Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why's He Doing That?

Iris and I spend lots of time talking about her playroom friends and all the folks who play with them.

There is so much that can be learned from the interaction between children on the autism spectrum and the adults who want to help and support them. You learn a lot about both the children and the adults personally. You learn a lot about what works and what doesn't work. You learn a lot about about human nature and relationships.

We often discuss hostage situations, ones where a child is in full command of the relationship and has rendered the adult helpless. The basic scenario goes:
  1. Child exhibits undesirable behavior.
  2. Adult attempts to stop undesired behavior.
  3. Child responds with increased frequency and intensity.
  4. Adult becomes frustrated, but tries not to appear so.
And so it goes. Before you know it, you have a thirty-something adult at his wit's-end rendered helpless by a seven-year-old child.

Meanwhile, the child behaves differently in the company of other adults and the adult has no challenges with other children. So, the question becomes one of "Why?" Why does this relationship not work when others do?

The shortcut to the answer lies in motivation. Every undesirable action springs forth from a core motivation. Sometimes, the motivation is obvious, sometimes less so, and sometimes you really have to dig to find it. The trick is to get past the superficial motivations and dig down to the core. No matter how much it may seem so, no undesired behavior comes purely from a desire to annoy or terrorize. There's always something deeper.

Shortcut one lies in seeking core motivation. Shortcut two lies in sensory-regulation. Sensory systems (vision, hearing, touch, taste, etc.) vary significantly in how they respond to stimuli. When your sensory systems are optimally regulated, you feel calm, you can focus and listen, and you think more clearly; when they're not, you may feel agitated and restless, it's difficult or impossible to focus, and you can't think. At those points you do whatever you need to do to get your systems regulated. One person shuts out the world seeking a peaceful and quiet environment. Another seeks a cacophony of sight and sound; if she can't find it, she creates it. Regardless of how you respond to stimuli (whether you're under-stimulated or over-stimulated), you probably spend significant time and effort in regulating your systems, trying to achieve that quiesced state.

Although we like to think of ourselves as having core motivations that are of a higher order, much of what we do is simply about feeling good. Feeling good depends largely on the state of our sensory systems. It's just one of those basic things that we humans do.

Applying shortcuts one and two together, you look at an undesired behavior and ask yourself, "How is that helping her to regulate her sensory systems?" Alternatively, by observing the behavior you might also ask, "What sensory systems is he trying to regulate?" Finally, you might ask yourself, "Is this behavior a sign of an over-stimulated system or an under-stimulated system?"

If a child bangs a spoon on a pot, then he's likely trying to stimulate his aural system. He may do this because he's under stimulated generally or he may do it to drown out the stimulation of another system (e.g., his tactile system may be overloaded by the the fabric of his jeans). If a child hits you, or spins in circles, or bangs his head against a wall, or throws things, or runs up and down the room, it's all about regaining a sense of comfort.

Once you dial into the source of discomfort, then the solution lies in providing alternative/desirable ways of achieving comfort and then selling them to the child. By the way, the source of the discomfort may be you, not you personally, but something about your manner or your atire or you fragrance, etc.

There's still some art in the process finding and selling alternatives. Still, but focusing on the regulation of sensory systems, you can eliminate many variables and make the answers easier to find.

BTW, this approach isn't limited to children on the spectrum.

Happy Saturday,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You Got Your Reasons

There's a cute and goofy movie called Dodgeball. You might not want to watch the whole thing, but there is this one scene that I really love. The hero, Peter LeFleur, decides to hang it up just before the finals. He quits the team and the game, without notice, and heads to the airport to leave town. While waiting for his plane, he sits at the airport bar...

LANCE:Hey, aren't you Peter LeFleur?
PETER:Lance Armstrong?
LANCE:Yeah, I'm a big fan of yours. I've been watching the Dodgeball tournament on the OCHO, ESPN 8. Good luck on the tournament, I'm really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo-Gym. Hey, you better hurry up. You're going to be late.
PETER:Actually I've decided to quit, Lance.
LANCE:Quit? You know, once I felt like quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of friends and family, I got back on the bike and won the Tour de France five times in a row. I'm sure you have a good reason to quit.
LANCE:So what are you dying from that's keeping you from the finals?
PETER: Uhhh…Right now it feels a little bit like, umm, shame.
LANCE:Well I guess if a guy never quit when the going got tough, then he'd have something to regret for the rest of his life. Good luck to you Peter! I'm sure this decision won't haunt you forever.

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A couple of days ago, I began a little experiment in linguistics. I began tracking the polarity of verbalizations, i.e., were statements and questions articulated as affirmations (positive) or oppositions (negative). Verbalizations with phrases such as "You should never…" or "We can't…" or "Why doesn't someone…", would tip the scale to the negative side. Phrases such as "You should always…" or "We can…" or "Would you please…" tipped the scale to the positive side.

Although I might have measured the degree of positivity and negativity, I opted simply to count instances. A more lengthy and better funded study would no doubt include weighting factors for amplifiers like "never" and "really" and "absolutely".

My theory was that I would find a relatively even split between the two polarities; however, I was amazed to find that, in a set of 137 verbalizations, the negative outweighed the positive, four-to-one, i.e., 80% were negatively charged and only 20% positively charged phrases (note, I discarded neutral phrases.)

Although I didn't track attribution (I simply counted phrases regardless of who said them), I did notice a pattern that I'd like to go back and test. The relative composition of phraseology among productive and upbeat people seemed to be significantly skewed to the positive side. Of course, the percentage of productive and upbeat people is relatively low, so positive weighting had little effect on the overall average. Nonetheless, it would seem that there may be a path to greater productivity and upbeatness simply through changes to verbalization.

So, I'm inviting you to participate in a Phase II experiment. Over the next four days (today through Friday), monitor your statements and questions looking for negatively and positively charged phrases. 1) Keep a count of each category. 2) Whenever you find yourself making a negative statement, see if you can rephrase in the positive, e.g., "Don't look left!" would become "Look right!"

Ideally, we'd have a control group, one set of folks who didn't change their phrasing and one that did. Actually, we'd have three groups: no change, negative-to-positive, and positive-to-negative. For now, let's just try negative-to-positive polarity switching.

One more thing, keep track the number of phrases that you can't successfully convert from negative to positive. In addition to them being completely useless in-and-of-themselves, they will be wonderful to explore.

OK, that's it. Get out there and track your charges. Let me know what your polarity is.

Happy Tuesday,

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Be a lighthouse

It’s Sunday morning five to seven. I had planned to sleep long this morning but at six thirty Mark found me staring at the ceiling. I told him that I was thinking about Jaedon, Faith’s son. I met and played with him once last year, and he left a lasting impression with me. He is a tall twelve-year old with incredible persistence, unusual interests, and his focus is on creating lots of sensory stimulation.

