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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Entrepreneurial Instinct

Who do you know that has what you'd call a strong entrepreneurial instinct? How has that person used that instinct successfully? Do you think of yourself as such a person?

During my years of self-employment, it's likely I'd have claimed to have this instinct. But close observation of my wife's way of looking at opportunity over the last 20 years makes me realize this is not so. Her mind consistently turns over new ways to make something from nothing. Her creativity comes alive via her entrepreneurial instinct. I was self-employed; she is an entrepreneur - big difference.

More evidence? I have a fairly low tolerance for risk and a conservative approach vis-a-vis money. Her longevity as an entrepreneur is directly linked to an ability to take risks and a willingness to spend money to make money. I was wise deciding early on to stay far away from her books and avoid offering unsolicited business advice. Her mistakes were her own. Anything I'd have offered would not have come from any entrepreneurial instinct.        

The Permanency Of A Letter

When was the last time you wrote a letter? Who was the last person to send you one?

The last two letters I wrote were in early 2010. The first was for my daughter's 21st birthday in January, the culmination of a multi-year project I began when she was eight. Then in April I wrote to author Amy Bloom to say how much I enjoyed her novel "Away". Last summer an old friend sent me a very brief note attached to an article on creativity he thought I'd enjoy. Aside from thank you notes, I'm certain that's it for written communication sent or received by me in the past two years except via this keyboard.

This is not a Luddite call for a return to some glorious past; I dislike those pleas. And besides, I'm a blogger for heaven's sake. But I do miss handwritten (or typed) personal documents; physical objects I can hold onto for a while. It's possible that's why thank you notes stay on my refrigerator a long time these days. I guess I could save printouts of e-mails. Does anyone out there do that?

In 1991, I wrote my father a letter to say how much I appreciated him. In 1997, going through his personal effects after he died, that letter was there in the original envelope.       

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Supporting Important Work

http://www.beyonddiversity.org/

Since stopping full time work over two years ago, I've done a limited amount of adult education; I miss it. However, I'm pleased to have recently renewed a friendship and professional relationship with someone I met over 20 years ago while doing a great deal of work in the field of diversity. His website is above.

Who in your life helps you look at the human tendency toward bias? The work my friend does is aimed squarely at that tendency we all share. In a conversation preparing for a workshop next week, I discovered, yet again, how easy it is to believe stories I've created. And those stories then become a way I can filter out any information that doesn't fit. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias". I first heard the term in 1991; I'm still learning how it interferes with clear thinking 21 years later.

In 18 months of blogging, this is only the second time I've embedded a website into a post. I hope someone looks at the site and then considers supporting this worthwhile organization in some way, even if it's just taking a class. It is important work; I'm proud to be a very small part of it.    

Friday, July 27, 2012

Therapy Without Therapist

"Textual discussion is not the same as group therapy, although we would be among the first to claim some of the best discussions of a text can deliver therapeutic results."

That sentence is in the preface of "Great Conversations" (2004), an anthology of some classic texts ranging from essays by Emerson and Carl Jung to poetry by Walt Whitman, an Ibsen play, an Alice Munro short story. I wholly agree with the claim the editors of this book make.

In my experience, a well facilitated discussion deepens my understanding of both a text and myself. On more than a few occasions, the energy of a discussion has compelled me to stay afterwards and fill pages in my journal. As I write, my insights become richer and the author's words come more alive. Almost as often, I'll simply replay in my head what others contributed to the conversation. For me, just being around smart people who like to read is like being in therapy without a therapist.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Love Being Free; I Want To Go Back

Question: "Mommy, what will we learn in 3rd grade?"
Answer: "All kinds of things".

After overhearing this exchange recently, I began reflecting on my own childhood summers. Do you remember asking or wondering a similar thing? I do. It made me wistful; how wonderful that delicious anticipation of  learning felt. Now if I could just get someone to continually re-assure me the learning is right around the corner.

What else was on your mind as a child as the summer stretched before you? Just after school let out in June, several 10 year olds on their bicycles converged on the convenience store I was leaving. Their joy and exuberance was so clear I found myself transported to the late Junes of my youth. It's possible their happiness had little to do with summer just beginning; no matter. Remember your un-alloyed joy about having two+  months of freedom? For me, that joy and the anticipation of future learning went hand-in-hand. How about you?

