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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Simple But Not Easy

Are complicated people more likely to be difficult? If no, who was the last person you'd describe as complicated who was not difficult? If indeed complicated people are more likely to be difficult, wouldn't it logically follow that simple people would be more likely to be easy?

For a good part of my life, being perceived as complicated held a certain allure. Complicated felt mysterious and hinted at unknown depths. I've fantasized more than once about others describing me as enigmatic; what a cool word.

My juvenile fantasy aside, I am in fact quite uncomplicated - i.e. simple. And the complicated people I've encountered have been uniformly difficult. There's the rub - my simplicity has not made me easy. The older I get the more this perplexes me.

So, complicated folks need not respond. Simple folks, especially if you've rarely been called easy, how about a few non-therapeutic insights for me.   


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shifting

At present, what is most likely to draw you toward others? When did you last notice a shift in what draws you to others?

My own shifts seem to have been gender specific, i.e. what draws me to men shifted about ten years ago, while what draws me to women has been reasonably consistent for a lot longer. At present, I'm drawn to smart men - used to avoid them. I don't recall ever avoiding smart women probably because I grew up with two smart sisters. Less rambunctious men are also more appealing to me than they used to be. Maybe my own male volume has grown tiresome? On the other side: Been a long time since I've been drawn to quiet, shy or retiring women.

Having things in common is a part of being drawn to others. But how each of us shift and how those shifts draw us away from some and toward others is a much more mysterious and interesting story, isn't it? Since having lunch recently with a male friend who I can't imagine being drawn to circa 2003, I've been reflecting on this and wondering about the experience of others. Maybe what draws you to others now, male or female, has been the same for as long as you recall. Not so for me. I wonder what will shift next. 



Friday, April 26, 2013

Chicken Vs. Egg: The Super Bowl

Nature or nurture?

In "The Biology of Belief" (2005) Dr. Bruce J. Lipton tackles this widely disputed chicken vs. egg saga. In his persuasive book, Lipton uses epigenetics, the study of the molecular mechanisms by which the environment controls gene activity, to argue that any scientific model claiming the primacy of DNA is telling an incomplete story. Although books about science are usually not high on my list, this author helped me to easily navigate the technical information presented. He also helped me understand how the well established legacies of Descartes, Newton & Darwin have made it difficult for modern science to challenge the nature side of the age-old debate.

Aside from learning a great deal and admiring the temerity of a physician unafraid to incur the wrath of his peers by naming one section "Physicians: The Pharmaceutical Patsies", this book also nicely coincided with work my wife has been doing for the last year. Many of Lipton's well researched conclusions are consistent with the tenets of Positive Psychology; my wife completed her certificate program in this new discipline recently.

But Lipton's book and my wife's certificate did not lead either of us to a clear victory in the Super Bowl. This chicken vs. egg contest is destined to outlast all of us. What evidence have you come across  that has helped you get more clarity on this?         



  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

#10: Mt. Rushmore Series

I've got to know your ideas for this 10th iteration of Mt. Rushmore, OK? Promise?

Which four great songs are inseparable from the scene in a movie (no musicals, please) that they're featured in? Doesn't have to be a great movie (see my Mt. Rushmore below) but it does have to be a great song. Mine are in alphabetical order by song title.

1.) "Chain Of Fools" from a little seen movie where John Travolta, playing a dissolute angel named "Michael", dances (surprise!) in a bar. Wisely, Director Nora Ephron used Aretha Franklin's original version of the song, without doubt the greatest one chord song ever written.

2.) "I Believe in You And Me" sung by the incomparable Whitney Houston in a weepy called "The Preacher's Wife". I love the Four Tops original recording but Houston takes the song to another level.

3.) "Making Whoopee" sung by Michelle Pfeiffer while straddling a piano in "The Fabulous Baker Boys". That voice, those sly lyrics, that red dress - whew!

4.) "You Don't Know Me" when Meryl Streep hit this old Eddie Arnold country standard out of the park in a party scene from "Postcards From The Edge", I thought - it's not fair for someone with so much acting talent to also be able to sing this well. But the scene and the song are now forever linked in my mind.

So, which four great songs from a movie are linked like that for you? Special one time offer to be sure I get something from you: Give me three, two or one songs. It won't be Mt. Rushmore but I'll deal.     

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dr.? No!

Which professions strike you as particularly difficult on relationships?

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, I think being in a relationship with a psychologist or psychiatrist would be very difficult. This might be one that jumps out at me because I already spend too much time in my own head; having a partner with me in that confined space is not an appealing prospect. It could also be I watched too many episodes of "In Treatment" when it was on HBO.

But how does someone trained to explore the motivations of others turn that off in everyday interactions with a partner? When a partner is acting irrationally, how does someone with a mental health background ignore it? How do these professionals avoid tallying up the number of self-defeating statements uttered by someone they love? I'm getting anxious just composing the questions for this paragraph.

