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In Loving Memory……

Even as a youngster I was always interested in going to antique shops and what we called junk shops back then.  My friend Adele and I would go through old deserted houses with her mom to see what was left behind.  In the darkness of an old house we would go from room to room to see what was left of the family that used to inhabit the place.  It was kind of scary and I remember one time going up a flight of stairs and in the hallway of the second floor was a floor to ceiling mirror.  As we got to the landing with Adele ahead of me, she saw her reflection in the mirror, jumped and screamed thinking she saw a ghost!  We were able to laugh about it later but that night we ran out and sat in the car.  I can even remember the smell of the antique shops and vacant abandoned houses and getting comfort from them.  I remember rummaging through things at a favorite shop and if I found a piece of furniture that I liked I would close my eyes and try to imagine where this night stand, or whatever, was located in the owner’s house and tried to imagine the family that used it.  I would imagine the members of the family and give them names and I imagined them using the night stand in their lives.  I always had a very active imagination that way. Even created stories about the family- what the father did for a living and where the kids went to school and had this whole scenario of these people. I felt at ease in these places and among the old treasures I discovered. The only thing that would interrupt my pleasure in such a situation would be a box of old photographs of people’s weddings, or family photos of little kids.  I find it incredibly sad and invasive into the privacy of people’s lives that all these prized family mementos are just dumped in a box for total strangers to view until eventually they are disposed of in the trash.  Very sad!   I think it must be some kind of sentimentality that I suffer from and explains a lot about my entire life.

As a senior citizen who is currently the oldest living member of his family I treasure such things as those photos of my family but also I have coveted certain family objects and pieces of furniture that I love and could never part with.  My home is furnished with many family heirlooms and many antiques I have purchased over the years.  On my twelfth birthday my Italian grandmother gave me a Miraculous Medal to wear on a chain around my neck.  She was a devout Catholic, purchased the medal and had it blessed by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was a patient of the doctor my dad worked for and a good friend of my dad. We all had to sit around the tv and watch his show, One Life to Live, every week.  Anyway, to this day I still wear that medal around my neck and have never taken it off except once, 6 years ago when I had to have my carotid artery scraped.  Even then I held it tightly in my fist while I was being roto rootered!  I remember my dad always carried a money clip for his paper bills. He had probably gotten it as a promotion from Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. when he opened an account with them sometime in the 1950’s. It isn’t very valuable, probably made of tin with the bank’s name on it but he always carried it.  He never put his bills in his wallet, always in the money clip.  When he passed in 1975, I searched through his belongings purposely looking for that clip.  I found it and have used it to hold my bills ever since. It has to do with continuance. By my using these items I am acknowledging and continuing the existence of the people who meant everything to me.  My mom was a graduate of Bellevue Nursing School in 1933 and worked there from her graduation til 1951 when we moved from Manhattan to Flushing.  She was incredibly proud of what she had achieved and I have a cameo pendant from Bellevue that she always wore on her uniform and the distinctive Bellevue nursing cap which was part of her uniform.  Back then each nursing school had a distinctive cap that was worn wherever the nurse worked as part of her uniform.  It identified the school that she attended.  She treasured both items. When she passed in 1986 I knew I had to retrieve them both.  I gathered them up and brought them home and kept them safely tucked away until my daughter graduated from college.  I knew she would want them and now she has them to remember her grandmother by.  Those are cherished items from my family that are constant reminders of where I came from. I also have collected a few items of my own that I also cherish.

When I got married, my brother gave us an original water color painting from a Long Island artist and that started a love affair with original paintings.  I wound up purchasing another 10 original paintings by the same artist.  My brother gave my mom a painting by the same artist for her birthday one year that she absolutely loved and I also have that painting in my collection as well.  I started reaching out in search of original water colors, attending local art fairs and galleries and amassing quite a collection of over 100 original paintings.  I made it a point to try and meet every artist whose work I owned and succeeded with the exception of original artwork I purchased in Europe during several trips there.  These paintings bring me sheer joy.  When I see a painting I like, I squint and if I can imagine myself in the painting, I have to buy it.  I was telling that to an artist one time at our inn in Vermont, and I told him how I imagined myself in the painting and he was so impressed and had never heard anything like that, that he gave me a huge discount.  I said I couldn’t ask him to do that because i understand the work and love that goes into the artistic expression of an idea and he said , “You didn’t ask, and I would rather the painting  be with someone who loved it than to sit in a gallery for weeks.”  That day, I purchased 4 beautiful paintings of his.  The walls in my house are literally covered with artwork and when I enter each room I am reminded of the artists who created all this beauty and the circumstances that led to their purchase.

One more thing I want to mention in my charm bracelet of memories- an 1864 Welch and Spring Co. Perpetual Calendar Clock.  It was left in the attic of the house we moved into in Flushing by the previous owners.  It sat in the attic leaning against the eaves for 14 years from the time we moved until the day we moved out.  My dad would refer to it every now and then with a great deal of respect saying he was going to get it fixed and hang it in the living room, but he never did.  When they moved to the new house in 1964, after I went away to college, I came home for Thanksgiving and discovered my dad brought the clock with him and of course he was going to get it fixed and hang it.  Well, when I graduated 4 years later the clock sat in the same place on the sun porch.  I brought it to my new home.  I had a friend from college whose dad worked on old clocks.  He fixed it in no time and said it was a pleasure to work on such a beautiful instrument.  I absolutely love that clock which tells the time, the month, the date, the day of the week and even knows when leap year is and adjusts accordingly. I haven’t found the exact right place for it yet but I will.  At least I got it fixed!  

I can’t explain why I am so attached to all of these “things” but I confess I am.  I love all of them, enjoy having them on display or on my person to give me daily reminders of who I am, what is important to me, and where I came from.  They are silent pleasures that I love being surrounded by. There is that old biblical saying….ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I wonder what will become of all my prize possessions.  I know my daughter wants a few things and my son has his name on a couple of things but neither has expressed much interest in my paintings so I guess they will find their way into odd antique shops and random yard sales sometime in the future.  That is how the life cycle works and in the scheme of things perhaps it is how it is supposed to work.  As the artist at the inn said, I would rather the paintings be hanging in the homes of people who love them than stored and stacked somewhere in a basement.  There are a few other things that could be listed on my attachment list – the thousands of dollars of model railroad equipment boxed and stored in my basement, and of course, my 2018, 4 door Jeep Wrangler…………but that is for another time.

Sentimental Journey

In an earlier post, In Defense of Magpies, I detailed why I’m a devout collector even in this season of minimalism. It’s not about compulsion, hoarding, or simple greed. It’s not about material insecurity and fear of being without. It is about remembrance and esteem, when objects become markers for honoring people you admire and love. It is as though part of their essence is attached to a particular object. When you handle that object, it rekindles the memory of a significant time or individual.

Do you recall that in the movie, The Quiet Man, Mary Kate tries to explain to her husband why her ‘fortune’ (her dowry, which is being withheld by her brother) is so important to her? She says:

” Haven’t I been tryin’ to tell ya? – …that until you have my dowry, you haven’t got any bit of me – me, myself. I’ll still be dreamin’ amongst the things that are my own as if I had never met you. There’s three hundred years of happy dreamin’ in those things of mine and I want them. I want my dream. I’ll have it and I know it. I’ll say no other word to you.”

Three hundred years of happy dreamin’– George hits it on the head when he talks of ‘continuance’. After all, what is there to a life, if there’s no shared memory of what preceded the current moment? Sometimes, an artifact is a bridge to those that went before you. Even your own objects from a younger vintage make a connection to important times: markers along a sentimental journey that led to the place where you are now standing.

One might say that objects are not necessary to remember and honor important people – and I won’t say they are wrong. But the memories are richer when you have your father’s money clip or the miraculous medal gifted by your grandmother. Among my prized possessions are my grandfather’s well-worn fedora, my dad’s tobacco pouch, my mom’s high school art medal, and my brother’s small, unfinished sailboat model – they have no practical use, but I wouldn’t be without them and the memories they evoke through touch, sight, smell or feel.

Now, I don’t for a minute believe that all these items will have the same meaning for my children – or their children. Nor do I wish to saddle my kids with the obligation of unwanted objects. However, I do believe that it’s up to me to pass along the stories associated with the objects around me and to help them curate those items which hold some significance. They no doubt will preserve a few, as well as select new ones as markers on their journey – and to enjoy for many years of happy dreamin’. 

Essentials – Oskar Leonard

In comfortable life, one might
find artifacts, of a kind,
spreading upon dusted surfaces:
amassing an army over the years.

Not incredibly valuable, on their own—
a half-used candle, half-full stapler,
nearly empty Christmas deodorant
and three unused money banks—

but they bring thought to one’s mind,
soft memories, tinged with kindness,
a bright, youthful joy, and therein
lies their true value, these essentials.

On Remembrance

In this piece George reflects on his relationship with antiques and their importance to him.  He also talks about the notion of continuance and what it means to him and what it might mean for his children.   

Like George and Wal, I have a few articles that remind me of my mom.  However, one stands out from the rest.  When my mother died, my sister took pieces of her unused sewing fabrics as well as some of her dresses and had quilts made from them for each of us and our children.  In each one, there was a cup of coffee, a thimble, flowers, and music notes.  Each represented the things in life that brought her joy and contentment.  With the simple act of brewing and enjoying a small cup of coffee with a splash of cream, each morning she began her day with peace and calm.   A replica of her tiny one-cup percolator sits on a shelf in my cupboard.  I remember how she gently lifted her cup of freshly brewed coffee with her hand leaving her pinky finger outstretched as she savored the flavor of each sip through closed eyes.  The thimble stood for her sewing and quilting prowess, her patience, and her devotion to detail and excellence.  The flowers remind us of the beauty she brought into our home from homegrown fresh cut flowers to the most gorgeous and tasty vegetables.  Her connection to plants and her love of nature and gardening live on in me.  The musical notes symbolize her love of classical music and her extraordinary talent and passion for the piano.  Writing about this quilt reminds me to be sure to tell (or retell) these stories to my grandchildren so, in time, they will be able to pass along a piece of their family history.

What is not in the quilt but is significant to me is a symbol from the kitchen.  My mom’s rolling pin resides in my kitchen cabinet.  It reminds me of how extraordinary she was at baking and cooking.  And although I rarely use it, this is the item that brings me closest to my memory of her.  The smell of her cooking and delicious meals were a daily occurrence when I was a child and the cakes and pies she baked were so good that I still can’t find the right words to describe the overall experience.  

I don’t know what items I have that might remind my children and grandchildren of me.  But what I do have are stories.  When I lived four hours from my grandchildren I would often pick them up and bring them to my house for a long visit.  Before we got to the end of her street Kylie, my granddaughter, would ask me to tell her a story.  Sure, she enjoyed my made up stories or stories from books we had read, but her favorites were those from my life.  I remember wishing I could understand what she was thinking as I glanced at her expressions though the rearview mirror while I told and retold adventures from my childhood through present day experiences.  What I do know is that she absorbed them and through thoughtful questions gained an understanding of who I was and what I learned.  Both Kylie and Ben are engaging, entertaining, and humorous storytellers.  I suspect that if they choose to have children, they will continue their knowledge of our family through the stories they tell them.

