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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

That's All, Folks!

Was an eventful day yesterday off the bell curve. I've decided to look at yesterday's excitement as a sign (of sorts) that it's time to hang up my blog cleats.

Thanks to all who have read my ramblings since March. Thanks more to those who have commented either online or off. Sorry (again) to those who had trouble getting a comment to post. Thanks a bunch to my followers, especially my always supportive family.

I had a lot of fun. And I've been happy with what I've created even if the online conversations I'd hoped to start didn't take off real well; the offline ones were very satisfying. Adios.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maybe If I Put Some Cheese On It?

For years my wife used to say I would eat anything if there were cheese on it. Last night as I was slogging to the end of "Madame Bovary", I thought about that cheese.

Having now read about a half dozen 19th century classics over the past year, I've come to a preliminary conclusion: My reading cadences for fiction are more in sync with mid-late 20th century. I'm calling this a preliminary conclusion because I'm very interested to hear from anyone who might dissuade me by recommending a pre-1950 novel. My only request: If there is a death scene in any book you recommend, please assure me the end comes in fewer than 10 pages; please!

I'm aware this post puts me in an indefensible position with the canonical police. My justification: My puny blog can surely do no harm to Flaubert, Dickens, or Tolstoy. So call off the dogs. And send me your recommendations.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kick "But" (And More)

At the conclusion of a recent coaching conversation, the person I was coaching decided she needed to begin using more powerful language. I suggested she start by reducing some of the qualifying words and equivocal statements I'd frequently heard her use during our time together. I said "Why not start by kicking the 'but' out of your sentences?" Replace a sentence like "I have an idea but I'm not sure how it will fly" with "I have an idea I want to implement immediately." Which words or phrases do you use that weaken your message?

How about this: "I'd like to...." Or... the word only as in "I'm 'only' thinking out loud", etc. Or... "Do you know what I mean?", especially when that sentence has a plaintive ending. When you really pay close attention to how people speak, it's amazing how many of us sabotage our own message, i.e. our "buts" get in our way. Over time, especially in the workplace, the cumulative effect of using language that is not powerful can lead others to minimize our input or worse, to ignore us while those who speak without as much qualifying language are said to have "charisma". And it happens largely on a unconscious level. Each of us begin acting toward others (powerful or powerless) based on how we've internalized the words they use and the way they use them.

What has been your experience with this? Does a but ever get in your way? Which word or phrase can you begin using less frequently to help make your language more powerful?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mr. Id Redux: Uneducated Opinions

Mr. Id magnanimously concedes that the oft-repeated assertion "Everyone is entitled to their opinion" has conditional merit. But, he feels obliged to point out that it does not necessarily follow that all opinions are equally valid.

How can an uneducated opinion carry comparable weight to an educated one i.e. someone who has been taught to recognize distinctions in any field? When Mr. Id hears someone say "I don't know (fill in the blank) but I know what I like" he usually stops listening before the blank is filled. What is the point of listening to much more? If someone educated in horticulture or drama or criminal law is speaking what is the likelihood that an uneducated opinion about any of those subjects will be of more help to Mr. Id? Like it or not, there is such a thing as expertise. No one gets to call themselves a Dostoyevsky scholar based on reading the Cliff Notes to "Crime and Punishment"  while in college.

On the charge of supercilious arrogance, Mr. Id pleads nolo contendre.

And The Root Word of Progressive Is....?

Yes the answer is... Progress. So that begs the question: Why are today's politicians so reluctant to call themselves progressives or to demonize others who claim that affiliation? Is there something wrong with progress? What am I missing here?

I've recently been watching the Ken Burns series about the creation of our National Parks. And which US President was most responsible for promoting that unimpeachable idea? Theodore Roosevelt. His party? The Progressives. What would our country have missed out on if Roosevelt was afraid at the time of being called progressive because of his support for the parks? Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon - Wow scary stuff, huh?

Even David Duke wants his wife or sister or mother to be able to vote, if for no other reason than to prevent Barack Obama from ever getting elected. Sorry that one didn't work out for you David. But the next time Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman starts going on about the progressives, it would be swell if someone reminded them that giving women the vote was also considered a progressive idea, once upon a time in a century far far away. Um, that would be the 20th century.

Future topic: And The Root Word of Conservative Is...?  Stay tuned - this is an equal opportunity blog.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Avoiding Mirrors

Allowing my anger to get the better of me has been a lifelong struggle. As I've gotten older, more often than not, I find my anger triggered when I'm frustrated. For example, earlier today I was yelling at my laptop when I had trouble doing something. Although I'm relieved I learned early to not (usually) direct my anger at others, people close to me are still subjected to unnecessary temper tantrums when I'm frustrated.

Given my own struggle, I do find myself giving wide berth to anyone I sense might have trouble controlling their anger. For example, when I recently began playing tennis with a new group, I sensed exactly that about one individual. I have not scheduled any games with that person. Since I know anger is not contagious and  also know I'm responsible for my own behavior, I realize this is a little illogical. I guess this strategy is like avoiding a mirror. Which mirrors do you avoid?

Actually, despite how illogical this strategy seems, I'm inclined to think avoiding mirrors is probably wise for me. I already spend a fair amount of time looking at myself without using others as mirrors.