In the last two weeks I spent many hours playing with kids on the spectrum.  I had my regular hours, did some extra tandem sessions, and brought one of my friends with me for a session, because I believe she would be a great play friend! The parents of one of the kids also organized a team meeting to celebrate all the miraculous changes their son has made and to help us focus on what’s next. And if that wasn’t enough, I also was an observer of a Handle evaluation and implemented the Handle exercises into the playroom setting.

The potpourri of all these experiences brought me to Jaedon this morning. While talking with Mark, we drifted from Jaedon to different interesting and useful places.  We discussed so much that I have not even a clue as where to start sharing them with you, but I am going to give it a try...

Back to Jaedon
When I was with Jaedon in the room that time he was very aware of me. He seemed to constantly be doing things to see how I would respond to it. He almost seemed to have a systematic approach. I can imagine he was talking to himself in the following way: “If I walk through the room most people respond like this, you too? Yes, ok. Now if I do this, you should respond like this... Yes. Now If I do this...Who stop. Don’t do that. Your hands go here. Ok. Let’s try again. Who. No, No, No. That’s wrong. Here.

In this session I decided to not comply with all Jaedon’s requests (or rigid behavior, depending on how you want to label it) but create a pattern of following him in his requests and then change my actions into something new. I would introduce bouncing the ball in our walking pattern, or doing something else unexpected. His overall response to that session with me seemed to be confusion, sometimes a bit of frustration but also curiosity in this weird woman that would not follow his set pattern but create her own pattern closely related to his.

In other words some moments I was joining him, but then I would stop and initiate myself. It didn’t seem appropriate to join him in everything but I would have to look back at the tapes made of that day to see what made me drew this conclusion.

This morning I realized that I was showing him that creating a relationship with me would mean he didn’t have to walk on his toes and be in control all the time. That he could allow himself to relax, because I could think of fun things too. That I would be there for him whatever happened. I was telling him: “he you can trust me even when I do things that are a little different than you do them!” And I am not just going to follow you, I am going to show you different ways that may be unknown to you.

Think about how a pack of gorillas is led by the leader. They trust and follow the leader unconditionally. But if the leader doesn’t lead properly, a revolution happens and a new gorilla will fight his way to the top and become the leader. This is the same with dogs and wolfs.

Once I had a beautiful white Sheppard. When he was only nine weeks old, I started to take him to doggie class. My reasoning was that he would become a big dog and I didn’t want him to be the boss in the house. During the classes Casper showed a very strong willed mind. They called him an alpha male. Luckily for him, I am very strong willed too. They taught me how alpha males fight their way up to be the leader if no leader is around. They showed me very simple tricks that put me in strongly in the seat of a leader. Casper and I created a very strong wonderful relationship. A relationship built on deep trust and love. One in which Casper knew that he could rely on me, and because of that he could relax and enjoy his time wherever he went.


1. reliance on and confidence in the truth, worth, reliability, etc., of a person or thing; faith Related adj fiducial
2. (Business / Commerce) a group of commercial enterprises combined to monopolize and control the market for any commodity: illegal in the US
3. the obligation of someone in a responsible position a position of trust
4. custody, charge, or care a child placed in my trust
5. a person or thing in which confidence or faith is placed

To relax our body and mind we have to feel trust. Without trust our fear system is activated and we cannot relax. The experience of trust is a very personal thing. For me, the belief that I can take care of myself whatever happens, gives me trust. But this is not a belief that a kid carries with them (and many adults don’t believe this either). As a kid you want to trust that your world will be the same tomorrow, that you can rely on your parents, that food will appear on the table that night, or that mama will scare away the monsters from under the bed. A lot of trust is put into the parents, the caregivers, the friends, you, me etc.

Challenging behavior

Last week one of the parents of the kids I worked with approached me. We need some crisis intervention she said. One of the fabulous workers had over a two – three week period gotten to a place where she felt attacked by the six year old. She was bitten and hit in a couple of occasions and the help and training that the parents had given her had not helped turning their sessions back to the fun periods they had before.

We set up some tandem sessions. This meant we went into the room with the three of us. The fist time we arrived in the room the tension was immediately tangible in the room. The little boy was hyper focused and rigid. So, our focus was to quickly join and follow to help him relax his system. But he didn’t go there. Instead he seemed to want to go straight to finding that button that had made their relationship so vulnerable.

He was at edge, and the things she did to calm him and take care of herself didn’t help calming him at all. For an hour we did an improvised dance where we would go one step forward and two steps back. He wanted to go for a walk, we were clear that we would stay in the room and he would get upset. Then he would calm down again. And everything would start all over. I had no clue about what had happened between these two people that had made communication so emotional and I was observing the whole interaction as one big interesting puzzle.

After an hour he walked up to me, looked at me and said “I want to make a” and stopped. He looked at her. He looked at me. He was clearly conflicted what next. He walked away. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to make a deal. This is one of the things he likes to do with all his players. It gives him the feeling of structure and control, while we can use it to introduce new exciting things into his life. So why did he stop?

Then I remembered a comment from the parents that this particular worker had mentioned to them not to like the word deal. Bingo. I thought. I called him back. Do you want to make deal? I asked him very innocently. He excitingly bounced and showed a quick smile after which he recomposed himself. He turned around and looked confused at the other worker. Her quick mind responded, “I don’t like to make deals, but if Iris thinks it is a good idea we can make a deal.”

Back to trust

What has this story to do with trust? I figured out in that session that the woman would avoid subjects where she expected conflict could arise. What if he wanted to have a deal about something she didn’t want to do? What if he refused the deal she wanted to give him? What if he wanted to go for a walk while she had decided to stay in the room?

I told her that conflict is not something to avoid, but that it is about being clear on how to respond when conflict arises. It is about being a leader and setting an example. It is about showing that a conflict is something simple that you can work through together. It is about showing that there doesn’t have to be a conflict in the first place if both are open to negotiation. And that to negotiate she had to know that is negotiable or not. You want to gain the child’s trust. You want to have the child believe that your yes is a yes and your no is a no, and that this has nothing to do with love, respect, or anything else people like to attach to it.

Trust has nothing to do with what you will give or you won’t give. It has to do with the delivery of your message. If you are clear in your intentions, you don’t have to avoid the subject but can instead talk about it. To this woman I gave the example: he wants to make a deal about going on a walk, while you decided you will stay in the playroom. You can easily respond that you will stay in the playroom today, but that you can make a deal about playing a game in the room like writing words about things that you see on a walk.

In three sessions she had turned the playroom back into the fun place it was before, but now with a much better understanding of her role as a leader in their relationship.


