Friday, June 28, 2013

Never Give Up

There once was a wizard named Fred.

Fred was not a particularly good wizard.

In fact, he was a particularly bad wizard.

Fred was not "evil" bad; he was "inept" bad.

Despite his being a particularly bad, Fred had advanced degrees from respected schools of wizardry and he was well connected. So despite his being a particularly bad wizard, because of his credentials and endorsements, Fred held the most prestigious wizardly appointment in all the kingdom. Fred was the king's personal wizard and advisor.

The queen had had her doubts about Fred when she interviewed him for the position. However, not knowing all that much about wizardry, she had discounted her reservations and deferred to others more knowledgable in such matters.

That was a big mistake.

Each time the queen sought Fred's counsel on whom to appoint to a position among her royal advisors, Fred chose someone with impressive credentials, sterling endorsements and absolutely no experience in his areas of expertise.

Each time the queen sought guidance regarding the selection of implements for an upcoming battle, Fred chose exactly the wrong one ones. When Fred advised "rock", the opponent would invariably show up with "paper". When Fred advised "paper", the opponent would invariably show up with scissors. When Fred advised "scissors"...  well, you get the point.

Fred's acts of wizardry were no better. He'd consistently call out the names fifty-one wrong cards before naming the one selected. When making a canary disappear, the only one who could no longer see the canary was Fred. His acts of levitation always resulted the summoning of the royal paramedic squad.

After years of terrible advice and cringing every time Fred offered to perform magic or cast a spell, the queen decided that Fred should no longer be chief wizard. Unfortunately, Fred's was a lifetime appointment... unfortunately for Fred that is.

One fine morning, the queen called for a full session of her court. No one knew why the session had been called. The hall buzzed with rumors and gossip as the queen's clerk turned to the crowd and called the session to order. The room fell silent as the queen rose, looked to Fred and asked him to come stand before her.

Fred, who thought that perhaps he was receiving an award or even a knighthood, smiled gleefully, waving to the spectators as he strode to towards the throne.  He turned to face the queen, gave a slight bow, and then looked up expectantly.

The queen said, "Fred, over the years you have proved yourself to be an exceptional wizard and advisor. I dare say, no queen has ever had one like you."

Fred smiled, thinking that perhaps he might even be receiving a promotion.

The queen continued saying, "Fred, you are, in my not so humble opinion, the worst wizard and advisor ever. Therefore, I am terminating your appointment."

Fred cried out, "But Queen, my appointment is for life!"

The queen said, "Yes, it is. Therefore I have commanded my executioner to complete the terms of your appointment at sundown today. As is the case with any member of my court, you may chose the manner of termination."

Fred said, "May I suggest, 'old age'".

The queen answered with a glare and then continued, "You may be burned at the stake, beheaded by axe, hanged from the gallows or any combination thereof."

The queen looked to her left and said, "Guards, please remove the chief wizard and detain him in the dungeon."

It's inner workings frozen and rusted from years of inactivity and neglect, Fred struggled valiantly to engage his mind. What he needed was... what he needed was... was...  a... what he needed was a thought! As each of two burly guards grabbed one of Fred's arms, he blurted, "Queen, if you will please hear me, I have something to offer you that may cause you to change your mind, something quite valuable, indeed."

The queen gestured for the guards to pause. Fred struggled to generate the next thought.

"What have  you to offer me, Fred", said the queen.

"Your majesty, I must confess that I have withheld from my most powerful wizardry. My deeper skills are so powerful that I've always thought them too powerful to reveal. Unfortunately, I find myself in a position where I must now confess them to you."

"Go on", said the queen.

"Yes, um", said Fred. "Perhaps a demonstration would be appropriate."

"Indeed it would", said the queen.

"While I could call down fireballs from the sky or call up earthquakes from below, I believe something a bit less destructive might be appropriate", said Fred.

"Mm, hm", said the queen, beginning to lose in interest.

"Queen, if you will give me just six months, I will teach your royal horse to speak", said Fred.

"Teach my horse to speak?", asked the queen.

"Yes", said Fred, "I will teach him to speak fluently and expressively."

