Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How Hard Could It Be

I'm not a big misser. It's one of the benefits of ADD; I'm easily distracted. By the time most people have just begun to sink into the depths of longing, I've, um, well, moved on. A new destination rolls over the horizon in the landscape of my mind and I jump back on the bus that we call life.

It's not that I forget. I just don't miss. I don't miss places. I don't miss things. I don't miss people. My not missing leads to better not-forgetting. I remember, well, everything.

Nope, I don't miss, at least not in that deep-longing, can't-get-over-it kind of way.

However, sometimes while riding the bus to a new destination, I miss. I sit in the back of the bus gazing out the window at nothing in particular and puzzle. I puzzle a lot. I puzzle and puzzle and puzzle and then... eureka, the puzzle yields, the answer emerges. I pull out my iPhone to text my discovery to my friend Jonathan. Half way through my exuberant explanation it occurs to me that Jonathan's gone and I miss. I don't miss often. I don't miss for long. However, when I do miss it's as though all the long and frequent missing that most people experience gets packed it into a tiny, high-voltage delivery system and bam.

And then I get distracted.

When Jonathan first found out that he had cancer, he called me to tell me how we were going to figure it out. "How hard could it be?", he said.

I agreed. Jonathan did the academic legwork, consuming volumes of text, filtering out the junk and distilling the core. He'd tell me what he'd discovered. I'd tell him what I'd figured out. We'd conjecture, hypothesize, argue and refine. I'd puzzle, he'd study. We were a good team.

I'd text him saying, "I've been thinking about thus and such and there's no way that..."

He'd text back saying, "You're right. I'm gonna ask my doctor about..."

Our conversations were, well, different. To an observer it might have appeared that we couldn't hold course, that we jumped from idea to idea, topic to topic. It wasn't that. It was just that we didn't spend time on the obvious stuff. We'd simply move from peak to peak and skip over the valleys of verbal filler and unessential prose. Neither of us felt the need to express ourselves. Neither of us needed to be heard. We talked to further our effort.

I miss that.

We were squadron-leader and wingman roaring through mazes of computational complexity and multilevel abstraction, each pushing the other to go harder, faster.

Our flying time was limited to times when we were alone, or when we were with just Iris. Others would feel uncomfortable with our banter. Jonathan would attend to their discomfort, listening to complaints about carpet colors or boasts of drinking prowess. I'd sit quietly puzzling.

In the end, we ran out of time. In one of out last conversations, Jonathan said, "Nothing that anyone is working on is going to work. They're chasing the funding, not the problem."

"I know", I said. "No one's getting back to the source. All the treatments are always a step behind and it's only by chance that they work."

Jonathan said, "If only I'd taken that inorganic chemistry course. If only I had access to some good labs and lab techs. If only I had more time."

I asked, "What would do?"

But Jonathan, didn't respond. He'd decided that he wouldn't have the time and he wasn't one to hang onto old plans. He was done.

We'd have figured out. After all, how hard could it be.

But sometimes you just run out time. Then you choose. You get back on the bus, or you don't.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eila's Eve

Of the 36,524 days in the 20th Century, Chicago’s temperature fell to -20 or lower on only ten of them. Two of them occurred in January, 1982: January 16th, when the temperature plummeted to -25 (that's -32 Celsius) and the 17th when it dropped to -23. In fact, there were only two days in the 20th century that were colder, Jan 10, 1982 and Jan 20, 1985.

Why do I bring this up? Well, you see, our little red Ford Fiesta was designed more for the south of spain than it was for the suburbs of Chicago. It didn't like to go out in cold weather, preferring peaceful days in the parking lot outside our garden apartment to the hustle and bustle of salt-encrusted roadways. I had to coax and coddle it for it to consider starting. Even after physically warming the engine by covering it with a blanket and piling on bricks I'd heated in the oven, it often insisted on a jump.

So the night of January 16, 1982, I got up every forty-five minutes or so and went outside to start the engine, just to be sure.

You see, earlier in the evening Rene had begun reorganizing furniture and cleaning everything. Really, everything. Once she started, she couldn't stop. She emptied the kitchen cabinets, piling the contents on the round pine table I'd built before we were married, and then scrubbed every last nook and cranny before papering the shelves and returning the contents. She washed all the dishes, pots and pans--the ones that had been in the cabinets. She scoured the counter tops with a sponge and Ajax cleanser and then decided to apply the same treatment to the floor.

There was no stopping her; she was obsessed. The furniture in our tiny living room had to be rearranged, three times. We had to change all the bedding and wash the curtains. And the bathroom, well you can imagine.

The last time I'd seen Rene this way, the only time, was December 1, 1979, the night before Joy was born, or "Joy's Eve" as we used say. So, as Rene began rinsing the soup cans, I had an epiphany. January 16, 1982 was about to become Eila's Eve. All I could think as I reassembled the stereo components for the third time, as I replaced the screws before reattaching the the toilet seat, as I ran a Clorox-drenched rag down the back wall of our bedroom closet was: What about the Fiesta?

So on the third-coldest night of the twentieth century, every forty-five minutes or so, I pull up my boots, pull down my hat, don my parka and walk out to the parking for a therapy session with our little red Fiesta. About 3:15 AM, I begin to think, OK, we're good. We're gonna make it. About 4:30, I stifle a cry as a vicelike grip wrenches my shoulder and drags me out of a beautiful dream in which the Fiesta was starting over and over without even a hint of hesitation.

"Ow!", I say.

Rene says, "My water broke."

I look at the clock. Shit, I missed a therapy session. I race outside coatless, shoeless and hatless, praying, "Oh please, oh please, oh please!"

I yank open the door, slide into the driver's seat, slot the keys and crank the engine.

Nada.

Na... da...

I close my eyes and sigh.

"It didn't start, did it?"

I lift my forehead from the steering wheel. Rene's standing beside the car, her packed bag in one hand, my boots, hat and coat in the other.

"Nope. We're gonna need a jump."

Twenty minutes later Rene's dad and her four younger brothers pile out of his car. Mike flips up the hood of the Fiesta and John the hood of the Cressida. Jimmy grabs the jumper cables from the trunk. Casey takes the wheel of the Fiesta, and Jack, Rene's dad, shouts out the occasional order as he explains to me why I should have bought a Toyota.

Jack revs the Cressida's engine as shouts to Casey, "OK, give it try!"

The Fiesta's engine coughs, hesitates for a second, and then, vroom.

I thank Jack and the guys for their help, promise to return to our discussion regarding the merits of Toyotas, and jump into the car next to Rene. She waves as we back out of the parking lot and head west to Geneva, to the hospital where Rene's four brothers and my three kids were born.

Eila Rose (or Eilarosamundo as I like to call her), joined us a few ours later. Thirty years later, the exceptionalness of the night preceding her birth seems more than appropriate.

And that's the story of the very first Eila's Eve.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

Friday, January 27, 2012

This Town Ain't Big Enough

Lassiter: I don't want to throw out five crazy theories, just to get one right. I am a police detective and police detectives do not surmise that banks were knocked over by groups of angry cats with laser beams.

Sean: I never said they were angry; they were simply following orders.


This town ain't big enough for the both of... uh... me.

I think Yosemite Sam added 'comma-rabbit'.

Huh?

When he said it to Bugs, he added the word rabbit at the end, you know: this town ain't big enough for the both us, rabbit. He kinda bit into the word 'rabbit' for emphasis.

OK, but what's that got to do with, uh... what were we talking about?

Your were explaining that you might not fit in here.

Oh yeah, I mean, no. I didn't mean fit as in match or be accepted or, well maybe I did somewhat, but what I really meant is fit as in size... uh, you know, like ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound sack.

So are you the shit or the sack?

Sigh... I guess I'd be the shit.

So you feel like shit?

No, well yes, sometimes, but that's not what I meant.

Well then what the heck do you mean? You're the one who brought up feeling like shit-in-a-sack.

I was just trying to illustrate what I meant by the word 'fit'. Okay, forget about the shit-in-a-sack reference. What I meant to say was that I feel too big for this organization and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Too big? You're like five-foot-ten. You're not even the biggest person here, let alone too big.

Not too big physically, too big, um... experientially. God, I suck at explaining this.

At least that's something we can agree on.

Thanks.

You're welcome.

Let me try again if I may.

Go for it.

Like most companies, our company has various positions each with defined roles and responsibilities.

Uh, huh.

And like most companies, roles-and-responsibilities are defined by department, e.g., finance, shipping-and-receiving, sales, marketing, physical design, and software engineering.

Right, so far.

We expect the marketing people to write marketing materials, the finance people to do financial planning, the executives to create board presentations, and the software guys to write software.

Look, you're not telling me anything new here. What's your problem?

My problem is that I can do all the above.