Each of us, it seems, will remember those who have gone before us in our own way.  While I will continue to tell my family stories when the opportunity presents itself and I will have this blog of personal beliefs, stories, and reflections to leave them, I suspect they will pull from their time with me what they decide was important to them and how and what they feel will be worthy of passing along to future generations.

“Good bye may seem forever. Farewell is like the end, but in my heart is the memory and there you will always be.

– Walt Disney

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On Time

How good are you at estimating time?  That is, how accurate are you when you guesstimate how long it will take you to finish something or arrive somewhere?

Teresa and I spent one day last week visiting nearby Pennsylvania.  Our plan was to visit Kennett Square, known as the mushroom capital of the world for growing and distributing 500 million pounds – half of the total mushroom crop in the US, and then spend the late afternoon and evening in nearby Longwood Gardens.   We arrived around 2:00 pm with plenty of time to explore the village and mushroom venues before driving the ten minutes it would take to get to our 4:30 reservation at the Gardens (after all, they allowed a 30 minute flex time for arrival.)   We enjoyed a leisurely walk through town and it’s quaint shops and explored The Mushroom Cap store/mini museum on the main drag.  Finishing early we found a splendid nearby park with hiking trails and spent one of those ideal fall days walking over streams and through fields and stopping at a playground to remember what it was like to swing as high as we once did as kids.  As we neared the time to leave, we remembered there was one more mushroom farm/store we had heard of that was about a mile out of town but, based on Apple Maps, well within range of getting there and then out to Longwood Gardens on time. (after all the latitude provided by the reservation guidelines allowed us to arrive as late as 5:00!)  Who knew how fabulous the store would be or how friendly and accommodating the proprietor was as we arrived just after closing time but were welcomed in to explore, just the same.  Yup, you guessed it, we found lots of mushrooms and other items to buy as gifts and for ourselves, listened to the history of the farm and received numerous recipes and ideas for cooking with mushrooms whose names were both common and unknown to me.  What seemed like a few minutes turned out to be more than a half hour and all of a sudden, we found ourselves reading a GPS arrival time of 4:51.  Fortunately, the reservations allowed that 30-minute delay; unfortunately, we found ourselves enroute at the height of tourist traffic.  You likely know the scenario regarding what we were thinking and feeling as we realized we were possibly going to miss the water-light show we had been planning to see since July.  We arrived, were directed to park in the lot furthest from the gate and proceeded to fast-walk/run past 50 or so slower paced walkers to get scanned-in just minutes before our time limit. Not the best way to start a garden walk…

More often than not I underestimate how long something will take.  My research on the subject tells me that this is likely the result of two factors: we fail to consider how long similar tasks have taken us in the past – we ignore past and recent history, and we remain optimistic that obstacles and unanticipated hindrances will not interfere with our timeline.  Guilty and Guilty!  After all, I reason, I’ve taken the route before, I’ve painted this room before, I’ve run this many errands before so surely I can do it faster this time because I’m more experienced and clearly today nothing will interfere with me getting them accomplished on time, last time was a fluke!

Yes, I’ve gotten better about leaving extra time for travel and I’ve also been more conscious of saying no to squeezing in an extra chore or errand into my plans.  But the allure of doing more, especially when I’m with others, still pulls me quickly into the abyss of missing my mark when it comes to accurately estimating how long something will actually take.  

Some thoughts on the subject that I used to believe but have relegated to the trash bin of things I’ve let go of…

If I don’t try to fit everything in, I’ll miss something.

If I overestimate the time it takes, I may end up sitting idle and wasting time.

Life is short, there’s no time to waste.

Where do you fit into this conversation?  Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of time to write it down and send it in to the comment section!!  J

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield

Time is on My Side……No it’s Not!

I have always had a very specific relationship with time from the time I was a little kid.  This might have been due to having to wait for everything and everybody, whether it was a friend to go bike riding or a doctor’s appointment where I had to sit in a waiting room for 20 or so minutes getting nervous.  Early on I decided I would never make anybody wait for me. But I overcompensated by getting to scheduled appointments at least 15 minutes early but often as much as  half an hour.  I didn’t want other people to feel the way I used to feel because of me.  As a result and to this day, I always allow time for me to get to a meeting place or an appointment that will allow my arrival a good 15 minutes before the scheduled time.

Add to that, is the problem that I still have trouble with the estimation of how long things take. If I am meeting friends for dinner, especially if we are going to a place I have never been to before, I have to estimate how long is it is going to take for me to get there. I not only figure in the travelling time but what about traffic? What about unexpected events lengthening the time, and yes, even parking?  Then I have to add on the additional 15 minutes early that I want to arrive.  Very complicated but I go through the process everywhere I go. If it is a far distance, like to a city or out of state there are other factors I have to consider.  Traffic jams, tolls, not knowing where I am going and the possibility of getting lost. It sounds complicated but it is a process I go through silently in my head before I am prepared to leave my house.  I have gained the reputation of always being early.  When the doctor’s office calls to remind me of my appointment and request that I arrive at least 15 minutes early for me that means a half an hour.

One would think that at my age, I would relax and chill but I have discovered something with old age.  Time goes much faster than it used to.  Some mornings I wake up and the next thing I know I am tucking myself in bed and wondering where the day went.  I make an appointment with the doctor, annoyed that it is so far in the future and the next thing I know, it is tomorrow..  Days go by so quickly and weeks go by even faster.  Not sure when that started to happen but somewhere around 70 I began to take notice of it..  I will sit down with my phone to read something on the  internet and I look up and an hour has passed.  It just seems to slip away, slip being the operative word. It suggests you lost control of where you were walking and your foot lost its traction.  Same is true of time.  Our lives have lost traction and things just happen before you know it.  We use that expression all the time. Before you know it, it will be Christmas.  This flu shot won’t hurt, it will be over before you know it!  Calm down, you’ll get your driver’s license before you know it!  And it is all true but in youth time, “before you know it,” seems like an eternity.  Unfortunately, that eternity lasts for decades until one day you hit  elder time like I did around 70.  Suddenly, before you know it really happens before you are aware of it. And year by year, that time squeezes itself more and more into imperceptible moments.  Just look at your kids. Somewhere between college and now, my daughter turned 51…….51, how the hell did that happen so fast?  It probably wasn’t fast for her, but I blinked and it happened.

I guess what I am saying with the time speedometer on high, at my age it gets harder to estimate the time it takes to do anything. Time seems to speed up but the body seems to take much more time to accomplish the usual activities we do each day- showering, getting dressed, feeding the dog, yada yada yada!  So now into the equation of all the surprises that can occur on your way to reach an appointment now you have to add in extra time for the extra time required to get the old body to move.  Damn, life is complicated..  Maybe I don’t have to be early anymore. After all, I’ll get there before I know it!

The Planning Fallacy

Hen tackles the issue of why we tend to ignore history when we estimate the amount of time needed for a particular task. In his example, Theresa and he planned to be at a venue at a certain time, but got sidetracked with other interesting activities. Of course, you could say that they simply amended their original plan to accommodate a more attractive alternative. That’s the way I’d look at it, anyway. They added one more item of enjoyment to the plan.

If you consult the literature, there’s all sorts of research as to why we tend to gloss over history and underestimate time demands. It seems that this is a common occurrence – one which each of us would find it easy to relate. Psychologists Kahneman and Tversky called this the Planning Fallacy. In experiments, subjects consistently underestimated the time needed to complete a task. One result showed that students estimated the average time needed to finish a senior thesis was 33.9 days – they actually took 55.5 days on average and only 30% of the students finished in the time that they had predicted for their thesis. 

George weaves in the theme of aging in the propensity for underestimating time. Despite Geo’s self-professed bias toward “glass half-empty” outlook, some have pinned the blamed for poor time management on a different bias: ‘optimism bias’. Buoyed by enthusiasm, we tend to assume that we can brush aside typical obstacles, because we have been there before. Despite the fact that folks usually recognize that their past estimates have been overly optimistic, they still believe that their new (optimistic) estimates are realistic. Unfortunately, ‘we don’t know, what we don’t know’ – those new variables that tend to be attracted to our easy-peasey, straightforward plans.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my working life as a planning manager or consultant to international projects. Delays and unforeseen problems are always expected, be it budgetary, resource turnover, or internal/external political conflicts. Mitigation is an oft-used term in project management. In these circumstances, a team of capable folks is on hand to catch problems early and provide opinions about realistic plan revision. Feedback from others is an excellent tool for modifying overly optimistic time estimation.

However, I’m always surprised that the approaches we use professionally do not necessarily become integrated with our personal tactics for estimating time. Like Hen and George, I’m a hawk on arriving early. I agree with George that the steps required for punctuality seem to multiply the effort. Oscar Wilde noted that “Punctuality is the thief of time” – maybe he’s referring to the extra overhead assigned to early arrival?

So why am I frequently racing for a self-imposed deadline? I’ll assign two reasons, of which the root cause is inadequate preparation.

The first has to do with dependence on other individual’s priorities. Rarely do my plans involve only myself. Loved ones, vendors, and service providers may not buy into my timeline. Worse, their plans may conflict with my vision of successful task completion. Time management always involves negotiation with others.

Second, I will agree with George that aging is a factor. But not because time moves faster. Rather, it’s because aging has introduced a certain brittleness in my task management approach – a bit more anxiety in executing. In turn, this task-anxiety reduces my ability to stay with the flow and I forget things. Halfway to an appointment, but forgot my wallet. Arriving at the tennis court without my racquet. You get the picture.

Linda says, make a checklist. Um, I’ve currently got six different checklists active: one for the restaurant, two for properties, and three for organizations. Add to this, a separate daily checklist (‘One list to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them’, as they say in Mordor). So many checklists, that I forget to consult them. My method of dealing with this has been to overcompensate. I’ll break a task into component parts (‘work packages’ for you PM 101 enthusiasts) and knock off each smaller task in turn. It works, but takes considerable energy. How I look forward to simply going into my shop and creating something! I don’t use checklists there (although I could – and maybe should). But, it’s my checklist-free zone.

In short, I find that it is in the doing where I’m happiest. And in those situations, I don’t worry about estimating the time needed – it takes what it takes!

Fly Like an Eagle: Steve Miller Band

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

I wanna fly like an eagle

To the sea

Fly like an eagle

‘Til I’m free….”

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I Spy (Rarely)

Linda and I are doing our monthly drive to the Adirondacks, and she says, “Did you see all those turkeys by the side of the road – there were eighteen of them along with two jakes?” and I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the road.” She says, “Look at where those wildflowers used to be in the median, did you notice that they were mowed down.” I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the traffic.” She says, “Those guiderails are out of date, I wonder why the DOT hasn’t changed them?” I reply: “What guiderails?”

Now, the significant part of this interchange is that Linda is driving and I’m in the passenger seat. She notices every license plate and every person using their phone. She has stories about each of them. She spies every live creature. Our running joke is the vast amount of activity she takes in while driving — and in almost every other situation, actually — leaving me to wonder if I need new glasses or a brain transplant (where are you, Igor?). In my defense, I argue that one of us ought to be looking at the highway (but I know this is simply deflection – Linda is a good driver)!

