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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 2: Hypocrisy

For many years I have boycotted Coors beer because of the public political views of its founder, Adolph Coors. I'm quite sure neither Coors nor his business has suffered from my lack of patronage but I feel good about my decision. So far, so good.

One of my favorite filmmakers is Woody Allen. Some of you may recall that while he was still married to Mia Farrow, Allen took up with and later married a girl they had jointly adopted. It's not an over-statement to say I was disgusted by his behavior. Even after reading Allen's public explanations, I was not mollified. Now, here's the rub: I have never missed a single one of Woody Allen's subsequent movies. Again, my patronage has had zero effect on Allen's life, art or bank balance.

I've found myself in this position many times. Some would call it inconsistency. The current euphemism might term it a "dis-connect". Depending on the day, I have used either of those words to rationalize my behavior. Today it feels like a word that can haunt me - hypocrisy. Your thoughts? Your experiences with similar "dis-connects"? Your strategies?  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Turning "No" Into Something Else

I once supervised someone who struggled a great deal with self-confidence. The moment I would express any doubts about an idea this person proposed, I'd hear a loud exhalation reminding me of the sound a punctured balloon makes. If I later tried to re-visit the idea, I would hear something like "But you already said 'no' to that!"

The word "no", real or imagined, has also stopped me many times in my life. But supervising that person who heard no, even when I knew I hadn't said it, helped me learn something important. I started making an attempt to hear any no as "not right this moment, but please return later". Or... "not the way you suggested but please suggest another way". I began treating no as temporary rather than permanent. Persistence became more than just "try, try again" when I turned no into something else.

Because of this shift, I began finding rejections of any kind stung a little less. I also realized that if circumstances or people had changed since the first time I heard no to something, my chances for breaking through the next time improved even more. I'm sure you have ideas how to turn no into something else; please share them with me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Calling M Night Shyamalan

Some of you may remember the 1999 movie "The Sixth Sense", directed by M Night Shyamalan. In 2000 he directed "Unbreakable" and then "Signs" in 2002. I loved all three films but have been disappointed in his work ever since. No matter - after finishing "Await Your Reply", by Dan Chaon, I'm convinced this 2009 novel will find it's way to Shyamalan; it's a perfect fit for these two talents.

There is much to be admired in "Await Your Reply", especially Chaon's ability to expertly juggle the three main stories. In my mind, I've already "cast" most of the characters from the book. For any of you who have read the book (or do so in the future), I'd like to hear your reaction and also see who you would pick for the movie roles. When Shyamalan gets around to making the movie, it will be a blast to compare his casting choices with mine (and yours). And watching him put his cinematic magic to work at the service of Chaon's twisted chronologies and mangled identities will be an incredible ride. I can't wait.

In my March 17 post called "What Do You Call This?", I asked for your help finding (or making up) a word for times when one art form leaps across the consciousness and links to another. My call to M Night Shyamalan to film "Await Your Reply" is an example of that phenomenon at work. Keep thinking about that word for me, OK? More important, pay attention to when this happens for you and then tell me about it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Labels = Limits

Lately, I've been noticing how I've sometimes limited myself by using too many labels. A word like "mainstream", for example, might not strike many as limiting. But when I begin to uncover the stories that go with many labelling words, I've learned something valuable. 

Let me use "mainstream" as just one example. An author many people enjoy is Stephen King and for years I thought of King as mainstream; he refers to himself that way. After recently devouring his 2000 memoir ("On Writing"), I recognized how that label had, for me, a story associated with it. And the story that went with that word had made me foolishly avoid King for many years. Although I can cite other examples from my experience, I'd like to hear which labelling words you use or once used that limit you.

Equally important, what happens when you consider how the labels you use can potentially limit others, especially those you love? To take just one example, how about the label "shy"?     

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Learning Balance

In recent years, the struggle to balance work and life has been a persistent theme in the national conversation. Although I feel lucky to have avoided that particular battle, I suspect learning balance in other areas is a war I'll fight indefinitely. Maybe I can get some help from people on the bell curve.

My balancing struggle has long been the one between pursuing goals (i.e. the future) and enjoying moments (i.e. the present). For me, the scales more often tip toward the goals. To help myself, I've used many strategies gleaned from books and friends and I've internalized some useful aphorisms aimed at keeping me more present-focused ("...the present is a gift" etc.). Though I sometimes sense this particular struggle could be hard wired (especially when I hear my Mother's long ago voice saying "Patrick, you are too serious"), I earnestly want to learn this balance.   

It does strike me as odd, given my age, that this struggle still remains with me. What can you offer me? And, where in your life are you currently having difficulty learning balance?      

