Death of a Popular Poet

November 15, 2017

Working as an MBA candidate comes with a remarkable series of challenges and responsibilities. Most recently, one of my professors, who clearly was passionate about motivating his students, shared some deep and meaningful insights. He sent me an email in reply to mine in which he shared with me that the pessimist states death and taxes are the only two immovable objects that are a guaranteed certainty.
He then went on to share with me an optimist looks at change and time as certainties. I think he wanted to make certain that I understood the depth and value of both, and that how we launch our perception impacts the way we look at the world.

Yet my perception of the world has recently become a little hazy. Recently I have been forced to reckon with the mortal enemy that is death. In the past two weeks I have had to say goodbye to two people. The first one had given up a long time ago and tip what some might say was a brave choice and taking his own life. But the other, well he was a fighter. But even his optimism was not enough to Conquer Cancer.
Let me tell you a little bit about AJ.
I first met AJ years ago when I showed up for an interview on a radio show that he was one part of a partnership. He and Ernie, a mutual friend, invited me to come talk about a book that had just been released titled Confessions of a Transylvanian. This book, written by an old and dear friend and myself, detailed the experience of being part of a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast.
The very first thing I noticed about AJ was his energy. He possessed this smile and a genuine eagerness to laugh and share.
We laughed a lot during that interview and at the end of that hour I knew I had made another friend.
But it wasn’t until I started working at Epcot with the entertainment team that he and I really started to connect. Everywhere I would have to track him down he was always on the go, eager to chat.

It was during one of these conversations that we both discovered one of our most favorite mutually appreciated holidays, Halloween, offered us no shortage of creative Outlets. I shared with him some of the things I had done when I designed haunted houses, many decidedly low, low Tech, and he shared with me Cutting Edge high-tech things that were either of his creation or off the shelf.
We talked repeatedly about combining forces to create a haunted experience like no other on a ranch for another mutual friend, Dave.

And when, in the process of producing a fairly sizable event, it came time for a DJ, I asked him for recommendations. Instead of a recommendation he suggested he do it.
I learned about AJ that almost like a good book, every few pages there was some new and incredible facet or skill he possessed. I was always learning something new with him.
At the event venue, we took the elevator. He gestured to the walls and said “velvet. ”
He sounded like an old crotchety guy, commenting on the quality of an inferior product. And the two times we were there, for the tech scout and the event, every damn time we rode the elevator, we’d both say, “velvet.” After a while we’d just randomly say “it’s velvet,” and it carried to EPCOT where it stood proxy for a normal greeting.
But that made sense. AJ was not normal. He transcended it.
He was a class all his own, always a pleasure to be around.

I used to bleed alone, keeping my grief and pain to myself. That ended the day I lost my brother, five years ago, and was clear and present when I lost my dad a year ago.
With AJ I have no regrets. I had the good fortune of seeing him damn near every day that I was at work, if you could call what we did work. And he always had time for me and I always made time for him and I am glad for that. Because I have regrets when it comes to my brother and I have regrets when it comes to my dad.
Maybe that’s the thing to take stock of now. If there someone in your life you’ve been meaning to reach out to, don’t wait. Regret is a deceptively heavy burden to shoulder.

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to catch my breath.
It is a callous thing to say, but I can think of a few people who are probably past their expiration date on planet Earth.
AJ was not one of them. He was one heck of an individual with a lot of light, love, and life still to give.
The world is little quieter today.

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Anxiety…Can You Feel It?

October 24, 2017
Anxiety.

Anxiety should be called the Beast of No Name, or the lost ancient language from the Tower of Babel. Finding the words to express the frustration, or an event, situation or feeling can be so difficult that there are no words. Internalize the feeling and sensation of extraordinary pain and you find yourself exhausting your energy and resources maintaining a facade for the world around you.
This naturally becomes very taxing and ultimately those closest to you see through it and yet, if you are as stubborn as I am, you still insist on saying nothing.

I Prevail alone. At least I believe I do.

