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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Choosy Mr. Id

How is it Mr. Id can choose from well over 50 different varieties of cereal but there are only two viable political parties at his disposal? And don't tell him about having more than two choices when he gets in the ballot box. When was the last time someone other than a Democrat or a Republican was elected to a significant public office? Put another way, when did anyone last see a color aside from red or blue on those TV maps? Imagine if there were just Rice Krispies and Cherrios on grocery shelves - mayhem would ensue. The consuming public would revolt! What about the voting public?

Who represents us in Government is arguably among the most critical choices we get to make as citizens. But instead of several options, we're essentially stuck with an odious either/or. How can something so important be relegated to this antiquated bi-polar construct? 

Mr. Id has been chastised for "wasting" his vote in the past on someone who has no chance of winning - that would be someone not a donkey or elephant. Mr. Id pleads guilty by reason of sanity. In his further defense he offers the following: Red & blue are not alone on the spectrum; that ark had more than donkeys & elephants on it; Captain Crunch is still available at a store near you.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Cocktail & A Conundrum

Having a good memory has come in handy a lot for me. In several domains of my life, e.g. with music, in relationships, for learning, I've been grateful for this trait.

Here's the rub. I'm a little thin skinned. So when someone says something that hurts my feelings, which is not hard to do, I tend to remember it for a long time. A friend of mine used to refer to this tendency as part of my "Irish discourse". But I'm the 6th generation on my Father's side (the Irish part of my heritage) to be born in the U.S., so I'm not inclined to accept ethnic explanations. To me it just seems like I remember too much. Which two traits of yours when combined add up to an unpleasant cocktail like these two of mine do? What are your strategies for working around your cocktail? What suggestions do you have for me?

Forgive & forget? I've gotten a bit better at the forgive part of that equation as I've gotten older. The forget part? Got myself a little conundrum there, don't I?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Over-Simplifying

In an animated conversation last night, I heard myself offering an over-simplified explanation to a complex issue being discussed. And even though I know better, sometimes the temptation to do this is hard to resist, isn't it?

Like most of us, I have some favorites. For example, when a conversation is about money and/or inequality in our economic system, my kneejerk simplification is that greed is the root of the problem. If I heard someone in the media making a pronouncement like this, I'd call them a dunce. If someone I was conversing with over-simplified to this degree, I'd try to point out some nuances the person was overlooking. I want others to do the same for me, including pointing out any over-simplifying detected on this blog.

It's possible we fall into this habit because the problems in our world can be overwhelming. I know at times I crave simple answers as a coping mechanism. It's harmless so long as I remember to re-visit the questions later when I can better handle complexity.
 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Jekyll & Hyde Day

Ever had a day where you felt a little like two different people? Without being glib about mental illness or trying to seem dramatic, today was one of those days for me. I'll begin with the part that put me in an empty glass frame of mind early this a.m.

According to Time magazine this week, since the dawn of man 50,000 years ago, an estimated 108 billion people have walked the face of the earth, including the almost 7 billion alive today. For whatever reason, those incomprehensibly vast numbers had a pronounced negative effect on me. I almost blogged right then but what came to me was way too somber. I took a walk and wrote in my journal instead and then busied myself with other stuff, recalling a pertinent line of dialogue from the movie "The Human Stain":  "Action is the enemy of thought".

Later in the day I was reviewing my notes from Nina Sankovitch's book "Tolstoy & The Purple Chair" for an upcoming book club discussion. In those notes I re-read a question I promised myself I'd remember & use in the future. My question was inspired by something the author of "Tolstoy..." said early in her book:  "How can I use my memories of times when I was filled with peace or overflowing with love or suffused with gratitude to sustain me when I'm low?" I summoned one of those memories and the glass filled to the brim. After shaking off the mental whiplash, I thought about what I might write later here. And I wondered - Have you had Jekyll & Hyde days like this?         