What? You mean like you can write marketing materials, develop financial plans, create board presentations and write software?

Yeah.

Wow, that sounds just terrible. Poor you.

No that's not the point.

Then what is the point? You're right about one thing; you do suck at explaining this.

Yeah, I do. It's just that I can do a lot more than my title would suggest and I can do it really well.

So your problem is that you don't have enough work to do? Cuz I can fix that.

No. The problem is that I have too much work to do, at least too much work given the output level. I could get a lot more done with a lot less work if I had more responsibilities.

That makes no sense.

Sure it does. It's all about communications overhead and cost of synchronization. If you've got a single supplier who can provide everything you need, it's less work than trying to coordinate multiple suppliers, right?

Yeah, but the single supplier may be more expensive than being your own general contractor.

But what if he's not? What if he's way cheaper than doing it yourself with a bunch of individual suppliers?

That's never the case. There'd have to be a catch.

But what if it were and what if there weren't?

There you go again.

I mean, what if it were... uh... What if it was the case that a single supplier was faster, better and cheaper and what if there wasn't a catch?

Well, I'm not agreeing that it's possible, but if it was, I'd go with the single supplier. Shit, I'd probably try to hire him.

Uh, huh... So...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

No Words

I'm never at a loss for words... almost, never.

It might be due the fact that unlike most people, my words don't begin life in my brain as prenatal thoughts that slowly gestate to maturity, then pass through the birth-canal of my throat and pop out my mouth fully-formed. Nope, my words just show up in my mouth all growed-up. My brain seems always to be the last to know, finding out what I said just like everyone else, by hearing the words and wondering, "what the heck?"

If my brain's distracted working on a problem or a bit inebriated by a glass of wine or just plain old hyped-up and five miles ahead of the conversation, my words can come as complete surprise.

Yeah, I'm never at a loss for words, even when I think I am.

Ah... but what about the "right" words? The appropriate words? The best words?

Well, I guess that's a matter of what you mean by right, appropriate or best. There's always better, so best is just a matter of what you've got in the moment. In the case of having or not having words, then the good words spoken are still better than the best words unspoken. So best is a moving target. Sometimes you need to start with less than best just to get the ball rolling.

Right is a funny one; you've got your righteous right and your factually-accurate right and your less well understood because-it-works right. I'm not a big believer in the first one and actively make it not a goal that my words be righteous. I try to be factually accurate, but when in doubt opt for clarity in the moment over factually-accurate later (the former providing immediate opportunity for correction if my assumptions are wrong).

In the end, the most important question to be asked about the rightness of words (righteous or not, accurate or not) is: did they work? You see, that's the beauty of words. They're never uttered without purpose. The measure of their rightness is directly proportional to the degree to which they accomplish that purpose.

Appropriate is something I've never been able to figure out. All I know is that my idea of appropriate is often misaligned with the ideas of people around me. Over the years I've undertaken initiatives to be more appropriate and they've been as effective as Mark Kaufman's many diet plans. Seems that whenever I try to be appropriate, I just get a headache and everyone around me gets confused. Let's just say that appropriate is as appropriate does; I trust that my words are appropriate in the moment; otherwise my mouth wouldn't have said them, right? They must have seemed appropriate to my mouth at the time.

Over the past twenty-four hours or so, my mind has been conducting a moratorium on words. I must say it nearly worked, that is, until I got up this morning and started typing. Did I mention that words sometimes form in my fingers? It's a little backchannel path that my mouth uses when my brain takes over.

Yup, I got up this morning and just started typing. You see, I have this friend who was so much bigger than life that life could no longer hold him and he moved on. And I... Hey, that reminds me.

A pause to google.

Too Big for this Town
Jonathan and I often quipped using movie references. We shared a favorite scene from the movie, Big Fish. In this scene our hero, Edward Bloom, confronts a giant. The scene begins with Edward describing his youth...

EDWARD NARRATES
Most times a person grows up gradually while I found myself in a hurry.

My muscles and my bones couldn't keep up with my body's ambition. So I spent the better part of three years confined to my bed with the encyclopedia being my only means of exploration.

I had made it all the way to the G's hoping to find an answer to my "gigantificationism" when I uncovered an article about the common goldfish.

"Kept in a small bowl, the goldfish will remain small. With more space the fish will grow double, triple, or quadruple its size."

It occurred to me then that perhaps the reason for my growth was that I was intended for larger things.

After all, a giant man can't have an ordinary-sized life.

As soon as my bones had settled in their adult configuration I set upon my plan to make a bigger place for myself in Ashton. I was the biggest thing Ashton had ever seen. Until one day, a stranger arrived.

THE SCENE OPENS WITH A LITTLE GIRL SCREAMING
Doggy! My doggy! My doggy's trapped!

A CROWD FORMS AROUND THE MAYOR
Calm down. Calm down, everybody. Calm down. That's enough.

Mr. Mayor, he ate an entire corn field.

He ate my dog.

If you ain't gonna stop him, mayor, we will.

MAYOR
I won't have mob violence in this town.

EDWARD
Now, has someone tried talking to him?

MAN 1
You can't reason with him.

MAN 2
He's a monster.

EDWARD
I'll do it. I'll talk to him. See if I can get him to go.

MAN 1
That creature could crush you without trying.

EDWARD
Oh, trust me, he'll have to try.

EDWARD WALKS TO THE SPOT WHERE THE GIANT WAS SEEN

EDWARD
Hello? My name is Edward Bloom, and I wanna talk to you!

GIANT
Go away!

EDWARD
Now, I'm not going anywhere until you show yourself!

GIANT
I said, go away!

EDWARD
Armed with the foreknowledge of my own death I knew the giant couldn't kill me. All the same, I preferred to keep my bones unbroken.

GIANT
Why are you here?

EDWARD
So you can eat me. The town decided to send a human sacrifice and I volunteered. My arms are a little stringy, but there's some good eating in my legs. I mean, I'd be tempted to eat them myself. So I guess, well... If you'd just get it over with quick, because I'm not much for pain, really.

GIANT
Go away

EDWARD
Oh, come on! I can't go back! I'm a human sacrifice. If I go back, they'll think I'm a coward. I'd rather be dinner than a coward. Here. You can start with my hand. It'll be an appetizer.

GIANT
I don't want to eat you. I don't want to eat anybody. I just get so hungry. I'm just too big.

EDWARD
Did you ever think that maybe you're not too big, but maybe this town is just too small?
I've heard in real cities there are buildings so tall you can't even see the tops of them.

GIANT
Really?

EDWARD
Oh, I wouldn't lie to you. And all-you-can-eat buffets. Now, you can eat a lot, can't you?

GIANT
I can.

EDWARD
So why are you wasting your time in a small town? You're a big man. You should be in a big city.

GIANT
You're just trying to get me to leave, aren't you?

EDWARD
What's your name, giant?

GIANT
Karl.

EDWARD
Well, mine's Edward. And truthfully... Well, I do want you to leave, Karl. But I want to leave with you.

GIANT
You think this town is too small for you?

EDWARD
Well, it's too small for a man of my ambition. So, what do you say? Join me?

GIANT
Okay.

EDWARD
Okay.



Happy Thursday,
Teflon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Passing On



Our beloved friend Jonathan Harwood passed away this morning.

You'll find his picture in the dictionary under the word friend.

We'll miss him.

Another Good Job

OK, you can do it, you can do it.

Type. Sweep. Cut. Paste.

Hold breath.

Click debug.

Watch screen.

See chart.

Notice lack of breathing.

Breath.

Notice results.

Wow, it worked! I totally nailed it on the first run.

That's what I'm talkin' bout. Friggin' amazing what I can do.

OK, now let's add the labels.

I've been working for the last few hours writing graphics routines that will dynamically generate pie charts, bar charts and column charts based on results from database queries. I spent time with a bunch of off-the-shelf charting packages like Google-charts, but none of them do what I want them to do. The layouts look fine for simple data, but they get all out-of-sorts when you run more complex queries.

So I decided to write my own graphics library to draw charts.

I'm not sure how meaningful the above sentence is if you've never written software. Many software developers would consider the creation of a graphics library that automatically generates charts from database queries to be a substantial undertaking. It requires an understanding of graphics, of databases, of web protocols, javascript, php and sql. The diversity of the required skills mandates a team effort. The scope of the project requires planning and design.

Given the required cost and effort, and since there are readily available charting packages (limited as they might be), writing a charting library is not something many would do. And of course, they'd likely never do it if they needed to deliver it the next day.

The thing is, well, I've had a lot on my mind lately and something really challenging (i.e., impossible) and self-contained (doesn't require any other people or resources) might be a nice distraction. So yesterday at about 2:00 PM I began writing my charting library.

