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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Unsent Letters

Unlike many of my posts, I'm quite uncertain today if I have a lot of company on the bell curve; I hope to find out. If you don't want to comment publicly (or have difficulty doing so), please figure out another way to let me know if my experience has any resonance for you.

During my adult life, I have written several letters (both in the pre and post e-mail years) to different musicians, authors, and filmmakers whose work has moved me. I have mailed only one - to author D Patrick Miller about his 1994 volume "Little Book of Forgiveness". I believe the main thing that has held me back is a fear of appearing to be a deranged fan. Since I know anyone can easily choose not to acknowledge receipt of a letter from anyone else, this is clearly irrational. My letters are brief; they do not stray from discussing (in a rational way) the work that has moved me and why. Still, they are unsent letters. I have never once even been tempted to send an e-mail of this nature to anyone. Just letters - unsent.

Wally Lamb's 2009 novel "The Hour I First Believed", moved me very much. In my paperback version, the book is followed by an interview with Lamb where he talks about how he loves hearing from his readers. I wrote a letter. It remains unsent. I am mystified by my reticence. Non-therapeutic insights, anyone?

Why Not?

While driving and reflecting on a recent personal encounter, I glanced at the inspection sticker in my car window and I thought why not?

Why couldn't there be a process where people had to have an annual civility inspection? If someone failed, they get a red sticker they have to wear and get re-inspected within a month. If they don't get re-inspected in time and are caught being uncivil they get fined. Why not?

Who does the inspections, you ask? All of us know people who are rarely uncivil to others; these same people are often the same ones who don't talk trash behind other people's backs. One of the followers of this blog, a friend of mine for many years, is one of them. Let's give the job to people like this. I know I'm not qualified, how about you? And being subject to an annual inspection could be just the thing to help me get my act together. What do you think? Why not? 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ebb & Flow Of Friendship

What are the common elements in longstanding friendships you have?

Aside from an obvious element like trust, I've been having some difficulty nailing this down. It often seems to me that the ebb & flow of my friendships is a little fickle. For example, an element as superficial as proximity sometimes seems to play an outsize role for me. Given how easy technology has made communication, I've begun to wonder if those geographically proximate friendships of mine were ever friendships at all. And seeing how my wife has maintained a powerful friendship (with and without technology) with a high school friend who has lived in Florida for 40 years, I wonder more about how real my friendships have been.

Lately I've also noticed I'm less inclined to hold onto a friendship that begins to have any whiff of competition. What has been your experience with this?  Like many of you, I've seen those "friends for a reason, friends for a season" explanations about this ebb & flow. At times, I get solace from those Hallmark sentiments. Today, not so much. Today, I'm interested instead to know what you've learned.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Back To The Bar Years

This past week, I did my first volunteer presentation for AARP on Health Care Reform. The audience was a group in Robbinsville. I was looking forward to doing this presentation from the time I attended a speaker's orientation a few months ago. From the moment I walked in the building with my stuff and no one seemed to be expecting me, I was right back to the bar years, when I'd show up with my stuff  (i.e. my guitar) and no one seemed to be expecting me. My deja vu experience did not end there.

* When I met the woman who had contacted AARP for a speaker, she told me most of the people didn't know I was going to speak. Back to the bar years: In 90% + of the places I played, few people knew there would be live music on nights I'd show up. Later, the same woman told me I was to  begin speaking after "line dancing" finished. Bar years: I waited to start until a ball game on TV was over.
* There was no specific "place" where I was to stand to speak and no lectern or table set aside for me to use. Back to the bar years: Many times my "stage" was the place in the bar most proximate to a working lightbulb. In some bars, I'd set up in a different place from one week to the next.

I had a great time doing my speech this past week and I will do as many as AARP asks of me. And I loved playing in the bars - wouldn't trade those years for anything. 40 years ago I played my guitar & sang in bars to people around my age. Some listened, some didn't. A few days ago I spoke to a group of  people around my age. Some listened, some didn't. I met my wife while I was playing in one of those bars; she was one of the people who listened. If I get lucky enough to make one friend of her caliber while I'm speaking somewhere for AARP, I'll be really pleased.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Searching For Greener Cyber Pastures

I surrender.