         

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Slippery Past

Even with no discernible traces of dementia, what happened to me many years ago now sometimes feels a bit slippery. I was there (this was my life, not somebody else's) yet there are times I wonder if the events from the past I'm recounting to others are perhaps dreams I've had, or things I heard about or read somewhere that I've turned into my own experiences. Am I alone on the bell curve with this?

When she was a young adult, my sister went skydiving. Recently when she and I were talking, I brought up that experience. She said - "I don't remember the person who did that". Another example of how our own past can feel slippery - we become different people. Even if you don't have the lapses I described above (that is, wondering if you've made up or co-opted or embroidered a "memory"), have you ever felt like you wouldn't recognize yourself as the teenager you once were?

How is the past slippery for you? How reliable do you feel your memories are? 

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Cost of Conformity

Two recent, but very un-related occurences, have me reflecting on the cost of conformity. 

While I was driving, my wife was reading to me from Michael Pollan's book "Second Nature". In the section she was reading, Pollan describes the scorn his suburban family endured because his father did not keep up their lawn like the neighbors did. A few weeks later, a close friend was telling me about bullying his teenager was facing after coming out of the closet. My wife and my friend never mentioned anything about conformity.

So what about these two topics, the first mundane, the second significant, spurred me to reflect on the cost of conformity? I am far from clear on the answer to that but OK living in the question for now. While I'm waiting for more clarity, I'd like to hear from someone else on the bell curve. Specifically, what cost have you paid in your life for conformity?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Making Changes

I once heard the expression "No one likes change, except a wet baby". I don't fully buy that statement, but I do struggle with changing old habits; somehow I doubt I'm alone on the bell curve when it comes to this.

I'm often unsure what my biggest barrier is to changing. Sometimes it's the new learning I struggle with - the "how to". Sometimes it's the un-learning of the old habit, the "how not to". Sometimes I give up too quickly, before I've practiced the new learning enough for it to become ingrained. Still other times it's the resistance I feel from others as I try doing something differently. I call this being locked in a "persona prison". In that case I know I'd be wise to ignore my "wardens". Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't . I'm confident some of you have identified still more barriers you've faced in your efforts to make changes.

I'd like to know the strategies you've used for overcoming those barriers.   

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Traveling Via Food (To Be Continued)

Following a recent conversation with a neighbor who is a good cook, I came up with a goal I want your help with. Over the coming years, my wife and I are going to try to eat the native food of every country on earth.

Because I'm no youngster (and also because I'm on the bell curve with respect to travel funds), I decided this goal is a nice middle ground. Although it's unlikely I'll be able to visit every country in the world, trying a sampling of all the world's food is possible but still a challenge. My wife and I will also add one small ritual at the start of each meal: We'll say the equivalent of "Bon Appetit" in the native tongue of the country we're "in"!

How can you help? Make any suggestions that occur to you about how I can accomplish this. Or...tell me what challenges you think I might face and your ideas for overcoming them. Or..just comment on this blog.

Periodically, I'll let you know where we've "visited" and where we're having trouble gaining entry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Thread To The Past

"Summertime", a George Gershwin composition from the early 20th century, is familiar to most of us. For me, it is also a thread connected to the past. As I briefly unravel my thread, think of a song or movie or book or food (apologies to Marcel Proust) that has been a thread in your life. I'd like to know. 

As a high school sophomore I heard upper classmen from the "jazz band" play "Summertime". Although this wasn't the first time I'd heard the song, I clearly recall their rendition: drums & bass in 3/4 time (a waltz), as the sax played the melody in common time (4/4). I was transfixed; I still remember this 45+ years later.

In the rock n' roll years, I enjoyed Janis Joplin's read. Several years and many versions later (as I began studying jazz guitar) the song became one of  the first I could navigate; it's still  in my repertoire. Each of you on the bell curve might have a favorite version even though "Summertime" is likely not your thread. Joe Pass on solo guitar (cycling through several keys) & McCoy Tyner's haunting solo piano piece are favorites for me.

The thread returned earlier today when I re-connected with a very old friend. We spoke of many things, including music. My friend mentioned guitarist Pat Metheny. I spoke with him about Pat and Jim Hall's terrific take on this song. After hanging up, I found myself right back in my high school auditorium listening to that little jazz band playing "Summertime", a thread to my past. Yours?  

Monday, March 21, 2011

The George Bailey List

George Bailey is the name of the character Jimmy Stewart played in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life". Who is on your George Bailey list? My list has the people who have enriched me so much that even trying to imagine my life as if they'd never existed (a premise from the movie) is not possible.    