Conventional wisdom counts the high stress professions as being the toughest on relationships. And two people trying to make a relationship work when they're in the same field can also be challenging. Me? I prefer arguing without being reminded I'm relying on a defense mechanism. I'm quite fond of some of those defense mechanisms, actually.       
 

  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stay Tuned For Details On Past Lives

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/05/call-me-inexplicable.html

Since writing the above last May, these inexplicable tears of mine seem to be on the increase. Then last week, following yet another episode, two strangers independently asked me if I'd ever had a hint of a past life. I have never had such a hint and my secular, literal mind scoffs at such a mystical notion. But how far fetched is the idea, really?

Which of you has ever entertained the possibility of a past life? What evidence led you there? If there is something to what these two people suggested to me, what exactly are these abundant tears saying about any past life of mine? Both people who suggested I consider this were very kind; they viewed my tears in a wholly positive light. People who know me well also are usually gracious when I'm unexpectedly emotional. On the other hand, when those close to me are confused by my tears, I'm not at all surprised. My predominant feeling in these circumstances is confusion.

So for now, a past life is my current working scenario. Beats being befuddled by inexplicable tears. Besides, how can two strangers independently suggesting the same thing to me be a coincidence?          

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Tolerance

tolerance: a fair and objective attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality or the like differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry

Let me start by saying I'm glad I worked through most of the alphabet before grading myself on tolerance. How would you grade yourself (so far) on this attribute?

Saul Alinsky has been quoted saying "I'm only intolerant of the intolerant". And given my sympathy for Alinsky's view, considering the definition above, my challenge remains developing a more objective attitude toward those whose opinions differ from mine. How about you? Which of the other four dimensions included in that definition (practices, race, religion, nationality) is most challenging for you?

Moving to the "freedom from bigotry" part of the definition gives me some pause as well. Although I've worked hard at the bigoted parts of myself - freedom? Hardly. On balance, I'll give myself a "B-" for tolerance and stay committed to more growth. It's worth the effort.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Are The Odds?

You didn't notice that model of car until you decided to buy one; now it seems to be everywhere. A word unfamiliar to you starts popping up all the time. A name you don't recall ever hearing before suddenly feels hard to escape. How recently has something like this happened to you?

My sister suggested a while back that I blog about this phenomenon that philosophy calls schemata vs. scotoma; I resisted - three or four paragraphs felt inadequate. But reviewing my notes on "Boardwalk Empire" (2002) by Nelson Johnson for an upcoming book club meeting, it dawned on me: I've been in a schemata/scotoma loop for a few months. For this simpleton, the following amply demonstrates how we have blind spots in our awareness (scotoma) until something enters our frame of reference (schemata).

* While reading "Boardwalk Empire", I saw "Lincoln"; didn't know NJ was the only Northern state not to ratify the 13th amendment (debated in the film) until I read it in "...Empire". Or did I?
* Very soon after, an un-finished EL Doctorow novel called "The March" (owned since its 2005 release), about Sherman's march from Atlanta to No.Carolina at the end of the Civil War, happened to be the novel I grabbed off my bookshelf on a day the library was closed. It was not a book club selection. Neither was...
* Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" (1985), a library book I grabbed by pure accident (?) while looking for Mary McCarthy's "The Group" for my wife. I read "...Meridian" only because it is held in high regard by several favorite authors; knew nothing else about it. Want to guess when and where some of the action in that book takes place? Coincidences, you say? Almost done.
* "Mornings On Horseback" (1981) by David McCullough, was the selection of the most recent book club I've joined. It tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt's early years; he was born in 1858. In it, McCullough speaks at length of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., a "Lincoln Democrat", who was a huge influence on his eldest son. And there's a picture in the book of 7 year old Teddy watching the NYC funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln.

Four books with copyrights from 1981-2005 and a 2012 film, each dealing in some way with the Civil War, the 13th amendment, Lincoln's assassination. Any odds makers out there? 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1978

Thirty five years ago today my wife and I had our first date. I was 28; she was 23.

We had dinner at a restaurant in the Atlantic Highlands. Then we drove to South River to hear live music, an acoustic guitar player who sang; his act was a lot like mine at the time. I don't remember much of our conversation but after noticing how nice her hair smelled, I do recall asking what kind of shampoo she used. Her answer ("Whatever's in the shower") enchanted me. Later that night I told her I was going to marry her.

She's away this week. Earlier today I began wondering if this was the first time we've been apart on this date. Now as the day ends, writing about anything other than that first date would make me feel lonely. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Barbara

Which living person do you most admire?

For me, it is an ex-colleague from the Commission For the Blind. We were not real close and lost contact after I left the Commission in 1991. But 20+ years later, this woman's story, strength and unshakable grace have kept her firmly in my mind and at the top of my list.