After frustrating many people who've tried to comment on my blog since I began 10 weeks ago, late last night was the coup-de-grace; all of my followers disappeared as I was writing! I live with one of those followers, so I know this was yet another glitch on blogspot, not a case of mass abandonment. As I search for greener cyber pastures, I will keep posting here only until I'm up on a better hosting site; then I migrate. I hope you will migrate with me. At this point, my two best prospects are posterous.com and WordPress.com but please stay tuned - the change is coming soon (music fans - do you hear Sam Cooke singing?)

Because I know how precious time is, I appreciate anyone taking the time to read, let alone follow this blog. So, I'm not happy making this change. The response I got from the start caused me to unduly postpone making a switch even though the comment feature is so glitchy. I also got lost in the sauce of the cool stats blogspot provides and forgot my real purpose - building a community of conversation. With the stinko comment feature here, I can't do that. So, onto greener cyber pastures. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mr.Id Returns

Caveat emptor.

Mr. Id proposes immediately changing the expression "going ape shit" (used for describing someone who has lost their bearings), to "going dog shit". To wit:

* Based on the dictionary definition of the word anthropomorphize, the late William Safire would  surely align with Mr. Id and say a dog owner is going dog shit when they ask a human being "Have you ever met my dog?" Would that mean introducing a dog to a person?  "Fido, please say hello to Mr. Id" or.. "Fido, shake hands with Mr. Id". A person can expose someone else to a rose but someone cannot meet a rose anymore than they can meet a dog. Mr. Id is not suggesting the use of the word "expose" for a first encounter between human being & dog; too suggestive in a bestial way - yech!  But he would be satisfied with "Have you ever seen my dog?"
* At a recent dinner party, Mr. Id was treated to a delightful discussion of the bowel movements of the host & hostess' dog. Surely this must be a case of going dog shit. When Mr. Id was a young father he was amazed when other new parents thought nothing of bringing up toilet training etc. in polite conversation; tasteless and inappropriate. Dog shit at a dinner party? Only film Director John Waters and his transvestite star Divine have sunk lower vis-a-vis dog shit.

Full disclosure: Mr. Id is not currently a dog owner. He did own and and love many from the canine species from the time he was a young boy right through his early 40s. But...he knew they were animals so he did not ask people if they wanted to "meet" his dogs and he did not treat his dog's bowel movements as suitable conversation topics. Got any other examples of people going dog shit you'd like to share? Don't even get Mr. Id started on those little vests.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Don't Try This At Home

Been paying a little more attention to the way conversations unfold lately. This goes both for those I'm involved with myself and those I happen to overhear (OK, I'm eavesdropping). Unless you want a fair share of conversations to grind to a halt, I suggest NOT trying the below at home or elsewhere.

* Eliminating talk of the weather. No news, I know. But also: I suggest not eliminating one of my family's favorites =  roads and bridges, aka how did you get here today or to so and so a place last week, etc. Being very cutting edge, my family has recently expanded this rich vein to discussions of Mapquest, etc.
* Avoiding discussions of food or family or family food favorites or where/what you ate yesterday, the day before, on your honeymoon etc. Somehow my family manages to get to roads and bridges from these topics as well. ("I ate at Lubrano's last week" "Really? How did you get there?")
* Interjecting any of the taboos many of us have learned to avoid. To that venerable list I would add any mention of the color red or blue. I still get these two mixed up and that has contributed to at least one recent conversation where I was later handed a pamphlet for the John Birch Society.

If there are any conversational counter-revolutionaries out there, I'd be interested in hearing of your efforts to sustain a conversation should you try any of these things in the near future. I also encourage you to eavesdrop. Aside from getting some juicy stuff, I think you'll get support for these reflections.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm Off To See The Wizard

"We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent we do not possess than to be praised  for the fifteen we do possess": Mark Twain

With a nod to Mark Twain, today I'm off to see the wizard. Since I'm OK right now in the brains, heart, and courage categories (coincidentally, in approximate descending order), I want the man behind the curtain to give me the talent of improvisation. And, I'll take it in any form - musical, verbal, mechanical. That's in order of preference. What about you? For what talent would you knowingly face those flying monkeys?

Lest I be accused of being too modest (Sue!), I do have a list compiled of the 15 talents I do possess. Actually I tally 17, but I'm not counting brains or heart or courage - all too broad. But being able to  truly improvise without hesitation or inner critics would be swell. Although I've spent many years studying how to do this with music, I wouldn't mind some extra help now. Same goes for verbal improv; I love it when I come up with my own puns on the spot but as the main character in Saul Bellow's novel "Henderson The Rain King" chants throughout that book "I want..." 