Trust is a basic need in a relationship. To help improve the relationship we may have to find out what trust means to our partner. It can be reliability, or consistency. But it can also be clarity, or openness to discuss whatever comes your way. It surely seems to imply honesty, and direct open communication. I like to tell the people in the playrooms that we are not just a friend, but we are the lighthouse in the dark, the light that is always there bright and strong and reliable.

Wow, what a story. And then I didn’t even share with you the discussion we had around motivation (what motivates Jaedon to put things in the fish tank or throw stuff out the window...). We’ll keep that for a next time)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Works for You

I'm often amazed by how vehemently someone will argue for a method that he's proved over and again doesn't work.

That's Not How We Do It
I walk into an "emergency" meeting where a group of engineers is trying to debug what appears to be a systemic problem with a product in the field. They've been at it for days and although they've had some "good" insights into what the problem might be, none of them have panned out.

I start asking simple questions, questions that my colleagues would never ask because they don't want to appear stupid or uniformed. Each answer elicits another question, not a deep or insightful question, just the naive and obvious one. I follow the answers wherever they lead, even if they lead to places that seem irrelevant or a "waste of time".

Before long, someone will interrupt and explain that we have no time for my questions, that we have a problem to solve and that, if I need a better understanding of the product, I should go read a paper or take a course.

I used to try to explain my process at this point, but nowadays I just ignore the comment and continue. It typically doesn't take much time to diagnose the problem and propose a solution. The funny thing is that no matter how many times I show my method to be successful, the engineers will: 1) avoid asking me to participate until things get desperate, and 2) show disdain for my method. They'll argue that my approach isn't the one adopted by the company or established by engineering standards or best known practices. They'll actively argue for a method that doesn't work.

OK, that's not it exactly. If the method never worked, then it would be easy. The real challenge is that a) it works sometimes, and b) it's the best method they know. And therein lies the rub.

The Best
There's a saying that goes: good is the enemy of best. As I think about it, I believe this can be applied to any number of daily situations. First of all, let's talk about the word best. It's a word that I really like because it's so darn useful.

First of all, let's limit the application of best to: best for you. We're not talking about comparison of you to others (who's the best trumpet player or the best runner or the best physicist), we're talking about what method or approach will give you the best results. Best may mean quickest, or cheapest, or easiest, or strongest, or most satisfying, or longest lasting, or any combination. At work it usually comes down to some combination of faster, better and cheaper. At home it may be something completely different. Also, it's important to note that best may mean one thing when you're on your own and something completely different when you're in a group.

Second, let's understand that best is, by definition, a moving target. There exists a vast no-man's land between good and perfect. This is the land of best. It's the existence of this land that tells us that there is room for improvement in our approaches and methods. Were our approaches and methods indeed the absolute best for us, then the results would perfect, not good. The existence of the gap informs us that we can do better.

There's a really cool feedback phenomenon that occurs as you seek the best approach or method. In the moment, the better approach is the best approach. However, through the process of applying the best approach, you learn and can conceive of even better approaches.

This makes doing your best insanely easy. All you have to do is to always be on the lookout for better. By definition, if it's better than what you have been doing, then it will at that point be your best. It's a process known as iterative refinement. Step by step you get better and better and better constantly raising the level of best.

Whose Best?
Over the last week, Iris, Scott and I have had discussions about best approach. Iris and Scott are both creative and talented people with an enormous capacity to learn and grow, a capacity that they both often deny. Over the years, each of them has developed approaches to learning that work for them, approaches with which they feel comfortable. They work well.

So, what's the problem with that? They're each creative and talented people. They each know how to learn and grow. What could be better?

The problem is that definition of best changes when you go from working alone to working with a group. For example, Iris has been learning drums over the past couple months. She's been doing it faster than anyone I've met: so fast in fact, that she's already become the regular drummer for our band No Room for Jello. However, now that she's signed up for the position, she's no longer the sole decision maker in what best means; there are additional stakeholders in her capacity to drum. The band depends on her.

The other night, we discovered two definitional differences to best: time and pressure. Iris likes to take her time to learn new things and she likes to do it when others are not present so that she can work out the kinks, etc. However, with a band and a date to play, time is an unaffordable luxury and pressure the name of the game.

So, we're working on a song where Iris needs to play a small drum fill at a certain break. The fill is something well with in her capacity to play, but it's new to her. Iris responds naturally by retreating to the learning approach that she knows works for her, an approach I know will take much more time than is necessary. So, I suggest another approach. Iris resists. I suggest more strongly. Iris resists more strongly. And so on until I'm way beyond suggesting.

Throughout our exchange Iris uses phrases like, "the way I learn is to" and "I need to", phrases that inspire me to move from suggesting to insisting. The problem isn't that Iris' method doesn't work. It isn't that her "best" isn't "best for her." The problem is that her best isn't best for the band. Meanwhile, having spent thousands of hours learning how to learn music, I was more than confident that I could cut down Iris' learning interval by 90%.

(To be clear, the band is infinitely patient and would have allowed Iris all the time she needed. However, taking that time would have been at odds with accomplishing other things on the band's agenda.)

The next morning as Iris and I discussed the previous evening, she came to the same conclusion; she could absolutely learn in a different way that was much faster. However, the evening before, in the the moment Iris' sense of best seemed certain.

It's amazing how what works for you can be what is working against you, how your sense of best can be your greatest limitation.

Happy Saturday,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why indeed

So, one evening a couple weeks ago, I was standing outside the bathroom while my son Rithvik was washing up after dinner. As he walked out afterwards, I closed the door behind him, but my timing was off just a teeny bit, and the bottom corner of the door gave his heel a solid knock on his way out. Normally you would have heard a howl of “Boo boo!”, but this time he just hopped around a bit on his good leg and turned around to face me. Of course, I was completely mortified, so I gave his heel a little massage and apologized profusely. “I’m so sorry for hitting your foot, Rithvik!”

He replied with one of his Why questions that are getting delightfully common, “Why did Appa hit my foot?” (Appa is Dad in Tamil).

“I closed the door a bit too quickly, Rithvik”, I explained.

Back came another question, “Why did Appa close the door too quickly?”

I said, “It was a mistake, Rithvik; I didn’t mean to close it too quickly”.

He persisted, “Why did Appa make a mistake?”

Nailed! All I could do was shake my head and say, “That’s a good question, Rithvik”.

I guess I could have said I wasn’t paying attention, or that I was in a hurry and wanted to move on to the next thing on my agenda, and so on.

But I’ve been thinking since then, off and on through the vacation we went on shortly thereafter: how utterly simple it is to question what we do. If a 11-year-old with supposedly limited communication skills can stop me in my tracks, maybe we can all do with some of this lack of sophistication.