There's something about solitary challenge that I find to be regenerative. I like sports where it's just you and the challenge. I avoid exercise classes or gym memberships and team sports. I avoid sports where you compete with other individuals. I prefer to compete with the mountain, the road or the weight. I prefer to compete with myself.

I think that's one of the reasons I love programming as much as I do. It's you, the idea, the computer and the deadline. There's no right or wrong way to do it. You either get it done or you don't.

It's 7:00 PM. I've been typing, sweeping, clicking, cutting, pasting, reorganizing, deleting, compressing and expanding for five hours. I haven't once run the program to see if any of what I've written will work.

I look at the line counts: just over two thousand lines of new software. I load up a query, hit the run button and wait. A nice three-d pie-chart appears on my screen. The sizes of the slices are all consistent with the data. When I mouse-over a specific slice, a popup tells me what the slice represents and what its value is.

The process must be strange to observe. I talk to myself. I hold my breath as if watching a climactic battle between hero and villan. I shout encouragement. I cheer. I tell myself that I'm doing a great job.

Yup, it's got to be pretty weird to watch. Yet, it works for me.

It's kind of funny how our paradigms of encouragement seem always to depend on words from others. How we often shun self-congratulatory statements. What if we didn't need others to encourage us? What if we each contained all the encouragement we ever needed?

When's the last time you told yourself, "Good job!"

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Good Job

Tommy walks up to our table and waits, careful not to disrupt our conversation. His white apron draped over black pants enters my field of vision. I excuse myself from our conversation and look up.

Tommy stands at attention, his order pad in one hand, his pen in the other.

Mr Tumenoska, may I say something to you?


It doesn't take many words for you to know that Tommy's from Southie.

Sure Tommy, what would like to say?

I just wanted you to know that I think you did a very good job raising Eila.


Eila and Tommy work together at a popular Harvard Square restaurant. They're both twenty-two and Eila was just promoted to manager."

Thank's Tommy. Why do you think so?

Uh... Well first of all, she's a very honest person. She doesn't hide what she thinks or talk behind your back. She's the kind of person you can really trust.

I agree, Tommy. With Eila what you see is what you get.

Also, she's a very fair person and she never gets angry or mean.

Anything else?

Yeah. She's like, always happy.

I agree with you Tommy. Eila's a pretty remarkable person, though I'm not sure how much I had to do with it.

Well, take it from me Mister T, you did a good job.


Of course, if you were ask Eila, she'd give you a different take on the situation. I remember people asking her questions like, "What did your parents do that caused you to be turn out like you did?"

Eila's response was always something like, "Nothing! I'm the way I am because that's who I decided to be . My parents didn't do it; I did!"

In the grand discussion of nature versus nurture, there's a missing ingredient: will. One might say that a child's will is in his nature; one could argue that it's developed through nurture. However, it's hard to take something as influential in the development process as a child's will and make it a byproduct rather than a causal factor.

At the end of the day, we are each the person we decide to be.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, January 23, 2012

Whatever

Whatever...

Whatever what?

You know, WHAT EVER!

Uh... no, I don't know. Whatever?

Ugh... are you just stupid or something?

I guess.

Wait! You really think you're stupid.

No, I think that you think I'm really stupid.

Whatever!

Whatever what?

Hmph... OK, let me trie and explain it to you.

Please.

Look, you think you know so much, but you don't know shit.

OK.

OK? OK what?

OK, I don't know shit.

Yeah. You don't.

Yup.

So, uh... Wait, you agree with me?

Yeah, I have no clue as to what you're talking about.

I'm talking about how you always think you know what I'm thinking like you really know me or something. But you don't know me.

I don't know you?

Don't go disagreeing with me!

I'm n... OK.

So, you agree that you don't know me?

If by "know me" you mean that I have you all figured out, then nope. I don't know you.

So, uh.

So I don't know you, now what?

Now, uh.

Do you want me to get to know you?

Well... yeah, of course.

How would you like me to do that?

Well you could start by showing some friggin' interest in what I'm doing.

What are you doing?

See, you don't even know what I'm doing!

No, I just asked you, "What are doing?"

Well why'd you ask that?

First, because it seemed important to you that I know what you're doing and it also seemed important to you that I don't know already. Second, I want to know what you're doing because I'm interested.

Why?

Well, it really has nothing to do with you. I'm just generally interested in the things that people do, but mostly the things for which they're passionate. In a sense, there's nothing special about you in that regard; I'm just interested in people.

You're saying that I'm not special?

Uh... yeah, I guess I am. I'm interested in knowing what you're doing because you're someone in my life. I'd like to find out what you consider to be interesting and important.

But you're not interested in just "me?"

Well, no, at least not as a physiological or spiritual entity. After all, as you pointed out, I don't know you. I'd like to get to know you, at least to start. After that, I might conclude that you're not particularly interesting; I might conclude that you're fascinating.

That's so screwed up!

What is?

That you're only interested in people who are interesting to you, that you're not interested in the people who you should be interested in.

Whatever.

You should be interested in me. How could you not?

Why should I find you interesting? As you point out, I don't even know you and it seems that you're not much interested in sharing anything.

That's crazy! We're related. We're family. You have to find your family members interesting.

Why?

Because... well, I mean... hmm... What would happen if everyone just decided to be interested only in people they thought were interesting?

I don't know. What would happen?

Uh... It would be horrible.

Why?

Because... Well, I don't know. I mean, what if no one found me interesting?

What if?

I might end up completely alone.

You might.

How can you say that!

How can I say what?

That I'm going to end up completely alone! You're so cruel: scaring someone by telling her that if she doesn't become interesting she's gonna end up all by herself with no one to love her.

I told you that?

Your certainly did!

So, why is it that you want me to get to know you?

Whatever!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chronic Bastardism

An important distinction that I often speak of but generally fail to communicate is that between predisposed or predestined. Semantically, the distinction is similar to the one between likely and assuredly: might happen versus gonna happen. What makes the distinction important is that pretty much everything you believe is predestined, isn't.

To be clear, I'm not talking about the Calvinistic view of predestination, or in the vernacular, "God made me this way." I'm talking about aspects of who you are that you might qualify as "just the way I am" or "I'm someone who".

You see, there's very little about you that is immutable and most of you is highly mutable, like Michael Jackson's Black & White Music Video mutable. Yup, you can completely change the fabric of you.

You might object saying, "There's no way I can change my height from 5'2" to 6'4"!" or "Look, I could never play chess like Bobby Fischer." or "My disorder cannot be cured. It will be with me for life."

You might be right. However, I would ask you to consider four points.
  1. For millennia we humans have dismissed the things we don't know how to do as being impossible.

    It's only been the fools who didn't know something was impossible that changed the game.

  2. You'll always be able to find exceptions to pretty much anything. The question would be: what percentage of all things do the exceptions constitute?

  3. Speaking of exceptions that disprove the rule, another question would be: Are you throwing out that exception to prove a point or do you really want to go from 5'2" to 6'4"?

  4. Believing you can't get from point A to point B doesn't mean that you're stuck on point A. You can still get to points C, D or E.

Functional Difference
It might be helpful to consider the functional differences between predisposition and predestination.

Consider a child with autism. Most people would see his symptoms as predetermined. They may be the effects of something genetic, something environmental or both. There's not much you can do about them. They are what they are.

Another perspective would be:
There's no such thing as autism. Instead, there are sets of behaviors and responses to stimuli that we tend to classify as autistic. When people exhibit some subset of these behaviors and responses, we say that they have autism.

However, saying that they have autism is inaccurate since no one knows what causes the behaviors and responses. There is no autism per se, no identified causal entity, no clearly identified physical state; there's only a loosely-defined set behaviors and responses.

To say that someone has autism would be akin to saying that someone has pessimism or bastardism. It's to take set of behaviors and call it a syndrome or disorder. All we can really say is that some people seem predisposed to exhibit these behaviors and responses, and others don't.

You might be thinking that this is all semantic gobbledigook, but it's not. You see, if you see someone exhibiting a set of undesirable behaviors and responses as his simply being predisposed to them and not predestined to them, then you can do something about them. Moreover, you gain insight into what to do.

Chronic Bastardism
In some ways, autism, alcoholism, depression, anxiety and other collections of behaviors that we've dubbed as disorders are no different than right- and left-handedness.

Someone who is left-handed is so because early on her left was easiest to use; it provided the path of the least resistance. At first the disparity between left and right was small. However the more she used her left hand, the greater the disparity. Had she been unable to use her left hand for some period of time, she would have ended up right-handed. She was predisposed to use her left, not predestined.

In other words, predisposition is your path of least resistance. If you want to change something about you, you either increase resistance on one path (e.g., eye patches to help lazy-eye) or decrease resistance on other paths (e.g., practicing with your opposite hand.)