Now, I am talking about observation while in motion… not the watchful stillness that challenges you to keep still and take in all the detail around you without reacting. I’m also not talking about forest bathing (which until recently I thought was washing in the woods). Most of the time, I am in motion – rushing to get something done, planning ahead, because I’m always behind. I miss a lot. For instance, Linda and I are on a walking path in Old Forge and we pass a property sprouting garden gnomes under a copse of old pines. When she stops to look, I remind her that we trying to achieve an aerobic experience. She replies: “Details are important – and you miss them. How many gnomes were there?” I say: “Seven… and Snow White was in the tree?” She says: “There were four gnomes — I really worry about you!”

Well, true dat! Then I read this contribution in Quora… and it got me to considering….

As Told by Jay Matthews in Quora:

———
A student visited a Zen master and was shocked to find him naked in his cabin.

The student said:

Why don’t you put on some pants?


The master replied:

The world is my body and this cabin is my pants.

What are you doing in my pants?

“This cute story is designed to get us thinking about whether awareness is actually located in the body.

When you look at a tree, where exactly does your looking stop and the tree begin?

What we call “the world” is a collection of sense-impressions. Beyond and apart from these impressions, there is no world. The Vedic sages had a brilliant way of describing this:

They said what we think of as the body, mind, and world can be better described as a series of layers, like Russian dolls.

The world” is visual, auditory, and tactile sense-impressions.
[I’d add gustatory and scent as well– wc]

The body” is impressions of pleasure or pain.

The mind” is emotions and thoughts.

When we don’t have any impressions, there is no world, body, or mind. When we have impressions, all three arise together.”
———

Linda clearly is open to the world-impressions. So what impressions am I working with? It seems to me that I tend to retreat inside mind-impressions. When I’m driving a distance, I either drift into daydreams or focus on counting regimented items, e.g., how many Walmart vs. Target trucks we pass. If I’m really inspired, I add Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Amazon. (If you’re interested, Walmart trucks generally out-number the rest of this group two-to-one). In order to remember the count, I keep repeating the count to myself (e.g., ‘28-9-5-3-1’) and so forth, upping the count with each new truck. Well, this becomes a mantra while I drive and after a while, I fall into a frame where the flow of traffic and branded highway haulers become a drumbeat.  My mind flows to another place. Is this meditation – or just a mind-numbing trance? Maybe I’m just an enumerator? Who knows?

Now, I’m curious — what do you spy, when you are in motion?

Return to Sloansville by LL Barkat

I close my eyes,
blot out one hundred
and fifty shale driveways
pickup trucks, Ford
pintos, trailers barely
tied to this ground
by wires, gas lines
cable TV.

I can still see
dirt road, Queen
Anne’s Lace, goldenrod
blue chicory,
field mice nesting
under leaning timothy
and the apple orchard
rooted beyond tall firs

where a woman
in navy sweat pants
and red Budweiser t-shirt
is just now hanging laundry
to drift upon the wind,
sing with ghosts
of spring white
blossoms, honeybees.

Observation in Motion

This topic has me puzzled.  I tried doing some research on how one makes observations while in motion; more specifically, what equips an individual to make accurate and lasting observations of unrelated objects while attending to the priority of safe driving?  Other than the scientific explanations of the role of neurons in the frontal section of the brain, I was unable to find any useful information.  This is likely due to my inability to construct a meaningful (to Google) question that gets at my intention.

In Wal’s scenario, Linda is able to read license plates, notices drivers talking on cell phones, and sees turkeys on the side of the road while safely driving but Wal, a passenger with no obvious responsibilities for arriving safely at their destination, does not.  Now one could infer that noting the license plates indicates where the cars are and how close, drivers on their cell phones could become distracted, and turkeys on the side of the road could decide to cross the road.  All of these are potential threats to safe driving and we could conclude that Linda is using her powers of observation to support her defensive driving mode.

I am rarely a passenger so I easily defer to my lack of seeing what my partner Teresa sees while we’re driving because I’m clearly focused on driving.  However, she too, observes far more details when driving than do I.  And, she too is a good driver.  So, in this sample of two – Linda and Teresa – one might point to a gender-based difference.  After all, based on Jose Mathew’s very clever and funny explanation (in my humble and biased opinion) of how men and women’s brains are wired, the explanation is quite evident! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJTbCAAc6w)

Or is it possible that Wal and I notice different things to inform us to also drive safely?  Or, could we see the same things but send a latent message to our brain to ignore the details and focus only on the big picture of how any of these might impact our driving?  Is one style better than another in terms of driving safety? In a NY Times article written by Nicolas Bakalar on April 27, 2020 he states,  “Women tend to be better drivers than men — much better, judging by the number of deaths they cause on the road.”  And, in an article in The Blog, written by Rebecca Shambaugh in March of 2016 she states, “Women tend to absorb more information through their senses and store more of it in the brain for other uses than men do. Therefore, women generally have more interest in details and pay more attention to them than men do.”

While I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between safe driving and attention to details, based on these findings, I may want to spend more time training myself to use both sides of my brain more often than does a typical male!

I also suspect age may play a role here.  I process things much more slowly and tend to remember less, especially details.   Perhaps I used to see many more things while still paying attention to the road.  Of course, in my over-confident youthdom I may have done so without paying the attention I should have to my driving and was just lucky.  Unfortunately, I’ll never kqnow because…I can’t remember!

On the positive side, I’m grateful to Wal for posing this topic for consideration as I now find myself spending a little more time looking around at my surroundings while appreciating even more, Teresa’s ability to notice so much.

“All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing.” Peter M. Leschak

Do You See What I See?

I never gave this much thought until Wally brought the topic up. But since then, every time I drive now I’m paying attention to what I am observing.  I should start by saying that in general I am observant.  I usually observe the little details as opposed to the big picture! If I’m sitting on my porch looking out over the yard, I tend to notice not just visual things but noise as well, and smells.  But they usually aren’t the predominant visual, sound or fragrance.  I see the mole hole in my grass but not the gully formed by the rain running off the gutters. I hear the mourning dove on the garage roof before I hear the ambulance siren going down the street.  It must be just the way I’m wired! 

So now when I drive away from my house I am trying to catch myself observing things without purposely trying to manipulate what it is I am observing.  I haven’t had a ticket in 7 years so I am assuming I am an ok driver.  For two of those years I was driving to Vermont and back every weekend so I was putting quite a few miles on my jeep. What I have discovered is I study the cars around me. I don’t always identify the make as many of the models today all look similar.  But what I realized is, I study stickers and decals from places visited.  I get annoyed at the “Baby on Board” ones like if there aren’t babies can I crash into your rear end?  Or the cute little mommy and daddy with 5 or 6 little stickers next to them and maybe a pup or kitty.  I had to laugh the other day seeing such a sticker with 7 little stickers following them and someone finger wrote on the dust of the trunk, “how do you have time to even drive around?”  Something I might have written myself!   I also read license plates, especially the vanity plates and if I can’t figure out what it is supposed to be saying I invariably remark to myself, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”   Unfortunately, I don’t notice the big things, just the details! 

Now, here is something I realized I go out of my way to do when I am driving after dark and on local roads in my neighborhood.  I discovered I do it all the time when driving alone.  I look into people’s houses. Into windows that have lights on just to try to imagine what their lives are like. I like to see how the room is decorated and imagine their lives and then I develop an entire history of the family.  The husband is a school bus driver and his wife is a registered nurse. They have one daughter who is an honor student in high school.  Christmas times is especially fun to see the Christmas trees and decorations as I drive passed the bright windows.  If there is a silhouette that I can see from the car as I drive by, that is an added bonus and helps me fill

in the details of their boring or exciting life bed judging from what I observed as I passed by.  Making up stories about their lives just prevents me from getting bored while I’m driving.  If I am not near any buildings then I have to check out who is in the car next to me, assign a destination for them and a story as to why they are going there. 

Thanks Wal, I never realized how weird I am until now.  The observations are important but creating the stories that go along with them is really fun.  I’ll go away now!

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ASDF…JKL, Semicolon

In junior high school, a concept that no longer exists, we were required to take a course in typing, to prepare us for the future.  We each sat in front of a typewriter, a machine that no longer exists, that had no letters on the keys.  Instead we had to look up at the blackboard, replaced by white boards, with a chart that had all the letters on the keys. We were not allowed to look down at the keyboard but had to learn which fingers were used for which letters.  Home base was “a,s,d,f—j,k,l,;” The thumb was only used to hit the space bar! I got pretty good at it and could type a lot of words a minute- which was how we were scored- words per minute and accuracy, another obsolete concept.  You always indented 5 spaces to start a new paragraph, and after a period you had to have 2 spaces.  Simple, easy to understand and easy to read!  All that has changed over the years.  My life is like the typing class!  Things were simple and consistent giving me a sense of security and comfort. 

     But just lik….ooops

But just like typing, life as changed as well.  Things that I used to feel comfortable with and safe have evolved to things that are not as comfortable for me today.  I would like to say Change is my middle name!  But I would have to change my first name to Can’t!  Of course I know change is inevitable, I grew taller, went through puberty, my voice changed, hair styles changed, friends moved on and new ones entered my life, I couldn’t wait to be older!  Sorry I spent so much time wishing for that one!  Life goes on……and most of the time we don’t even realize it is happening.  The changes just get incorporated into our lives and we don’t even realize it.  

I have been thinking about my Aunt Eleanor, who was born in 1907 and lived to be 99. In her lifetime there were incredible changes, advances in every possible field and life in general. I wish I had asked her how she dealt with it. From horse and buggies, to motor cars, from walk up apartments to elevators, ice boxes to refrigerators, it is mind boggling.  But through it all she survived and prospered.  She went from being a tatter in the garment district in NYC to being a key punch operator for Horn and Hardarts.  No such jobs exist today.  Things are constantly changing. As kids we used to make crank calls. Picked a number from the phone book (remember those?) called the number and when the person answered we would ask, “Is your refrigerator running? and when they would answer yes we would suggest they better run after it!  Harmless!  Today I get crank calls all the time that there is a problem with a bill but they can fix it if I send them $200. in gift cards. I’m too smart for that, but there are many people, especially seniors who get scared and do it.  I guess my point is that change isn’t always good.

I wonder what Aunt Eleanor thought when a man walked on the moon?

I have adapted to change out of necessity!  Can’t say I like it all but I have to learn to live with it.  At my age now, with my body working slower and my mind in rhythm with my body, things can sometimes be difficult.  I have a lot of friends who are pretty technical and can ride with the tide all of these computer advances, while a smaller group of us have to be pulled along into acceptance whether we like it or not.  My friends schedule activities and say they have to check their phones.  Phones are for calling people not for keeping track of stuff!  I, however have to wait to get home and check my wall calendar to see if I am available on that date.  Laughter and jeering subside after a few moments.  I also get all my bills through the US Post Office, an admirable institution and neatly pile all my bills on my desk until it is time to write the checks and record them in my little register to make sure I don’t over draw my resources.  You should hear my friends then……guffaws, you still write checks????  Yeah! I still write checks and still balance my checkbook, how else do you know how much money you have?  I can take being the dinosaur of the group and being the brunt of all the jokes but it is one place where life slows down and I can comfortably deal.  I will let you in on a little secret… I still double space after a period and no amount of joking will make me change.  And even though I have learned to text on my phone, I can never do it with my thumbs.  My one pointer finger sends all my messages and I’m proud of it.