I also bleed alone. That was something my brother observed and pointed out years ago. Another way he and I were so much alike. We tended to keep our injuries, our sufferings, and our pains to  ourselves.
I was in a car accident a year-and-a-half ago. A young mother of two at a stop sign, distracted either by her two boys in the back seat or an electronic device, pulled away from the stop sign and hit me on my driver side of my vehicle.
In the days that followed, the pain started to come to my wrist and my shoulder and a couple of other places.
Having decided that no severe or Serious injury had occurred, the young mother texted me and offered me $200 if we just dealt with it ourselves. I declined. Didn’t feel right.
Over the course of the past year-and-a-half the pain in my shoulder Amplified. It was so bad at times it was impossible to work through. There was also radiating, searing pain in my upper bicep on the same arm.
But I never let anyone know.
I exhausted all options. I initially started physical therapy under the direction of a doctor. It wasn’t helping. They sent me for an MRI which showed some damage. Amother series of physical therapy sessions. The effect was palliative at best. Less than an hour after each session, the pain came back.
I received a cortisone shot and then another and then another. I tried acupuncture and Chiropractic work. I am more of a believer of the first than the second. But neither had lasting effects.
After a year-and-a-half I decided surgery was the only option.
The procedure lasted 2 hours.
After I came out of the OR, the doctor shared the work he had done on my shoulder with my caregivers.
He explained to me during our pre-surgery meeting something he had said before, which is an MRI offers a surface and somewhat detailed, yet not complete, picture. Once inside my shoulder he discovered one of my bicep tendons that anchor to the shoulder was torn too severely to repair. This on top of the ligament, cartilage, and bone damage.
The anesthesiologist came to talk to me, pre-surgery, and told me they were going to administer something called a nerve block and the side effect was I would feel absolutely nothing from my shoulder down to about midway passed my elbow to around my forearm. Sometimes the nerve block is so effective the entire area is rendered useless.
Welcome to my world.
In this case that entire area is my shoulder to my fingers.
I expected, post-surgery, to be calm and in that drug-induced haze one experiences emerging from anesthesia. I expected I would get home and climb into bed, and sleep blissfully.
Over the next few hours following surgery I became extremely anxious and frustrated that my left arm basically hung like some dismembered appendage in a haunted house.
I became angry and impatient, irritated with everyone and everything. I was miserable to be around.
I realized I  had become so anxiety ridden and frustrated that I was taking it out on everyone.
Not having any control over my arm is a kind of frustration that I have never experienced before. It’s in a sling looking to escape. And thanks to gravity, it does so effortlessly every time I get out of bed. And that happens currently every 2 hours because they pumped me with so much Saline that every visit to the bathroom is just like the first visit at a bladder bust, you know, where the bar will lock the bathroom doors and tap kegs, and the beer is free until someone has to go to the bathroom. In such a case people wait as long as they can. I’ve heard some people hold off going until they are in extreme abdominal pain. That’s not me. Undaunted, I get woken up by my bladder every 2 hours because it feels like a fluid-filled basketball. The first few trips I needed help. I needed help getting out of bed, walking to the bathroom, opening the door…and it was an especially interesting time dealing with an elastic waistband, to which I’ll spare you any other  TMI details but know I was on The Struggle Bus.
I can walk to the bathroom by myself now.  It’s the little victories. But 16 hours after surgery I still feel like I have a zombie cadaver’s arm attached from the elbow down.
As I mentioned, this arm slips out of the sling as I get out of bed and in one solid fluid motion drops to whack me in the groin with every step. I imagine the feeling is like strapping a cricket bat to your waist as you walk through town for your brisk morning constitutional.
I’ve gotten better at repositioning this arm and getting it back into the sling. But at first, I was wholly dependent on everyone around me, including my beautiful wife and daughter. And I would watch as they would gently and gingerly place my arm back in the sling. And then it would be somewhat manhandled so the strap that went across my back was properly readjusted.
Not feeling or having control of my left arm from the shoulder down is the most disconcerting, frustrating, and anxiety provoking sensation I’ve experienced during the process. Forget for a moment the fact I am left-handed. Not being able to do anything with my left arm is frustrating beyond words. Living, even temporarily, as an honorary member of the right-handed world, every single action is deliberate. So far I have managed to get ice and water, fix coffee, and accomplished the challenging task of hanging address shirt on a hanger and buttoning it with one hand. It’s the little things, right?
I was a wreck in the months leading up to the surgery. And a lot of those around me and close to me knew. The day before the surgery I called my mom and spoke to her for 45 minutes. See, with her degrees and certifications, she knows a thing or two about the human mind and internal conflict (she says, tongue in cheek, she helps keep mountain folk’s heads screwed on straight. Does the same for her family too, I suppose). Before the accident this shoulder was in Prime condition. In my career profession I had sustained injuries, but never to this area.
I’m told this sensation of no control over my arm usually last no longer than 12 to 18 hours.
It’s been over 16 hours and the only thing I feel is a heavy-weighted numbness, with an undercurrent of tingling.
I still bleed alone with a lot of things. In doing that, I’ve discovered I am hurting those I love which in turn hurts me.
I’m learning a lot about anxiety. I’m learning a lot about frustration.
And I am learning in discovering that those near me that love me,  love me more when I open up about these things.
I’m always going to bleed alone with certain things, but for sanity sake it makes sense to share these things with the people around you, the people who are here for you, the people who love you and who want to help. And all they’re waiting for is for us to speak up.
The key is our words. I’m discovering those who want to help are right there on the other side of the door, ready, willing, and able in most cases.
Meditation also helps. I need to get back to finding that place of peace and calm Within me. With the world beyond my control seeming to spiral out of control, seems to me it’s up to each of us to make our local universe a better place for everyone living in it and stopping through.
Hey! Just this very moment I almost moved my pinky. It’s the little things.