Some are predisposed to math and science, others to music and art. Some are predisposed to athleticism and agility, others to thought and analysis. Some are predisposed to social interaction, others to internal reflection.

So for the most part, who you are is the outcome of your having followed thousands of paths of least resistance. Changes to who you are have come at times when the resistance levels changed. Something blocked one path forcing you to choose another; as a result, you changed.

There are gazillions of things that you might consider to be not in your bailiwick, beyond your ken, or out of your reach.

They're not.

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More Than Completely Wrong


At some time over the past couple of days you may have discovered or remembered that you have the capacity to be completely wrong about a person, about a place or about a thing. Moreover, you may have come to accept your employment of that capacity on a regular basis as being: just fine.

If so, congratulations! You may well have eliminated greatest barrier to optimal learning and development. You see, being open to being completely wrong is the single most critical factor when trying to learn. It's more important than having the best teachers. It's (kind of by definition) more important than everything you've learned so far. It's more important than memorization or practice.

The key to optimal learning is the willingness to toss out everything you've learned... no matter how long you've employed it... no matter how successfully it's worked... no matter how many people believe it... no matter how respected a person taught you it.

Really! As soon as you're willing to toss out everything you've learned and believed, you're ready to learn.

Note that the active verb is "willing" and not "toss out". This simultaneously makes things easier and harder: easier because there's no mandate to actually toss out anything; harder because you never really know about willingness until it's accompanied by commensurate action.

Profession and Practice
Indeed, it can be challenging to reconcile disparities between belief and action. Each of us is full of them. The two most common methods of reconciliation are denial and situational ethics. The two may in fact make the strongest case for belief in reincarnation as they manifest anew in each generation and group.

Denial is easy to do. Although common side-effects of longterm use are too numerous to list here, they largely resemble those of repetitive-stress-induced injuries.

Approaches to denial include:


SimpleThis is your bread-and-butter format best delivered with a splash of indignation. Popular utterances include 'No I don't!', 'I would never...' and 'How could you think that I would ever...'
SemanticThis form is often employed in response to simili and analogy. It provides a great way to pivot past a pesky point and charge down an avenue of distracting irrelevance. When someone compares your disparity between word and deed to an atrocity committed by Myanmar's reigning regime, you say something like, "No, it's totally different..." or "How can you compare my actions with..."

In a flash the conversation shifts from your apparent hypocrisy to the other's lack of tact.
JustifiedThe most powerful and dangerous form of denial, justification, is difficult (if not impossible) for others to overcome and the most debilitating to the denier. Justification allows you to look your word/deed-disparity straight in the eye and say, "I don't care!"

One who is justified may appear to be out of denial; he see's the disparity and accepts it for "good" reasons. However, all she's actually done is to wrap up one layer of denial in another. The justification form of denial is typically used to reconcile your more egregious forms of activity to your more altruistic forms of belief. It results in the strongest feelings of regret and remorse once the wrappers have been removed.

Formats include the ever popular "it's not practical", the insidious "but she deserved it" and the rabel-rousing "something's got to be done!"

If you want to take being completely wrong to a high artform, then justification is the way to go.


Pervasive
So far I've focused on individual complete-wronged-ness and how to make it bigger. However, no matter how wrong you are, it's nearly impossible for an individual to have the impact of a larger group. World-class wrongers know how to take it viral.

Consider the recent protests of Internet companies regarding two congressional bills that might lead to censorship of the Internet. These campaigns culminated Wednesday in a unified initiative to increase awareness and incite action. Google covered its logo with an off-kilter black rectangle. Many sites directed visitors through an intermediate landing page that provided information on the bills before redirecting them to the normal home page.

Although most of these companies are more financially-motivated than altruistically- and philosophically-motivated, I agree with them. Nonetheless, Wikipedia did something that rivals the Nazis in complete-wronged-ness. In a beautiful display of despotism, Wikipedia closed the doors to all its content in protest of the pending bills.

"Despotism?", you ask.

Yeah, despotism. About 100,000 authors regularly contribute to Wikipedia with goal of making accurate and relevant information readily available to anyone, anywhere. Wikipedia houses the more than twenty-million articles produced by these authors. Wikipedia is the bank; however, it's not Wikiedia's money.

Still, Wikipedia unilaterally and arbitrarily decided to make "its" content (that they didn't create) unavailable (to those to whom they promised to keep it safe and accessible).

You might say, "It wasn't arbitrary; it was to protest censorship!"

However, that would only be the case if you agree with their justification. Why not make content unavailable in support of autism awareness, or anti-smoking, or labor-equity? Although you can draw lines of rationale, outside its being self-serving, the connection is arbitrary.

You might say that it wasn't unilateral, that the authors contributed to the decision. Although Wikipedia reported that a small number of the 100,000 authors participated in the decision, they're unclear about the actual number who agreed and the bias of the process. They ignored the vast majority. It's despotism at its best.

Best of all, Wikipedia did the very thing they're protesting; they censored the Internet. Why? Because they were justified.

Come On, Now
You might be thinking, "No one's gonna let them get away with that!"

They did! They completely pulled it off. People all over the world supported the action. They took completely-wrong to new heights. A small group of people finds a justification for unacceptable activities that support what is important to them. They identify a villan against whom to perpetrate the actions. They recruit others who agree with the importance of cause. Unthinkingly and skipping right past the denial stage, others join them in unacceptable activities to support an arbitrary cause.

On the surface it sounds like such a good thing. However, it's a perfect example of how one can expertly engineer a magnificent manifestation of complete-wronged-ness.

Fortunately, people don't think too much. If they were to, Wikipedia's actions would have set back cloud-computing a good decade or two. Who wants to trust the Internet to keep your data when service providers can arbitrarily deny you access to it. Moreover, Wikipedia's actions justify greater regulatory oversight. Large monopolistic providers of service that demonstrate the potential to violate the public trust get regulated.

Ahh, I feel better.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ho-hum. Humdrum. Hum drum?





A Sense of Style

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I have a keen sense of style and design. So keen in fact that you might call it acute, acute to the point of allergic.

Yes, I am allergic to style. It's something I work hard to keep under control.

I have to be careful not to look too long at a piece of furniture, a clothing outfit, or a room. Otherwise I start noticing things: design elements that simply are not working; low cost improvements that would dramatically improve operation or effect; leaner and more efficient architectures; colors that would expand, accent, hide or contract.

That's only the beginning. Once I start to pay attention to the design of something, once I see how it could be made better, I begin to obsess. As my mind plays through the improvements, I see opportunities for further enhancement. I mentally break things apart and rebuild them over and over. It gets ridiculous.

So, as someone with drug or alcohol addition does well to avoid drugs or alcohol, I do well to avoid anything that has a specific style or design goal. For example, you might describe our home decor as early eclectic. Everything is orderly and functional, but there's no specific style. If we were to go for a specific style, (modern, Colonial, French Provincial, mach Tutor, Scandinavian or Frank Lloyd Wright), I might never rest. I would become increasingly aware of all the things that were not true to the style. They would keep me awake at night. I start finding inefficiencies in the Frank Lloyd Wright.

I don't own any high-end stereo equipment. I don't contemplate owning any high-end stereo equipment. I avoid stereo stores. I avoid the home entertainment section a Best Buy.

This is unusual for a musician many of whom would rather have a great stereo than food. However, I know what would happen. It's happened before.

I purchase high end components. I get everything set up. I EQ the room. I make sure there are no sound wells and no directly-facing reflective-surfaces. I put on a CD or drop the needle on an LP. It sounds awesome, better than anything I've ever heard.

I listen. I notice something. There's a slight flaw in the reproduction of a bass line I know should have better definition. The presence of the lead vocal is not as strong as it should be. There's a dropout around five kilohertz. I need to get a graphic equalizer.

I tweak. I replace components. I obsess.

I don't listen to music.

So what do I do? I give away my high end system (I've actually given away a few). I head over to Radio Shack. I find a pair of speakers for sixty-nine dollars and a stereo receiver for a hundred. I take them home, plug them in and I'm happy. They sound really good for $169 and are way more enjoyable than the $2500 system.

Generally speaking I avoid high-end anything. I got rid of my Armani and Canali suits. If I need to get "dressed up", I head over to Marshals and see what's in stock. Day-to-day it's black t-shirts and jeans ( though I have a pair of heavy corduroys and some flanel shirts that I don in winter). I had a really nice high-performance Audi that I traded in for a really old pickup truck.

The net is: no allergic reactions. I never think about clothes or furniture or automobiles or home entertainment systems or houses. Nice.

There are three exceptions: my mac, my keyboard and my sax. I'm so intimate with them that I'm unaware of style and variances in quality.