Earlier this evening I had another chance. While getting Rithvik ready for bed, he piped up, “Are Amma and Roshan coming tomorrow?” His mom and little brother are indeed returning tomorrow from their extended vacation, so I said yes. Something prompted me to dig deeper, so I asked “Do you want Amma and Roshan to come back tomorrow?”

A unequivocal “Yes!” was his prompt reply.

“Why do you want Amma to come back?” I asked, taking it one person at a time.

“It’s Thursday”, he replied.

“That’s right; tomorrow is Thursday. Why do you want Amma to come back on Thursday?”

“I’m going to Clearlake Intermediate school on Monday”.

Hmmm. Good try; entering middle school certainly counts as a major event in one's life. “But you don’t need Amma for that; I can take you to school on Monday. Why do you want Amma?”, I persisted.

“Because. . .”, he paused, “Amma is mother”. Then there was a little more mental hunting for the right words. Then his face brightened up and a big smile appeared. “I LIKE Amma!”

Thanks for telling me so beautifully, Rithvik.

Moments like these are the payoff for all the time and energy invested into clear, honest, loving communication. For being vigilant with every word that is uttered, for making sure that every single “Why” is for a real question, not a judgment, and is followed by a wait for the answer.

A huge THANK YOU to everybody who has ever taught me the value and power of a nonjudgmental question.

Happy questioning,


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Come On Up to the House

Last night we rehearsed a song by Tom Waits, Come On Up to the House. As we added harmonies and instrumentation, the sound took me back to being a kid sitting in my grandmother's kitchen in Chesnee, South Carolina. I drink sweet coffee (a combination of warm milk with sugar and coffee added) and listen to one of my uncle's bands rehearsing in the living room.

It is heaven.

Come On Up to the House
Tom Waits

Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

All your cryin
Don't do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house

Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I'm just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

There's no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house
And your singin lead soprano
In a junkman's choir
You gotta come on up to the house

Does life seem nasty,
Brutish and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can't find no port
Come on up to the house

Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I'm just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

There's nothin in the world
That you can do
You gotta come on up to the house
And you been whipped by the forces
That are inside you
Come on up to the house

Well you're high on top
Of your mountain of woe
Come on up to the house
Well you know you should surrender
But you can't let go
You gotta come on up to the house

Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I'm just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Becoming Statues

The problem with intuition is that it's not intuitive.

What most of us call intuition is simply the outpouring of training so ingrained that it no longer requires thought to be applied. Our minds maintain vast collections of sequences of choreographed thoughts and actions. You experience stimuli. You match the stimuli with one of many recognized stimulaic patterns. You run the sequence associated with that pattern.

It's a form of compression. You take a thousand individual steps, shove them into a package and from then on, all you have to do is remember the name of the package, not all the contents. It's efficient. Imagine how inefficient it would be if you had to be continually aware of all the actions required to ride a bicycle, drive a car, or play a piano. Imagine if you had to do it to walk, talk or breathe. It'd be difficult to do anything else.

The problem with this kind of efficiency is that it's seductive and habit forming. Before you know it, you've packaged choreographies for things like perspective and points-of-view. Your response to a socio-economic statement is no different than your response to a dirty diaper. It's no longer just the formation of syllables and words that's choreographed, it's the entire discussion. Your assessment of individuals becomes a snap-judgment based on pattern recognition and application of associated, predefined responses. It's all very efficient. It's just not always very useful.

I experience this frequently when playing music. I'm good at playing whatever I hear. Over the years I've cataloged patterns that songwriters tend to follow and I can usually tell which one it is before having heard the entire song. Because of this I can learn new songs quickly. I've even accompanied singers performing songs I've never heard. It works great, until someone violates the pattern.

The biggest problem is that my catalog of patterns is so strong that the song in my head can be louder than what is actually being played. When this happens, I end up missing nuances and variations. I have to stop myself and listen to each note. By comparison to what I normally do, it feels inefficient and sluggish. However, it has it's benefits, e.g., playing the right notes.

Since I'm aware that my pattern catalog is so strong, I like to listen to and play music that I've never heard before. Music that uses alternative tunings and chord changes, music that is polyrhythmic, music that is full of surprises, music that evades pattern recognition (at least holistically). I do this quite deliberately. Were I to just roll along with my patterns, I'm quite sure that I'd become a completely unconscious musician, an animated statue.

There seems to be a strong correlation between age and pattern-takeover. We get older, we depend more and more on our catalogued sequences of responses. We become increasingly unconscious. What appears to be a memory-lapse or disorientation or deafness is nothing more than outdated pattern matching and application of the wrong sequenced response.

Pattern-takeover can occur to anyone, anywhere. You may find it in how you respond to your kids or you partner or you in-laws. You may find it in your responses to financial situations or broken appliances or traffic jams. You may find it in what you read or what you don't read. It's long-term effects are significant. However, it's easily avoided.

Where in your life have patterned responses taken over?

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Greatest Force

You wanna know what the single biggest force in your life is? The one that exerts the greatest influence over every decision you make? The one that grows unbated to the point of becoming irresistible? It's not your parents, your spouse or your kids. It's not fear, confusion or doubt. It's not your goals and aspirations. It's not money, or power, or fame, or pride, or lust.

The greatest single influence on everything you do every single day is (drum role): momentum.


Yes, momentum. Compared to momentum, things like relationships, money, desire, power, fear and greed are mear rocks and bolders that roll across your path. Momentum is the path.

Sometimes it's the path you choose, sometimes it's the path upon which you stumble. Regardless, every day you walk a well defined path, a path that varies little. Even when things disrupt your walk, it's likely that your primary goal is to get back to the path.

We humans creatures of habit, or perhaps more accurately, creatures of pattern. Once a lifestyle pattern is established, it's nearly impossible to change it. Sure, we make minor alterations, but the core pattern remains unaltered.

In some ways, that core pattern is akin to the carrier wave in a radio signal. When you tune into an FM radio station, you set your radio to focus on a specific frequency (e.g., 92.3 or 100.5). That frequency is the center of the carrier wave. The music or news or talk shows you hear on your radio are all encoded into the carrier wave by rapidly modulating its frequency up and down. Although the modulated wave form doesn't change that much (e.g., 92.3 doesn't bump into 92.5 or 92.1), the variations you hear in music and speech are significant. There may be so much variation, that you never change stations, never change frequencies. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other stations that you might listen to, ones you don't know exist.