So do I, Mr. Henderson, so do I. And how about the rest of you Hendersons?

       

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Being Of Use

Because I'm in the habit of writing a great deal in my books (including the dates I read them), I know that the last time I re-read M Scott Peck's classic "The Road Less Travelled" was April 2006. This was a period in my life when I was feeling particularly useful to many others. Peck asserts in all of his books that being of use is a big part of what makes life meaningful. That assertion has always resonated for me.

This past week I saw someone who I met with regularly around that same time. He told me I'd been "right" about many things we'd discussed. Later as I was writing in my journal about how gratifying our conversation had been to my ego, I glanced up and saw "...Road.." on my bookshelf. I stopped writing and read a few pages, as I have many times before. I suddenly realized how un-important it was that this person thought I'd been "right". I also knew it was no coincidence that "...Road.." was right there in front of me that moment as I was journalling about both our recent conversation and our earlier time together.  

As I resumed writing, I reflected on what is important: I'd been of use to that person and many others at that time. It's so much more important to be of use than it is to be "right". I went back to my journal, refreshed (again) by Peck's wisdom, grateful for the clarity of my insight, and rejoicing in a future filled with being of use.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Struggle For Originality

After two months of blogging nearly every day, I've so far detected one clear pattern about this discipline. The days I struggle to commit to what I'll write about are the days reading has been my predominant activity. It's possible my struggle on those reading days is related to a heightened awareness of the difficulty of being original. Once that conversation begins playing in my head I know better than to even start typing.

Saturdays are particularly challenging because of many of my longstanding habits. There's the weekend NY Times, a magazine or two, and the books I'm reading. Invariably on Saturdays, at least a few of my ideas for future blogs get discarded.

Of course, changing how much reading I do is not an option. And, I get an occasional thrill when I read someone else's work and pieces of what they've written are very close to something I've claimed as mine. Of course, claiming something is "mine" is itself an ill/de-lusion (I love using that "/" thing for two words that share an ending - I stole it from David Foster Wallace!)  So then, my struggle for originality is everyone's struggle? Does that mean it's not a struggle at all but the human condition?

I feel so much better. You?

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Recent Special Gift

When was the last time you learned something and were able to integrate that learning so directly that you saw immediate results? As an adult, this special gift is not given to me as frequently as I'd like; how about you? I do recall having this experience fairly regularly, and being able to clearly identify the link, when I was in Graduate School; that's part of the magic of being in school as an adult.

A short time ago I read "Finishing the Hat", a 2010 memoir by Stephen Sondheim covering 1954-1981, his first 25 years as a well known lyricist. In addition to copies of lyrics from his shows during those years, Sondheim also describes his process and some guidelines he tries to follow. If you're interested in this stuff, it's really fascinating AND instructive; I took a lot of notes.

Not long after, a good friend of mine lost a good friend of hers, someone I'd met just once. My friend wrote a brief e-mail to several people, including me, about her friend's life and spirit. That e-mail moved me a great deal. Soon after, I heard a melody in my head. With Sondheim's' guidelines whispering in my ear, I then wrote a lyric that is among the best I've ever written. I have no doubt reading Sondheim's book and my immediate improvement as a lyricist are linked.

Please share with me a time you've been certain your learning has given you this special gift.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Road from Geekdom To Snobbery

When it comes to movies, I am very close to being indiscriminate. I'll watch almost anything and even put off doing urgent things needing attention if I've rented a movie (or two). Since I moved within walking distance of a library where I can now borrow films for free, my geek cup runneth over.

I've allowed myself this indulgence because, aside from the "I could be doing something more productive" internal conversations, it's a fairly benign habit being a movie geek.  But recently, I uncovered a downside to geekdom. And the downside comes wrapped in a little story.