Oh yeah, there's one more. When Iris wants to buy new clothes, I become her personal clothing assistant. We'll wonder around clothing section at Macy's and she'll be disappointed with the selection. She'll pick out a few things and go to try them on. While she's in the dressing room, I run back and forth finding items I think will work for her. Iris dresses and models; I find clothes.

My allergies haven't gone away. I can bring them back in an instant. It's just that, knowing I'm allergic and just how allergic I am, I avoid the allergins.

Happy Friday!
Teflon

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Go with the flow

It's settled. As of now, this is my rhythm. Within a given four-week period, I have two-to-two-and-a-half weeks of great energy, followed by one-and-a-half-to-two weeks of not so great energy. By energy, I mean how I feel physically and the performance of the machinery that produces positive emotions and thoughts.

When my energy is up, I bounce back quickly and maybe even higher than before. I see opportunities and possibilities. Stuff happens and I ride with it. I rant and get over it. Sometimes I don't rant at all. I'm creative and can get a lot done in just a little bit of time. I'm easy and forgiving. Everyone is, after all, doing their best.

On the other hand, if I'm in that other part of the month, I feel tired faster. I don't enjoy tired. My bounce is less bouncy; I may bounce through the floor and keep going down. I curse the opportunities I took (no doubt in a state of stupidity). I thought I'd be able to follow through? What was I thinking? It's not just me! I'm not the only stupid one! Everyone else seems to be falling prey to the same malady (specially the ones living in my house).

Fixer
I tend to be a fixer. Things are out of place, I create systems to make them right. I've focused much of my fixing on this low energy phenomenon. I've had some success with supplements and teas, rebounding on the trampoline, and challenging my beliefs that lead to the 'stupid' judgement. Still, I have to tell you that their combined impact fades in comparison to one single strategy.

I relax.

In our home program with Jaedon, we have an idea that we use to help ourselves become centered and connected to him. It's called No Fixing Jaedon. We decide that he is beautiful as he is and feel gratitude while just being around him. There's no need to fix anything.

I decided to implement No Fixing Faith. If I wasn't focused on fixing, how would I live my life and do what needs to be done, given what I'm experiencing in my mind and body right now?

  • High energy periods.
    I can get a lot done. Instead of conserving, I push things to the limit. If I decide to do a project for someone, it doesn't go on the list. It gets done now. Send me a document to look at, I send it back in 30 minutes with comments and edits. I create new opportunities for myself, make appointments, fill out forms, talk to people. The kids and I have tremendous fun. Isaiah and I have even more! It's a great time all around. It's like christmas.

  • Reduced energy periods
    Rather than experiencing shock and dismay, I welcome them like a member of the family, a family member who needs some special attention, teas, supplements, discussion and reflection. It's all part of the package.

    I pace myself. Life at home continues and I continue with it. I may take a nap in the afternoon (previously unheard of!). I know it will pass. If I can't cope with Jaedon's stuff today, I'll cope with it tomorrow (or next week) . No rush. No hasty decisions. Pissed off by something Isaiah did? Tomorrow will be different.

    Speaking of Isaiah, I'll encourage him to do the same. I'm not warm and friendly today, no worries. I'll be back!
So, I'm going with my own flow, swimming or floating as is needed. No-one swims all the time anyway.

Be truly loving to yourself today, no matter what level of personal energy you are experiencing right now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yippee!


A few days ago, just when I was starting to believe that this global warming thing was finally working, winter arrived in the Berkshires. Our balmy evenings in the mid-30s (fahrenheit) plummeted toward 0.

Our house is a funky split-level built into the side of a mountain. The first floor is at ground-level on one side, a few feet below ground-level on another and underground on the final two. It houses the garage, the laundry room and my office. Although my office windows open onto the ski mountain across the street, we refer to it as "the basement".

When it gets cold out, Iris and I often take to sleeping in the basement. It has a substantially overpowered wood stove and a nice little pullout bed we got at IKEA. On cold winter nights, it's the coziest room in the house. We both love sleeping in the basement. When we have guests, we always happily oblige them to our bedroom and we sleep "in the basement."

Not a Total Panacea
There are only two downsides to sleeping in the basement. First, you can't just plop into bed; you have open the IKEA foldout. This being a downside speaks more to my predilection for efficiency than the effort required to open and close the bed. It can't take more than a minute to open the bed, lay out the sheets and blankets, and drop the pillows. However, it's more work than just plopping into the bed upstairs.

The second is a bit more significant (yes, even more significant than opening and closing a bed from IKEA). It exposes one of my more challenging flaws. Sleeping in the basement we often go to bed at the same time. However, I tend to wake up about two hours before Iris. The challenge is a disorder I've struggled with since childhood. It's one that my mom asked the doctor about during almost every visit saying things like, "Is there nothing we can do?"

Although I've tried and tried and tried, I just don't know how to be quiet. There, I've said it. I'm not ashamed of it. I am a loud person.

When we sleep upstairs (that's two floors up and on the other side of the house) waking up two hours before Iris is no problem. I close the bedroom door and go down to my office. Separated by two levels of flooring and a sturdy bedroom door, the effects of my problem are minimized. However, when we sleep in the basement, my desk is but a scant four feet from the bed.

The Time-of-Day Effect
The biggest problem is that I tend to be most loud in the morning. I get up really excited about the day. I try to be really, really quiet while stoking the wood stove. I slowly turn the latch that releases the door careful not to let it clang. I gingerly place new pieces of wood atop the glowing embers, singeing the tips of my fingers because I don't want them to drop and make noise. I carefully poke and prod the the various elements until flame erupts and then quietly close the door. It's only afterward that I realize I've been singing the whole time.

I'm not good at quiet and specially not in the morning. I just noticed that I've been whispering the words I've been typing as they appear on the screen before me.

Yippee!
This morning at just a bit past six, I felt the bed move. Iris had just sat up and placed her feet on the floor. I asked, "Are you getting up?"

As she stood and walked toward the bathroom, she said, "Yes. I have a lot I want to do before I go out this morning."

Before I knew it, I had bounded out of bed, raced up behind her, and apparently said, "Yippee!"

Iris turned to look at me, her eyes doing all the questioning.

Then like a phone call relayed through satellite, I heard myself say "Yippee" and thought, "Oh, she's wondering about the 'Yippee' part."

The words often form in my mouth just milliseconds before they hit my brain. I found myself saying, "Uh... I guess that since you're up, I don't have to be quiet this morning."

OK, maybe they form in my mouth seconds before they hit my brain.

Iris looked at me and smiled, saying, "Unlike the other mornings where you were 'quiet', you don't have to be quiet this morning."

"Yippee", I thought, err, said, uhh, then thought.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, January 16, 2012

Completely Wrong

Do ever wonder, "What if I'm completely wrong?"

Every one of us has been completely wrong lots of times. It's as solid as gravity. It'd be inversely proportional to the odds of winning the lottery except the odds of winning the lotter are too good. Yup, you've been completely wrong lots of times and better yet, you're completely wrong right now, about something or even many things.

It's a question of what, when, where and how. And of course, why?

No I'm Not!
OK, let's just shoot past the denial part. Think about a time when you were completely wrong. The exercise machine you ordered from the home shopping network... The efficacy of infant baptism... Kenny G forever... Eight-tracks over cassettes... Cassettes over CDs... CDs over LPs...

There's the girl you'd have died for or the guy you couldn't live without. There's car you knew would be a good investment or the job you turned down because it paid too little to start. There's the stock that was guaranteed to hit. There's the solution you knew would work and the one you knew wouldn't. There's the guy you couldn't trust and the one you could. There's the hidden agenda you're sure was there and the facts you bet were true.

So fess up. When were you completely wrong? About what are you completely wrong right now?

Managing Wrongness
The first step in managing being completely wrong (or CW) is recognizing that being CW is an unavoidable fact of life. You do it. You did it. You're gonna do it.

The reason the first step is important is that not recognizing your susceptibility to CW dramatically increases the likelihood of CW. Plus, knowing it's gonna happen makes it a bit easier to take. So say it aloud:
  1. I have been completely wrong!

  2. I am going be completely wrong again and again.

  3. In this very moment, I am completely wrong about a least one person or thing.

Go ahead. Say it out loud. It'll feel good. Let your kids hear you say it. Let your partner hear you say it. Ask them to join you.

OK, that pretty much takes care of the hard part.

Who, What, Where, When?
The second step is to identify things about which you've been or are or are about to be completely wrong. Some are easy to spot; they're the ones that are emotionally loaded. People who get you angry or bring you delight. Situations that you don't want to talk about or can't stop talking about. Any person, place or thing with a strong emotional charge is likely to have some completely wrongness.

Why? Because your emotions filter what you see. It's the "my mom told me I'm a great..." effect.