And so go our lives. We flip through the stations to see what's playing. We find one or two that we like and we add them to our presets. After a while, we stick pretty much with the presets. We hear songs we like, we experience variety and change. Before we know it, it never even occurs to us that there are other stations, other life frequencies. When it does, we assume that they're not for us. More often than not, we don't even notice that we've dialed in to a core frequency, that all the disruptions, changes and variances we experience are nothing more than minor fluctuations in our carrier wave.

Why is it important to see this? It might not be. However, if you find yourself at odds with your life, constantly struggling, feeling the odd duck, working for change (at home, at work, in family, in friends, in yourself), it may be time to end the tyranny of momentum and change stations. If you dialed into your life's frequency when you were all about heavy metal, but now you're more about talk radio, rather than trying to convince the station to change formats, you may want to switch stations.

Happy Saturday,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Yesterday

I race towards the open kitchen door.  Who left this open?  I yell in my mind as I grab the open bottle of sunflower seed butter from Jay just before he dipped his entire hand in to scoop out as much as could be removed.  No more butter, I say, in a forced calm voice as I think about all the hiding spots.  My hesitation in thought was all the opportunity needed, and Jay raced out of the kitchen to grab the medicine ball, check the door, find it unlocked, and throw the ball out unto the grass.  I look at him stunned, the butter still in hand.  I had been looking for the keys to lock the front door, when I spied him and the jar of nutbutter.  I experience a confused disorientation.  A nagging thought pushes through....Did he distract me from locking the door with the grabbing of the nutbutter?

As I'm thinking about it, writing about it, I'm so grateful.  I admit to having little access to gratitude as I do lengths through our living room saving birds, fish, checking doors, saving food and generally saving the world (so it feels anyway).  But that's for another day.  Now, I feel gratitude.  Jaedon is a role model for me.  He is the model of persistence. 

These days, he wakes up with one primary survival objective, and 2 secondary goals, mostly for his entertainment:
  1. Eat LOTS of food
  2. Run out through the front door and throw things into the yard and street
  3. Disturb the birds and fish in any of a million ways
Like Pinky and the Brain, Jaedon wakes up and executes his objectives with precision and focus.  For Jay, there is no yesterday.  No, not true.  Yesterday serves only to refine his abilities to go after his objectives with more precision.  He isn't daunted by apparent failures.  There is no such thing as 'physically impossible'.  He is constantly integrating, learning, figuring out better and better ways to get what he wants.  The less focused among us fall prey to his strategies and even his distraction techniques are designed to get him more of what he wants.  In one quick flurry of movement, 3 table spoons of nut butter are eaten, bird bath is overturned and the front door is open and he's climbing over the fence.  It's brilliant!

The brilliance is about to begin again today, so I won't ruminate anymore.  I am so grateful that I have this model of persistence, though.  I see what it's like to go after and get what you want, and only stop when you decide you don't want to go after the goal anymore.  So, I'm going to be Jaedon's spokesperson and give you a message from him:  Never Give Up!  I know you can accomplish whatever is in your heart.  Go for it.  And I'll do the same.

Five Little Words

Over the past couple of days, I been firsthand witness to one of the most criminally-negligent aspects of our systems of formal education. I've watched PhDs scratch their heads for days on end trying to understand why the results they saw were not those expected. I've listened to experts drone on and on about tasks that are impossible, tasks that are accomplished daily be others lacking their expertise. I've heard tales of analysts huddled together over a computer monitor, searching for hours at a time, looking for the error in a massive spreadsheet only to be rescued by a young clerk who after five minutes isolated the problem. I've listened to parents of children with developmental difficulties glide past behavioral clues that shouted, "The answer's right here!" as they described their frustration with a prescribed protocol that "wasn't working!"

The educational negligence? Never having ingrained the following six words in to the minds of our students:What does that tell you? Five little words, that, if asked and answered at the appropriate time, transform the impossible into the simple, the never into the immediate, the formidable into the laughable: five little words rarely articulated.

Of course, there are different ways to phrase What does that tell you?, e.g., why does he do that?

Why Does He Do That?
I sit at dinner with some business colleagues whom I just met. As the evening progresses, the conversational flotilla splits off into pairwise discussions; we drift beyond the safe harbors of technology topics into things personal. Joe, the man who's sat next to me all evening tells me about his son with autism. As he describes their situation, I am moved by the love he expresses in each depiction and I'm compelled by the change in Joe's demeanor.

At six-foot-four and 240 pounds, Joe could be a pro-football player or navy seal. All evening he's exhibited nothing but strength and confidence. As he talks about his son, I see love and compassion. I also see fear, uncertainty and doubt. Joe expresses frustration as he describes the activities his some pursues in order to regulate his sensory system. When Joe describes his son flapping his hands, I ask, "Where does he flap his hands?"

Joe looks at me as if being awakened from a trance and asks, "What do you mean?"

I say, "Well if he's flapping them in front of his eyes, that would tell us one thing. If he's flapping them next to his ears, that would tell us something else. The question you want to ask yourself is, 'Why is he flapping his hands?'"

We sit silently. Joe stares in my direction, but I sense that his mind is far away, retrieving images of his son flapping his hands. A few moments later, Joe says, "Well, I'd say he always flaps his hands near ears. In fact, I can't recall him ever doing it in front of his eyes or even where he could see his hands."

We talk about sensory stimulation and regulation, and how useful it is to understand which systems a child stimulates in order to feel more comfortable. Joe calls up other atypical behaviors, I ask him, "What does that tell us?", Joe answers. Within minutes we've found a common thread and Joe once again looks like the navy seal who has no fear.

What About This Cell?
The salesroom floor buzzes with activity. The new ad campaign with the limited time offer has hit the streets and the phones are ringing non-stop. The spreadsheet that the sales manager uses to track activity and followup calls displays: ERROR in 90% of the cells. A crowd of IT people stoop over his desk trying to find the bug. Every fifteen minutes or so, a new one takes the seat declaring that he's got the solution only to be replaced fifteen minutes later by another.

The sales manager calls together his team and instructs them to use paper and pencil to track activity until the IT people fix the system. The business rolls on, but there will be hours of catch-up work when the shift is done.

Two hours pass. Nothing much has changed with the IT guys except increased volume, perspiration and reddened skin.

The sales manager leans over the cubicle of one of his younger clerks. He asks, "Hey, you know something about Excel right? Could you take a look at the spreadsheet and see if you can tell what's wrong?"

The clerk shrugs, opens a shared folder and pulls down a copy of the spreadsheet that was backed-up at the beginning of the day. He flips from worksheet to worksheet getting the lay of the land and notices an obscure cell that has an error message. The cell seems unrelated to everything else, but he thinks, "Might as well start with the stuff I know is broken."