Monday, August 8, 2011

8:08 on 8/08

In my journal I usually record the day & time I write. This habit helps me recall what I was doing when the time of day and the date converge. The original inspiration for paying more attention to that convergence goes back to Joni Mitchell's liner notes from her 1979 recording called "Mingus".  In those notes she mentions Charles Mingus was 56 when he died and 56 sperm whales were beached on a Mexican coastline on the day he died. I recall thinking at the time it couldn't hurt if I started paying a little more attention to what Mitchell calls "...coincidences that thrill the imagination...". How much attention do you pay to these things?

For example, what were you doing at 8:08 a.m. today (i.e. 8/08)? I was just finishing a morning bike ride and preparing to get lunches ready at Meals on Wheels. If you don't remember what you were doing, no problem; 8:08 p.m. is still in front of you. At 8:08 p.m. today, I'm not 100% sure what I'll be up to but the likelihood is pretty good I'll either be reading (current fiction = Madame Bovary; non-fiction = an anthology called Great Conversations) or playing my guitar. What about you? Or, start tomorrow at 8:09 a.m.

There are so many of these wonderful coincidences around us each day. A nice by-product of paying more attention could be an inspiration one of us might get for a poem, a painting, a song. At minimum, just paying more attention helps us be more fully present. On many days, that's enough for me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

When Objectivity Is Difficult

How many parents have you met who think their children aren't smart, talented, good looking, etc.? Is it possible to be objective about our children and their attributes? Maybe a better question would be, is it smart to be objective about this?

My daughter is now 22 years old, an aspiring actress living in New York City. As she was growing up I read every book I could get my hands on about building a child's self image and then tried many of the suggestions. My daughter strikes most people she meets as confident yet I've never heard anyone allude to her being boastful or full of herself. Of course, it's probably unlikely someone would say something like that to or around me. It's possible that's another reason objectivity about our children is difficult. Who in their right mind is going to openly criticize our kids? I recall having a very tense interaction with a Kindergarten teacher when she hinted at a shortcoming in my daughter. I mean, really! My daughter? No way!

Because of the occupation she has chosen, my daughter has already faced numerous rejections; each one stings me. So when she called today and let me know of her latest triumph I began reflecting on my objectivity. I decided when it comes to her, I'm glad I threw away that notion 22 years ago.   

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Enjoying The Train Ride

Being as goal oriented as I am has sometimes interfered with me being fully in the moment. For example, on the day I was getting my Masters Degree, I remember thinking about a Doctorate. This trait has been particularly troublesome with my guitar playing - I reach a goal but have three new ones right behind it. How do you celebrate when reaching a goal? What strategies help you enjoy the process of incremental learning?

Recently, I've been trying a metaphor to assist me with my guitar playing goals: I visualize myself on a moving train, walking the cars. I remind myself to be unconcerned about arriving at any station and instead enjoy the movement - the train & mine. Although it is way too early for me to assess whether this will help, it surely can't hurt. Even if gets me just savoring the process of learning a bit more, I'll be better for it.

I also know that being goal oriented has assisted me in my life and for that I'm grateful. Like many people, I search for ways to ensure my strengths don't throw me off balance.

        

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Help Wanted:Teachers

On the booksleeve of Muriel Barbery's 2006 novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", a psychiatrist who is also a book reviewer says she has started prescribing Barbery's book to her patients. As I made notes in my book journal after finishing "Hedgehog", I found myself musing on how I (continue to) sometimes act superior when I'm feeling inferior. Then two thoughts came to me.

First, the psychiatrist/reviewer's decision is very apt. Some of my longheld psychic baggage felt a little lighter as the book drew to a close and Paloma began healing herself. At 12, she's getting that lesson in superiority vs. inferiority. Second thought: I'm 61, not 12. And although I often quote Buddha ("When a student is ready, a teacher appears"), I wondered: How many teachers will I need (including Muriel Barbery/Paloma) before I'm "ready" for this lesson? How many teachers have you needed in your life to learn a hard lesson? What lesson is/was it?

I'm a little concerned that by the time I get any of this big stuff worked out, I might not remember why it mattered to me that I do so. But I'm committed to keeping my eye out for more teachers. If you know of any good ones, please let me know.       

Monday, August 1, 2011

Caution: Cannibalized Conversation Ahead?

Since being called on it, I've become more conscious about cannibalizing too much of any one conversation for later use in this blog. I realized if I'm not careful, I could alienate people or make them more circumspect about what they say around me if they're worried it could turn up here. Although I know the comparison is ludicrous, I found myself thinking of the reaction the late Truman Capote got to his last book, a roman-a-clef called "Answered Prayers".  Don't laugh - I started to get a little worried. Me & Truman. 

On the other hand, some of my posts that have gotten a really good response have featured small pieces of conversations I've had. In addition, several people have said things to me like "...Hey, why don't you blog about what we talked about?..." etc. My conclusion: Exercise caution but continue using my interactions with others as potential content. After all, my interactions and conversations likely share common ground with others on the bell curve, right? And, if anyone sees "too much" of them reflected here, they can give me a heads-up. Anyone I don't interact with who is reading the blog - you're safe, unless you comment on a posting.

A final note: Although I'd like to reflect on many subjects people have suggested to me, I'm firm about my format remaining brief. So, it might be a while before I do a post on poverty. But thanks for all your suggestions.