Note that it's just as important to be open to positive CWs as negative CWs. The reason is that at some point you're going to see that you were completely wrong and you're likely to blame the object of your CWness for having changed... for not being who you thought she was... for betraying you. It's amazing how strong an impact pulling off the blinders can have. You see it all the time when people fall out of love. It's as though they'd been duped by their former lovers when in fact they'd blinded themselves to the obvious.

Hold or Fold
The third step in CW-management is deciding whether or not you want to continue being completely wrong. Just because you know you're completely wrong doesn't mean you have to change anything. You can simply continue being completely wrong, but deliberately so. So your lover isn't as great as you'd hoped him to be; it doesn't mean you can't keep thinking him great. So your kid's no Einstein; doesn't mean you can't still believe in his genius. So the guy down the street isn't ever going to return your 20oz hammer; you can still treat him as though someday he will.

Of course, you can also decide to exchange your belief for a new one. You see, you can't just drop a CW; it must be kept or traded. If you trade, the new belief comes with no guarantees; you may have exchanged a small CW for an even larger one.

What do you do when you've accidentally traded up while trying to downsize? Trade again. It's amazing how easy it is to trade CWs.

Often Wrong, Never in Doubt
Accepting your CWness is a key to confidence. Worrying about getting it wrong or being wrong erodes confidence faster than anything. Recognizing that CW is par for the course means that you no longer need to worry. So you got it completely wrong? So what? Try something else. It's no big deal.

Come on. Say it loudly.
  1. I have been completely wrong!

  2. I am going be completely wrong again (and again).

  3. In this very moment, I am completely wrong about a least one person or thing.

Happy Monday,
Teflon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Please, No 'Please'

OK, don't laugh, but I'm starting to believe that sometimes I'm just to subtle.

Pause for laughter.

Granted, there are times when I'm... hmm... "blatant" seems like such an understatement. What's more than blatant? Well, anyway, most of the time I am not subtle. For example, to highlight the longterm effects of someone's sense of justified bias, I jump right to a clear illustration such as the German holocaust from the late 1930's to 1945. To explain the effects of educational methods that employ reward-motivated, prompted-responses (even without the punishment side of the coin), I use what I believe to be a great analogy, dog training.

I don't shy away from words like "stupid" and phrases like "most stupid" (or is it "stupidest"). I don't hesitate to say, "I have no idea what you meant." I'm the first one to let someone know that she smells as though she hasn't bathed in weeks or that he might want to take someone else with him next time he shops for clothes.

I know guys who are "honest" as a kind of schtick, and I know how to say things that get attention. I've had friends who spent years mulling what they'd tell someone "one of these days", and I know what it's like to want to tell someone off, to build your case, to hone those zingers. I know people who have to "speak their minds", but I don't feel compelled to say what I'm thinking. I just say what I'm thinking in as matter-of-fact and clear a way as I can.

Now, the problem with being as clear as you can, by using analogies that amount to what we used to call "big animal pictures", is that people often mistake your intent. They take offense and don't hear what you said.

Therein lies the rub. If you make things too clear, then people won't hear what you're saying. If you make them to subtle, then they won't hear what you're saying. The goal isn't to incite or provoke or challenge someone's sense of themselves with delivery; the goal is to clearly communicate a concept and let the concept incite, provoke or challenge as it may.

Perhaps that distinction is too subtle. Hmm...

Speaking His Mind
Iris returns from a playroom session with Quinn. She's been helping him to better communicate his thoughts and desires. The stages are easy.

Stage 1: Quinn starts by communicating his desires with agitation or expressions of discomfort. Iris sees that he wants something and might even have a good idea of what it is, but she doesn't play twenty questions; instead, she asks him about why he's pacing around the room or what he might be mumbling or why he's crying.

Step 2: Quinn realizes that simply expressing unhappiness isn't working so he points in the general direction of the refrigerator. Iris follows his gesture to the refrigerator. However she doesn't take the hint and suggest, "Oh, you must be hungry." Instead, she says, "Are you pointing at the refrigerator or maybe you're pointing at..."

She walks to the refrigerator and caresses the door with the palm of her hand saying, "This is a really nice refrigerator, isn't it? I like how shiny it is."

Stage 3: Quinn thinks, "What's with this chick? Can't she see that I want some pizza".

He mumbles something that sounds vaguely like "pizza" and Iris, as clueless as ever, asks if he said something. She mentions that it's hard to understand him when he covers his mouth with his hands or he mumbles.

Stage 4: Quinn starts to cave and clearly says "pizza" thinking that Iris will finally get it.

Iris says, "Pizza, did you say pizza? Did you have pizza for dinner last night? Did Susan make you pizza? What about pizza?"

Stage 5: Quinn wonders if Iris will ever understand anything. He decides that he must go the extra mile in order to help her saying, "I want pizza."

Iris responds, "Oh, you used your words. You want some pizza! Why don't we eat some pizza?"

Iris' goal is to help Quinn to better communicate what he wants and to do so in a way will serve him generally, i.e., she wants him to communicate spontaneously, not from a memorized list of phrases. She makes the entire interaction a game between them. She's the dumb dutch chick who doesn't understand a thing unless you're really clear and specific. She doesn't prompt Quinn with the promise of artificial rewards, but instead integrates what she's doing into his day-to-day activities and naturally occurring wants.

As Quinn becomes clearer by spontaneously putting together new words and phrases in new ways, he builds new neural pathways through his brain.

Please, No 'Please'
The process that Iris implements is simple and straight-forward. However it's clear that not everyone helping Quinn understands it. A few days ago Iris shared with me that Quinn had started to insert the word "please" into his attempts to satisfy his wants. He'd done it after Iris failed to interpret his grumpiness. He'd done it when she completely missed his gesture to the refrigerator. He'd done it after she is her clueless responses to a single word.

I say, "Oh, oh, someone's trying to teach Quinn to use the word 'please.'"

Iris says, "Yup."

Teaching someone to say 'please' and 'thank you' seems harmless. It even seems like a good thing. We could all do with a good dose of manners. However, in Quinn's case, 'please' is minimally cart-before-horse and likely counterproductive.

First, simply getting Quinn to say 'please' isn't helping him to develop new neural pathways or to better communicate his desires. In fact, doing so can lead to just the opposite. If everyone around Quinn were to make being polite more important than being clear, Quinn would lock rigidly into words like 'please' and 'thank you'. With a two word vocabulary that more than adequately communicates his desires, Quinn would have little incentive to develop other communications skills.

Second, Quinn's use of the word 'please' at times when he hasn't yet said anything else, makes it clear that someone is playing twenty-questions with him. Rather than helping Quinn to spontaneously string words together to say what he wants thereby expanding his vocabulary and improving his communications skill, they're helping him reduce his vocabulary to four phrases: yes, no, please and thank you.

It seems like such a good thing to do, helping someone to say 'please' and 'thank you'. Not to be too subtle, but it's kind of the worst thing someone could be doing if his goal is to help Quinn better communicate and to become independent.

BTW
BTW 1: Although we can all learn a lot from Quinn, the above is not about Quinn.

BTW 2: Translating the five stages I listed into a step-by-step guide would be a mistake. Both the adult and child must learn to be more spontaneous. It would be easy to make "I want pizza" another form of "please".

BTW 3: There are times when twenty-questions is a perfectly good tact. Sometimes the goal changes (e.g., from communication to sensory system maintenance). Sometimes Quinn needs more help.

BTW 4: Prompts are fine as long as they're open-ended. "Use your words" is really different than "Say, 'I want pizza.'"

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Saturday, January 14, 2012

See Him Like Quinn

Pretty much every day of the week, Iris walks through the door full of excitement. She's just finished her session with Quinn and she is is positively gleeful.

To see her, you would think that every day involved some kind of miraculous breakthrough or an overwhelming display of affection. But that's not the case, at least not all the time.

Sure, there are times when Iris relates something Quinn did that was new and marvelous (at least by popular standards). However Iris often takes the greatest delight in new and marvelous actions that would positively piss her off if performed by someone else, e.g., yours truly.

She chortles as she tells of Quinn's attempts to gain control by head-butting her. She laughs loudly as she describes how Quinn looked her straight in the eye while holding out his cup, turning it slowly forward, waiting for the contents to spill onto the floor, and then saying, "Oh, oh. Accident." She takes shear delete in Quinn's attempts to ignore, manipulate and control her. She takes even greater delight in how persistant Quinn can be in his efforts.

A situation that leaves many exhausted and stressed, leaves Iris energized and enthused.

Some might say that it's just Iris. That's who she is. She's special.