His assertion is a direct application of the five little words, a shortcut. He sees that someone has inadvertently entered a letter into what appears to be a number cell. He doesn't know what number should be in the cell, but he's pretty confident that it should be a number and not a letter. He types the number 10 and then flips back to the first worksheet, the one that the IT guys have lingered over. The ERRORS have disappeared.

He walks to his bosses cubicle and announces, "I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I know where the problem is."

The IT guys ignore him, but his boss asks the current occupant of his seat to stand and invites his clerk to sit. Without a word, the clerk flips to the obscure worksheet, changes the value in the cell to 10 and flips back to the first sheet. The errors are gone. He turns around and says, "You guys probably know what the number should be. I'm just pretty sure that it should be a number and not a letter."

As he stands, his boss pats him on the back and breathes his thanks. As he walks back to his desk, he hears one of the IT guys beginning to explain how "that couldn't have been the problem."

Five Little Words
Sometimes, if you pay attention, you'll find the clues that lead to solutions to life's biggest challenges hiding in plain sight. The method that transforms these background props into key plot elements is simple; ask yourself, "What does that tell me?"

Happy Wednesday,

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Of dental and mental surgery

“Alright then”, the nurse said in her business-like manner. “We’ll use sevoflurane and no propofol. The anesthesiologist will be here shortly to answer your questions and explain in greater detail”.

“Ok, thanks. Oh, and I hope you won’t use halothane, because apparently it’s no good for kids with issues like his”, I added, motioning to Rithvik who was patiently waiting in a corner.

“No, we don’t use halothane any more”. There was a long, hesitant pause. “You know, I learn so much from parents of autistic kids. They are so informed, they do their research, they bring up stuff that sometimes we haven’t even seen. It’s great”. She left, shaking her head.

And tears welled up in my eyes.

Hmm, that’s strange, I thought, as I watched the nurse disappear behind large double doors. Why would a simple comment like that get me emotional?

Then it came to me. Somebody gets me. What a change, when you’re used to facing only skepticism, condescension or outright resistance. The connection we made there was a very simple one – no big impact, no angels playing harps in the background – yet it stood out due to its rarity.

We were standing in the outpatient surgery waiting area at Texas Children’s Hospital in downtown Houston. There were families occupying each of the enclaves and more outside in the reception area awaiting their turn. It was finally here, the day we’d been dreading for months: surgery under general anesthesia to remove Rithvik’s bad tooth and do other related dental clean-up work.

There was to be a repeat experience soon. A trio of ladies in green surgical scrubs walked up to us. The middle one introduced herself as the anesthesiologist. She was friendly and pleasant, and we quickly jumped into the details of fat-soluble anesthetics and mitochondrial dysfunction. About fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves saying gratefully, “Thank you so much for taking the time; I’m afraid we’re really holding you up”.

“No, not at all!”, Dr Torres protested, holding up a hand. “Your son is the most important patient for us right now, and I want to make sure you’re comfortable with everything before we proceed”.

That really does it for me. Here’s a perfect stranger (especially one wearing this forbidding uniform) prioritizing my son. My eyes filled up with tears again. This time it must have been really obvious, because Dr. Torres continued, looking earnestly into our eyes, “You’re nervous about the surgery, you’re nervous about your son and his challenges, and ...”. I don’t hear the rest, because I’m thinking, “Me, Mr. Got-it-all-together, nervous? Really?“ In the weeks leading up to D-day, at each of the umpteen times Rithvik had asked me “Will Dr. Elsa be gentle with my teeth, Appa?”, I had summoned my most confident demeanor and assured him she would. We had rehearsed the whole routine ahead of time - him inhaling deeply through a mask and then pretending to fall asleep, followed by my best impressions of drilling and filling, and him awaking with healthier, cleaner and fewer teeth in his mouth. On the whole, I was fairly confident in his ability to handle the experience, and optimistic for a positive outcome of the procedure overall. And I had taken it upon myself to pick up Sowmya and Roshan when their confidence faltered.

But I also remembered there was a moment the previous morning. I was making myself a cup of tea, when all unbidden, a vision fluttered into my mind’s eye. I saw a grim-faced doctor emerging from the operating room to announce solemnly that Rithvik didn’t make it - due to a reaction to an anesthetic agent we hadn’t authorized. I saw Sowmya collapse to the floor, and me grabbing the doctor by the collar. But then, just as suddenly as it came, the specter melted away, replaced by a clear and grounded sense of perspective. I guess we all have fears (or to be more precise, outcomes we really don’t want). But we train our brains to operate on those fears in our own unique ways. Some of us dwell on them, some run from them, some handle them objectively, and some like to see, in Teflon’s words, how they can run circles around them. On reflection, I’m seeing that one of the things I like to do is to run a preview of the worst case. My sense of comfort with that scenario is a key parameter that informs the decisions I make. But that’s another post.

I thought it was interesting how easily the sensitive doctor’s remark opened a window to my own mind's workings. And as I now muse on the whole topic of connecting with another human being, I recall a discussion of communication in a book I read many years ago, with a graphic I’m reproducing below.

I forget what the bull’s eye was labeled, but I suspect it would be the name we give to the source of our emotions – heart, soul, spirit, or even deeper, what we call the core of our selves. And I suspect the richness of our relationships with the people in our lives would be in direct proportion to how deeply we connect with them.

Here's to deep connections, rich relationships and fuller awareness of ourselves,


Do You Have to Be So Optimistic?

One of my favorite times of the week is band rehearsal break. After playing for a couple of hours, we'll gather around the kitchen counter or on the couch and talk. Although we may discuss the weather or the mundane topics of daily living, we never do so simply as a matter of conveying information. Any topic, no matter how mundane, always manages to catalyze a philosophical or scientific discussion. (Go figure.)

Yesterday was no different. Over the past weeks and months, Iris has been experiencing difficulty staying on task. This is a relatively new phenomenon for her. In the past she's had no problem holding down a fulltime job, managing an office, taking care of a house, maintaining social activities, etc. However, lately her life has become a gnarled-up wad of loose-ends waiting to be tied off.

In the morning Iris will rise full of motivation and intention. Along the road to completion of one task, she'll get distracted by a side road leading to another task. Down that side road, she'll find yet another interesting side road, and then another. Next thing she knows, she's watched six-hours of America's Next Top Model and her task list has remained unchanged, her intentions unfulfilled.

As Iris shared this phenomenon, Will and Scott shared similar experiences and we delved into the factors that led to them. The sensations and emotions experienced by Will and Iris were remarkably similar, nearly identical. They were also nearly textbook descriptions of ADD (without the H).

On the other hand, Scott's description was quite different. Whereas Will and Iris expressed a sense of overwhelmedness as the profusion of tasks, thoughts and ideas crowded their minds demanding attention, Scott expressed a sense of foreboding. For Scott, the completion of the task only meant something bad, something to be avoided.

