explored Hatcher Garden and Reserve in Spartanburg, SC, I thought about his namesake, my mom's dad, John Frank Logan whose last name became my middle name and Logan's first name. Watching Logan climb up and down the banks of creeks that flow through the reserve having temporarily suspended his obsession with clean clothes, I remembered my granddad taking me fishing at the mill pond in Chesnee and how I'd instantly lost my fear of worms and all things slimy.

My Daddy John was bigger than life, and for me at nine, everyone else was small by comparison. Daddy John died when I was ten. He was just a year older than I am now. On Sunday morning, I woke up still thinking about him and wrote the following.

Sweet and Strong
His right hand reached absently for the breast pocket of his freshly-pressed mechanic-blue work-shirt his fingers seeking the omnipresent pack of unfiltered Camels and then retreating as they found nothing but the rigid texture of six-ounce twill. He sighed, pushed up his glasses and continued reading the Cherokee County Tribune.

Another mill closing… Third one this year… This time in Gaston… Seemed that all the clothing companies were moving production to asia and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The future for the piedmont looked bleak. But then again, it looked even bleaker for him.

He turned towards the smell of coffee that Thelma was brewing in the kitchen and before he could call out to her noticed that she'd already set a cup next to him. He lifted it carefully and paused to bask in the warm aroma as he passed it under his nose. Just as he liked it, light, sweet and strong.

He sipped slowly and then swirled the potion around his tongue and mouth providing ample opportunity for all his taste buds to participate before letting it roll down his throat like salve flowing over a fresh wound.

In 1920, no one had known that cigarette smoking caused cancer. He was twelve then and his uncle Henry, an MD with poor eye-sight, had hired him to drive him around on house calls. Henry had paid him forty-cents an hour to ferry him across Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, but mainly to sit in the car and wait. To occupy the time waiting, he'd taken up smoking.

He'd started with cheap cigarettes, like Wings and American Spirit. You could purchase two packs for just fifteen cents. Then one day, walking into Riley's General Store, he'd seen an ad for Camels. Reading about the expert blend of choice Turkish and choice Domestic tobaccos and the wonderful smooth satisfying mildness, he'd decided that even at twenty-five cents a pack, Camels were for him. Besides, what was a twelve-year old making sixteen dollars a week gonna spend his money on in Chesnee, South Carolina.

Forty-three years later, they'd taken his Camels away along with the left half of his lungs.

He stared blankly at the paper and thought about the future, about his kids Betty, Ola May and Johnny, about the mill and the new foreman they'd brought in from Raleigh when he'd got sick. He sipped his coffee and thought of Thelma, how they were alike, the coffee and her, both of them sweet and strong.

He smiled and closed his eyes.

Happy Friday,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Gotta Say

Last night at Bizen, Iris and I said our goodbyes to Louis, Steve and Jean and made our way down the long narrow way that insulates the restaurant and bar from the cold outside. Satisfied with our late-evening repast of grilled Ika and Berserkshire rolls, Iris and I bantered happily as I pushed open the door that opens on to Railroad Street. The cold winter air of early April caressed my cheeks and drew my attention forward just in time to sidestep the silhouetted figure that scrolled into view and filled the space before me.

The massive entry door had cleared his back by just millimeters and my shoulder by an even smaller distance, and yet the darkly clad figure hadn't budged. Without thinking, I reached behind me, grabbed Iris' hand and guided her to my right placing my body between her and the phantom who glared at me from beneath his cowl. I stared back and then without thought commented, "That's quite a look you've got on your face."

OK, that's probably not the best way to respond in a situation like this, but it's just what I was thinking, "Wow, I can't recall ever seeing anyone who looked this angry. Almost demonic. That's amazing."

So, I'd said it.

Without further thought (as if there'd been any so far), I turned back to Iris to resume our chat as we proceeded up Railroad Street towards our car, parked around the corner.

"That's quite a look you got there! What are you gay or something! What's that, some kind of faggot hat you got on your faggot head!"

Although the door and our near collision hadn't motivated motion on his part, my comment seemed to have struck a chord.

This time, I did think. I thought, "OK, let's just keep walking."