For many, our family of origin and/or the family we create once we become adults are obvious choices for the list. It's important to honor those relationships yet I believe it's almost as important we don't stop there. Take time and go back as far as you can remember. For some, teachers, coaches, spiritual/religious figures, friends belong on the list; you are the only judge.

Next? That's up to you. Before you file your list somewhere, consider: If you were on someone else's list, would you want to know?  I'm interested to know your answer to that. I'd also like to know what you decide to do with your own list.    

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Toward More Meaningful Conversations

One of the things I most enjoy is having an authentic conversation. No matter where someone falls on the bell curve, lifeflong improvement at this skill is possible. I have a few ideas; please share yours with me.

First, although conversations about other people or events are common, I find they are often more limiting (and limited) than conversations about ideas. I've also found that ideas expressed as "opinions" (instead of as explorations) tend to turn conversations into debates. What has been your experience?

More significant for me than the content of a conversation (about people, events or ideas) are the questions we ask one another during a conversation. The questions I've found that move a conversation most effectively are those we ask others when we have no idea how they will answer. 

I am certain I can learn how to move toward more meaningful conversations from you.

Being Tested

I'm not sure I've ever been tested to find out what I'm made of. Have you?

I'm humbled by the bravery & moral courage of people who assisted slaves on the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War or those who helped to hide Jews from the Nazis in World War II. On good days, I flatter myself that I would have acted the same way. But, I have never faced a test of anything near that magnitude. Have you? 

Anyone who has passed a test like this deserves to be called a hero. I'd love to hear from some heroes from the bell curve. I'm a little tired reading about some of the people the media foists upon us as heroes. How about you? 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Envy, Spite & Shame: The Great Motivators

Although I wish it were not the case, I often find myself motivated by base instincts like envy, spite and shame. I'm reasonably certain I'm not alone in this regard, but I haven't yet heard of a 12 step program that addresses this. So today's reflection from the bell curve is my way of announcing "Hi, my name is Pat and I'm a recovering .....". From exactly what am I recovering? I have no illusion (or interest) in a therapist from the virtual world responding to this. Instead, I am looking for a response from someone like me. You.

I recall once reading a pithy quote attributed to Thomas Edision: "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". I'm not a genius but on occasion I am inspired to create something I can call my own.  Motivation must then precede the perspiration and there's my dilemma. I don't expect to always be motivated by noble instincts like grace or love. I would like, however, to increase my percentage so that I'm batting .200 - .250 each season. You know, staying on the bell curve.

Ideas?           

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Do You Call This?

Not long ago I finished "The Painted Drum" by Louise Erdrich. Near the end (page 274 in hard cover edition), there's a paragraph where the main character (Faye) is processing all that has happened to her in the book. Despite this paragraph beginning with the sentence "Life will break you", Faye's conclusions end up being life affirming.

As I finished the paragraph, the Louis Armstrong song called "What a Wonderful World" began playing in my head. How many times has this magic happened for you? You're reading a book or watching a film or listening to a piece of music or looking at a piece of art when suddenly, something from one of the other art forms jumps across your memory and you find Louis Armstrong performing the soundtrack for a Louise Erdrich novel.

What do you call this? Is there a word one of you can share with me? I need some help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 1: Legacy

I'm sure I'm not alone on the bell curve in saying some words occasionally haunt me. As I began falling asleep last night (probably because I initiated this blog earlier that day), legacy was that word.

Partly due to a tendency to be too introspective, the mark I will leave on this world has always had some importance to me. Not suprisingly, it's become more important as I've gotten older. I realize having a child is one way to ensure some legacy and I'm grateful beyond measure for my daughter. And, on most days, that is legacy enough. But how about the days when it's not enough? When you've been haunted by this word, how did you get through it?

I want to get better at this by connecting with and hearing from others. I know there are self-help books outlining many useful strategies for this. I'd instead like the help of others, like me, on the bell curve.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Maiden Voyage

How can an "average" person like me establish a presence in something as vast as cyber-space? More to the point of this blog, how likely is it that I can begin to meaningfully connect with others who recognize that most of the skills we have do not make us extraordinary, at least, not in any fame-producing fashion. Put simply, aside from me, who else out there wants to share reflections from the bell curve?

My sole aim in starting this blog is to make meaningful connections. I'll make a sincere effort to communicate something each day, no matter how small, hoping to find others who might read a reflection here and perhaps benefit in some small way. Even better, share your reflections with me. I've used a journal for many years and find wisdom in something I once saw attributed to British playwright David Hare: "Writing is the act of self-discovery."

Let's discover together.