Call me old fashioned, I have been called a lot worse.  I sit on my back porch with a glass of wine and my dog and in that peace and quiet, I take solace from that one brief moment where nothing seems to change, and all is good with the world!

Doing the Two Space

It’s interesting how we all criticized our elders’ resistance to change – until we became them! Is it possible that each generation enacts change partially to distinguish themselves from their forebears?

A lot of change is effective technical or cultural enhancement, but a portion is simply fashion…  like demonizing punctuation (and maybe the two-space guidance after a period). That sort of change for change’s sake leaves me cold if I can’t see a tangible benefit. In fact, I see a degradation of information by eliminating periods or other markers which help stage manage communication. A continued trend toward simplification in language increases the speed of communication, but not the quality. If you figure that George has inserted those two spaces between sentences at least 100,000 times in his life, you have to conclude that it is a pretty well-worn behavior – and that he’s really good at it. So why change? 

Needless change distracts from other important tasks – and it’s made more difficult by ‘proactive inhibition’. That’s when the old behavior competes with the new resulting in a lot of inconsistency. It’s worse, when the change is not much different than the old behavior (one space after a period). Change is also practice. The temptation is to stick with the tried and true (e.g., adding two spaces after the punctuation). It not only (literally) makes a statement, but it also expresses homage to those who taught you – a mark of loyalty. And it sets the azimuth of reality at a comfortable angle.

Yet, there are plenty of innovations that are worthy of adoption – perhaps even necessary for safety and survival. Years ago, I took a class with Margaret Mead titled Culture and Communication, in which she underlined the speed of cultural acquisition – the ability of disparate cultures to integrate breakthroughs introduced in far-away places. Good ideas travel quickly! However, she also believed that the rate of change was rapidly accelerating, leaving some individuals incapable or unwilling to make the leap that cultural change demands. Her example (at that time) was how the children raised on TV differed from their WWII predecessors who lived in a world of radio and print communication. I wonder what she would have thought of the generation raised by the holy trinity of internet, wi-fi and cell phone?

To large degree, we all tend to stick with the tried and true, but what might work at low-tide, is a losing proposition at high-tide. Settling-in can also mean sinking under. Some of my older friends eschewed computers and internet service as unwanted complications — and found that neighbors knew more about their children’s activities (through social media) than they did. They discovered that vaccination appointments had to be made online. One could rightly argue that there should be safety nets for the vulnerable (or simply stubborn) segments of our society, but the message is clear that it is unwise to ignore the tidal influence of change.

“We’re Only Haunted…” by Bridgett Devoue

we’re only haunted

by the things

we refuse

to accept

Embracing Change

Experience has provided the opportunity for me to understand and embrace change.  Like George, I don’t always seek it or relish that which is thrust upon me, but I accept that change is inevitable and ongoing.  Nothing really stays the same.  Just like the saying that you can’t step into the same river twice, everything around us, including us, is in a constant state of change.

I remember watching my grandmother forcefully resist change.  What she was taught and what she taught her children was the right way.  She was certain that her definition of manners and discipline were everlasting and the modern, more casual behaviors with dress, how children treated adults, and dating outside one’s religion would lead to society’s downfall.  Her children’s taste in music was questionable but listening to and watching such wanton people as Elvis Presley convinced her of the demise of my generation.  And when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957 she knew that climatic anomalies were the consequences of dabbling in areas we weren’t meant to be.  She knew what she knew and no logic or other forms of reasoning were going to change that.  When I entered my twenties, I vowed to remember the things I so loved about my grandmother but not to close my mind to an ever-changing world and isolate that part of myself from my children and grandchildren.

Fast forward to today and I find myself better understanding from whence she came as well as George’s happy place on his porch, with his dog and a glass of wine.  But I also appreciate that my high school typing class allows me to use the computer with relative ease and my enthusiasm for learning new things has endured these many years so that I look forward to the latest IPhone, the software updates on my Tesla, and learning the sport of pickle ball in my seventies.  I admit I sometimes vacillate between the “simplicity” of the good old days when there seemed to be fewer choices that then seemed limiting but now feel less complicated, and the wonders of today’s limitless technologies that help make our lives easier and medically, more repairable.  And I also realize, that it’s how I bring myself to each change that I face, that helps decide whether it is friend or foe.

Change is inevitable

Growth is optional

– John C. Maxwell

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future” -John F. Kennedy

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On Listening

The need to be heard is deeply embedded in me.  When I feel the listener gets what I’m trying to convey (even if they don’t agree) a physical sense of contentment comes over me.  On the flip side, when my words are ignored or replaced with the listener’s own story or interests, a combination of anger, upset, and frustration consume me.  It’s the way I’m wired.  

As a result of being this way, I purposely remind myself (because I still forget to follow my preference for being a good listener) to use one of the seven habits of highly effective people created by author Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  I actually prefer to listen first.  It helps me determine whether it is a good time for the other person to engage in an open dialogue or not.  What I hear gives me clues about what they are interested in and enables me to make a connection before I enter into a dialogue that might be important only to me.  Often, I’m not even aware that I’m doing this.  Only now, as I develop this piece on listening, am I cognizant that this seems to be what I do and why.  

I’m not sure why I get so frustrated by those who appear to be disconnected from what I say or disingenuous when they ask me a question and then choose to ignore my response and follow a strand that leads them to tell their own story.  I remember vividly, being in a meeting with about 15 school administrator colleagues and the topic was an issue that I felt was extremely important to the future of the district.  We were asked to prepare our comments ahead of time and we would all be given a chance to present them for discussion before a decision was made. When it was my turn, I spoke with what I felt was intention, clarity, and passion.  When I finished the facilitator simply said, “Okay” and when on to another person.  There was no asking if anyone had any questions, how they felt, the pros and cons of my proposal on the issue, or even a thank you for my thinking.  It was as if I hadn’t even spoken.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my friend and colleague seated next to me said he felt me rising out of my chair and, sensing my immense frustration, rubbed my back as one would do to a small child who was about to explode with rage.  The final decision appeared to be a fait accompli and therefore, in the end, none of our ideas or suggestions seemed to matter.

As I thought about that incident throughout my career, I vowed never to allow any of my constituents to feel dismissed or unheard.  Of course I had no control of how people might feel and even though I worked hard at getting to understand what my staff and teammates might be saying, I’m sure I missed some along the way.  But I realized that as long as I tried to understand and acknowledge their meaning and intention, they should never feel as dismissed and unheard as I did at that meeting.

I have known both extremes to the behavior of listening.  I once worked with a woman who had developed such a devotion to listening to others that she never spoke of or about herself.  She deflected questions with one or few word answers and immediately defaulted to asking about the other person.  She remembered details about their last conversation and quickly engaged them.  People felt heard, cared for, and valued by her.  Somehow, for me, there was a void in not knowing her opinions or more about her own life.

There are others, of course, who have such a need to share or vent or explain that they often dominate a conversation or take what I say and link it to their own story.  Sometimes, it enhances what I was trying to illustrate but much of the time it misses my point and becomes more about them.  It is in those times that I become quiet.

I’ve learned a few things about myself when it comes to listening:

  • I need to increase my tolerances for listening, interruptions, and storytelling             
  • Less talk and more thought make conversations more fulfilling
  • Blogging gives me all the time I need to tell my stories and share my opinions

“When we listen, we hear someone into existence.”― Laurie Buchanan, PhD

The Wise Old Owl

I have a problem.  Ask Henry or Wally and they will tell you.  But there is a reason, and I know I have used this excuse before in defense of other bad habits, but it is fitting.  I am Italian.  As Henry and Wally let me know every time we are together, either by a roll of eyes or a forced cough, I interrupt, break into their discourse and have to share an idea. A jury would find me guilty. But back to the Italian thing.  My extended family consisted of about 15 free ranging Italians all hungry and waiting for dinner to be served.  Momentarily while the food was being placed on the table there was a hush that came over the dining room.  As soon as my dad sat down at the head of the table all Hell broke loose.  My aunts would announce that they weren’t really hungry and they would just pick, as they filled their plates with everything in sight.  At first the conversation was, “please pass the macaroni” and then evolved into ,”Gimme the Italian bread!”  This wasn’t done in polite courteous discourse, it soon became cruder and louder and all at the same time.  As a child I learned that I couldn’t just wait for a pause in the chatter because there was never a pause, so you had to raise your voice and as a kid occasionally stand up and point to what you wanted.  If I just waited for a pause in the conversation I would starve plus after a few minutes my mom, my dad or my aunts would shout across the table to me with, “What’s the matter, why aren’t you eating anything? ” So with that as my background it is a hard habit to break.

On the other hand, my Welsh grandfather would quote the wise old owl (not sure what scholar really came up with this so I can’t include his name in the credits) and tell my brother and I that we were born with one mouth and two ears, so we were meant to listen twice as much as we spoke. Not bad advice at all.  But being a little kid and a snarky one at that, I would always say he should come to one of our Sunday dinners and bring that owl. But Grampa would just say, “When in Rome……” which I didn’t really understand because we lived in Flushing  So breaking the habits of interrupting and speaking loudly has been a life long goal and obviously one I have not yet achieved.  I don’t do it to be rude, much of the time something that was said got me excited and I wanted to contribute and having no vocal boundaries I just jumped right in. I do admit that sometimes during a conversation, a pretty bird or an insect or something attracts my attention and I want the other people to see it too so I interrupt again.  Habits are hard to break and having little self discipline interferes with my success.  To this predicament aging is also a contributing factor. If I don’t tell you my idea right now, by the time you stop talking I may have lost it…….just sayin’.

I was a teacher for 35 years and a union president for the last 10.  So I had to listen. The union position was especially difficult because I had to listen to a teacher’s problems. If I was sitting at my desk in the office I would be pinching my knee beneath my desk reminding me not to interrupt.  And that worked for the most part.  Everyone wants to be heard. I know that and it is probably because of my insecurities that I force myself on others to be heard.  It isn’t because I’m not listening or not interested, it is just that I am convinced I have something so important to share that I just can’t wait for the pause so I watch very closely to see when the person takes a breath and jump in.

I have a lot of work to do still and I’m running out of time.  Old dogs take a lot longer to learn new tricks.  Shiny objects always attract my attention and I am so sorry to hear about your broken leg, but Look, an army tank just drove passed the house!

Vocal Boundaries

I think George is onto something in raising the issue of vocal boundaries – and crossing them in order to be heard. I suppose that in a competitive environment, you need to be assertive to make a point, even if that means interrupting or changing the topic of conversation. But is all conversation really competitive? Is conversational space a scarce resource?