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blogging & Blah, Blah, Blah

Though the online conversation I envisioned this blog might inspire has not been as robust as I'd hoped, I have noticed how much more satisfied I've been with my offline conversations since I started blogging. And though I'm selfishly pleased when a conversation is connected to one of my posts, I've tried to not initiate those conversations. Even so, several times since March, people have begun conversations with me by saying something like "..You know that post you wrote about blah, blah, blah, well, blah, blah, blah..."

Though I can be just as self-centered as the next person, I do try to then move these conversations away from whatever I wrote and elicit answers to any questions I posed online. I'm interested to hear what others think about the subjects of my posts - that's why I wrote about the subject to begin with. And though I'm not above conversations about people or events, I now prefer conversations exploring the realm of ideas. I've detected an increase in those types of conversations in my life lately; it's possible my blog is helping that.

You? What kinds of conversations most appeal to you? How much is dependent on the mood and/or others involved? How inclined are you to dive below the surface? And what do you think about the causal link I'm suggesting between blogging and more satisfying blah-blah-blahing?

Friday, October 21, 2011

A 45 RPM Version Of Constructivism

"We don't see the world as it is but as we are".

Because of the work I began doing in the early 90's, I've spent the last 20 years paying a lot more attention to the way my language shapes my world. Thanks to Albert Ellis I learned of the effect of "shoulding" on myself and others and "musterbation". Via Deborah Tannen and other linguists I became more aware of the folly of speaking in absolutes like always/never and everybody/nobody. And Fernando Flores helped me shed some weak and/or insincere expressions like "I'll try" and also to begin to speak more powerfully.

My newest challenge in this world of cognitive restructuring is to begin reducing language that helps send a message of certainty. You've all heard many of these - "I'm sure (positive, certain) of it".  Or.. "I know this for a fact". Language that says to others - "This is the Capital T Truth". Which expressions of certainty do you use that help shut down inquiry or meaningful dialogue with others? Ever been trapped in a certainty loop like I was today? 

I was driving with a friend. Although the GPS was directing us, I said more than once I was sure we were going the wrong direction. My patient friend did not react. When I realized I'd been incorrect, I recognized how my certainty had temporarily blinded me. Was my word of certainty ("sure") before or after the thought of being "sure"? Doesn't matter. My language had let me down. We create our worlds with words. In this instance, I tried in vain to make my world fit my words and was reminded - there is work to be done here. I'll begin with some of my language of certainty. That approach has worked for me before.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Dance

What are some things you do when you've decided you'd like to know a work colleague or acquaintance better? How likely are you to make the "first move" in an attempt to get a relationship to a new level? How much does your spouse or partner come into your thinking as you begin this dance with someone?

I've found myself re-learning the steps to this dance a lot in my life. Like most people, I'm initially drawn to people with whom I have something in common. Early in my adult life, that often meant being drawn to musicians. But I found the element of competition sometimes got in the way there. Some of my friends in academia have told me competition in their world can have a similar effect, i.e. relationships remaining superficial despite many common interests. Do any of your competitive instincts interfere with this dance?

Being in a new location for over 18 months, both my wife and I have had a fair amount of practice with this dance lately. Although we're doing OK, I'm interested in strategies that may have worked for you. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Soundtrack For A Life

I just conceived a new music project. And being that this is the first music project of its kind I've kicked off since beginning this blog, I've decided to enlist your help.

If you had to choose 12-18 songs (i.e. the length of the average CD) for the soundtrack of a life, what would they be?  My first criteria, which doesn't have to be one of yours if you decide to do your own soundtrack, is to make sure I have an original song from each decade I've been around; I was born in 1949. I've already got some ideas for each of those eight decades but I'm very open to your suggestions.

Some additional criteria: I don't want to duplicate any one artist; I want a mixture of tempos, especially since I'm pre-disposed to ballads; for songs with lyrics, I'd prefer to transcend "love" as the central subject (Full disclosure: "There's No Easy Way",  a James Ingram ballad from 1985, is a tune already strongly in the running and it is a quintessential heartbreak/love song - but it fits my soundtrack). Last: No genre is ruled out - the more musical variety, the better.