From the time her youngest was an infant, she chose to raise her four children alone rather than stay with their father. All I ever heard about him was that he had become untrustworthy; she and her children deserved more, she said. On her State salary, she scraped together enough to buy a modest home in East Orange where her four children attended public school K-12.

Over the years we were acquainted, her two oldest graduated from engineering college with honors. When we parted her third had a teaching job lined up after his impending graduation and her youngest was a junior - pre-law. The five of them still lived in the same home. I recall one conversation when she told me she insisted they all keep "reasonable" hours so she could get enough sleep and go to work each day. I never once heard her complain about any of them. I realize this is not the whole story but it's enough. My wife and I raised one responsible child. Choosing to do it four times without a partner?

For many years,Vanity Fair magazine had a feature called "The Proust Questionnaire", which included the question opening this post. Over the ensuing years, some of the answers on my completed questionnaire have shifted; not this one.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Learning From The Walking Wounded

What form would this post have taken had the phrase "walking wounded" never entered my awareness?

An encounter with a near stranger in significant emotional pain. No recent grief or trauma but pain so clear, it was palpable - recognizably familiar, continually denied. Fifty uninterrupted minutes of talk -coincidence?

How did each searing family of origin story end? "Whatever". Estrangement from others, including loved ones? "It is what it is". The way things have turned out? "It's all good". Stoicism? Quiet strength? Self-preservation? Something else? 

Repairing damage is hard work; even removed nails leave a mark; no one escapes unscathed. And, we've all had encounters like mine with strangers, those close to us, both. How can we be of use? What do we learn about ourselves?   

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Heeding The Student Voice

How much attention do you devote to your personal development? How willing are you to use financial resources for that development?

It's notable how many things we allow to take precedence over our growth. Perpetual "to do" lists, phone calls & e-mails to return, numerous mundane tasks demanding attention - gets easy to postpone a focus on becoming more, doesn't it? There are no shortage of distractions. Every task leads to several others. Money can always be spent on something more practical than personal evolution. Time passes, more tasks mount up, growth falls off any list of priorities.

In my last full time job working with high potential people, I often suggested they put themselves on the top of their own "to do" list from time to time. It's an apt metaphor for all of us, isn't it? How else do we ever carve out the needed time? Spending time has rarely been an issue for me. My bigger challenge has always been the financial piece. And though I've made progress, it remains difficult for me to justify spending a great deal of money on my learning and development.

But as I continue de-briefing my recent second visit to Kripalu and feel larger after each review of the week's learning, the student voice is beginning to drown out the thrifty voice. Hallelujah.      

   

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tim O'Brien Or "Tim O'Brien"?

What was the last book you read that forced you to re-consider often used labels? 

After finishing Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" (1990) late last night, the first thing I did was return to the front to read the description of reviewers. Because that didn't clarify much for me, I next turned to the title page and saw "A Work Of Fiction" underneath the title. Although I assume those words were sanctioned by the author, I still wasn't satisfied.

Though I'm not thrilled acknowledging it, labels are comforting to me. Like many people, I like putting stuff into boxes. Notwithstanding those words on the title page, this harrowing book gave me no such comfort. In one story (chapter?), the author says he is using the "real" names of soldiers in his platoon. Throughout the book, one of those soldiers is named Tim O'Brien, the other soldiers refer to him as "the writer", and the names of several books by author Tim O'Brien are mentioned in the text using correct chronology. So, is this "work of fiction" actually non-fiction? Is it a memoir? Is it a series of stories? Does it matter?

Excuse the apples to orangutans comparison, but teaching people how to read guitar music I recently uncovered something fascinating, parallel to this very human need for labels and boxes. Almost without exception, learners have much more difficulty reading music under the staff than they do when notes are located on the lines or spaces of the staff. My theory? That box, i.e. the staff, gives us comfort and makes learning a little easier. I accept and embrace the ambiguity of O'Brien's brilliant book and suspect my discomfort finding a label might have been part of his intent. When you read it, tell me your thoughts.    

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Join Me In Heaven

Because being here at Kripalu is like being in conversational heaven, additional conversation metaphors  have been ringing in my head for three days. I hope after sharing a few, some of you will chime in.

* Conversational taffy = strategies that will stretch the conversation. In my experience, good questions are the best conversational taffy. The best and simplest question I've yet come across is "What else?" Try it, especially when someone is trying to problem solve.

* Conversational ping-pong = the magic that happens when the give and take in a conversation is easy and fast but both people feel really heard.

* Conversational corrosion = when conversation has begun to deteriorate but hasn't yet gotten toxic. In your view, what leads conversations to become corrosive? How do you rescue a conversation going down that path?

Anybody even marginally familiar with my blog knows how much value I place on meaningful conversation. It would be very cool if this particular post inspired one online.
 