George and I kid about interrupting Hen before he can say 25 words.  It’s a joke, because Hen does not blather on, but rather gets to a point pretty efficiently. We can tease Hen, because he is generally pretty tolerant about being conversationally short-sheeted. Similarly, I might roll my eyes at George, whenever he jumps in to take the conversation in a different direction. The eye-roll is not meant to be demeaning:  I (and Hen) appreciate George’s spontaneity and wit – and the conversation usually becomes more interesting. The bottom line is that we are comfortable with each other and realize that we all care enough to eventually give one another the opportunity to express a point of view, despite eye-rolls, interruptions, and lots of laughter.

Caring is the key. George’s family could cross vocal boundaries, because they demonstrated in a hundred ways that they recognized each other as people that mattered. It seems to be a different story when someone demonstrates that you are not valued enough to be allowed conversational space – and worse — gloss over your ideas without really listening. Unfortunately, I’ll bet we’ve all been on both sides of that discourse!

It seems to me that the urge to dominate the airwaves increases with age. Many of my senior friends feel compelled to share their stories — either before it’s too late, or before they forget. There is rarely a drop-the-mic moment, because the mic is held in a death-grip. I don’t buy George’s point that the urge to share doesn’t interfere with listening (sorry for the double negative!). Of course it does: the teller is focusing on the next point instead of asking questions for clarification. 

To go even further, I suggest (as many others have suggested) that the inability to repeat back what another person has said to you – in a manner that causes the other to signal that you heard correctly – is a major national problem these days. Wonder what would happen if we took a rule to share stories, one-for-one and asked as many questions as we used declaratives?

excerpt from Please Just Listen by Jessie Swick

…”Perhaps that’s why prayer works—because god is mute,
And he doesn’t give advice or try
To fix things,
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
For your turn—and I will listen to you.”

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Half-Hearted

When we started this blog, it was our goal to depict a first-person record of our thoughts for our friends, children and grandchildren. Maybe this record could start a conversation or provide an insight that would benefit someone. Sometimes this writing is tough for me, because I’m just an ‘everyman’, whose experiences are mostly alike to just about all the folks who read our posts. So, here’s a recent dilemma – perhaps you’ve felt the same.

I believe that most people make decisions with their heart and then rationalize why they are logical decisions. However, there are times when logic and doubt put the brakes on that decision, rendering a full-hearted decision into a half-hearted enterprise. I tend to do that frequently. A case in point:

An acquaintance asked me for a favor, a man in his later nineties. Would I act as the executor for his will as he had no family or close friend to help him? Sure, I said – of course. “Whoa”, my brain’s executive function replied – “What are you getting us into?” Well, said I, it’s the right thing to do, after all, he’s alone and I’ll just provide the administrative work to satisfy his last wishes, which were to donate his estate to a charity that helps burn victims – and to ensure that the ashes of his deceased dog get buried with him.

It started off with some bumps. I realized soon into the process, that my friend (I will call him friend, because we now have a certain relationship) has a communication style which tends to alienate quite a lot of folks. If asked a question he does not wish to answer, he simply refuses to acknowledge the query, stares straight ahead, and pretends he doesn’t speak the language (yet English is his only language). If the question is repeated, he may deflect by becoming antagonistic. This pattern makes it very difficult to deal with lawyers, who want to define the set of assets and stipulations in his will and funeral directors, who attempt to identify the conditions of being laid to rest. Later, I found out that this style also doesn’t help medical professionals who are trying to determine what hurts and under what circumstances. Clearly, his needs were less for an executor, but more for a care-giver and public relations specialist.

It became starkly apparent when my friend slipped in his steep driveway and had to go to the emergency room. From there, he was shunted to a rehabilitation center for two months. During this time, we worked through his bills and arranged a safe return to his house, with added handicapped assistance and occupational therapy. Bill-paying took some time, because my friend only pays with a credit card and only by telephone, and only when his hearing aids worked. His philosophy is that if creditors didn’t make it easy to pay (e.g., no checks, no computer, no long telephone menu, no foreign accents), well, then they didn’t need his money. Shopping also became an issue, because he has specific – and limited — tastes which are distributed among several grocery stores.

Around this time, I became half-hearted. Although I wanted to help, nothing seemed to satisfy my friend. Every problem had a particular – and not quite obvious — acceptable solution. Also, running around to different stores for special cereal, orange juice brands, bread, and non-dairy creamers is just not my thing. In addition, desired brands were not always available due to stocking and supply chain issues. Bananas with absolutely no spots, white bread with expiration dates of two weeks or more, one brand of cheese, two types of cereal in a particular volume, razor-thin sliced angus, and one type of non-dairy creamer – a gallon at a clip, were judged to standards beyond my enthusiasm level. Products and people all seemed to be sources of irritation to my friend, even those people who were helping him in some fashion. I found myself parlaying excuses for delaying my visits. I kept saying to myself, I’m supposed to be learning something from this situation, but I could not figure it out.

I was mad at myself for not really engaging; resentment was weighing me down. Being half-hearted is bad for your health. The Bible has a relevant verse about this:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Boy, that fit. Yoda also has a verse:

“Do or do not. There is no try.” 

Well, that pinned me – either do or don’t. I realize that I needed to see this as a situation where I should be happy that I’m able to do something to help my friend… and lucky that I have a wife who is game to assist. Finally, I became content with understanding that I may never figure out what I’m supposed to learn from this experience. And as soon as that happened, I learned some things!

  1. People, particularly seniors, want to be recognized: they are afraid of becoming irrelevant; want to be seen and understood. But that’s not enough
  2. People want you to care. You cannot do that in a half-hearted manner. Showing up isn’t enough: you have to listen to their stories and be invested. Regularity and attention to detail will also help
  3. Understand that even if help is required, it is rarely welcomed. Folks may not show their best side, particularly if that have reason to come from a position of general mistrust. In my case, being judged for shopping skills was not the point. It was to ensure that I listened to my friend’s needs. Once that was satisfied, he compromised on his brand requirements
  4. Those abrasive and judgmental behaviors could easily be my personality style in similar circumstances. Look at yourself and learn to age with grace.  

Age with Grace

I was having trouble trying to connect with Wally’s half-heartedness.  I have never been in a situation like that where I have been tested.  Wally is his own worst critic and I admire how he stepped up and helped this guy out.

I aspire to be like him, Wally not the cranky old guy.  Perhaps I have never been in that position because I have been too afraid to make that leap of faith and people recognized that in me and never approached me. Wally has shared his experiences with this gentleman, and I often thought were it me I would be stomping my feet, throwing things, and cursing at the moodiness and abruptness that Wally’s generosity was dealt with by this guy. I just couldn’t ‘relate until the last three words of Wally’s text….. Age With Grace.
I immediately was enveloped in the snarky state that I am known for…. But Wally, your wife is named Linda!  Sometimes I do that because the topic of discussion is too painful to address intellectually.  I have accomplished much in my life that has made me proud but doing it with grace is not one of my strong suits.  To age with grace is quite a concept., and quite a task to accomplish.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to age, do it in various ways. Our culture doesn’t revere aging the way other cultures do, and as a result we are often taken advantage of, teased, or discounted.  Aging gracefully may be more an aspect of how those around us treat us rather than anything we do “gracefully.”  I often joke that I have earned my curmudgeon license and enjoy using it. Old people are known for their crankiness, and ornery-ness.  Our society doesn’t always treat seniors with patience and respect, and as a result many seniors respond to society without that value and respect, they/we expect.  Just look at all the hackers and computer thieves who prey on seniors to get our money over the phone or through the computer because we aren’t smart enough to know better.  Throw in some fear and add confusion and we are easy prey to these crooks.
I fear growing older more like Wally’s friend than Jimmy Carter and that troubles me.  Being alone late in life is very difficult.  Sure, I have caring kids who will always take care of me but I don’t want them to have to do that.  And having kids is different than having a partner.  You can’t talk to your kids the same as you can with a spouse or close friend.  At least to me it seems inappropriate to talk about certain things with my kids that I could easily share with someone who has known me intimately for a long time.  I guess I am quickly approaching the category of cranky old geezer and leaving behind the helpful younger caretaker who graciously gives his time to help out someone in need.
I turned 76 a few weeks ago and suddenly felt old.  Nothing changed from how I felt the day before, but the number was scary.  Sure, 76 trombones led the big parade but I don’t have a parade in me anymore.  I have friends around my age who are dealing with problems with their hands and feet, pain and numbness like I do.  I am waiting for the day to come when my kids decide dad shouldn’t be driving anymore- one of the last strongholds for seniors to feel independent Thank goodness for back up cameras because I have trouble turning my head around to see what I am backing into.  The camera allows me the security of signaling if I am in danger of crashing into anything.  But there are so many little reminders like that that seniors experience in a day, and the indignity that accompanies them.  You really have to be brave to get older, the body slowly deteriorates and so does the mind.  In the course of a conversation, we lose words.  That bugs me most of all, when you have to use the definition of a word because you can’t retrieve the word itself. I went to the, ah, you know, the heart doctor….. right the cardiologist.  So, I understand what Wally’s friend is going through.  Sometimes I wonder if he gives Wal a list of things just to see how far Wal will go to get everything.  But you can tell even with this gentleman his recent life has been very lonely and having a human to talk to every now and then is essential. I know the guy has a good heart because he wants his best friend’s ashes to be buried with him.  I know how deep that connection is.  I wouldn’t have made it through Covid without mine.  I will strive to age with grace…….or Rick, or Mary….or Fred, but perhaps that aspect of life will escape me.

With a Full Heart…

In this thought-provoking piece, Wal asks us to think about how fully we bring ourselves to the task of helping others, how we respond to those things that get in the way of making it a fulfilling experience, and what we can learn from the entire experience.  These questions also apply to relationships and work. 

There have been numerous times when I did the right thing for the right reasons but not with a positive attitude.  I was unhappy about my commitment and wished I was somewhere else, but I had given my word and felt I needed to honor it.  And while I’m sure it was apparent to everyone around me, I still felt that they should accept my unsmiling face with appreciation since, after all, I was doing what was expected.  This was not how I wanted it to be, but, at the time, didn’t feel there were any viable alternatives.

I remember one time when I was to accompany my former partner and her daughter to the wedding of her friend.  I hardly knew the friend or the groom and it was a weekend long affair.  To add insult to injury, it was one of those spectacular fall weekends when the weather was perfect for hiking, biking, or anything outdoors and I was really unhappy.  Then, I realized that I had a choice!  I decided that it would be better off for everyone if I stayed home and excused myself from the wedding event.  My partner and her daughter could enjoy the event and they wouldn’t have to worry about me sitting indoors with people I didn’t know and wishing I were somewhere else.  I assumed that this was a legitimate request as my partner had excused herself from an outing or two that she wouldn’t have liked and that had been acceptable to me.  I was wrong.  Even though I was clear and direct, they both were adamant that I should come, that I would have a great time, and they would be extremely unhappy if I didn’t.  So I went…begrudgingly, angrily, and more moody than I’ve ever been.  I was miserable and so were they.  We arrived, they got out while I parked the car, and when I entered the venue, I discovered it was actually a surprise party for me for my fiftieth birthday!

Eckhart Tolle offers three healthy ways to address such issues that move us closer to acting with a full heart and with less suffering.  He suggests that when we are faced with a situation in which we are a participant who is struggling with the conditions or circumstances of what we are doing, we can actively seek to change it, completely accept it, or leave.