Every one in the hall held his breath as the queen pondered Fred's proposal. After a few moments, the queen looked Fred in the eye and said, "Fred, you have six months. However, you will be held under guard until either my horse speaks or your term has ended."

Later that evening as Fred sat alone chained to a wall in the dungeon, the door to his cell swung open and in walked his apprentice, Harry. Fred smiled, glad to see his friend.

As the sat talking, Harry became more and more gloomy. Fred asked him why he looked so sad and Harry responded, "I'm so glad that you got a six month reprieve, but I don't understand how it's ever going to work out."

Fred, who seemed not at all bothered by his prospects said, "Look Harry, today I went from having six hours to having six months. Many things can happen over the course of six months. Any one event has the potential to change everything. Who knows? The horse could talk. The queen could die."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No One Knows What She's Doing

Generally speaking, absolutely no one knows what he or she is doing.

Really. It's a fact, just comes with being human.

Before you run off to find examples of people who do know what they're doing or dismiss my statement as just negative, please let me add this:
not knowing what you're doing is a 
natural and desirable state, i.e., it's a good thing. 
Yup, what separates humans from other species is that we have an insatiable appetite for learning. We're curious. We love that moment when, after toiling for hours on a problem, we see the solution and say, "Ah, hah!"

It's in our DNA.

Our drive to learn, grow and understand is more deeply entrenched and more endemic to being human than our drives for sex or food or sleep. It's insatiable. It can be satisfied only momentarily after rigorous periods of exploration and puzzling. However, as we digest what we've learned, it is renewed, moreover, it becomes even stronger.

Sometimes we try to sate our appetite for learning with  rehashed versions of what we've learned before, but the leftovers never quite do the trick. What had been satisfying isn't. So we find ourselves restless, confused and ready for more.

We are learning machines that consume and process vast amounts of fresh puzzles and problems. Hence, it's not natural to know what you're doing. If you do, then you're denying who you are and/or lying about knowing what you're doing.

So, if there is anything "negative" about no one knowing what he or she is doing, it's not the fact of it; it's the denial of it as our natural state of being human. To know what you're doing, to not struggle with new problems and challenges is to deny your humanity. It just ain't right.

So, if sometime to day you find yourself thinking, "What the heck have I got myself into here? I haven't got a clue as to what to do!", rejoice! You are celebrating your humanity.

If on the other hand, you don't find yourself in such a situation, well... um... hmm...

Happy Tuesday,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What You Want (Part II)

At the end of What You Want, I gave you a little assignment.
  1. Grab a sheet of paper or open a program into which you can enter two columns of text. 
  2. Label the first column, "What I Regularly Want, but Don't Get". 
  3. Label the second column, "What I Regularly Get, but Don't Want." 
  4. Set at timer or mark your clock and, without pausing to evaluate, spend 90 seconds writing into each column as many things as you can.
If you completed it without hesitation, second guessing or rewriting, you probably have two fairly lengthly lists. If not, then you're due congratulations as you're regularly getting what you want and not getting what you don't want or condolences as you don't really want anything or lack a pulse.

Assuming that your lists are long enough to give you something to work with, let's take the next step; let's determine why your reality and your wants are not aligned.

Liar, Liar
The primary challenge when clarifying what you want is honesty. We often judge as bad what we want most and fail to acknowledge it or even actively deny it. This being the case, it's no surprise that we often don't get what we want or, even after getting what we say we want, feel less than satisfied.

The crazy part is that judging what we want precludes honest exploration of it; we judge it, so we never clarify it or get specific about it.

Why's that crazy? First, most people find that the clarity and specificity gained by honestly exploring what they want usually leads to something quite different from what they originally postulated as having wanted. Second, the judgements we hold often fade to nothingness as we get specific and clear; we judge the generic of "stealing" as bad, but don't judge as bad the specific "stealing a loaf of bread from an occupying army".

Without clarity and specificity, we continue to judge what we think we want; as long as we judge, we avoid clarity and specificity.

So, what do you do?

I found two solutions that work. First, find someone (or create someone in your mind's eye) who has no judgments about what you have to say. Tell them what you want and let them ask questions that lead to greater clarity and specificity.