 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing for me is getting started.

I've written my whole life and my stories are as good and as bad as anyone else's. But I think too much and then I don't start. Or I read someone who can do things with words that I cannot and then I don't start. Or I let the people on my bus whisper in my ear and then I don't start.

When I do start, like today, I'm usually happy I did. When I don't, like yesterday, I'm usually unhappy with myself. But the hardest thing is getting started. What is the hardest thing for you?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Magic In The Berkshires

What places have you felt compelled to visit more than once?

Although I've had the good fortune to travel a bit, one visit to most places has usually been enough. But soon after leaving Kripalu yoga retreat last August, I knew I'd return here. This time the soothing rhythm of the place engulfed me as I checked in. While writing in my journal earlier this afternoon, my breathing was deep; my mind already felt clear. My dinner conversation with four strangers was relaxed and interesting. The meditation class that followed dinner was cleansing.

My frame of mind? No doubt. The simple fact of being away from demands at home? Sure. But this place has a magic that opens my spirit. So far, the only place I've returned to three times is Acadia National Park in Maine. If the rest of this week is like today, Kripalu could tie that record.              

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Asked And (Eventually) Answered

"If you're not actively trying to make money doing so, what is the point of writing a blog?"

Answers can sometimes come from the strangest places, can't they? And the time between the asking and the answering can be nearly as unpredictable. My dismay at being unable to formulate any answer for this particular question a while back did not dissipate until I read Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" (2012). Talk to several people who've read this zany bestseller - even money you'll get several different ideas about the main theme - the mother/daughter bond, the allure of disappearing, the precariousness of mental health, etc. No arguments from me; all of that is in this unabashedly entertaining book. But there's more...

If I could just turn back the calendar. What was that question again? Oh yeah - "Well, I'm creative; I have to create." As the TV lawyers say - asked and answered. Thanks for the assist, Maria.

    
   

    

Friday, April 5, 2013

Not THE Rapture, But...My Rapture

Given the central role music plays in my life, it's notable how few new complete recordings I've acquired over the last several years. How much of a change have you noticed in your recent buying habits with music?

My buying habits aside, we were recently with friends we hadn't seen in quite some time. That night, I was like a kid in a candy store; his I-tunes library has 50,000 songs! For the remainder of that evening, meaningful conversation with me was problematic. Imagine my rapture scrolling through his treasure. Before seeing this collection, I'd been aiming at a library of 1500 tunes, a number equal my brother. And though that number may seem modest for a music geek, my rigorous criteria (don't ask) for what gets included in my library makes it harder than it sounds.

But now? With 50,000 songs to choose from? My biggest challenge is scheduling several future get-togethers with these friends without making my hidden agenda too obvious. I started by picking 20 tunes my friend then kindly burned onto a CD that first night. To avoid potential institutionalization, I'll skip saying how long it took me to make that first selection of 20. But man am I pumped up now - 50,000 songs - my own magic number is well within reach. Stay tuned, if you dare. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Detours

To this point, what has been the most notable detour you've taken, professionally or personally? How did those closest to you react to the detour?

About a year ago, a friend described her son enrolling in a creative writing program immediately following  graduation from a military academy. Although my friend didn't call her son's shift in path a detour, I've since found myself paying more attention to stories sharing what strike me as unexpected turns. As I began asking questions about choices or circumstances that I characterized as detours, more and more surprising stories emerged. Although it's possible I've uncovered lots of these because I've been looking for them, my own life has reinforced the belief that detours are fairly commonplace. Your view? 

When a different friend recently told me of plans to give up a successful career in engineering for the hospitality industry, my reaction was muted. And though that reaction surprised my friend, my use of the word detour to describe the plans struck a positive chord. Think I'll continue using it. I'm also going to keep my reactions to detours neutral given a clear recollection of how my detours landed with others.
            


 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Convincing Conservative

How does a person know when they've crossed the line from being open-minded to being overly suggestible?

I found myself asking this question a lot reading the trenchant and hilarious essays from Tom Wolfe's 2000 collection called  "Hooking Up". When scribbling "yeah!" in the margins, nodding in agreement, or laughing at the liberal nincompoops Wolfe loves to skewer, I was initially pleased by my willingness to be persuaded by his conservatism.

But what about the depth of my espoused beliefs? As Wolfe's positions began loosening the hold of those beliefs, my laughter felt a bit hollow. Any of this sound familiar? It wasn't real hard to push back at some of Wolfe's ideas but I'll pass on any invitation to debate. Especially after reading his scathing piece called "My Three Stooges", detailing a public spat he had with John Updike, Norman Mailer and John Irving. Based on the roasting he gives those three gifted writers, this secular humanist left-of-liberal blogger with the mushy opinions prefers to remain permanently anonymous.