But the voice continued, "Quite the look! Quite the look! I'll show you quite the look!"

It was getting louder and it was getting closer.

Back to not thinking.

I turned around again placing myself between Iris and the oncoming figure who pulled something from his right coat pocket and quickly placed his hand behind his back. As I wondered whether or not it was a gun, I heard Iris say, "C'mon Mark, let's go! He's got some kind of bottle in his hand."

For some reason, knowing that it wasn't a gun made everything fine. I relaxed and walked back towards him, my hands open and my arms stretched downward and outward. As I moved towards him, he hesitated for just a moment and then continued towards me just a bit slower, the intensity of his glare, constant.

Again without thinking (we're about 30 seconds into this episode) as we came to within a few feet of each other I said, "Man, you look really, really angry. What's up?"

He stopped walking. His right shoulder and arm spasmed as he half stuttered, half shouted, "Who the hell do you think you are telling me how I look!"

I said, "Hey, I didn't mean to offend you or anything. You just looked really, really angry. Is there something I can do? Do you wanna talk about it?"

He stared at me, the intensity of his glare fading and his shoulders relaxing.

Then after what seemed to be hours, he drew the bottle from behind his back, shoved it into his pocket and extended his hand towards mine.

I took it.

He said, "Man, I gotta thank you for backing down. I've had a really bad day. Really bad."

"You wanna talk about it?"

"No, not right now, but thank you."

He turned and headed back down Railroad Street.

Iris and I turned and headed up.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Really Surreal

"So, what was the make and model of that juicer you were talking about", Bob shouted over the roar of the reverse thrusters as we touched down in Charlotte.

"The Omega 8005", I shouted back across Iris as he scrawled it on the back of his business card.

As the plane slowed, the roaring subsided and we taxied to the gate in a relative quiet (that of a long stretch of the express train from Canal Street to Times Square). We flowed out of the plane like toothpaste from a tube properly squeezed from the bottom up, said our goodbyes to to our new friend from California and made our way to the Dollar Rent-a-car stand. Twenty minutes later, we we cruising down I-485 towards Weddington, North Carolina, to spend the night with Joy, Michael, Logan and Lexie.

The four-inches of snow and dark overcast skies we'd left in Great Barrington had been replaced by lush green fields, lilacs, and sunshine. Iris and I glanced at each other as we inhaled the aromas of spring and then sighed in unison our deep senses of satisfaction.

We pulled of the interstate and zigzagged our way to Joy's new house, 8,000 square-feet of post-banking-boom, nouveau-southern gentrification. Walking into the house was like walking into Notre Dame, just through the garage and laundry room and without the stained glass windows and centuries old stone. It took a full minute for the echo of my "Hello, we're here!" to meld into the ever-present reverberant din of a large space with bright, reflective surfaces.

Logan ran up to greet us and then darted into the laundry room to see if his soccer jersey had dried. He's currently got a thing about clothes and dirt and won't abide any kind of stain or soil on his apparel. We followed our noses into the kitchen where eight-month-old Lexie was quietly observing everyone with the sageful eyes of an ancient soul recently awakened and Joy was preparing dinner.

Joy was preparing dinner? My daughter Joy, the one who would so often forget to go to school that the principal had memorized my pager number, was preparing dinner for her family and for us.

That evening we talked, we ate, we played, we sang and we absorbed Joy's and Michael's new world.

Saturday morning, we jumped into the car and headed down I-85 to Spartanburg. Passing the Cherokee County line into South Carolina I began pointing out memories: the exit to Chesnee, the mill town where my mom grew up and my granddad had run the cotton mill; Gaffney's water tower painted to look like a peach and just below it, Hames Music, The Southeast's Musical Instrument, Accessory and Information Store!.

Further down we saw a sign reading: Don't Miss Historic Downtown Cowpens. To be clear, Cowpens would make Mayberry look like a burgeoning metropolis. Driving on I thought about how my mom might have laughed at the sight momentarily losing her hard-earned Yankee accent as she crowed, "Downtown Cowpens! What in the world?"