Although I'd have to agree that Iris is special, I would not attribute this phenomenon to that. Iris has more than adequate capacity to get frustrated, stressed and angry. Put her into a similar situation with an adult manifesting Quinn but perhaps in a more adult manner, and if she doesn't leave the room somewhere in the middle of the session, she'll want time alone afterward. What Iris does, she does intentionally and actively; it's not some innate capacity that just flows.

This morning I was wondering, "Why not see everyone as Iris sees Quinn? What would happen if we did?"

The list of why-nots piles up quickly. You just can't treat everyone as if they were on the autism spectrum. If you were loving and accepting with everyone, then no one would ever change. I couldn't afford the time and energy to do that. It's OK to do so with a child, but at some point people have to grow up.

We all share some form of these deeply ingrained beliefs. By a certain age people should... If I didn't show displeasure, then he'd never... It takes a lot of effort to work with "difficult" people. We act in a manner consistent with them. That guy wears me out. The woman at the DMV made me so mad. People should know better. We act as though our actions were actually working.

A lot of times, they're not.

So what would change if we replaced those beliefs and changed our actions commensurately? Replace aged-based mandates with acceptance and the belief that she's doing the best she can based on who she is and what she believes. Replace too much work with the belief that being with difficult people can be challenging and energizing. Replace showing displeasure to manipulate change with showing delight.

To be clear, although Iris is perfectly happy with Quinn and whatever he does, it doesn't keep her from her agenda to help him change and grow. She just doesn't see being unhappy with his current state as a necessary condition for change.

What would happen if we all saw everyone as Iris sees Quinn?

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

Friday, January 13, 2012

What I Learned

Last night at writers' group I was lavished with love and attention. I'm not talking about your Motel-6, pull off the road late at night on your way to South Carolina love and attention; I'm talking about your George Cinq walk through the front door famous, important and unannounced love and attention.

It's one thing when your mom takes time to listen to you and ask you questions; it's another when the people listening are experts who really know topic. A little voice inside my head kept saying, "OK, too much time for you. I said, 'too... much... time... for... YOU.' Are you REALLY going to eat the last of the fried ocra? What about everyone else?"

Jenny, Wil, Susan and Iris, thank you. Y'all are so much more than I deserve.

After group, Iris and I talked.

All night long, I processed.

Here's what I learned about me.

Why do I write every morning?
The first thing that comes to mind is ridiculously simple; I write every morning because I said I would. It seems so pedestrian and uninspired, but when I dig down to the bottom of my stack of motivations, it's the one supporting all the others. There are days that I don't particularly feel like writing. There are days when allocating time to writing is going to cost me big-time. There are days I can't wait to write. There are days I don't write. Still, the core of it is simple: I told Iris I'd write every day unless someone else had already done so, and I do.

It's not the only motivation; it's simply the common thread.

A side-effect of writing nearly every day (verus every day) is being able to see an unanticipated side-effect of writing: I feel stronger, clearer and more focused on the days that I write. A secondary reason is: I write because it feels good to write.

Writing for whom?
Last night Will pointed out that there's always someone for whom you're writing. It can be someone particular or a synthesized aggregate of everyone who ever... or the world court hearing your case. Will asked me, "So, who do you write for? Who do you picture as you write?"

A lot of mornings I'm keenly aware of the who part. I write for my dad. I write for Scott. I write for Jonathan. I write for Mark K. I write for people who don't understand autism; I write for people who do.

There are mornings when I'm more aware of method and technique. I write with Will and Jenny in mind. I try to hear their feedback and guidance. I take time to read what I've written and to rework it. I take time to enjoy the craft.

Other mornings, it's not so clear. I write to clarify and understand. There's something about translating vague thought into prose that helps. On those mornings, my awareness is different. I write to me.

Who and Why?
I realize that the who is intimately related to the why. There's part of me that would like to be a great writer. There's part of me that would like to write things that people find helpful or uplifting. I'd like to do both, but if time forces a choice then the latter trumps the former.

I don't always know if what I write is useful to anyone. It's really nice when someone tells me that they found a post useful. I just have this sense of common threads woven among us and that the more different you are, the less likely you are to find them. If you're way down the tails of the bell curve, it's nice just to see that someone else thinks like you do.

I'd probably write even if I were the only one ever to read what I'd written. (Sometimes I'm pretty sure that I am). If nothing else, I'll be able to look back a few years from now and say to myself, "What the heck was I thinking when I wrote that?"

Unruly Child
Another thing I learned last night is that I'm an unruly child of the universe. Unruly children hold the belief that it ain't necessarily so. We always look for the flaw in the defenses, the hint that dictate handed down from above may have loopholes.

My daughter Joy was an unruly child always looking to see if you really meant it when you said, "No." At three, my grandson Jack is keenly aware of whether or not someone has what it takes to back up his ultimatums. My dad developed unruly childishness later in life.

Of all of us, I'm the most incorrigible. I know that in statistics there is no such thing as 100% probability. Therefore, even if the experience of all mankind were to say thus and such, I'd maintain this indefatigable belief that it ain't necessarily so.

Illogical
Another thing that I learned is that I've come so far in my efforts to appear logical and left-brained, that people think I am. I never thought I'd pull it off.

I don't think like most people. I don't think like almost all engineers. I don't work through problems step-by-step, figuring out the answers. I just see them.

When I wrote music as a kid, I didn't learn theory and composition and how to build up arrangements. I just heard the parts and learned how to write them down.

It's the same with software. I see what I want to do and start typing.

However, there's a problem with that if you're working with engineers. They want you to explain what you're doing and why it's going to work. So I learned to translate my visual intuition into logical prose. Over time I got faster and better at it to the point that I can do it in real time. It sounds as though I'm building a logical argument when in fact I'm just deconstructing what I see and reconstructing it in prose.

I hadn't realized how good I'd got at it.

There's More
I've got so much more processing to do.

Will, Susan, Iris and Jenny,
thank you, thank you, thank you!

Happy Friday,
Teflon

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Piece-O-Cake

So, you can do that?

Sure, it's a piece-of-cake.

That means easy, right?

What means easy?

Piece-of-cake.

Yeah, piece-of-cake means easy.

Why?

Why does it mean easy?

I guess? I mean, what's cake got to do with easy?

Goes back to the eighteen hundreds when cakes were used as prizes at fairs and other public events. For example, there was something called a cakewalk. Couples walk in a circle around a cake and the best looking couple wins the cake. They keep going til everyone has won. Makes it near impossible to lose. Hence, we use cakewalk and piece-of-cake to refer to something that's easy.

Uh, huh... So that means you can do it, right?

Sure, piece-o... yes, I can do it easily and quickly.

How come?

How come what?

How come you can do it easily and quickly. They told me down in IT that it would take weeks and that it might even be impossible. They said they'd have to keep my laptop the entire time. When I told the guy that I need my laptop for work and that I can't be without for weeks, he just shrugged.

Yup, IT guys will do that.

But if it's so hard, why is it easy for you?

Because it's not hard, it's just something I know how to do.

And they don't?

Could be or it could be that they just didn't want to be bothered. You know, they tell you it'll take a long time and you decide not to do anything about.

But why would anyone do that? Isn't it their job?

I can't speak to that. I can just tell that it's not hard. It'll take me about ten minutes and your machine will be running about 200% faster.

So that's like twice as fast?

No, that's like three-times as fast.

Then why wouldn't you say 300% faster?

Because 300% faster would be four-times as fast.

Huh?

Well, if I were to say 200% of it's current speed, then that would be 2-times. However, if I say 200% faster, then you've already got your 100%, so you add the 200% to it.

Huh?

OK, if I make your computer 100% faster would it be the same speed as it was before or a different speed?

Different?

Yup. How much different?

100% ?

Yup. So what's 100% plus 100%?

200% ?

Yup. So what's 100% plus 200%?

300% ?

See, piece-of-cake?

But how do you know all this stuff?

Know all what stuff?

Fixing computers and math and stuff.

Well, there's not that much to know actually. You need to know some things, but most of it you can just figure out.

But isn't that hard?

Nope. Piece-of-cake.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All the Wood

There's a phrase I first heard while working at a start-up company in Boston: Get all the wood behind the arrowhead.

The concept is simple; no matter how sharp the arrowhead it's useless without the mass of the shaft behind it.

You see this simple concept played out all the time.

An entire football team rallies to pave the way for a single ball carrier. No matter how fast he is, his chances of success plumet if the team is not with him.

A lead guitarist lays down a blistering solo as the bassist and drummer pump out a steady, repetitive beat. Were the other players to get showy, it would detract from the solo making the overall effect less powerful.

A CEO cancels numerous projects in order to redirect her company's resources to a single project, one that will make or break the company. She realizes that no matter how smart her people are, a small, underfunded team can't compete with other organizations that are betting the farm on a burgeoning technology.

It's a simple concept, one that has been proved over and over, one that we applaud in others, one that we avoid personally.