 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Deposits That Matter

Among people you consider trustworthy, what have you observed about their general tendency to trust others? If you consider yourself trustworthy, how would you characterize your instincts with respect to trusting others?

Ever notice how small words - love, fear, trust - seem to loom large? No meaningful relationship can begin, thrive or survive without trust. If trust is broken, the damage is often irreparable. And in my experience, there is a direct correlation between trustworthy people and their willingness to easily, though not unwisely, trust others.

Putting aside the author's politics, one of the most helpful books I've ever read was "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. In it, Covey uses a metaphor to illustrate the importance of trust. He asserts each of us must remember to make regular deposits in what he calls the "emotional bank account" of others. These deposits are then available if later we need to make a "withdrawal", i.e. ask others to trust us. This metaphor resonates strongly with me; I purposefully set about making those deposits and try to be careful not to overdraw my account with anyone. How often do you make those deposits?  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Current In My Life

Music is not peripheral to my life. It's a critical current responsible for much of the flow in my life. This is not a new insight but this past weekend it came into sharp focus for me.

My niece was married in Virginia yesterday. My daughter and I performed at her cocktail hour. My brother played guitar and sang "Crazy Love" when our niece had her first dance with her new husband. My nephew, who takes guitar lessons with me, sang and played "Book of Love" for his older cousin; his father joined him on guitar. And for four glorious hours all of us danced and screamed to a wonderful nine-piece band. As the night ended, drenched in sweat and delirious with joy, I found myself wondering: What would my life be without music? What would your life be without it? 

Yes, I was with my family and it was a happy occasion. But augmenting all the love around, music provided  the current that made the day come vividly alive.     

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Grade (So Far): Generosity

Generosity: Readiness or liberality in giving. Freedom from meanness or smallness in character.

Doing the introspection needed to grade myself on the attributes in this series has been valuable; it's  reminded me of work to be done. For example, considering both parts of the definition above, I can only give myself a "C-" (so far) for generosity. And I've decided this attribute, unlike ambition or charm, needs my immediate attention. How about you? How do you grade yourself (so far) on generosity?

I have two models for the first part of the definition - my wife and my older sister. You? Who do you know who readily or liberally gives to others? Models for the second part, an even bigger challenge for me, are harder to come by. I know many people not mean or small as often as I, but don't know I've ever met anyone "free" of meanness or smallness. Who would you use as a model for that very high standard? Or, are you that person? 

For anyone paying close attention, I skipped the letter "F" in this series. The last attribute I graded, about a month ago, was enthusiasm. Reason for the skip? Flexibility and forgiveness were subjects for posts in April & June last year, before this series started. At present, those are the only "F" attributes that strike me as worth exploring.        

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We Miss You, Tarzan

STELLA!!     ELAINE!!     ADRIENNE!!

Memorize these three names. Close your eyes. Hear a man caterwauling the first. Pause. Hear the second  delivered in a similar fashion. Pause. Now the third.

If you are a film dork like me, even odds the voices you heard were Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman and Sylvester Stallone. I've seen way too many movies since Stallone shrieked "ADRIENNE!!" at the end of "Rocky". But I can't come come up with a cinematic equivalent from the 80's, 90's or 00's to match the animalism these three men summoned screeching a mate's name in '51, '67 and '76. That's your job.

Just two requirements for any celluloid primal scream you care to offer from the three later decades:
1.) It has to be just a name. No sentences, no phrases. Repeating of said name is acceptable.
2.) The sound of that name coming from the actor or actress must make your blood race.

Where is Tarzan when we need him?   

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

#1: The Mt. Rushmore Series

As someone who compiled an obnoxious number of lists long before Letterman's "Top 10" became popular, I feel justified initiating the Mt. Rushmore series via my blog. Anyway, identifying four of anything you feel strongly about is more manageable than ten, right?

Where to start? This post was inspired by my oldest niece's husband saying walnuts wouldn't make his "top five" in a favorite nuts category but I'm starting bigger than that. I'll work my way back to four favorite nuts later. #1 in the Mt. Rushmore Series?  Identify four of the best moments of your life, in no particular order.

1.) Playing drums with my high school band at the 1966 World's Fair in Flushing, NY.
2.) Meeting my wife in April, 1978.
3.) The birth of my daughter on January 19, 1989.
4.) Receiving my Master's Degree in August, 1998.

If, unlike me, you have more than one child, list them separately or bunch them into one item if you need to. Or, expand your list beyond four but if you do, suggest a new name for your mountain, OK?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grateful For The Mundane

It recently occurred to me how grateful I am my dreams are innocuous.