Second, declare a temporary moratorium on judgments, just long enough for you to explore what you would want if, hypothetically, you weren't to judge it. You can resume judging as soon as you're done.

Wants in Conflict
Once you have an honest, clear and specific understanding of what you want, (or at least one that's more honest than you had previously), then it's time to renew your enthusiasm for judging. Judging plays a role in the next exercise: identifying wants in conflict.

If you look at your two lists, you'll see something hidden in each item: a conflicting want. For every "what you want, but don't get", there something that you get instead; what you get instead represents another want. Similarly, for every "don't want, but do get" there's a another want that is fulfilled by what you do get.

For example, you absolutely don't want to spend another Thanksgiving with Uncle Suresh, but you do. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want to spend Thanksgiving with your mom and she insists on inviting Uncle Suresh.

You don't want to spend $100,000 on college tuition, but you do. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want a really good job or you want to impress people with your resume.

You really want to spend more time practicing the guitar, but don't. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps it's spending time chatting up girls or watching reruns of MASH.

You'd love to spend just one Sunday sleeping in, but instead get up and go to church. What's the conflicting want? Perhaps you want to avoid doing something you'd judge as bad.

Every unfulfilled want has a conflicting want that is stronger and often hidden. Sometimes the conflicts are easy to see (e.g., do I want fish or chicken for dinner); sometimes they're more subtle (e.g., do I want to spend $100,000 on college or do I want to lose the respect of my long departed grandfather). Sometimes the conflict doesn't seem fair, e.g., why do I have to choose between getting a good night's sleep and getting ahead in life. Sometimes the conflict seems ridiculous, e.g., you're trying to tell me that I'd rather avoid embarrassment than help my child with autism?

Regardless of how they manifest, every item on your list is the result of a stronger want that is in conflict with the stated want.

Let's take the next step and revisit our lists of unfulfilled wants and fulfilled don't-wants. First, evaluate the honesty of your lists and make changes if necessary. Are you holding back? What judgements are in play? What would you change if you were to be completely honest?

Second, create a new page with two columns that mirror the first. For each item on the first list, specify in the corresponding column on the second list, the conflicting want (or wants).

Third, pick the pair of conflicting wants that seems to have the greatest impact on your life and talk about them. To be effective, drill down deeply and identify specific points of conflict. You may find that something that poses a general conflict doesn't pose any conflict in the specific. You may find that there are specific challenges, but they're manageable. You may find specific challenges for which you have no resolution.

Gain clarity on your wants in conflict. When you're ready, we'll talk about resolving them.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Eliminate the inevitable

As I approached the top of the stairs, I was hit with the familiar smell of shower gel.  In a fraction of a second, I knew what happened. No! Impossible!  I hurried the rest of the way, piecing together the information that my frayed senses gave: Jaedon giggling, the swish swish of his slippery hands passing over each other and over some surface, the even stronger smell of shower gel, the opened bottle of shower gel in his room, the light (not heavy) bottle of shower gel in his room.  I glanced around hurriedly.  Where was the shower gel?  I quick dash to the bathroom sorted everything out.  The entire 33.8 oz of shower gel was in the sink.  No! NO! No! We JUST got that yesterday! It was in the cupboard that had the child lock even I struggle with!  Amidst Jaedon’s giggling and soapy hands, I stood, aghast, staring.

 Now you may think, “Why is she so upset?  It’s just soap.”   You’re right.  It wasn’t even fancy shower gel.  The entire 33.8 oz probably cost $9.  We had other soap so it wasn’t that anyone would be deprived of a shower this evening.  Then what was it?

 It was autism.  It was a life of constant vigilance.  Jaedon is always watching, waiting, thinking, calculating.  He’s ready when the opportunity arises and he strikes.  Never give up is indeed his mantra.  Predators could take lessons from J.

 I stood, looking, frozen.  For maybe a half second.  Everything is moving in slow motion, or maybe it’s moving at high speed.  I start to think a million things. Soap on his hands that can be eaten, or worse, rubbed into eyes.  He’s headed into the bathroom to wash his hands, in the sink, the one with the 33.8 oz of shower gel.  The soap is on the floor, he’s running in it, he could fall... which thing to tackle first.  And, like a thousand puzzle pieces all coming together magically, I saw it.  I knew what to do.  