The first thing that occurred to me was, given Scott's belief, avoiding the task was the only reasonable thing to do. Think about it. If you have a task at hand that is pure drudgery, one that once completed will only make life worse, why you do it? So, the question for Scott wasn't "Why won't you complete your task?"

The questions were, "Why do you believe the task to be drudgery?", and, "Why do you believe completing it will only make things worse?"

After a bit of discussion, Scott declared, "Well, I guess I'm just a pessimistic person. What can you do about it if you're just naturally pessimistic?"

Will offered that there is now such thing as being naturally pessimistic; pessimism is acquired; it's learned.

I agreed and then thought aloud, "And there's no such thing as a pessimistic person. Pessimism is an activity, not a state of being."

We talked about pessimism and how we often view it as practical and necessary. We talked about Martin Seligman's research that shows it's the optimistic person who will seek help from a doctor when he believes he's sick and not the pessimistic one, how grounded optimism is much more practical than unfounded pessimism.

Scott asked, "So then, how do you become less pessimistic?"

And of course the answer was to become more optimistic.

As someone who others often consider to be ridiculously optimistic, I thought I'd share some shortcuts to optimism.

1. Set Achievable, Short-term Intentions
Each morning, set some intentions as to who you will be today. You can do this for tasks as well, but the main focus is on state of being. Keep intentions simple and doable. Limit their scope to just the day, i.e., no from now on statements. For example, let's say that Joe rubs you the wrong way. You might declare, "Today, every time I see Joe, I'm going to think of something that I admire in him and smile."

2. Abandon Grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it
When you take a let's-get-this-over-with attitude to undesirable tasks, you preclude breaking them down into smaller subtasks. However, the best way to accomplish an undesirable task is to break it down into small pieces. So, don't think about the big in-consumable task as something to be completed as quickly as possible; instead, create a list breaking it down into nice bite-size chunks.

3. Take delight in Small Accomplishments.
I can't tell you how good I feel after cleaning up the kitchen in the morning. I might as well have cured cancer or climbed Everest. Some may see the work as drudgery and my delight as unfounded and silly, but I feel really good about it.

4. Anticipate a Great Day!
Before I go to bed at night, I start thinking about all the things I want to do the next day. I start working through the solutions and getting excited about implementing them. Doing this is like priming an energy bomb for the following morning. I don't wake up groggy and confused. I wake up full of clarity and intent.

5. Treat Everything as an Experiment
The beauty of experiments is that you're supposed to get them wrong, at least the first n times you conduct them. If you're not getting things wrong, then you're clearly not experimenting. When you treat new initiatives and tasks as experiments, you make wrong right.

6. Toot Your Own Horn
How do you congratulate yourself when complete a task? Do you shout, "Yes!" or do you just move on. When someone compliments you, do you graciously accept or do you make apologies? Humility is for pessimists.

7. Take Delight in Others
When you see something done well, no matter how mundane or unremarkable the task may be, compliment the person who did it. Take joy and delight in things done well. Note that this is not effective if done indiscriminately, e.g., dolling out compliments in order to be nice or to be encouraging.

Taking steps towards optimism can completely transform your life and how you experience the people around you.

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Good Ear: Part II

Yesterday, in A Good Ear, we discussed the importance of sensory integration and translation.

Sensory Integration
Sensory integration is what our brains do when coordinating the processing of stimuli that affect multiple sensory systems. For example, when you run, your tactile system lets you know when your foot has hit the ground, your vestibular system (inner ear) lets you know when you off balance, your visual system helps you avoid rocks and gaps in the path, your aural system (hearing) helps you identify potential danger from passing cars, your sense of smell helps you avoid dog droppings. Sensory integration is the process of taking all these sundry inputs and causing your foot to step a little bit to the left or right.

It's important to note that what we often perceive as issues with sensory systems (e.g., not hearing well) have nothing to do with the sensors (e.g., your ears and eardrums), but instead, with the brain's processing of the information recorded by the sensors.

Lost in Translation
Sensory translation is the ability to transform a stimulus from one sensory system into something meaningful to another sensory system. It's the ability to visualize sound. It's the ability to feel as though you were falling when watching a three-d movie. It's the ability to see the fork hit the floor as you hear it. It's the ability to toss a basketball through a hoop.

Each of us has strengths and weaknesses regarding sensory translation. For some of us translating vision into the complex set of movements required to make a free-throw shot comes easily and for others it's nearly impossible. For some, translating scribblings on a page to the motor movements required to play a piano is no problem. And yet, translating what we hear into those same motor movements is daunting.

The problem is not one of hearing. It's not one of being able to play. It's one of translating from one sensory system (hearing) to others (visual and tactile systems).

Once you recognize that there's nothing fundamentally wrong or incapacitating about your inability to play by ear, that it's simply an issue of learning to translate, all that remains is to learn how. As with most things, it's easy if you break it down into steps.

Step 1: Same or Different
This may seem obvious once you hear it, but the first step in learning to translate hearing into playing or singing is to know whether or not you're accurately reproducing what you hear. It starts one note at a time.

You can do this with a piano or a flute or a guitar or with your voice. Have a friend pick a note and play or sing it. Listen to it and try to play or sing the same note. Before you ask your friend whether or not you got it right, ask yourself, "Is what I played what I heard?"

Until you answer, "yes!", don't ask your friend for the answer.

Step 2: Higher or Lower
Step 2 comes into play when you've determined that you're not playing the same note. Then the question is: Is what I played lower than what I heard or is it higher than what I heard?

As you can see, the question itself involves some sensory translation. Low and high are concepts that we can see and feel (through our vestibular systems). Low and high are also aural (hearing) concepts referring to frequency of sound.

So, if the note that you played is different than that note that you heard, was it lower or higher than the note you heard?

Step 3: Use What You Know
You know that you played something different than what you heard. You know that what you played was higher. What do you do?

The easiest thing is to walk (metaphorically) in the direction of the note. If you're higher, walk down. If you're lower, walk up. Slide your finger down the neck of the guitar, one fret at a time. Let your fingers walk down the keyboard. At each step, ask yourself the questions from step one and step two.

Step 4: Tune a Guitar
One of the tools that ruins good ears is the electronic tuner. I can't tell you how many really good guitar and bass players have become completely dependent upon electronic tuners. It their instruments go out of tune while playing a song, they can't quickly identify which string is out, in which direction it's out and then adjust it. Instead, they must wait until the song's conclusion to "tune up" using a machine.

However, tuning a guitar is one of the most efficient ways to develop a good ear.

Each string on the guitar is tuned five steps (half-notes) above the string next to it. The exception is the fifth string which is tuned four steps above the fourth.