In the case I described above, I did first seek to change the situation by offering to stay behind and supporting their interest in going.  However, instead of accepting the situation after I agreed to go, I feel back into a less than half-hearted position.  I made myself miserable and those around me who were, in fact, trying to surprise me with something I would truly enjoy.  I have never forgotten that lesson.  All I had to do was take a deep breath, let go of where I wanted to be, and enjoy the ride.  Instead, I not only lost those hours of living well but numerous minutes and hours regretting it.

“If you’re willing to give me
Give me your all
I like things whole and imperfect
So don’t give me perfect halves
For I don’t like to go for things
half-heartedly
and I don’t like to be gone for
half-heartedly.”

― Sherihan Gamal

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Lunch Anyone?

Not long ago, while meeting friends for lunch in uptown Kingston, I happened to park where I have many times before. Kingston is known for its old stone houses, In fact, the “Stockade” four corners is an intersection whose claim to fame is that it is the oldest four corners of original stone houses from the late 1600’s in America and survived the burning of Kingston by the British.  I parked on a side street not far from there in front of one of those old stone houses, abandoned and roofless with grass growing inside the walls.  Normally I park the car and head to wherever I’m going, but this time I really looked at this skeleton of a house.  It captured my attention.  Perhaps it was the stonework, or the sun shining inside the empty rooms with dirt floors and vegetation growing between the rock walls.  I decided to invite myself inside and sat in one of the rock chairs placed awkwardly around the structure.  I sat silently for a moment and just looked around.  I could identify the boundaries of a few rooms and tried to imagine the kitchen, living room and whatever other rooms might have been in the floor plan.  The floors were rocky also and covered in grass and weeds.  My imagination was running wild as I purveyed the scene and imagined what life was like In this house 400 years ago. What did it look like, what sounds did they hear back then! 

I could see the remnants of two chimneys, and as I looked out what once were windows I imagined what the view would be like.  Certainly different from the firehouse next door and the parking lot of a popular bakery and restaurant across the street. I imagined fields of corn, maybe a few barns or sheds.  Maybe a plow or two strewn in the barnyard. I imagined settlers tending the crops, women preparing food and doing chores.  But what I tried to imagine the most were children. We’re they out playing games in the yard or helping dad with the crops.  Those were the boys of course because the girls were helping mom in the kitchen.  My mind went to an image of today’s kids with video games, phones, and tv, not helping their parents but just obsessed with the technology.

I looked around more and wondered what life was like back then for the family.   I was always interested in history but never really thought about how different life was.  For example, were they worried about money, was there money?  They worked the farm and “sold” their crops or did they barter for what they needed. Did they have bills to pay, and how did they do that? When the day’s work was done did they all sit by the fire and talk, did they read and chat about the neighbors or the kids?  I imagine a much quieter household than we are used to.  I suspect the children listened better and knew better than to question their parents’ words. A much different vision than today’s homes with everyone on some device or other without any interaction. What was hanging on their walls, no photographs obviously, but did they decorate the walls? I can visualize the kitchen but the other rooms are harder to picture.  The kids probably lived in a loft tucked under the eaves, with small wooden beds and mattresses of straw, all home made.

Then the judgments started.  Were they better off than we are today?  Life was definitely harder, people had to be self sufficient, independent and families had to care for themselves without the help of specialists.  They had to be carpenters, stone masons, and any other skilled laborer that was needed. I think about it and wonder how I ever would have survived in a culture like that. I forgot about lunch and kind of woke up from my stupor.  I politely excused myself to the gracious hosts of this long ago thriving household and joined my friends in the noise and rush and clutter of today’s world and wondered once again who was better off!

Past Tense

I’m pretty familiar with the remnant of the stone structure that George describes. It does lend itself to thinking about times past and how people lived, particularly, since it was also the site of the Esopus Massacre. 

Imagine a great fence of upright poles surrounding several blocks of the settlement where this house stood: basically, a fortress. The stockade was built by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 to protect the fledgling settlement of Wiltwyck, now Kingston. During the day, the men went to work the fields near the Esopus River and the gates were closed. However, there were also days where the Munsee tribe of the Lenape were admitted for purposes of trade.

On one of those days, a coordinated attack of the settlement of Nieuw Dorp (New Town) and within the stockade of Wiltwyck was commenced. Nieuw Dorp was burned to the ground and eighteen inhabitants of Wiltwyk were killed. Forty-four women and children were abducted. Thus started the Second Esopus Indian War in 1661.

It was a pretty dangerous and difficult existence 350 years ago! 

While I do believe that happiness is relative – people will find purpose and satisfaction in any given time period – I don’t have any yearnings to live in earlier times. Eric Sloane chronicled the diary of fifteen-year-old Noah Blake, originally written in 1805. Circumstances still do not seem so appealing:

March 27:  Father was wrong about the weather, for it snowed again today. We kept within the house, sharpening and making ready tools for the year’s farming.

March 28: Snow stopp’d during the night, but it is very cold. My window glass is frosty and my ink froze.

April 9: Flooding all but washed our bridge away. Father says the new bridge beams are seasoned and ready. When the waters subside, he shall begin to erect it. We are shaping up the abutments.

Focus tended to be on the many tasks that needed to be completed: plowing, mending, transporting stone for the bridge, building sheds and mills. It’s clear that neighbors needed to stick together to finish larger tasks – a real positive, given the reality of today where folks might not even know their neighbors. 

Kids like Noah had friends – and helped their parents with tasks. Faith was a social glue as well: many of Noah’s entrees highlighted church services and the opportunity to visit with a girl his age. I have a church pew taken from a demolished church which dates to 1804… I know this because children carved their names and dates into the back of the pew – likely during a service. I was struck by the neatness and skill of the graffiti. 

While I admire the craftsmanship that was in the DNA of folks 200 years ago, I would not want to live in that time: if for nothing else, think of the learning resources we have at our fingertips – we are ignorant only if we want to be. So, thanks for the efforts of our forebears – they had challenges and enjoyments suitable for their circumstances – but I’m happy to be in this present… even with its problems.

Excerpt from The Present by Adelaide Anne Proctor

Do not crouch to-day and worship

   The dead Past, whose life has fled

Hush your voice in tender reverence

   Crowned he lies, but cold and dead:

For the Present reigns, our monarch,

   With an added weight of hours;

Honor her for she is mighty!

   Honor her, for she is ours!

Hard But Simple

I often think of living life in the days described by George’s visit to the late 1600s “Stockade” in uptown Kingston.  It generally finds its way into my thoughts when I’m cutting and splitting firewood, repairing a piece of furniture, or working in my vegetable garden.  During these physical exercises, I find myself more focused.  I am less distracted from the daily interruptions, less likely to daydream, and more attentive to the task at hand.  However, I do wonder what it would have been like to conduct these chores without the power tools I use to carry them out or the consequences of failing to cut enough wood to cook and heat the house or to successfully grow enough vegetables from the garden to feed the family.  Never-the-less I get a great deal of satisfaction feeling I am capable of managing to provide the bare essentials for myself if I need to.  

Fourteen years ago, I built a run-in (a roofed, three-sided shelter) in the woods at a campsite I created behind my house. The process entailed getting lumber from a local lumber mill delivered to an area near the front of my house.  From there, beams, flooring, siding, roofing, hardware and tools had to be moved to a location 700 feet away.  The traverse was down a very steep 300-foot hill, across a 18-foot bridge spanning a small creek, and up a 100 foot hiking trail that included two switchbacks.  At the time, I didn’t have any vehicles that would assist getting the materials from the bridge to the site.  Occasionally, I enlisted a friend to carry some boards with me.  Most of the time, I pulled, dragged, and rolled each item inch by inch to the designated target. It reminded me of what life might have been like, back then.  Fortunately for me there was no pressing deadline and I had battery powered tools to use at the site.  It was a most rewarding and instructive experience.  In fact I often felt more personal satisfaction during this project than in the work I did as an educator.  I loved teaching and being a principal but the good work we did was always the result of a collaboration of people.  This experience allowed me to feel a sense of individual accomplishment but also to understand the value and necessity of working as a team.

And, from time to time I would fantasize what it would be like to have to provide myself with food, water, and winter warmth, if the modern systems we all use would suddenly become unavailable.  Before I moved, I had a cadre of friends, each of whom had unique skill sets that would enable them to manage through such a scenario.  I often thought of the interdependence that existed during the time period George describes.  I’d like to think that those friends would see the value in setting aside our drive to function independently and would band together to help each other through challenging times.  As much as I enjoy my lack of dependency on others there is a strong appeal for communal living that seems ignored today.  I wonder if we were all forced to provide for our basic needs, would we seek to work in concert.  I can only hope we would.

Living with our wits and our hands is hard work.  Knowing that our work is to provide food, clothing, and shelter while living in community with others, seems simple in determining how to live our lives.

“It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility, and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.” – Robert F. Kennedy

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Temagami

Even when you’re ready to look deep inside and to make the commitment to do what’s necessary to be your best self, it doesn’t necessarily mean you really are.  In my case it was only the beginning of a very long process that took thirty-five years for me to realize significant change.

Around the time I turned 40 I was an assistant principal in a small city district and was part of a team of administrators who had been frustrated with the traditional professional development experiences which often lacked substance and follow up.  As a result, little if anything in our behaviors or work procedures ever really changed.  Rather than simply complain, a few of us decided to search for consultants who had the reputation for developing highly effective leaders and creating opportunities for systemic change. That’s when I met Rod Napier.  He sat before our small committee and made his presentation.  We were truly impressed and felt he was the one who could provide us with a unique experience and one that would not only guide us into a more cohesive organization but in a way that would invite authentic communication between and among our more than 50 administrative members. 

When we told him he was our choice candidate he looked at us and asked us a question.  “Do you really want to change?” he said.  Of course we replied; that’s what this is all about.  He smiled and said we didn’t understand.  “Do you really want to change?”  We smiled back and said yes we do.  He then stared into our eyes with a look of seriousness that was almost threatening.  “Do you really want to change?” he said a third time.  This time, we had no immediate response.  We wondered; Were we simply looking for better professional development that would be exciting and helpful but that fit neatly into our existing way of doing things or were we willing to commit to something that would rock the boat, take far out of our comfort zone, and bring us on a journey few leaders in any organization had taken before?  After much discussion and time to think we decided to move forward and, with Rod’s help, convinced the Board of Education to sign a three-year contract that would surely shake up the status quo and quite possibly put our district on the course of a great and unknown adventure.  And before we could begin, I was hired by another district to lead my own school as principal.  Ugh!  Was this to be a missed opportunity?  I called Rod and explained my situation.  It was then that I learned about The Temagami Experience.