Ready? Set? Go!    

Monday, October 17, 2011

Over-Rated Virtues

What are some of your choices for over-rated virtues? My top choice = maturity.

This past weekend, a friend's son told me he'd long ago heard me say one of my aims in life was to be called immature forever. Aside from being pleased he remembered something I'd said, I soon realized this remains true. I'm no Peter Pan. I have no interest in dressing like people much younger than me; I've always been involved with women close to my own age; I don't pretend to get the SNL jokes that are meant to exclude the old farts (me). At the same time, I have little tolerance when I hear "act your age" or worse, when people suggest I consider not doing things they deem "age-inappropriate". What does that mean anyway?

When I want to be silly, maturity be damned. If I want to go somewhere to dance, I refuse to be intimidated or self-conscious doing what Billy Crystal called "the white man's over-bite" even if most everyone else on the dance floor is the same age as my daughter. Frankly, being mature has often struck me as a bit...boring.

Maybe I should have saved this to use as a Mr. Id post? Anyway, which virtues strike you as being over-rated? 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Would George Say?

"The problem with communication is the illusion it has been accomplished" - George Bernard Shaw

What would Shaw have said if he'd lived long enough to experience what passes for communication in the age of the Internet, talk radio, and the yapping of pundits in a 24 hour news cycle?

I doubt that I'm alone in my dismay over the dismal state of communication in the early 21st century. A few days ago this was brought into stark relief when I was surprised listening to a radio conversation about illegal immigration. The source of my surprise? The two speakers, representing opposing viewpoints, were civil, did not raise their voices or interrupt, and acknowledged the valid points made by the other side. Later I realized my surprise at this normal exchange of ideas was itself profoundly sad.

When did saying it louder & uglier become the norm? Shaw may have been talking more about private (vs. public) communication. And maybe the 19th century was just as bad in both arenas. Unfortunately, most of us live today in a world where it's much harder to escape the screaming than it was in George's day.     

Friday, October 14, 2011

Edgy Vs. Everyday

At the conclusion of the short stories of James Joyce, a character often experiences what literary scholars later termed an epiphany. In educational settings, teachers long for times when they induce something similar in their students - an "aha" moment. Whatever these moments are called, they are magical.

For years I've kept a little notebook to record my own. When I recently re-read some of my notebook entries, I noticed the number of entries I recorded were more spread out during periods when my life was going along routinely. During rough patches, but especially following an edgy experience of any kind, the number of insights I captured increased, sometimes significantly. Is this consistent with your experience of "aha" moments? In other words, does the edgy yield more insight than the everyday?            
     
I'm avoiding giving this particular observation any more attention than writing about it here. And I'm clearly not anxious to repeat some of the behaviors that helped make those experiences edgy just so I can have more in my notebook. But I am going to try to tune in a little more to the everyday for future insights. Why not try that with me? Then we can let each other know how it goes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 5: Risk

I've resisted writing this post because for me, the word risk is fraught with so much baggage. Playing it safe (aka being risk averse) has never been part of the life story I've constructed. Yet when I look at some of my biggest life choices, it's hard to square my story with the facts.

It's not that I've taken no risks in my life. However, my choices when it comes to taking any risk with money have been negligible. And after age 35, the same thing applies about risk I took vis-a-vis work or what can only loosely be called my "career". In those domains, I played it very safe indeed.

Risk in my relationships? I'd call that a mixed bag. But I'm afraid saying I've taken a lot of risk in that area would be stretching it. How about you? What has been your relationship to this tricky word? Equally important, what stories have you created around the word? And what impact have those stories had on your choices?     

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Against The Current

Being contrary for a good portion of my life has often cost me dearly. I can think of only one instance in my life when being contrary has paid a dividend: my resistance to ever getting involved with drugs - any drugs.