The downside: Being indiscriminate has taken away some of my passion. Because I've seen so many, some of the conventions of genre movies (Westerns, romantic comedies, sports films, musicals, etc.) are no longer as fresh for me. I find myself being a tad cynical when I can predict how these types of films will turn out. The story? I've begun to give the offbeat or unusual or non-genre films more credit than they sometimes deserve. Yes, I'm worried this geek could be morphing into a snob. This kind of thing ever happen to you? If not with movies, how about with literature? Music?  Occurred to me it's possible this road I find myself on may be a road professional critics find themselves on from time to time. Ever notice how there are a few critics who rarely seem to like anything a lot of us "regular" folks like? Maybe those critics have seen or read or listened to so much of what they're paid to criticize that they've gotten cynical, then told themselves a story, and presto = a snob is born. Your thoughts? Strategies to assist me?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Adages Ready For The Trash Heap

"Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me"
"You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

Been reflecting lately on the implications of the two adages above if someone used these as lyrics and set them to music. The result could be an excellent theme song for insensitivity. The people using the song could say/sing whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted whenever they wanted because they believe in the "truth" of the first. Then, either they themselves or others singing the same tune could make excuses for their insensitivity by reciting/singing the second. We've all heard the variations of these themes with statements like "...oh, that's just 'old' Pat, he doesn't mean anything by it", etc.

I say these two adages are ready for the trash heap. One or the other by itself seems harmless enough but having them both floating around unchallenged? They can readily be combined into a personal credo - a credo like that just intensifies the incivility and coarseness of much of our public conversation.

Got other adages you think are ready for the trash heap? Bring 'em on!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Escaping Celebrities

Multiple flat screen televisions in diners, magazines at the supermarket checkout line, billboards on highways & buses. How can any of us escape being bombarded by images of and information about celebrities? And what message is internalized when we can easily know more about their lives than we sometimes know about the lives of the people with whom we regularly interact?

I don't consider myself much of a celebrity watcher but I can't deny I know more about some of them than I even care to own up to. Here's a recent example: Although I've never watched the TV show "Two and a Half Men" (honest!), I know who is going to replace Charlie Sheen. How do I know? Better yet, how do I know Charlie Sheen was the star of a show I've never watched? Answer: This appeared as a "news" story on my Internet Explorer (yesterday, I think) when I booted up my laptop.

In my March 19 posting  ("Being Tested"), I suggested the people our media foists upon us as heroes often leave me cold. It is possible even the word hero has been cheapened partly because it's so difficult anymore to escape celebrities, some of whom have never done much that is remotely heroic. What is your view? More importantly, what strategies can you offer me to help escape these people?

    

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Me And My Superman Cape

I've recently had several conversations with others who have had the experience of frequently supervising others. There has been one common thread in those conversations: Why the hell did we ever sign on for such a largely thankless task? If anyone of you has found a great deal of joy supervising others, I would sincerely like to know your secret. After 35 years doing so, I am glad to shed my Superman cape, once and for all.

Supervision hasn't been without it's rewards. In my last full time position, one of my direct reports gave me credit for "inspiring" her to finish her Bachelor's Degree; I was flattered. And, three people I supervised years ago showed up for my retirement party; I was honored. In my years as a retail store manager, I enjoyed getting manager-trainees who worked for me ready for their own stores. Developing people and watching them grow has been enjoyable in every supervisory job I've had.

As gratifying as all that has been, the stress of having to deliver critical feedback at performance reviews, the tact and attention required to attend to fragile egos or low self-esteem, and the staggering number of personal problems people bring to work (and that you as their supervisor are dealing with in some way, often because those problems tend to affect the other people those employees interact with) tip the scale significantly in the other direction. Don't take my word for it. Talk to others who have done this for a long time and ask them if they're not exhausted by it. Better yet, ask them if they had to do it all over again, would they? I would guess many, like me, would be happy to shed their Superman capes.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Appreciating Wally Lamb

Having recently finished both his short & sweet 2009 novel "Wishing and Hoping" and his sprawling 2008 bestseller "The Hour I First Believed", my appreciation for Wally Lamb's talents as an author and storyteller continues to deepen. Over just four books he's tackled an intriguing range of topics. Odd that neither of his earlier books ("She's Come Undone" & "I Know This Much Has True") has yet been made into a film. For anyone who read "She's Come Undone", I'd like to know who you would cast as Dolores, the unforgettable heroine; I'll save my idea on that until I hear from someone. Dolores is among the most sharply etched female characters I can recall ever being conjured by a male author; sort of an un-Lolita.

"I Know This Much..." and "The Hour...", are Lamb's more artistically ambitious books; each has a sweep that is epic and intimate in equal measure. The first concerns twin brothers and mental illness, the second a marriage unraveling, collateral damage in the aftermath of Columbine. I liked both a great deal; I think "The Hour..." will linger longer in my memory.