The problem is simple; if you put all the wood into the shaft of one arrowhead or just a few arrowheads, you're going to have fewer arrows. What happens if you miss? What happens if you pick the wrong target? What will people think of you when they've got hundreds of arrows and you have just a few? It's overwhelming.

So, we march through our days, business as usual. Not only do we keep all our arrows, we collect more. Our quivers are full, full of useless to pretty good arrows.

And we wonder why we don't see the success in our endeavors that others see in theirs.

How many arrows are you got in that quiver of yours?

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Get It... I Think

Iris talks excitedly about one of her little friends. She beams as she explains how well he's doing, how hard he's trying, how he's defying the odds and expectations.

"He's so smart and quick. You can see that he has things all figured out. He knows all the words. He hears them in his head. But when he tries to say them, they don't come out the way he hears them."

I think, "OK, I get it", at least conceptually, but I still wonder what that's actually like. Then something happened the other day that made it a bit clearer.

I've played lots of percussion and hand drums such as djembe and conga. I've composed hundreds of drum beats. I can hear them. I can see them. I can write them down. I can play them on my keyboard. However, I've never tried to play them on a drum set.

I sit down at Iris' drums to play. How hard could it be. I know this stuff inside out.

I start playing something simple, my left foot on the high-hat, my right on the kick-drum pedal, sticks in each hand. As soon as I add a little syncopation, my feet go completely haywire, nothing like I hear in my head.

I stop and try again. This time my left hand follows my right foot off the rails and down the ravine.

I stop. I slow it down. It's as though my right foot has a mind of its own, a squirming, greased pig racing around the pen. I try to grab and control it, but the tighter my grip, the quicker it squeezes out.

I stop. I go even more slowly, but my feet and hands refuse to cooperate. I feel a tightness in my chest as I try to control my unruly appendages.

I stop. What beat was I trying to play? Thank goodness rehearsal break is over. Time for me to go back to my keyboard and do something I feel capable of doing.

This drumming thing could get really frustrating. If people were to hear me, they'd think I had no concept of music, no sense of rhythm. Meanwhile, I've got all this music bouncing around my head, completely worked out.

Worse, someone might try to "help" me. They'd mean well. They'd encourage me, but I'd be able to tell that they didn't expect me to be able to do it, that they didn't expect much from me at all. I'd want to show them they were wrong, but my body wouldn't cooperate.

Then maybe someone would come along and see me. They'd see that there's more music in me than is evidenced by my flawed attempts at drumming. They'd see that I my difficulties are not with rhythm or music, that they're more simple, more basic. They'd get me away from the drums and we'd play games that'd help me with coordination, games that seemed to have nothing to do with music.

We'd play and play and play. Then, when no one else was around, no one to look concerned at how poorly I played, we'd slip back into the studio and make a game of drumming. She wouldn't look concerned. She wouldn't even look as though anything were wrong. She'd just extend our game to the drums.

I fumble. I misstep. I lose my beat. But it's fine. It's just a game. It's fun chasing that greased pig around the pen. Every once in a while I catch him. The grease wears off. The pig gets tired. It's getting easier.

I start playing complete beats, simple ones. I start playing complete phrases. I add some syncopation. It comes together, slowly at first, but it comes.

I think I get it, at least a bit better than before.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, January 9, 2012

Too Much of Tuomo

Lately I've started to question my general motus operandi or at least an element thereof. When people become resistant to change or seem ready to give up, I push. The greater the resistance or likelihood of quitting, the more I push. Normally I would characterize this as something that I do, not a state of being.

You know what I mean: I am not pushy. I am someone who pushes.

However, I think it's deeper and more pervasive than that. I am pushy. I am a pusher.

Agenda?
The funny thing is I tend not to push for the things that I want, but instead for the things that others want, or at least say that they want. For example, I never pushed my kids to be anything in particular letting them choose the activities they wanted to pursue, their careers, their partners, etc. It was completely up to them.

I was happy to help them think through decisions, but not to tell them what to do. My daughter Eila would often complain saying, "Why can't you just give me the answer?"

On the other hand, once they decided what they wanted, I could get pretty pushy.

Pushy?
In most cases my pushiness comes in the form of challenging beliefs and actions. When beliefs and actions don't align with stated intent, I get pushy 1) by challenging the beliefs and actions or 2) by challenging the stated intent.

A mathematical or scientific hypothesis is either true all the time, or it's not true. If not, you can't fix it by qualifying it. Instead, you have to change the hypothesis until it is true, all the time. I see a similar required alignment between stated intention and beliefs and action. If you say you want A, but then pursue activities that get you B, then you either want to change A to B, or change your activities.

My son Luke decides to become a great guitarist; I listen to him practice. If he doesn't use a metronome, I let him know that he's decreasing his practice effectiveness by 90%. If he sets the tempo so high that he's missing notes, I tell him that he's actually gone negative on practice effectiveness. If he leaves the guitar out where it might easily be knocked over and broken, I put it away and lock it up until we talk and get alignment.

Pushy.

I don't have a vested interest in whether or not Luke becomes a great guitar player. However, if that's what he says he wants, then I do my best to help him. In addition to making sure he has the right equipment and access to resources, my best includes pushing.

Time Management
As I write this morning, it occurs to me that my incessant desire for alignment between intent and action comes down to time management, (my time, not the other person's time.)

For a host of reasons I often end up with many people simultaneously relying on me for help and support. I tend to lend my time and energy to people based on the intensity of their desire to accomplish what they say they want to accomplish. I also tend to take people at face value. Tell me that you really, really want thus and such and I'll really, really help you.

I just noticed that I don't get concerned about whether or not your goals align with anything that I might want; I'm much more motivated by your passion than alignment between our goals. (Wow, I really have to think about that one.)

I push for alignment because, if you're not as passionate as you made out to be, I'm going to lower your standing in my priority queue. It might take a while as I have this other incessant characteristic of wanting to see things through to their conclusions. However, either the activity and beliefs move to align with intent, or I recalibrate my assessment of intent so I can better manage my time.

Weird, huh?

Too Much of Tuomo
Somewhere around fourth grade people took to calling me Tuomo (2-mo). It stuck all the way through high school where people who'd had more than enough of my pushiness came to commonly call the experience: too much of Tuomo.

Nearly forty years later I've started to wonder if maybe I am too pushy. (It takes a while for some things to get through to me.) Over the past couple months, I've been talking to Iris about this. To not be pushy (or as pushy) would be a quite fundamental change for me. I'm not sure who I'd be without it.

It's not that I don't like me when I'm pushy. It's just that others often don't like me when I'm pushy. It's not even that I'm concerned about others liking me. I'm just wondering if their dislike might be merited.

Buyer's Choice
About two weeks into my internal referendum on pushiness, I receive an email from a guy I worked with twenty-five years ago. We were both young technology hotshots who'd signed up for a new, secret project with an extremely low likelihood of success. We'd both been drawn to the impossible like bugs to a street lamp. I was drawn a bit more than he was. I became the pusher.

I've never seen anyone get as angry as he got when he'd experienced "too much of Tuomo". Although I never got scared, I probably should have.

So out of the blue I get this email. He describes times when I'd pushed so hard that he'd felt like killing me. I vividly recall the scenes. I wonder why he's writing me. Is he still pissed off?

Next paragraph, he thanks me. He recalls specific things I'd said in those moments, phrases that had hit home, statements so dead-on that his only recourse was to get even angrier. Yet afterwards he'd decided that maybe... Apparently his decisions led to big changes, changes for which he is immensely grateful.

"OK", I think, "That's weird."

Over the following weeks, every week-and-a-half or so, I get a similar email or Facebook message from someone else.

Really weird, right?

Béchamel Sauce
Saturday night, I'm making gumbo for Iris, Kat and me. As the sausage, shrimp, calamari simmer in the dutch oven, I slowly blend blend flour into a crackling pan of oil to make the roux (the rich brown liquid that makes gumbo, gumbo).

Making roux is similar to making Béchamel sauce. You have to be careful how you add the flour to the oil (or butter or bacon fat) so that you don't get lumps. You have to stir constantly. The only real difference between the two is that Béchamel is a pure white sauce and you have to avoid burning it whereas roux is a deep brown sauce that must be burned just a bit.

As I'm spinning my whisk through the flour and oil, I can hear my mom, pushing. I'm seven standing on a chair at the stove making cheese sauce (you make Béchamel and then add graded cheese). We've started over five times because I got impatient adding the flour and ended up making bricks rather than sauce.

Sixth time's the charm. No bricks. No lumps. I'm stirring and asking, "How much longer do I have to stir?"

"How much do you want cheese sauce?"

I stir and stir and stir.



Happy Monday,
Teflon