We landed on Langskib Island on Lake Temagami in Northeastern Ontario in a small seaplane in early August. Twenty of us were flown in, five at a time, for the purpose of learning about leadership.  We were twenty strangers known only to the three guides who led the program.  We left behind our names, our occupations, and our family status.  Each of us knew nothing about each other except what we looked like and the pseudonym we had chosen. The setting was a one-mile perimeter wooded island with several bunk buildings and outhouses, a rustic building where meals were provided, and the lake for bathing, swimming, and fishing.  The approach was to participate in Native American rituals that would enable us to uncover our authentic selves, reveal our strengths, weaknesses, and blind-spots, and to create a plan to transition our newly learned insights into positive action upon our return to families and work.  The training was intense.  We worked non-stop individually, in small groups, and as a whole depending on the activity.  

For ten days and nights we stripped away preconceived notions, experienced the extreme vulnerability of a sweat lodge, the deep inner journey during a forty-hour vision quest, the infinite beauty and raw harshness of nature during a multi-day canoe trip, and the power of clear and direct feedback about how our words and actions impacted others.  I went into this experience pompous and self assured and emerged with few affirmations but acutely aware of my self-deceptions and narrow views of people and the world.  At the same time I felt fear and support, uncertainly and conviction, and immense sadness and joy.  At forty, when I thought I had arrived and finally grasped how life worked and ought to be, I now knew I had just begun to understand. Thus began a process that would continue to upend what I thought to be truth, over and over again.

I went back the following summer to a part two experience with some of the same participants but mostly new strangers from former years.  The experience further pushed our physical and emotional limits with a fire walk, honest reflections on how we were able to act, or not, on all that we had learned the previous summer(s), and with more individual intensives.  My solace was that all of this took place in nature.  We essentially lived and worked outdoors in a place where descendants of the original natives to the land still lived and practiced their way of life and where the untouched night sky was so completely filled with stars, silence, and wonder that there was no sense of, or connection to, the civilization we had willingly left behind.

In truth, while I believed I was drawn to Temagami to affirm my well being, the fact was I was quietly struggling with who I was, the choices I had made, and the underlying question of wondering if I was enough.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  I believe that opportunities present themselves at just the right times.  And, if we’re ready and willing to seize them, we get to continue the process of moving toward the best versions of ourselves.  For me, the journey continues…

“I Go To Seek A Great Perhaps!”

-Francois Rabelais-

A Gaia Moment

George and I were initially unsure how to respond to Hen’s post, so the three old guys met over coffee to discuss. Hen elaborated on the week’s experience that he had at Temagami. It clearly was an immersion event, aimed at obtaining a sharper personal assessment. During the week, participants did not disclose their names or professions, but adopted pseudonyms. Various physical trials and exercises were presented — as extreme as walking on a bed of hot coals. 

Yet Hen, while hinting at these activities, focused mainly on the personal growth he achieved and the worth of the group feedback sessions. He arrived with a certain view of himself – and left with a challenge to change a particular behavior. In fact, each participant had to post a “bond” against a pledge to incorporate a stated change: be it becoming less judgmental to completing a doctoral dissertation. The bonds were forfeit if the behavioral contract was broken. 

Now, neither George or I had any similar experience to write about. But Hen’s discussion mainly elaborated on how this immersion week – and other experiences – acted as a tipping point in altering the way he views what is meaningful in his life. Now there’s a handle that both George and I could use!

George describes a journey that took years to reach a tipping point. However, once tipped, change happened very quickly. Like Hen, he was freed up to approach his life in a way which gave him a sense of authenticity.

My story is far more modest – and I’ve not had a great deal of success trying to explain the sense of impact that it had on me, even to this day. It only took an evening, but perhaps it was the result of a longer process, so perhaps the context is relevant.

When you are young, you are like a stem cell: open to grow into a variety of possible outcomes. During such a time, Linda and I bonded with a group of folks who lived in an apartment unit: four females, four males, two newborns; two straight couples, two gay couples. All of us the same age, making the transition from college to … who knows what? We weren’t an extended family, but a somewhat tribal unit living in the same place.  We hung out, shared dinners, listened to music, went on a number of hikes and camping events.

One night, we started a camp fire in the midst of an easy interchange of conversation and ideas. The darkness and the fire served to bring us all into sense of connection. There is an African term for ‘dreaming the fire’ – and that is what I was doing. Then – a Gaia moment – an epiphany that we were all hurtling through space on a living entity. I could picture all of us and our structures as shallow overlays and thin macadam ribbons on an animated Earth. Each of us so tiny on this greater being, whose heartbeat could be felt so strongly through the ground: how could I have ignored that vibration up to this point? I could sense the energy shared by all objects. Full disclosure, there might have been THC in the air… but no difference… it was a visceral insight, one that I can vividly recall even now.

Now this small — and perhaps obvious – perception changed my ordering of reality in a couple of profound ways. Most important, it brought home that what I process intellectually is not as potent as what I learn viscerally. Logic and analytic skills are grafted onto older and more mystic roots. Sometimes the combination results in conflicting beliefs: what is deduced versus what is felt. I have come to believe that it is okay to ask pointed questions, but not to form a firm conclusion.

Secondly, if quantum physics is correct, what we call “we” is a part of an energy field that includes everything we perceive/measure as objects. Perhaps we are all connected in this sense. If so, I would find comfort in this thought. 

Except from Upon a Star’s Wish I Live by Travestygirl

We know Gaia’s voice, spirit evoked,
the earthen one, saliently silent, felt
as soil, fecund. We know the song
of the sun, brilliant, permeating all life,
sentient, non-sentient, in all ways
and always heard. The Universe’s,
beckoning, solemn, somber, longing

Hide or Seek

Henry’s post was a tough one for me to relate to. I was a small skinny  kid growing up.  In grade school we used to line up in size places and I was always first in line all the way through grade 6.  I was always picked on and bullied and made fun of…you know the “Georgie porgie puddnin’pie….” thing! Anyway, I kind of avoided anything physical and even as an adult a challenge to my body was unthinkable.  I just couldn’t depend on it and to put it to a test was out of the question.  I also knew early on that I was different from the other boys.  I didn’t understand how til around 7th grade when we started changing in the locker room for gym, and realization began to seep in.  In the 50’s it wasn’t acceptable, so I learned to play the game and hide to stay out of trouble.  

My point being that I could never have a life changing experience like Henry had where my stamina and strength was challenged in such a way.  So when I read Henry’s piece I couldn’t relate at first.  Reflecting back on my life, after that rough start, I went away to school, met a woman I fell in love with and lived the American  dream.  I had a career I loved, we bought a house, had kids, dogs, cats.  Life was good.  23 years went by and we started having problems, due mostly to different goals and life directions and we separated.  Why am I writing this?  After days of stewing over how I could respond to Henry, I realized some people choose to be challenged to purposely learn things about themselves and others have the challenge thrust upon them. It isn’t always a physical challenge but an emotional one can help us learn as well. It was a sad time, life required me to go on- work, kids, even the dog had to be walked and fed.  I was trying to find my way, being gay was certainly more acceptable in the early 90’s than back in the 50’s, but it was new to me.  After sleepless nights and a great deal of anguish, I decided I could no longer play act.  I finally decided to be authentic.  I subscribed to the old adage, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  I was going to come out all over. I called my principal and told her. Over the next few weeks, I started coming out to my friends and colleagues. Some of them were not surprised, others were shocked, and still others just couldn’t deal with it.  That’s when I began to learn things about myself.  I was stronger than I ever imagined.  I had to learn to be patient.  My son had a very difficult time with it and expressed it in a typical 17- year-old manner.   I took the abuse for about 3 months until one night I just couldn’t allow it to continue and suggested he move out of my house.  I had to develop respect for who I really was before I could expect others to respect me. I learned a great deal about myself during that time.  Identifying the friends and relatives I wanted to keep in my life required acceptance of the pain and conviction that I had the ability to actually do what was necessary.  Those close to me who couldn’t accept me, I had to distance them from myself.  I would get through the pain of separation, but I could no longer live the charade, so I plowed through it.

Authenticity was the goal, acknowledgement to myself and others became my purpose, and hiding was no longer an option.  It was probably the most important decision I ever made……To thine own self be true.  I grew as a result in ways I never anticipated.  Shortly after coming out I ran for union president and was elected.  The teachers knew who I was and elected me anyway.  I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Physical ailments I had had for years disappeared.  I relaxed, I sighed, I enjoyed things differently than ever before.  I developed a confidence I never had. And I began to live bigger than ever. . Life was good! I was comfortable in my own identity and I looked forward to new experiences like at no other time in my life.

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Friends Bearing Books

Having been laid up recently, I’ve had some time to survey my nightstand: it’s really just a landing pad for books. It points to an inescapable conclusion: friends nourish friends – and what better way to do that, than by exchanging books?

Fresh insights, new experiences, and a few laughs keep friendships alive. This post honors those friends that have chosen just the right diversity of publication to keep the conversation interesting. An archaeological ‘dig’ of the strata of printed material on my nightstand yields the following:

  1. A bedrock layer of faith-based and philosophical insights. Lee has sent an unpretentious gem of a book, Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton. I love this type of book which puts ideas in a larger context. Little did I know that the Judaic Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament include the same material, just reordered – and that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic versions differ among themselves, as well as varying from the Tanakh and Protestant Old Testament.  Hamilton charts the process of how collections in the Bible were chosen to be in the canon: sources and timeline of the writings.

    Henri Nouwen was a world-class intellectual and steward of a Canadian institution for developmentally challenged adults. Dave provided me this slim volume, Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation on Dying and Caring. The book was written when Nouwen turned sixty and experienced the passing of several key individuals in his life. He decided to write on the theme of preparing for a ‘good death’ and introduced the idea of befriending death, rather avoiding or denying the subject. Written in his usual caring and transparent manner, Nouwen describes his journey of facing the dependency we will experience in old age – and the freedom that ‘letting go’ brings to a person of faith.