I laughed through much of "Wishing and Hoping", especially the final chapter ("Noel") describing a Christmas pageant gone awry. (I also found myself thinking of a great scene in the Ron Howard film "Parenthood" as I read that chapter). It's thrilling to watch an author effortlessly switch gears in back-to-back books. Lamb makes this transition - he moves from the horror of Columbine in "The Hour..." to the hilarity of the pageant in "Wishing and Hoping".  If you haven't yet, try Wally Lamb; I don't think you'll be disappointed.

             

Moments of Magic...Then

This afternoon I was seated by the window of a coffee shop when a woman came by with two young girls about 5 or 6 years old; both were enjoying their ice cream. The girls sat down at the outside table adjacent to my window as the woman entered the coffee shop. One of the girls gave me a big smile and waved at me; my heart was filled as I waved back. It was a moment of pure magic.

As the woman passed where I was sitting, I decided to tell her of the smile and wave. The woman said to me in a very friendly, open way - "I tell her all the time not to talk with strangers". I reassured her  - "No talking; just smiling and waving". As the woman was being waited on, I tried to return to my reading but found I was having difficulty. The moment of magic had been interrupted. I looked at the girls and I thought about what the woman had said. I wondered: How do we all help our children learn appropriate caution while ensuring they also know the world is mostly made up of decent people like me, the man who smiled & waved back? I thought of what I wanted to say to the woman when she left the shop but before I could decide, she passed me and said very pleasantly "Have a great day". Another moment of magic.

The girls were still enjoying their ice cream as the woman entered the store right next to the coffee shop, it's front door open so the girls were within both her sight and easy reach. I left the coffee shop and said nothing to the girls as I walked by them. I waited a few moments trying to decide if I wanted to chance a final magic moment. I composed a script I would use to speak with this woman one last time: "Excuse me, I promise I'm not a creep, I just want to tell you how much I enjoyed that moment of smiling & waving and...."  When I got to the part of my script about not being a creep, the magic was interrupted again. I realized what I really wanted to do was ask her, a total stranger, the exact question I posed above. But wouldn't the question itself be creepy? I decided to take this chance. When the woman came out of the shop I did preface my question with the "...not a creep..." stuff but it was unnecessary. She was just as open and friendly and pleasant as she was when she passed me both ways in the coffee shop. And she answered the question as well as anyone possibly could. She said  "I don't know how to do that - and I think about it all the time".

Another moment of magic. I walked home very happy. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"But...They Seemed So Happy" (etc.)

How many times have you been genuinely surprised when a couple you know splits up? Lately, I've been noticing a shift in myself when I hear news like this about people. And this shift is not confined to news about "happy" couples. The shift has been a long time coming for me. 

I've been flabbergasted more than once when people I've coached have told me how they "...know this doesn't happen to 'you'...". How could anyone 'know' this about someone else? How do any of us make the leap from what we feel inside to what we imagine other people are about on their insides? Stories others have invented about me, especially in my role as a coach, have greatly assisted me in my own shift. Only I can know what goes on inside of me, as it is with anyone else. And, of course, that goes double for what goes on inside any relationship, doesn't it?

Self-evident? Common sense? Maybe, but as my wife and I discussed a recent break-up of another "happy" couple, the stories others have invented about me and that I've invented about others began playing in my head.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Trap Of Rational Lies

Ever notice how the the word rationalize sounds identical to the words rational lies? I don't believe it's possible for anyone, on or off the bell curve, to avoid rationalizing from time to time. Coping could be very difficult if we did not occasionally tell ourselves some rational lies.

One of my struggles is identifying when I've moved from benign rationalizing to more indulgent inaction. In other words, am I indulging in the luxury of doing nothing because I've told myself anything I do won't make a difference in the world? It's easy to get there. We are each assaulted 24/7 with news & information, often accompanied by horrific visuals. And, the mental health field has assisted us by providing us with the term "compassion fatigue" - a label that helps make the rational lies go down easier; what a trap.

My way out of that trap? Trying to continually remind myself that doing something is always better than doing nothing & paying close attention to when I've moved from rationalizing to inaction. Your way?  
 

  

Other Helpful Scarlet Letters

I think Nathaniel Hawthorne's concept needs to be expanded beyond the scarlet "A" Hester Prynne was forced to wear.