I got it better than most. Things are looking up. I just have to learn, like we all have to learn, there’s no crime or shame in reaching out to others when we need help.

There is always strength in numbers.

Speaking Well of Others Speaks Well of Ourselves

June 17, 2017
Be careful how you speak of others.
That sounds like the start of a stern lecture, so let me word that another way. Take care to think through what you say when you speak of others.
It doesn’t matter whether they are living or dead. The more negatively you speak of others, the more negative the reflection on you.
This stuff is called dirt for a reason.
I’ve always marveled at the interest of others have of drama not on the stage. Soap Operas, Reality TV, and a host of other things suck people in. This in addition to the drama we find ourselves facing on a daily basis. Speaking poorly of others only feeds that beast. How much is enough?
If you wish to speak of someone in a way that might warn others about their behavior, then consider the trust but verify approach. It carries more weight than muckraking.  An example I’ll share involves a referral. I was asked by a stunt coordinator about an individual she wanted to hire. The stunt side of the Film and Live Show entertainment business is different from the acting side. Where actors have to audition, stunt performers typically get their work through relationships and referrals. I was honest with her. I told her this particular performer had presented performance challenges on a previous project, and that I had to chase her for several weeks to get her info for a production I was coordinating, which ultimately opted not to hire her. It would have been easy to say, “the kid is lazy, immature, and unreliable” but there was a better way.
Find the better way.
A word when spoken is a bird taking wing for flight forever. The things you say you cannot undo, you cannot change, and you cannot take back.
This past week found me remembering my brother’s birthday, gone five years, and marking the passing of two people close to me. That qualifies as a pretty crappy trifecta in my book.
Neither who jumped ship this week was perfect, but both were worthy of stories that make us smile. In the one case, an old friend from my Rocky Horror days in the 80’s (and part of the then-famous Wild and Untamed Things) passed away after a lengthy battle with mental and physical health issues. At the memorial, my dear friend Jack and I both determined that stories to make people laugh was the order of the day. The Matriarch from my mother’s side of the family also shuffled her mortal coil. Her story to share (since I was and am still not ready to grieve openly) involved her walking up besides me, in the midst of a group of people we both knew, and rubbed my belly…as she looked at me and said, “Say it, honey. Lower and faster.” and then she walked away, laughing hysterically. In a rare case, I was left speechless.

When we are saddened by loss, someone more callous might observe and say, “boo hoo, people die.” That is not in the least bit mature, and we should not be those people. Nor should we pay any attention to those who demonstrate such ignorant temerity.

Speak well of others, living or dead, no matter how much the temptation to do otherwise. It’s better to be the better person than to live with regret because you said something in haste. Similarly, look for every opportunity to speak well and positively of those you know and those you love. Finding and extolling the good in others brings out the good in ourselves.
That’s how we should immortalize others; this, no doubt, is how we ourselves would want to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, remember to call someone you love and remind them of how important they are to you.
Do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Love, Greeting Card Style

May 9, 2017

It’s a funny thing, a greeting card.
If you walk through a store and happened to pass by the stationary and greeting cards section, take a look. Most people don’t even give that aisle a second look these days.
Why would we? We’ve got E cards, WhatsApp and Skype.

So I’m moved beyond measure when I receive a greeting card for my birthday. They’re just as special when one shows up ‘just because’. Sure, mom and dad usually will send the greeting card although they’re forgiven if they forget.
But when a friend sends a greeting card for your birthday? Think about the time it took out of their day to stop by a store and find that aisle, and then comb through every card until they found one that summarized and embraced their feelings for you.

That is a special person. Made even more so by the fact they feel the same way about you. now I’m not saying run out to your local hallmark and drop a couple a hundred on greeting cards for every occasion. But it might it not be a bad idea, proactively, to visit the card aisle next time you make a grocery run and stock up on a few cards that can be properly inscribed and dropped in the mail. Just keep them in the study, or on your pass through, and the next time you’re thinking of a friend, smiling about a family member you miss, scribe a few words and post.

Here is one way you do your level best to guarantee those people know how important they are to you. We must never forget in this digital age how important it is to do at least this much. They need to know. Emails, texts, messaging through the various forms are great, but this action elevates and enhances.

Consider this: when we receive that card, most of us on our best day might just be a shade better than half the person our family or friend thinks we are.