I realize many people besides myself have resisted drugs so calling this decision contrary might seem ill-named. But during the impressionable years of my late adolescence and then into college & young adulthood, drugs played an outsize role in the musical culture I was immersed in. Nearly all my important relationships were with other musicians - drugs were everywhere. Although I had the de rigeur look of a musician (no contrary impulses there), somehow the drugs didn't entice me. To this day, I can offer no reasonable explanation for my resistance aside from being contrary. But, I remain grateful I did resist.

When in your life did you swim against the current? How do you explain your resistance? What is your present day perspective on that resistance - grateful? regretful? proud? confused? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Words That Count

When in your life have the kind words of others really meant something to you? How often have you acknowledged aloud how much someone means or meant to you?

I've recently been tuning in more and noticing how much kind words can mean to others. And though I've always been proud of my willingness to tell those I care about how I feel about them, my growth edges in this area are to be more specific and more concise. I'm working on ensuring my words of love, esteem, or condolence count.

My awareness about this was renewed when I watched the video made at my March 2010 retirement celebration. The kind words said about me that night later helped me in my words of condolence to a friend just a few weeks after watching the video. The two situations had nothing in common except those words that count.             

Sunday, October 9, 2011

John Brown Day

While I understand the thinking behind having a holiday to honor Columbus, there are so many historical figures worthy of being so remembered. Who are your nominations?

I'm starting with figures that history has shown to be ahead of the curve. So I hereby declare October 9 John Brown day in honor of the 19th century abolitionist. His name and legacy have been on my mind (along with Columbus) for a few months based on reading James Loewen's 1995 book "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Book Got Wrong". Although I've always been suspicious of much of the history I was taught, this book is so scrupulously researched I now know I was foolishly naive for years.

Although we appropriately honor Columbus as a great explorer, tomorrow I will also reflect on the dark side of his legacy: an exploiter of native people. And today I celebrate John Brown, who deserved to pay the ultimate price for taking the law into his own hands but also a man on the right side of history.     

Friday, October 7, 2011

Remembering Old Friends

Taking notes - writing on the back page and margins - making an entry in a book journal - discussing with others (in a group or otherwise) - blogging

Using a combination of all these techniques helps me to recall a little more of what I read. What do you do? If you don't do anything, how many times have you re-read a book almost all the way through only to realize you'd read it before? On July 6, 1999 I finished Anne Tyler's 1998 novel "Patchwork Planet". At that time my main technique, aside from discussions with my wife, was writing a brief note on the last page. My note on 7/6/99 said: "Of Tyler's work I've read, this is one of her 'smallest', although some nice turns of phrase." On July 31, 2001, until I saw my note on that last page, I didn't know I'd finished the book just 2 years before. I decided right then to begin combining several techniques. To me books are cherished friends; I no more want to forget one than the other. My misanthropic conjecture? I've probably learned more from some OK books than I have from some people I've encountered. How about you?

I admit using all of the techniques above might strike some as obsessive. (Uh-oh, I just realized I also often "cast" books but only novels that haven't yet been made into a film). But based on the meager readership of this blog, my secret is reasonably safe.   

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My First Chicken Or Egg Question

For you, which comes first more often, the tendency to judge yourself or to judge others?
Although I know the Zen tradition would say these tendencies are one and the same, I'm not evolved enough to fully get that. The whole judging thing has been a lifelong struggle for me - Buddhist monks are not easy to come by. I have met a few people who have assisted me with this struggle; I'm grateful for that. And I try to stay mindful using techniques I've picked up from books as well as what I've learned from helpful folks.

I have also wondered if some of us are simply hard-wired to judge more. I've largely resisted that notion because it would give me a neat rationalization; like most of us, I've already got plenty of those to help me excuse my bad behaviors. The numerous psychometric assessments I've taken that purport to measure tendencies or preferences or personality traits just muddy the waters more. Do I accept the results of those assessments at face value? Can a leopard change its spots? Etc.