Let's start with "B". My vote would be for bores. Think how nice it would be if you could avoid people who talk incessantly about themselves, never asking a single question about you. In my Hawthornian fantasy, a "C" goes on the chest of control freaks. Some letters, like "H" for homophobe, "M" for misogynist or "R" for racist could save me a lot of angst, time and frustration - reference my post from May 1 entitled "The Right Time To Challenge".

The hard part of this fantasy is owning up to letter(s) that belong embroidered on me (or you). For me? I'll start with "A" (arrogant), "J" (judgmental), and "O" (opinionated or obnoxious or both). Probably won't surprise any regular reader of this blog to know I've already got a whole alphabet of other scarlet letters ready to assign to myself.  Still, I am curious to know which letters you would find helpful. And also which ones you'd assign to yourself.         

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Mother's Legacy

My Mother Marie Elizabeth Trautvetter Barton died on November 17, 1977. She was 57 years old, four years younger than I am now. At the time, she was mother to four grown children and a loving wife to my Dad. Although only her first granddaughter was born before she died, her legacy now includes four additional granddaughters, two grandsons, and two great-grandchildren. At different times, I see traits of my Mother throughout three generations. A few I've been paying more attention to lately:

* Her singing voice passed through me and my brother, then onto my daughter and my brother's oldest son
* Her generosity passed in full to my older sister; her laughter and open spirit passed onto to my older sister's younger daughter
* Her loyalty and ability to build strong & lasting friendships passed onto my younger sister, my younger sister's oldest daughter, and my brother

I've been without my Mother a long time. During the years I participated in all night walks to benefit the American Cancer Society, I used the solitary hours on the track to pay tribute to her; I remembered and honored her traits. Several years have passed since the last walk I did. So today, on Mother's Day, I was driving alone for many hours; I used the time to return to my Mother's legacy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sobering News

Heard the oft-repeated assertion that we use only a small percentage of our brain's potential? I know I have; I've repeated it in classes I've taught. Some sobering news delivered by neuroscientists Chris Chamblin & Daniel Simons in their 2010 book "The Invisible Gorilla": It just ain't so. The authors make a strong case to support their position while on the other side, i.e. the oft-repeated assertion, I turned  up....no compelling data at all. If you find any, please direct me to a reliable source; rogue Internet sites don't count.

Chabris & Simons claim this canard is part of what contributes to an "illusion of potential" many of us have bought into. The authors debunk six other common illusions in their meticulously researched & persuasive book. This sobering news got me reflecting on other oft-repeated assertions I've heard and, like this one, repeated myself without first verifying their accuracy in any meaningful way. Heard the one that goes something like this? "Non-verbals play a much greater role in communication than the actual words we use". The % used can vary here - I've heard and/or said non-verbals are 2/3, 3/4, over 80% (etc.) of the equation. I'm now looking for data, specifically the %, on this. Considering how many times I've "quoted" these phantom percentages, I'm hoping my research turns up more than the "brain potential" malarkey did.

How about others you've heard? How much support have you found to verify the truth in any of them, regardless of how often they've been repeated? Chabris & Simons' book has me on the lookout. And I'm reminded of what Mark Twain said: "There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics".

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Talkative? Or...Garrulous?

I recently listened to a woman making use of her good vocabulary during a prepared speech she was giving to her peers. I did not feel she was being at all showy. Nevertheless, it did not surprise me when I later over-heard people saying they thought the speaker used too many "...big words..."

Some of you may be familiar with this advice often given to public speakers: "Speak to express, not to impress". This can be a useful guideline. At the same time, I have seen this advice work against people who have a strong and natural command of words; they begin second-guessing themselves. Instead of using "garrulous" they stumble to find "talkative". Perhaps they're worrying about others thinking they're using "big words" although both have the same number of syllables. It is also possible that speakers who dumb down their good vocabularies are not giving their listeners enough credit. What is your view on this? What do you usually do if someone you're not close with uses a word you don't know?

I admire speakers (and authors) who use simple words well. I also love when someone challenges me to be smarter. Mostly, I want people to use what they have naturally at their disposal; I'll take responsibility for my learning from there.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Introducing Mr. Id

Since I've now been blogging several weeks (and recently got my lucky 13th follower!), it's time to make an occasional post using an alter-ego. With apologies to both the "horse of a horse" from the 60's TV show and Mr. Freud, today I am introducing Mr. Id; caveat emptor. Before bringing Mr. Id to life, some thoughts re risk.