How We Change The Past

March 24, 2017
We Don’t. We can’t change the past.
I learned a great deal in the presence of my mom recently. Dad died a few months ago and she has managed to summon the strength necessary to move forward through the fog that besieged us all.
I mention we can’t change the past because I have spent so much of the recent past woefully lamenting how horrible a son, brother, or friend I have been I’ve managed to miss a few opportunities to do my level best in a situation.
There are several layers of danger in looking back. The obvious is you’re not looking forward. That’s bad because you don’t see what’s coming, and can’t prepare in the event something whacks, trips, or otherwise reaches out to influence your forwardly locomotion. It’s also not good because you are distracted. You’re so focused on the thing that already happened, and the “what-ifs” that surround it, you are fairly well insulated from anything happening in real time.
Many do this unintentionally. You’ll know it’s happening with someone else when you are sharing a story or insight and you get a “what’s that?” Or they nod absent-mindedly, and offer some form of affirmative answer in the hopes it is the correct one. Usually they’re thinking about something else, sometimes trying to connect the dots with a thought you just shared. Other times their mind is simply wandering.
But it is that other looking back, the one where you’ve lost the ability to move forward, breathe, or achieve on your own. That form of looking back can become a false comfort, providing a seductive darkness.
We miss out on opportunity when we continue to look back. We turn our back on the chance to experience in real time when we look back. People who live their entire holiday, or another event, through the lense of a camera suffer this fate.
An old friend hastened to advise me, with my love for photography, to try enjoying moments as they happened, and not through the view-finder. Another old dear friend, long passed, questioned why people couldn’t just enjoy the memories as they happened, since it was impossible to duplicate in a photo.
I have spent much time pondering how I was not the friend I should have been, that I was never truly there for those few who would have thrown themselves on the blade for me. My brother pointed out, years ago, it wasn’t possible for me to be an active participant in the ‘group thing’ because I was like Hans Solo in my Millenium Falcon (a 1972 Mach I with a 351 Cleveland, 4bblcarbs, and the destinct ability to both turn heads and cause whiplash). He told me I was running solo and had to because that was where I was in my life. It was a sort of Buddhist assessment. But it was also right.
My brother has also long sinced passed; at that moment death became a callous creature that reminded me of all the things we’d never get to do or share again, and of missed opportunities.
With my family the lament was similar. Holiday get-togethers. Phone calls. But it’s all in the past…
We can only influence the future.
Another wonderful and wise person told me the only reason you should look to the past is to see how far you’ve come, and hopefully, what you’ve learned. She’s right. We have to see where we’ve been to know where we’re going. The plus is we can change our behavor at any time.
In that case I think I’m doing ok. I just returned from a week in the mountains of Western North Carolina followed by a week in the coastal lowlands of South Carolina. Both places, rich in history, have residents whose sensibility is entrenched in the here-and-now. I worked hard to enjoy the moments as they came, and found myself living most of them. I spent much of my time around mom, doing work in and around the house, and simply being there without being suffocating. We scattered dad’s ashes in relative silence, hung his plaque, and did a bit of work around the area without somber reserve. Mom said to me, as we walked up the path from the garden, “I can’t imagine anyone else I would rather have done this with.” I didn’t take it as a commentary on how I was the favorite child: I am not; I viewed it instead couched in the context I believe it was meant: even if I devalued my own contributions to the family as a unit, I was appreciated in full and my value should not be be questioned.
Not looking back with regret will be tough, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Perhaps you can do the same, and check in from time to time with your own procedural?

Happy Birthday, Bernie ( Show the Ones You Love the Love You Have to Show ).

November 15, 2016

His name is Bernie, and today is his birthday.

One of the smartest, goofiest-yet-classiest guys I’ve ever known, he was never afraid to poke fun at himself. With his easy-going personality he’s one of those people that never walked away from a stranger. People talk about knowing someone like that. Bernie is that person. He could walk into a room full of strangers and leave behind a room filled with friends. Looks, charm, and smarts made him a much sought after partner for conversation.

We’d be having a talk about politics or golf or the way people drive and I’d be trying to wrap my head around some behavior that had me scratching my head, frustrated. He would offer a summary in a few succinct words. He did it without fanfare and without making a big deal of it. He possessed this Buddhist sensibility. That was the kind of guy he was.

In my book (and no doubt plenty of others) he was the Unofficial Mayor of Waynesville. He knew everyone everywhere. He knew the business of different businesses, and could tell you which ones had a decent shot of succeeding. Here’s an example of the impact he had on his world. Years ago I’d gone downtown and wandered into the newspaper shop on Main Street (a now long lost relic to the past). I grabbed a paper and soda, and as I was paying, the guy behind the counter, who also owned the place, asked how my folks were and told me to say hi to my dad. I hadn’t been there in about a year. Another time I was in town and went with him to one of his Kiwanis Club meetings, where they were talking about doing a haunted house. He immediately volunteered me because of my experience designing them when I was in college. For countless Halloweens after Bernie would call and pick my brain, telling me about the space they had to work with (small), their budget (non-existent), and asked if I could get up there to help.

He’d been in the restaurant supply business for so long there were few who knew more than he when it came to restaurant and kitchen equipment. He could have written a book called ‘Kitchen Confidential’ on the things he’d seen, but he wasn’t an exposé kind of guy.