 As Jaedon giggled and ran past me to the bathroom, I grabbed his hands and we headed towards the sink.  Shower gel coated his hand like treacle.  I glanced around and saw my glass filled with water (who needed water to drink at a time like this??).  Quickly discarding the water, I used the glass to scrape the gel off his hand, wiping his hand with an available wash cloth.  Somewhere in there, I had the presence of mind to plug the sink.  The soapy treacle wasn’t moving very fast.  So, while Jaedon amused himself with the little soap in his room, I filled 2.5 glasses with shower gel and poured it back into the bottle.  I used a couple other wash cloths to wipe the extra soap out of the sink, while announcing to J that it was time for shower (duh?).  Actually, it was shower time for everyone.

 So, 5 minutes later, I had an almost full bottle of shower gel locked away in my bedroom, 3 soapy washcloths waiting to help 3 people become refreshingly clean and no soap on the floor or in the sink.  And, I had figured out how Jaedon got the 33.8 oz bottle out of the cupboard without opening  the child-lock.  His arms are skinny, the bottle can be squeezed in and, with effort the cupboard doors open about 3 inches, just enough for skinny arms and flexible bottles.

I called everyone for a shower and I had one too. 

I could say that I’m a gifted problem solver.  Or, maybe I know how to make lemonade from lemons.  But I don’t think so.  I’ve been faced with many moments like these  in our ASD household and I realize my response is usually ‘NO!  This WILL NOT go down this way.’  Once I have eliminated the inevitable, and pause (sometimes not very calmly), other solutions pop up.

I'm thinking about the other moments when the other solutions do not pop up, when I look at the inevitable and panic, or feel depressed and slink away.   What makes those moments different?  I'll tell you more next time.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Practice Well

The following is ostensibly about practicing music, but if you read between the lines, you might find that it's about more than that.
  1. Practicing builds patterns and habits. Patterns and habits are amazingly resilient. Make sure the patterns and habits you're building are the ones you want to keep.
  2. Once a pattern or habit is established, unless you've got everything else nailed down, don't practice it. Don't warm up with it. Don't use it unless it's time to use it. Don't let the spice become the main course.
  3. Note before notes. Before you try to play scales, arpeggios and riffs, learn to play individual notes. Draw from each note all the sound and beauty that awaits within it. Play with the textures and nuances. Learn all you can from it.
  4. No sugar coating. To really get to know your instrument (including your voice), get rid of all the things that mask and filter it. Turn off the reverb. Put away the effects. Get down to the raw sound.
  5. When playing sequences of notes, always, always, always practice with a metronome.
  6. Speed comes through slow practice. Never practice faster than you can practice well. Set the metronome at as slow a speed as is necessary for you to play each note perfectly. As you gain mastery at one rate, increment the metronome to the next rate.
  7. As you learn to use a metronome, reduce the frequency of the clicks. Go from eighth notes to quarter notes, quarters to halves, halves to wholes, and so on.
  8. If you can stay with the metronome when it clicks only once ever eight bars, you can ignore item five.
  9. When you think you're really getting it, record yourself and listen. Share your recording with others who will give you honest and constructive feedback.
  10. If you've got it, move on. Don't get stuck in your success.
  11. Know that moving on can be a challenge. If you move on sufficiently to effect optimal practice, moving on may cause you to feel as though you suck. You don't. In fact, if you didn't experience that from time to time, the thing you would suck at would be practicing.
  12. Play! Don't keep all you're learning to yourself. Go out there and play with others. If the others can't keep up with all you're learning, find those who will. As you become a great practitioner of practicing, find others who share your enthusiasm.
  13. Love it! The beauty of playing slowly is that you can love everything you play; you can drink in the nuances of individual notes. You can relish that feel of the keys or strings or valves as they interact with your fingers. Savor your practice.
OK, that's a good start. Once you've got the above working for you, we can go on to the next level.

Happy Friday,