Having been spared major trauma in my life, my dreams are the usual stuff - flying, being in a public place without clothes, getting back at someone who has hurt me, etc. And I have at least one recurring dream where I miss my final exams and consequently never receive my undergraduate degree. All mundane stuff, thank goodness.

Although I've never known anyone who recalls being abandoned as a child, like most people, I have known others who were abused as children. I've also known people who have never shaken off the stress of combat and women who have escaped violent marriages. Of course, there are traumas worse than these. But even limiting my imagination to the dreams that could be engendered by the traumas I've mentioned gives me enough pause. I'm incapable of imagining the actual experiences, deepening my gratitude for my fortunate life.

      

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Surprising Discovery

Reflecting on my last full time job and the bulk of my study after completing graduate school, I suppose it could have been easy to lose some capacity for being surprised by people. Indeed, using psychometric assessments, being educated to the impact of variables like birth order and culture, evaluating how others learn best via neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), all helped me occasionally make some reasonable predictions about behavior.

But a few weeks ago, following an innocent encounter, something dawned on me. The person who surprises me most infrequently is me. That is, despite my work experience and education, I'm still surprised by others quite often and happy this is so. However, surprising myself is far less common. Habit and routine are insidious and narcotizing. Fear hovers nearby, sometimes moving me away from surprise and toward comfort or worse, complacency.

Though sobering, I view my recognition of this as a clear positive. I'm now on a mission to surprise myself at least as often as others continue to surprise me. What strategies do you use to help ensure you surprise yourself?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nominations For The Word Graveyard

I concede my generation as teenagers and young adults had its share of boneheaded expressions. For example, I'm glad "groovy" and "right on" ended in the word graveyard as the 60's concluded. If it weren't for the occasional rerun of "Woodstock" on TV or hearing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" on classic rock stations, no one aside from residents of Key West ever hears these things anymore. Good riddance.

So I'd like to propose an even trade; two for two. How about we agree to bury "awesome" and "whatever"? But I don't want to wait for the decade to end. Tomorrow is not too soon. Really.

I know this sounds cranky. So I'll settle for a two to one trade to sweeten the pot. Keep "awesome" and "whatever", OK? But can we please revert back to the day when the word "like" was used fewer than ten times per sentence? I'd like that. How about you? Your nominations for the word graveyard?  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Carlinisms

With a tip of the hat to the late, great George Carlin, below are several less-than-earth-shattering things I've recently wondered about. BTW, in the spirit of Carlin, what is really going to make the earth shatter?

* When ordering mahi-mahi is couscous the only appropriate side?
* What is the high holiday for atheists?
* Can a dyslexic person be ambidextrous?
* What are the alcoholic ingredients for a Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn?
* At WAWA, how concerned should I be when I mix Colombian coffee with an Ethiopian blend?

I know you've got some of these. If ever there was a low risk blog to comment on, surely ("Don't call me Shirley!") this is it. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Much Do I Have To Like Him/Her?

How much impact does the likability of the main character have on your overall enjoyment of a novel?

This has been front and center for me since attending a discussion about Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder" (2011) a few weeks ago. But the discussion was only the catalyst for my question; some form of it has been rumbling around in my head a long time. I'd really like to hear your response to this.

Let me grease your wheels a bit. Think of the last novel that really got to you - one that you've recommended to others. How likable was the central character? In my experience, distasteful central characters often sour people on a book. If you share my experience, what do you suppose accounts for this? If you don't, please recommend a book you've loved where the main character is despicable. I want to read more of those, not because I revel in depravity, but because I'm confident authors able to pull this off are among our most skilled.

My wife recently finished John Updike's four "Rabbit" novels. Unlike me, she read them in order; it was such fun discussing the foibles of Updike's most famous and feckless character as he aged through the series. Rabbit never rose to the level of likability. I don't believe it's an accident Updike is revered as an author. What do you think?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Browner Grass?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/03/that-greener-grass.html

In my March post above, I fantasized about jobs I thought I might have enjoyed. Recently, I was reflecting on the flip side, i.e. jobs that strike me as thankless. In ascending order of unpleasantness for me:

* Can't imagine enjoying being the person responsible for the HVAC system in a building. No matter how happy some folks are with the heat or air conditioning, there would always be someone very unhappy.