He had a way of sharing his opinion in such a fashion it often opened your mind.

About a year ago I was up visiting and we had to take a trip into town. He liked to say that when you were living in the mountains every trip was a trip into town. This particular excursion was an excuse to stop at Clyde’s, a Waynesville institution. It was the middle of the afternoon and we got coffee and talked. It was a quiet, unassuming moment, much like the man. Life is filled with moments we realize only later carry deeper impact.

Years ago, back in South Florida, he was thrilled when I took up magic, and would share new techniques. He always referred to himself as ‘The Great Lousini.’ But was as good at a pass, lift, or palm as any pro I’d known. The old saw about how ‘a good magician never reveals his tricks’ didn’t apply. The guy was better than I’ll ever be.

I talked to him the week before he passed away. I made it a point to try to talk to him at least once a week. Some weeks were a lot better than others. I was up there recently. His strength had been much reduced, but the light in his eyes and his wit were both present. The first thing he said when I walked into the house? He told mom we were going to take a trip into town for an ice cream.

I have this great photo I took of him when he and mom first moved up to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Clearing the land on the side of the house where the land sloped up, he happily cut away. He was wielding a chainsaw as I shouted for his attention. He turned around and saw the camera. He hammed it up by holding that chainsaw above his head, opening his mouth like some crazed member of a chainsaw brigade. I smiled as I took the photo, and smiled every time I looked at that picture.

Here was a man much admired and appreciated by all he met. He inspired when he didn’t try. He was my hero, in part because he was so sensible. I grew to admire the boxy style of the Volvo because he drove one for so long. It might have been uncool to most, but not to me, because it was his. It was because of him I learned early in life to appreciate National Public Radio, an appreciation I carry to this day. I can’t turn on a radio without switching to FM and heading to the left on the dial. Turned out to be a good thing I listen so much since a lot of the news I hear is topical and applies well to the courses I’m studying.

Being in a situation where you’re certain you know how you should react, yet can’t, is a tough place. When the thing that triggers confusion is the loss of a loved one, the emotion of choice is sometimes despair. The loss of a loved one is a different experience for each of us. In my case the plunge into fog was quick and without mercy. In the fog I’m fortunate there are people like my mom, reaching out and touching my hand, comforting me by letting me know we take this one day at a time.

My mom is my other hero. She is an Olympian example of strength I cannot possibly possess. Her heartbreak I cannot fathom. My heart cries and struggles as it fights to break free of my chest. She once remarked her job was to ‘help mountain folk keep their heads screwed on straight’. The key word there is help. My blinding quandary is how do I help her?

For the grief that is inevitably going to catch up with me, I am not yet prepared. I’m not ready. Perhaps it makes me something of a coward, convinced I can outrun the pain. If it gets me to a place where I can take my breath before facing the pain, then call me what names you will.

I’ve always been the prodigal son in part because that’s the journey I unwittingly chose. But as I grew older I grew to understand the importance of family, how they prop and support, how they provide insight, refuge, and balance. Conversations where one could disagree without being disagreeable; where one could talk and find a union of the heart and mind. I’m working on my MBA and I’m going to miss those opportunities to talk politics and economics.

When I called the house for the first time after he passed away I heard his voice, thankfully still on the voicemail message. The first time I heard that voice singing, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina…” I thought it was so corny. We all did. But it was perfect and it was Bernie. Hearing that voice now brings a smile wrapped in sadness.

And I understood why of late he was reluctant to be seen on the streets of downtown Waynesville. It wasn’t that no one wants to see their beloved Mayor, their hero, reduced of strength physically, even if still a giant mentally. But more importantly to him, he didn’t want people to see him and become worried. That was also Bernie.

I’d give anything for one more cup of coffee at Clyde’s.

Happy birthday, Dad.  Thanks for introducing me to NPR and Daniel Silva, among other things. I love you and consider myself most fortunate indeed to have been part of your world.

People. People Who Need People.

March 21, 2016

If we’re lucky, I mean truly lucky, every so often someone will come along and offer you the kind of unsolicited advice that amounts to a life talk. It might happen when you’re a captive audience, or it might be something tossed into play from the periphery of a fleeting moment in your day.
That advice? Well, it might come in the form of a sentence or two.
It might also take the form of a full-fledged conversation. Or, if you’re fortunate, it might be a series of conversations than span decades.

I can remember those significant moments now 30 and 40 years later.

The first time was when I was in Boy Scouts. I was at a weekend event and did something really impressive. Once accomplished I proceeded to strut about like a male peacock displaying his full regalia. I’m certain this deed was not nearly as impressive to those around me, but I was a teenager (which really ought to explain a lot). In the midst of this, one man, my best friend’s father, waited for me to finish then pulled me aside. “Ron,” he began, “whenever you do or accomplish something worthy of recognition let other people notice without bringing it to their attention.”