We pulled off the Interstate and a few minutes later were sitting in front of uncle Johnny's and aunt Wanda's house. Johnny was just locking up the quonset-hut sized shed that serves as his guitar workshop and storage area, the workshop part now occupying a bit less than 10% of its original space.

As a kid, Johnny had always been one of my heros. He was cool. He played guitar. He drove fast cars. One of them, a silver-gray corvette that had been sitting outside his workshop the last time I'd visited was still there in the yard, partially covered with a blue tarp. I thought about spending enough time together where we could get it running again.

Passing more cats and dogs than I could count, we walked up to the house where Johnny had already opened the door to greet us. We hugged and then proceeded to the living room where my dad had been anxiously awaiting our arrival. In November, Johnny had flown up to Lexington, Kentucky to fetch dad in his orange VW turbo-Beetle and relocate him to an independent living center in Spartanburg. A blocked-intestine, emergency-surgery and month-of-recovery later, dad had transferred to an assisted-living center just down the street.

Seeing us, his eyes brightened (of course they always brighten when he sees Iris). He looked good, almost happy.

An hour later, Joy arrived with Logan and we headed out for lunch at the Beacon, a multi-dimensional sensory-experience about which I'd told Iris. However, prior to going, she'd thought I'd been exaggerating. We dined on hash-a-plenty, fried onions, jalapeno-cheese hush puppies, french fries and catfish. Mmmmmm...

After lunch, we adjourned to the Hatcher Garden and Reserve, a public oasis with gorgeous walking trails and plenty of places to sit and talk. As the ladies followed Logan's explorations, I sat and talked with my dad.

He told me about how he'd ended up in the Finnish army at fifteen. His entire high school class had been drafted to help combat the Russian invasion during World War II. Although he'd been two to three years younger than everyone in his graduating class, he'd simply gone with them. One of the examining doctors had noted that he seemed a bit young and had asked whether or not his mother knew he'd been drafted. He'd replied, "Sure."

He talked about coming to the US and wanting to go to MIT. However, having no money and not speaking English, he'd ended up at Worcester Poly-Technic Institute in Worcester, Mass where his dad had taken a job as a minister and he'd found work in a steel mill.

Even at WPI, he'd met resistance. The chair of the english department had refused him admission insisting that he first attend junior college to learn English, but the chairs of the math, physics and engineering departments had overruled him. The disgruntled English department chair had cut dad no slack, insisting he take the same courses as other students. His introductory English course had been Shakespeare which he said had made him a hit at the steel plant, but which he'd failed.

Rather than discouraged he'd been inspired to prove the English chair wrong. He graduated top of his class edging out the next guy by just two-hundredths of a point. He looked at me lost in his memories and said, "It was just so hard to compete when I didn't know the language."

After WPI, he'd received a full scholarship to MIT.

That evening, we all headed up to Saluda, North Carolina to hear Johnny's band play and to participate in a game of who doesn't belong in this picture (for beginners). At dinner as I devoured my black-eyed peas, fried ocra, collard greens and hush puppies, Wanda asked us if we like to dance, and we replied, "Sure! We love to dance."

The thing is, well, umm... First, we didn't have cowboy hats or boots. Second, we were dancing only with each other. Third, well, I think nothing can fully prepare you for the experience of people line-dancing to a countrified version of Prince's Purple Rain. It was awesome!

Sunday night, just before going to bed, Iris talked about our place here and mentioned the black bear who'd tried to steel our barbecue grill last fall. Looking a bit concerned, Johnny headed out to his workshop and returned with a Colt-45 revolver saying, "Iris, you gotta getcha one of these here."

He flipped open the chamber and dumped out five bullets that to my surprise were not uniform. The first two were essentially small shotgun shells that Johnny explained were for snakes and other smaller animals that move quickly. The second two looked like shotgun shells except, rather than buckshot, each contained three large pellets. These were apparently for bears and other home invaders. The last was a conventional .45 caliber bullet to be used when the others didn't work. Johnny reloaded the gun and then spun the chamber so that the last would in fact be last.

Flying home yesterday, I felt deeply satisfied. Iris and I had warped through space and time to share a place I'd known and I'd thought had disappeared.

Happy Tuesday!