* Being a divorce attorney has to be a drag, don't you think?

* Notwithstanding the Tom Hanks character in "The Green Mile" or the guilt of the people I'm responsible for, I think I'd have difficulty not getting depressed being a prison guard on death row.

What about you? Which jobs make you shudder?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Luke To The Rescue

" I love you but you don't know what the hell you're talking about."

After years of "Hey, Boo" being our favorite line of movie dialogue to say to one another, my wife and I now have a replacement. What line of movie dialogue has become a riff in one of your relationships? 

The replacement line at the top is from Wes Anderson's quirky new film called "Moonrise Kingdom". It fits because of the many speedbumps in our conversations over 34 years. The line it replaced is from "To Kill A Mockingbird". That one worked for us based on our enjoyment of each other's company.

I know we're not alone doing this. My sister and her husband have a line from "My Cousin Vinny" they've been saying to each other since that movie was released. If you don't yet have one of these allow me to suggest "What we have here is a failure to communicate". Is it possible to avoid having this line from "Cool Hand Luke" fit at least one relationship in your life? Really? Come on.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Confusing Compliments

"He really tells it like it is."

Although that statement is ostensibly a compliment, especially when applied to politicians, I'm rarely clear on what "it" is being referred to. Are you?

"Her candor/honesty/forthrightness is so refreshing." Or... "She doesn't mince words."  

Those compliments also baffle me a bit. What I hear when others say things like this is "That person's version of the truth matches mine." So why not just say that? I'm also left wondering if this refreshing honesty would be so welcome if a different version of the story we're being presented.

In other words, which "it" is really being told? Yours? Mine? Something in between? 

A New Gateway

Foremost of the things I'm enjoying since ceasing full time work is how little time I spend in my car. I realized earlier, after a late walk to the beach, more than five days have gone by since I last drove. Even better? This is not uncommon.

And since a lot of my creative churning used to occur as I drove to/from work, my walking has helped ensure that churn continues. Where or when does your most productive thinking occur? What methods do you use to capture your ideas? I've heard people say things like doing laundry or vacuuming are their gateway. Though I occasionally get a flash while mowing, I struggle to find my way in while doing household chores.

But the quiet and rhythm of walking opens me up like driving used to. An added bonus: My new gateway is a simple, healthy pleasure.

Monday, July 2, 2012

On Deck: Breyer Batting For Mantle

Without much effort, I can think of so many things I'd rather be able to recall vs. some of what sticks in my brain. How about you?

For example, it frustrates me I effortlessly retain the names of dozens of bands who had one hit wonders but often struggle remembering the names of just several countries that collectively used to be called Yugoslavia. In my brain the battle between pop ephemera and World history has the ephemera winning.

Ask me to name nine Meryl Streep movies then stand back as I exceed that useless expectation. The names of the nine Supreme Court justices? Even money I'll struggle to remember at least one, especially if I skipped reading the NY Times that week. I've been known to lamely excuse my lapse because the judge  names do change, albeit infrequently. Once Meryl makes a movie it stays made. In the case of "Bridges of Madison County", this is unfortunate.

Each time I have a discussion about climate change, I want to recall a few details that will help me present a more cogent case. What happens instead? The Yankees starting lineup from 1960 comes to me unbidden, with the batting order! What sticks in your brain that you wish would just go away? 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Starting The Summer With Laughter

When was the last time a novel made you laugh out loud continually? If you haven't had that experience in a while, I recommend "Skinny Dip" (2004) by Carl Hiaasen.

Hiaasen is new to me. I saw his name among the 125 authors asked to select ten of their favorite books for "The Top Ten" (J. Peder Zane, 2007), one of those list books I have difficulty resisting. Not long after reading Zane's book, I grabbed "Skinny Dip" in what I call a "library drive-by". The laughs started almost immediately and never let up.

Aside from his humor, Hiaasen is a fine storyteller and shrewd observer of the underside of society. As he tells the tale of Dr. Chaz Perrone, surely the world's most inept murderer, the character reminded me of the dim criminals who populate Elmore Leonard's books. But in this book anyway, Hiaasen is funnier than Leonard; no mean feat.

Though no masterwork of literature, I hesitate to call "Skinny Dip" a beach book - too demeaning. But if you want to laugh while sitting on the beach reading, end your search. Be sure to tell me who you cast in the main roles - Chaz, his wife Joey, and Mick Stranahan. I'd love to compare notes with you.