You know, that’s pretty heady stuff for a 12 or 13 year old. Lee Widner was one of those people who just did that sort of thing. While growing up he was, in some ways, sort of a surrogate father. He often encouraged me with expert subtlety to get those Merit Badges and seriously focus enough on getting my Eagle Scout, which I completed all the requirements for, but moved out of the state and territory before I was awarded this honor. (To make matters more complicated, when I settled and located another troop and scout master, Richard Brown he did the research and could find no information I’d completed the process. I learned of two stories later, though had no way of confirming either. One said the troop disbanded. The other story suggested a massive vacuum created by several assistant scout masters leaving because the scout master left. I’ll never know. And I digress). Point is, Lee took the time to provide me doses of attention ordinarily reserved for his son Brad. I have little doubt, in reflection, that he didn’t provide such doses of guidance to others. It was his nature, and no doubt sewn into his DNA.

The second person that saw something in me worthy enough to garner his attention was my history professor, Ralph Clark. Mr. Clark was the kind of professor for whom people took classes they didn’t need nor would apply towards their curriculum credits. In many ways I was reminded of him the first time I ever watched Dead Poets Society. You see, Mr. Clark took the time to talk about history and went so much further. He loved teaching as much as he loved history, and he loved history. After a series of lectures and facilitation in Honors Western European History he set up a road trip. Destination? Vizcaya (if you’ve never heard of this place, look it up).

I went to college in South Florida, getting both my Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree from institutions of Higher Learning. The Chateau Vizcaya was an hour away from school. I signed up and was glad I did. I love history and always have. But what Mr. Clark did transcended anything I’d ever Learned. We walked through the rooms and then went outside and walked the grounds, studying the architecture. Mr. Clark would point out an architectural nuance or an element that had been talked about in class and then quietly step back and watch us engage each other. That keen sense of awareness, of how history would resonate because we were not only exposed to it but we were talking and living it. He was no fool. He knew we’d retain more than he taught.

Last class of the last semester of my Associates degree with Mr. Clark. I was halfway through the room when Mr. Clark said, “Ron take a seat for a moment.” So I did. After the room cleared he came over and sat down next to me. “Ron? You’re about to go into the big leagues. I mean sure, you may have a professor that cares enough for you to get to know your name but in most of your classes your grades are going to be determined by a Midterm and a Final. Extra credit will be a thing of the past.”

He took the time to explain to me what I was getting into. Honestly I had no idea and simply justified his conversation as the rattlings of an old man. But he cared enough to take time out of a day no less busy than any other to talk to me. When he finished he simply said, “Well, that’s all Uncle Ralph has to say.” He retired and went to live in the Shenandoah Valley, a place rich in history. With his departure went a era.

Another advocate was Dr. Peter Roundy. Fifteen minutes into my first class I knew I had to take others. And I did. Much of my  electorate requirements were populated with courses taken where Dr. Roundy was professor. Our relationship developed into a genuine friendship. He travelled the world, gone for six to nine months at a time, teaching English in Thailand or some other fantastic locale. In a turnabout for memorable experiences, he told me once, over lunch, I was one of the only students that wrote him every time he travelled. I liked him and couldn’t help myself. His method for dispensing advice was simple: a few words here and there, doled out like chocolate sprinkles on a double dark chocolate cupcake. It was as if he’d see you starting to slip off the path and he’d turn you right again. Of course, if you were me you chose to bulldoze your way through life, only reflecting later on something said and remarking to yourself, “Oh. That’s what he meant.”

And then there was Christopher Burns. I have written much on the man that became my brother with a bond that could not be broken by words or actions. Every living creature should be so fortunate as to have someone in their life so generous. He was a general in my army, champion to my action, and quiet observer to my missteps. He was wise enough, as any oracle, to let me stumble.

An idea man, he often studied and dissected things (including me), looking for a way to make it better. I was fortunate to be the recipient of those talks, even if the ideas might take years to stick.

I still reflect on those conversations and wish I had the chance, especially with Christopher, to sit and simply talk, letting that wisdom pour over me like a comforting breeze. Those talks never truly resonated with me at the time. But that’s the thing with really insightful advice: sometimes it requires time to germinate, to find purchase in the rich soil of the mind. Many take heed and respond to the call quickly. Others like yours truly sometimes miss the opportunity to give such advice the chance to help us change direction. As a result, when it does seat, we’ve already moved on.

I guess my message is this to you, my dear reader. We need people like that in our lives. They give us contextual insight through objective eyes. They are sometimes our reset button. If someone comes along and gives you the sort of unsolicited advice that peels itself like a Foxtail Palm or an artichoke and reveals more every time you glance its way, here’s what you do: if you can’t actually listen, retain and immediately apply that information, at least try to remember the critical piece of it. Give that advice a chance, just as that person who cared gave you. In time, you’ll not only be applying some of those helpful hints and life coach adjustments, but just as good, you’ll discover someone who might just need a little bit of the same.