    Another Henry – my blog buddy – sent me The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I love this book of daily meditations/exhortations! Various stoic philosophers present ideas to ponder. Marcus Aurelius is now my hero. The depth of character and insight this leader displays in his private diary are exemplary. On the other hand, I read Seneca with a little reservation, as he was Nero’s ethics teacher – it makes me wonder why Seneca’s lessons did not take root?
  2. Adventure and true crime still rules! Friend Brigitte passes along niche volumes associated with general interests in fly fishing and sailing. Two recent books have been The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson and A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. The first story chronicles the theft of hundreds of rare bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History. The thief is a Dutchess County resident – a classical musician and nationally noted trout and salmon fly-tier. The theft destroyed the historical record of certain rare birds simply to satisfy his obsession for using their feathers in tying traditional streamer fly lures for trout. A great read with an ending I would not have predicted. ‘Voyage’ recounts the 1968 inaugural Golden Globe sailing competition of nine individuals who compete to sail — single-handed and without stopping — around the world. Building and outfitting the sailboats is difficult but facing the loneliness and extreme weather in the “roaring forties” rounding Cape Horn proves to be a psychological crucible for these sailors.
  3. The odd and unusual. I’m so glad that Brigitte has an eclectic reading palette! Two recent deliveries I never would have picked are The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli and Today I Learned from the Willow Creek Press. Naturally, I will pass on the Sarcasm tome to George, along with its definition of Senile: “A word whose definition you will no longer be able to recall by the time it applies to you”. From Today I Learned, I learned that Allodoxaphobia is the fear of opinions… so I’ll refrain from providing one. I’ll simply close with thanks to my friends and a poem by Emily Dickinson:

There Is No Frigate Like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

The Evolution of a Home Library





I wish I could use the term evolution regarding my taste in books but that would suggest an ever-improving collection of literary works.  I learned to read with Dick and Jane, and Spot, too, but I missed all of second grade (long story), so I became a very slow reader!   My taste has definitely changed but I can’t really say it has evolved!  Growing up I read comics- sometimes Classic comics.  As a slow reader it was always tedious for me to finish a required book in a required time limit.  So I improvised!  In my early adulthood, fresh out of college with a major in Elementary Ed and a minor in Anthropology, I read every book I could find about human evolution, Lucy, indigenous peoples and their civilizations and migrations. I ate this stuff up. And for about 15 years I was on a steady diet of anthropological literature.  Then something happened.  Several teachers in my group and I got interested in this Whole Language idea where the curriculum was taught around literature.  Exhaustive work for a year before the program was to start  was needed for us to present it to our Board of Ed  I started reading every kids book that was published.  We were doing away with our traditional reading groups and basal series so we had to do research to see what reading skills were taught at the 5th and 6th grade levels in traditional reading programs,  We discovered that most basic skills had already been addressed and that at this level it was mostly inferences and more sophisticated skills  and finally presented to our superintendent.  We were given permission to proceed! It was so much fun. I began to realize how rich children’s literature is.  And it is rich without the sex and violence that so often is needed to hold adults’ interest.  We picked fiction books that coordinated with our Science and Social Studies curricula.  PEN, a writers organization heard about us and invited us to apply for a program they sponsored in elementary schools.  We applied and were approved and had a parade of children’s book authors coming in and working with our kids — not to name drop but we had Paula Danzinger, Gary Paulson, Ann M. Martin and several other big names in the industry back more than a few decades ago.  Anyway, the kids loved it.  I did a lot of reading to them.  I still hear from former students about how much they loved it when I read to them.  Of course every character in the book had a different voice including accents when necessary.  To tell you the truth, when I read for my own enjoyment I silently read in different voices and accents and also create visual images of what the characters look like. To this day I cannot read a book that I already saw in the movies because it destroys my imagination of what their voices and appearances were like.  I treasure my children’s book collection but I have moved on (better choice than evolved).

Today my reading selections are consistently fiction, choosing to live in the make-believe world than reality. Perhaps my all-time favorite book is by an author I vowed I would never read because I despised his horror stories, but I picked up Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63, and a week later I had read all 800 or so pages and was spell bound. Best book I have ever read.  Since then and after traveling several times to Italy I have been reading Italian detective stories by a woman writer, Donna Leon and her series called Commissario Guido  Brunetti Mysteries all taking place in the mysterious city of Venice which everyone should visit at some point. Then I began to hook onto a favorite fiction writer and read everything that was published by that author. Who knows what will be on my night stand next week but for now I have been pretty consistent!  And now you can see why I have no scholars or intellectuals to quote when I am trying to make a point!



The Power of Shared Reading

I always enjoyed a good comic book when reading for fun and fantasy.  Superman, Spiderman, and Daredevil were my favorite fallbacks in which to retreat and re-emerge as an offshoot of their powerful selves.  A firm believer in mind over matter and the idea that if we can conceive of it, it is possible, I always hoped to develop some – if not all- of the powers these heroes held.

In my junior year of high school, my English teacher would read to us throughout the second half of the period every Friday afternoon.  Her enthusiasm and love of the stories and their characters absorbed me and I became fully engaged and enchanted in the experience. 

Years later, like George, I would find myself reading to my fifth-grade classes a favorite children’s book at the time, David and the Phoenix, in which each character had a distinct voice that would vividly portray its character.  I remember going home each Friday afternoon with a sore throat from straining to reach deep gravely sounds and impossibly high screeches as I mimicked Sea Monster, the witch, griffins and, of course, the phoenix!  The original book sits on my shelf with partially laminated pages to keep them from falling into further decomposition and a plastic bag for good measure.  Most of the students were caught up in the story and the characters while others liked to watch the principal sit on the floor and act more like a child than a responsible adult.  You can imagine my dismay then, when I read the same book to my own children (and grandchildren) and they found none of those behaviors engaging and politely asked me if I knew of another book or story I could find the next time I offered to read to them.

Of course none of this speaks directly to Wal’s title and premise.  Most of my reading is on leadership and personal growth.  Early on it supported me in my work.  Later, it enhanced my work as a coach for those who guided schools and social service agencies.  I now realize how much these readings fueled my passion for bringing self-awareness, open-mindedness, and acceptance to all of my relationships.

For a period of ten years or so, I was fortunate to have two friends who shared the same reading interests.  We shared titles, read the material, and made time to get together regularly to discuss our interpretations in great depth.  At the beginning of each New Year, we would book a trip to a warm island location, agree on several worthy books to read, and meet for a week of beach, cocktails, and conversation.  The affirmations we gave and received as well as the disagreements we had were powerful connectors for our friendship.  I will always cherish those times.

More recently, I developed a close relationship with an educator who was and is a voracious reader.  I shared my library with him and he enriched and extended mine ten-fold.  Today we still send each other titles and summaries of what we found to be engaging and occasionally brainstorm possible venues and strategies for sharing these ideas with others.

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

Mark Twain

Featured

Lost

I seem to have lost something very important to me.  For decades, three quarters of a century, I had a patriotic pride in our country, drilled into me by a Marine father who served on Iwo Jima and two uncles, one Navy and one Army.  We marched in parades, put playing cards in our spokes held by a clothespin to ride in and out of the marching groups in every Memorial Day parade.  We were taught to take off our hats or place our right hand over our hearts as the American Flag passed by.  The flag was proudly displayed outside our house every national holiday, brought in at night if not illuminated from below!  And always folded, placed safely in its storage spot never ever touching the floor.  I continued this tradition until just recently.

That patriotic pride has been fading gradually but recently accelerating to the point of “why bother!” On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, I put it down and can’t find it!  I couldn’t see it through my crying jags, my disbelief, my head shaking and don’t know where to look for it anymore. My dad convinced my brother and I that we lived in the best country in the world.  He fought to make that true.  I loved the thought of that but somehow I can no longer accept that idea. How could a country that regularly shoots its own citizenry be the best country?  Let alone murders it’s own children.  19 second, third and fourth grade kids and two teachers murdered in their school! I’m a little sensitive having taught elementary school for 35 years and wondering what we would have done had it happened to us, to my friends and colleagues, and my students.  And I cried!  And at that point I realized I had lost that very precious thing- pride in my country.  We’ve been here too many times before and we do nothing to stop the carnage.  We could, but we choose not to, over and over again.

My pride has been slipping away more and more of late.  So many things are anathema to being the best country.  So many citizens are uninsured, great countries provide that for their citizens.  All makes and models of citizens are equally revered in great countries- all nationalities, races, genders, gays, straights all revered equally- that is what makes a country great.  Books aren’t banned and history isn’t erased due to discomfort in great countries!  Women control their own bodies in great countries, and words aren’t outlawed in states in an attempt to erase people who make others uncomfortable.  Laws aren’t passed to make it harder for certain parts of the citizenry to vote in great countries!  

Our thoughts and prayers are fine but won’t prevent the next shooting from occurring.  We have to take action. When I misplace my keys and just sit on the couch my praying to find them won’t help until I get up off my fat ass to look for them.  Praying that another school, church, mosque, synagogue, grocery store, concert won’t be shot up will do nothing if we don’t get our legislators to protect us first and their corporate sponsors after!  A good guy with a gun does not prevent a massacre, more guns in the population does not reduce the massacres.  We know what to do, we must convince our representatives to DO IT!  And do it NOW!!!

I hope I can find my lost patriotic pride.  But right now, with the history we have with literally avoiding doing anything to help, I am afraid pride is a lost art in America.  

Got Patriotism?

George has misplaced his patriotism, because America seems to be a disappointment. Yet he fondly recounts the patriotic tradition of his family as he grew up in the fifties and early sixties – a time that produced McCarthyism; a time when all abortion was illegal; a time when homosexuality was illegal; a time that where segregation and voter suppression were default conditions; a time where fewer people had health insurance; a time when there was no gay or interracial marriage. Honestly, I’m surprised that George looks back on this time as his incubator of patriotism. It was a time that highlighted the antithesis of George’s progressive goals. He was patriotic then, but not now?

Maybe it’s the word. I think patriotism is a loaded term. People use it to justify all sorts of opinions and actions. However, if meant in the simplest sense, it’s about loyalty to a society that provides safety to its citizens and allows opportunity for self-realization.

Clearly, the carnage in Uvalde showcases an inability to provide safety to our most vulnerable — all those sweet kids! In that sense, loyalty to a government that does not take the steps to effectively prevent such episodes does strain credulity.

But patriotism is a relationship and a commitment – a commitment to pursue continual improvement. You don’t just throw in the towel and walk away. Gun violence is a problem of our own making and we can fix it.

When George was a kid, he fell in love with the ideals that America stood for. Perhaps he didn’t read the fine print that it is a work in progress. But we’re all grown up now and realize that our compact depends upon putting in the work to achieve a more effective republic – that means listening to diverse voices and differing opinions, electing action-oriented representatives, and navigating solutions which do the greatest good for the greatest number. This is constructive patriotism – and I don’t think you have lost that feeling, George.

Patriotism by Segun Adekoya MMabogaje

A man of the heart you are!

A man that agreed with the earth,

With all his being,

To love, cherish and be,

Faithful to his home

The home that houses you

At the time of plenty,

And supports you during

The time of scarcity.

Reciprocal is the law,

For a citizen that gets;

All his rights from the,

Country he is a citizen of

By birth and other ways,

To be ready to be patriotic

Pay back in the same coin,

The dividend he has enjoyed,

The right enjoyed,

In form of duties

Inclusive Patriotism

George’s loss of faith and pride in our country is understandable.  Of the civilized countries in the world we are among the youngest, least experienced, and fastest developing.  And, as with newly forming collectives where growth exceeds measured practice, we will stumble and fall, move forward and backward, and seek to gain our footing while on unchartered ground.  We are in a time of instantaneous – worldwide information sharing.  There is little to no time to process and integrate what we hear and see into manageable bites that can then be tied to prior experience from which to make sense of it all.  We act and react often in ignorance, confusion, and with misinformation.  Remaining patriotic and maintaining a sense of pride amid such chaos is hard to achieve.  Unless we blindly follow others, it is hard to bring our authentic thinking to each and every event and know whether a decision or policy or behavior is patriotic or not.  

As Wal said, we are a work in progress.  We need to recognize that in order to move forward we sometimes must step back.  We need to understand that what is so clearly right and moral and best for our country appears so through our filtered eyes.  Other viewpoints don’t necessarily mean those that oppose don’t care.  Each opinion-holder has their own feeling about what is needed and important for the good of our nation and claim their beliefs and actions reflect true patriotism. Somehow, we must find ways to stop the divisive talk and begin to listen to each other with the intention of finding common ground.  Only then will we regain our footing and move, together, toward building the country each of us will be proud to call home.

“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Adlai Stevenson II