For this exercise, we'll assume that the first string (the one closest to your chin when you hold the guitar to play) is in tune. To tune the second string, place your finger just to the left of the fifth fret of the first string and play. Now, play the open second string and follow steps one through three. 1. Same note or different? 2. Lower or higher? 3. Move closer (by turning the tuners at the top of the neck.)

The beauty of tuning a guitar is that it's a simple process and yet it requires many sensory systems. You hear the notes. You see the fretboard. You feel the tuner pulling tighter (higher) or looser (lower).

At first, it may take you a while to get your guitar in tune. But once you've got it, you'll be well on your way to having a great ear.

Step 5: Advanced Tuning
As you tune a guitar, you'll learn that there's the same note and then there's really the same note. Even when the two strings sound pretty darn close, they can be out of tune. You can hear that it's not right. It might bother you a bit, but it's hard to tell why.

This is a great opportunity to improve your aural awareness. Take two adjacent strings on the guitar that are not quite yet in tune. Place your finger on a fret so that both will sound the same note. Play both strings at once and listen.

If you listen closely, you'll hear the volume of the two notes increasing and decreasing at a regular frequency; it's almost like the oscillation you hear from an electric motor or refrigerator compressor. If you adjust the tuning of one string while letting the strings play, you'll hear the frequency of the fluctuation increase or decrease. If it decreases, then you're moving in the right direction. When the fluctuation stops altogether, the notes will be perfectly in tune.

Go Tune A Guitar
OK, that's it for today. I guarantee you that, if you do all the above on a consistent basis, you'll begin to develop an amazing ear. Further, you'll probably get smarter in the process. It's our ability to integrate and translate sensory stimuli that help us "think outside the box" and see answers to questions that can't be seen when you think only in one or two sensory domains.

Don't have a guitar? Pawn shops are full of cheap ones or you could offer to tune guitars for friends. Let me know if you get good at guitar tuning, and we'll move on to more advanced ear training.

Happy Saturday,

Friday, August 5, 2011

How You See It

"What's wrong with Grandpa", Luke asks, his four-year-old eyes full of concern. "Is he sick or sumthin?"

I look at Luke and then at my dad who's prone on the couch sleeping. An occasional shudder passes through his body like the aftershock of a magnitude-seven earthquake followed by a sob the seems to wind its way up the well of his soul and spill out into air.

"Yeah Luke, Grandpa is sick or something."

I look at the mountain of loose papers, receipts, floppy disks and hand-scrawled notes that rise from the kitchen table like a newly formed landfill and flash back to my trash-hauling days and the DuPage County dump, how we'd helped to transform a hole into a mountain one garbage truck at a time.

It's 7:00PM, April 16, 1989, Tax Payer's Eve. Dad's decided he needs some help with his taxes, i.e., he wants someone to do them for him, e.g., me. I sigh, carried away in a stream of thoughts that grows to a torrent as new tributaries empty their burdens into the main flow.

This is going to take all night. Why couldn't he come to me earlier? Why didn't he just take me up on my offer to do his taxes when I had time a month ago? Where was everyone else? Why the hell did he always come to me with this shit? Why can't mom see that he's a drunk, an alcoholic? Why can't she even say the word?

Crash! The sound of Dave's cymbal stand falling over in the basement drags me to the surface and I think, "Shit, the band is downstairs waiting for me!"

They'd been so quiet trying to hear what was going on in the living room above that I'd completely forgotten about rehearsal.

Shit. I better go talk to the guys. There's no way that I'll be able to rehearse tonight.

I cross the kitchen to the basement steps and then turn to the sound of Luke's voice saying, "Dad, I think Grandpa had a accident on the couch. I thought Grandpas aren't sposed to wet their pants."

"No Luke, normally grandpas don't wet their pants, but sometimes they do. I'll take care of it in a minute, OK? Just wait here while I've go to talk to the guys. I'm gonna let them know that grandpa's sick and that I can't rehearse tonight."

As I trudge down the stairs, I hear the commotion of musicians retreating to their normal rehearsal positions. I turn the corner into the studio/garage and see four question marks waiting for answers. Finally, Reigh asks, "Hey man, is everything OK up there? Anything we can do?"

I stare blankly, ostensibly looking at Reigh, but I don't see him. My mind races through scenarios, trying to determine a way to take him up on his offer, but I've never been good at responding to offers for help. My mind reenters the present and I say, "No man, thanks. I'm just not gonna be able to rehearse tonight. You guys go ahead and play, or whatever you want to do. I've got to get back upstairs."

I bound up the stairs hoping to reinvigorate myself with some motion, turn the corner into the kitchen and see Luke dutifully stationed by the living room door, keeping and eye on his grandpa. Luke turns and says, "He's not doing anything, dad. He's just kind of lying there. I think he mighta been crying or something."

"Thank you for watching Grandpa, Luke. You want to help me sort these papers?"

Luke beams as if I'd just asked him if he wanted to go to a baseball game. "I can help?"

"Yeah, Luke. You can help. But first, I'm gonna help Grandpa change his pants. You wait for me here, OK?"

I go into our bedroom to retrieve some sweatpants. In the living room, my dad is snoring loudly.

"Dad, let's get you out those wet pants and into something dry."


I wrestle off his soaked khakis and underwear, toss them on the floor, work the sweatpants up his legs and under his butt, and then march the sodden clothes down to the basement and toss them into the washer. My dad never wakes. The couch will have to wait until morning.

Back in the kitchen, I pull up two chairs and sit down. Luke climbs on the chair next to me, rubs his hands together like he's about to dig into a box of new toys, and looks at me waiting for instruction.

I haven'I got a clue as to what to do with him. With a sigh, I reach into the pile, pull out a crumpled bank statement and say, "OK, see this piece of paper. It has green across the top and a little tree in the corner. I want you to find all the papers that look like this one and stack them on the counter over there. Can you do that?"

We dig in. Within 10 minutes, Luke's ready for another assignment. I can't help but laugh to myself as I watch Luke's energy and enthusiasm. Slowly my mood changes and I join him.

Around ten o'clock, we feel the garage door rumble below us as the guys leave. Luke and I have worked through three quarters of the pile and things are starting to look pretty good. By midnight, Luke sleeps peacefully, curled up on a blanket on the floor next to me. I've got all the data entered into my Mac. A couple of passes to check everything over and I'll done.

Two o'clock. Everything's filed and stacked into boxes. The forms are printed waiting for signatures. I carry Luke to bed. He wakes for a moment as I cover him. "Dad, did we do it?"

"Yeah Luke, we did it. All done. Good job."

I drape a blanket over my dad. Drop into the recliner and close my eyes.