It’s another way of making the world better one deed at a time.

Second Chances: Love & the Unrivaled Feeling of One More Day

February 24, 2016

What would you do with a second chance?
What would you give for one more day?
What would you sacrifice for one more moment with someone you love?
What would you do if that day were granted?

I have a friend, dear and close to me in ways not easily definable, who has battled a progressively debilitating physical illness for several years.
Here’s a guy who’s still a bonafide badass to me. In his youth and younger days he lived a life others idolized or feared.
One of the perks of being so close that wasn’t a perk at all? I was privy to seeing how he had to deal with the pain when he wasn’t putting on airs for the public.
Even with the struggle of declining health, Those happy few of us permitted to hold council with him and receive counsel from him are fortunate indeed.

I’ve known about this physical challenge of his for a while. The first sign of impending mortality appeared to me sometime ago. We were sitting at his office and decided to get lunch. I walked out ahead of him and turned. That was when I saw him wince as he went to stand. A simple effort that taxed him mightily.
The next sign came when I visited him in a hospital. He was pointedly angry the medical staff had resuscitated him (because of the pain, as I would later learn).

But the day, a year and a half later, I got a text message that read, “not doing well” followed by a phone call and message that said, “come by the office and get what you want. I don’t think I’m going to be here tomorrow” you can be assured my heart nearly left my chest in panic.
I’d never heard my friend so devoid of life. My mind became quiet as all non-essential thoughts vacated.

I went to his office and saw a man struggling to walk.
All the stuff in his office, always changing as he got new and different stuff, to him was just stuff. Simple entertainment. To me it was stuff I had to have. I always saw things I wanted. I finally got it. It was all just Stuff. He looked at me and in that moment understood my thoughts. And smiled.
“Here,” he said as he reached for something on his desk. “This might be said to be one of my prized possessions. I’ve had it for over 45 years.”
He handed me a well-loved folding knife. I gripped the wooden handle and unfolded a shining, clearly sharpened blade. At the base was stamped the name “Buck.”
“Wow,” I said. “Thanks. I’m going to take it and clean it up.”
“Why? That’s 45 years of life, of experiences. Know what I mean? I mean, do what you want, but I’d leave it like it is.”
I nodded. Once again he was right.
He coughed. “We’ve had some good times.”
I smiled at him as the tears started. “I’m not ready to say good bye. I’m not ready to see you go.” I didn’t know where it came from, but I’d become a 9 year old boy whose best friend was moving to another country.
“I’ve hung on for those few who it would hurt for me to die. I can’t do it anymore.”
I nodded again, wiping my nose on my sleeve.
“Here, take this. That’s a nice shirt. Don’t wipe your nose on it. Haven’t I taught you anything?”
I smiled and took the tissue. His sense of humor was still as strong as his wit.
We sat there quietly for a few minutes, unusual because we always had something to talk about.
“Thanks,” he said, breaking the silence.
“For what?”
“Everything. For camping. For introducing me to your family. For showers with hot running water. For roasting hotdogs on sticks over an open fire.”
“I would give so much to do that again.”
“I know,” he said with a nod. He coughed. “I know you have to get to work, so go on.” He grabbed a green storage container and filled it with fresh produce: eggplant, mini bananas, tomatoes, avocado, celery, and cucumber. “Take this before it goes bad.”
As I took it he tossed a couple of bags of chocolate in with the collection of healthy fare.
“Give my love to the ladies.”
I nodded. “Love you,” I said as I turned and walked out.

That day was a blur.
The next day I steeled myself to go through the motions, similar to when my brother moved halfway around the world. I’d call his phone and leave a message. I’d keep calling until the phone would stop taking calls. And that would be the end of that.
The following morning I reached for the phone. After 3 rings an answer.
It was my friend, sounding groggy and tired, but very much alive.
“Ah hell, guess I’m still around.”
My heart leapt. “Want to go to breakfast?”
“All right,” he growled. “What time will you be here?”
“30 minutes.”
I made it in half the time.

We went out and had a helluva time. Who knew Denny’s could be the epicenter of a carefree morning where 2 friends laughed at themselves and the world? It ranked as one of the best extended moments ever, talking and laughing over runny oatmeal and cold eggs. Best. Day. Ever.
But that’s the point. It transcended magical. It was a second chance. I greedily drank in every second of that morning. Whatever else I had waiting could continue to wait.

The next time I was at his office he was in no less pain, but his spirit was somehow less burdened and buoyed. Mine too.
“I guess it wasn’t time. Dammit, it sure as hell felt like it.”
I nodded. I could have told him I was glad, but I think he knew.
“I’m thinking we should do hotdogs over an open fire again. Think you’d be up for it?”
He smiled. “Let me know when.”