* I realize Mr. Id could help me Iose some or all of my followers, although I suspect the subset of 4 from that group of 13 who are family wouldn't abandon me quite as quickly. Actually, aside from my wife, I'm not at all sure how often my other three family followers actually read this. And, one of my sisters and my brother aren't followers; neither are any of my nieces (my nephews are too young). If they were still alive, I'm not sure my parents would be either. So, this is probably a low level risk.  
* But then Mr. Id could alienate those lurking on the fringes of the blog, or reading occasionally, or viewing (but not actually reading) the postings. Because the lurkers, occasional readers, and non-reading viewers are all contributing to my site stats, the risk of alienating this group would be in seeing my numbers diminish and along with that, my inflated sense of myself. Bottom line: Higher risk with this 2nd group.
* Clearly, I run a high risk introducing Mr. Id if this scenario occurs: Suppose somebody decides to try this blog for the very first time on a day I post as my alter ego (like today) vs. on a day when I'm my usual charming, non-offensive, obsequious self i.e. the blogger who wants approval? Surely, those first time readers would flee, never to become followers, lurkers, etc., right? Could Mr. Id wink perhaps? How does one wink on a blog? 

Ok, enough exposition. In his first appearance Mr. Id would like to know who else was jarred this past week by the juxtaposition of the back-to-back spectacles dominating the news. One day half the world watches two people spend more money on a wedding than the GNP of some developing nations. Then a few days later, the political pundits on both sides of the aisle (and all their dittoheads) jockey to make sure "their man" gets credit for the death of Osama Bin Laden. Until next time, this is Mr. Id, reflecting from the bell curve.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Connecting

"Only connect": EM Forster

Although I value my solitude, I still have a high need to connect with others; I suspect most people share that need if not necessarily to the same degree as I. What I'm often uncertain about is the depth of the connections I've made with others. How do you assess the depth of the connections you've made? What kinds of indications do you look for?

It is possible that connecting more deeply is related to being vulnerable. I've had my fair share of relationships where I wanted to get to a deeper level of connection but my overtures were not reciprocated; that can be painful. But, if I'd not opened myself up how would I get deeper with someone?  I can also recall times when I was on the other end of that equation and likely caused someone else some pain.

Who do you know that you sense is particularly adept at connecting? What do they do differently than you do (if anything?)  How vulnerable are you willing to be to get to a deeper level of connecting?        

Monday, May 2, 2011

Being In The (Virtual) World

I had a friend many years ago who used to say half the battle in life was about "showing up". Thanks to the discipline of this blog, I have a slightly better understanding what she meant by that.

Almost every day, I post words in this virtual world. On some of those days I'm less confident about what I write than others but I'm holding myself accountable for being in the virtual world, regardless. That is, I'm showing up. This is not always easy for a few reasons.

First is the inner critic I've alluded to in an earlier post. Next is the challenge of saying at least one thing in each post that is really mine. By now, anyone who has read this blog even a few times knows how much I enjoy reading. When I write here (unlike my private journal where I can plagiarize to my heart's content), I'm hyper-conscious about claiming only what is truly mine as mine. As recently as two nights ago, while listening to Emerson's essay on "Self-Reliance", several ideas I had for future blogs went out the window - way too close to things Emerson has already covered. And, the last reason is very basic - what difference would it make if I didn't show up?

No difference I guess, except my own sense of being in the world.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Right Time To Challenge

Recently, I co-led a workshop about being an active anti-racist. The friend who asked me to help is someone I've known for many years. As the day progressed, I realized I was learning more about myself than what I was "teaching" to the 12 participants. One of my key learnings, picked up watching my skillful friend and then reinforced during offline conversations we had debriefing exercises we'd conducted, was about picking the right time to challenge. It's a lesson I've had to re-learn many times.

Although I've gotten marginally more tactful as I've aged, I am still highly susceptible to being triggered, especially when someone makes a remark I find offensive. And during those triggered moments, I often mistake righteousness for effectiveness. It's not that I doubt my position; but until I regain my wits, I need to recognize this is not the right time to challenge. How do you know when the time is right to challenge?

I'm equally curious to know how any of you balance your sense of speaking out about something you believe in  (when challenging others) vs. a need to "keep the peace". My struggle is with the importance of keeping the peace vs. feeling like a coward when I'm silent.