So, I'm back to the chicken and egg: Which judging usually comes first for you? Or, are you a cyber-Buddhist that can help me add to my bag of tricks?        

    

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Always Searching

As you get older, is it harder for you to find new music that really juices you? I can always go back and find new covers of great tunes by Gershwin, Smokey Robinson, Lennon & McCartney etc. But I have to admit, curmudgeonly as it sounds, I'm having more trouble these days finding new stuff that grabs me by the throat. I'd be very curious to hear any recommendations you have.

Having a 22 year old definitely helps. At my request, not long ago she filled up a CD for me with stuff from a variety of contemporary artists. Of all those she picked, the artist whose original material has grabbed me the most is the Black Keys. Recently, I've also noticed that when I ask who is doing the unfamiliar tune I'm listening to in a public space (like a coffee shop), the answer has been "the Black Keys" more than a few times. Happened to me yesterday; the tune - "Have Love, Will Travel". Heard it yet? No? Get it in your I-tunes library, now. (At least I'm not such an old fart that I'd say "buy the album" (sic).

But I'm always searching for more so please, send me your ideas. If you share it with me via a public comment (much easier to do now that I changed a default setting on this site), others will benefit. Win-win.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Germ Or Yours?

Though I don't remember what originally motivated me, years ago I got started on a quirky project. I researched to find the names of people who had died the day I was born in the city of my birth. After choosing one (I'll spare you how I made that choice), I then went back to that person's birthdate to find people who'd died that day and chose one. I got as far back as a 16th century birth/death convergence before stopping. I said it was quirky, didn't I?

Back on earth, circa mid-September 2011: I notice a movie called "Birth", starring Nicole Kidman, in the library DVD section and read the box. The central premise: A young boy, claiming to be a woman's deceased husband, begins trying to convince her of that. OK, now the weird part: The boy's age is identical to the number of years her husband has been dead. And, there's a murky scene early in the film that seems to suggest a connection between the husband's death and the boy's birth. Goosebumps, anybody?

After licking my wounds and discarding a ridiculous fantasy about an unsupportable claim of plagiarism against the screenwriter, I settled in to watch. I most enjoyed the matter-of-fact way this movie presented the intriguing premise; a little Gothic, perhaps, but I loved that I did not know where it was all going to land. (Hey, that's also kind of like my project!) There is one very disturbing sexual scene in the film so this posting is not a recommendation, per se. But the un-predictability was wonderful. What was the last film you saw that surprised you a lot?

More to the point: What were your private thoughts when you've had a similar experience to mine, i.e. a germ of an idea you've had later becomes reality, however altered?  I'm now dusting off my project. Though I liked this movie, there's more to my idea than what the movie used. When I finish they can come after me.

  

 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Ahas", "Uh-Ohs", & The Rest Of Us

In my experience working with large organizations, the outer edges of the bell curve are often elegantly demonstrated by two very small groups of people. I've named them the "aha" group and the "uh-oh" group. I am anxious to hear how this reflection matches up with your experiences in large organizations.

The "aha" group are those who are almost universally trusted, liked, & respected. Not coincidentally, they are usually very good at their work. Stephen Covey would say these people combine exceptional character with competence. It's difficult to find others with bad things to say, personal or professional, about them.

The "uh-oh" group are those who most others try to avoid. Though not necessarily incompetent, a reputation for being difficult or divisive can obscure their skills. When others speak of people from this group, the language is often guarded or tentative, at best. And you don't have to search far to hear much worse.

And the overwhelming majority of people in large organizations, in my experience? On the bell curve, just like me. If you're working now in a large organization (and you've been there long enough to be a "known quantity"), where would you fall in an informal, totally unscientific poll? On the edge of the bell curve as an "aha"? On the other edge as an "uh-oh"? Or, somewhere on the bell curve?