I called that afternoon. “Want to do hotdogs tonight?”
“What time?”
“6 pm.”
“See you then.”
He called me later to tell me he’d gotten dirty and greasy working on his truck, and maybe we should reschedule.
Nothing doing, I thought. “Take a shower at my place.”
“Aren’t I lucky? 2 showers in 3 years.”
“See you when you get here.”

It was another great evening spent with a dear friend. A tasty concoction was fashioned out of the ingredients he’d given, a salad right out of a Gastropub.
Hotdogs roasted on sticks over an open fire, and laughter over candlelight and torches in the cool January evening.
It was an evening of beautiful second chances.

And that’s the point.
What would you give for one more day?
Live every day like you’ve gotten a second chance.
Sometimes we miss the cues when they happen.
Let those in your life know, through word and action, how important they are to you.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to the experience of the passing moment. Don’t sit and wish you had a second chance, another day, to let someone know what they mean to you.
Now then…go and let those people in your life know what their life means to you.

How to Live the Relevant Life

January 4, 2016

Take a look around. What do you see?
Seriously – When you drive to work, what do you see? When you drive to school, what do you see? When you’re running errands, going to the supermarket, or going to meet friends, what do you notice about your surroundings?

Are you taking in the beauty of everyday things? Are you taking delight in the little things?
If you live in a rural agricultural area, have you noticed new animals in a rancher’s field? If you live in a suburban area, have you counted the number of playgrounds?
If you live in a dense urban area, have you noticed the architecture that surrounds you with its evocative expressions and mood?

What about the people you encounter?

Look at the people in your life. Look at the ones who bring value, love, compassion, and respect. Are you reciprocating? You should be.

Take the time to look around… And this isn’t about texting and driving (although that certainly is a worthy topic for discussion, but maybe another time).

This isn’t about unnecessary distractions. It’s about life. It’s about the beauty in everyday things. It’s about noticing something for the first time. It’s about appreciating things that you’ve seen before. It’s about setting your mind, and your emotions up for the kind of supreme awareness that makes you sympathetic & empathetic to your world, to the people, and creatures of all kinds. To the plants and even the stones.

Let everyone in your life, everyone who matters, know they matter. Show them. Tell them. Share with them. Because life isn’t about how we start things, it is about how we sustain and polish things.
Take a look around.
Take the time to make your life one where quality lives in the present moment.
Do it now.

The Stunt Life

December 31, 2015

I miss morphine.
I didn’t say that to get your attention, but I do get it. I Understand now why people seek that one of many conduits, one that allows them to become comfortably numb.
I probably should have worded that first sentence differently. I should have said something along the lines of “I miss the paliative effect certain treatments can have on a chronic pain patient’s body.”
When I say I miss morphine that’s not the truth. The reality is I’ve been a chronic pain patient for over two decades. One of the side effects of my car accident, the initiation of this enduring Understanding, was a migraine that lasted 4 months. I was seeing a team of doctors at the time and one of them, a neurologist, prescribed some heavy duty narcotics. I realized, after a couple of days of being swallowed by the couch, staring at the stucco pattern on the ceiling and the television, that it wasn’t for me. I also came to the realization I’d no longer be able to return to my former career in the financial industry.

I worked hard in incremental steps to bump up my threshold and tolerance for pain. Becoming a stuntman served many purposes: learning stunts taught me to regain my motor skills, severely affected as a result of the accident; it taught me confidence; it provided for me clear direction where one was lacking; it taught me to work through pain. Most important, though not clear at the time, it became my true and rightful career. And pain has been my constant companion.

A note about pain and professional stunt performers: if stunt guys and gals went to the doctor or reached for narcotics every time they’d tweaked this or torsioned that, there’d be no one to perform those awesome action sequences that drive people to see blockbuster films movie in the first place. And your choices would be Fried Green Tomatoes or Driving Miss Daisy (not that I didn’t enjoy Both). The truth is stunt performers work through strains, sprains, and tears. Maybe they’ll reach for Naproxyn. I once tore my medial meniscus doing a stunt and ignored the pop until a month later, when the pain refused to subside. That’s when I’d learned there was something amiss with my knee.

As masochistic as it seems I feel the awareness and experience associated with pain is a gift. Plenty of times when we’re experiencing joy and happiness we fail to register and taste every moment. But when you’re in pain? The seconds seem to divide themselves, a kind of mitosis dedicated to letting you know it’s not going away just yet. A minute becomes an hour and an hour becomes a day. A day is an eternity that brings respite only with the possibility of sleep.

A part of me says sure, I could have picked another career. But it was the accident and subsequent career that picked me. It’s a career that continues to give me great opportunities and experiences, including the chance to travel the world and work with some great performers of stage and screen.
A career that’s had me hitting the ground, fall pads, water, and everything in between. I’ve jumped and two-wheeled (or high sided) vehicles for years. Going up is fine. Coming down is more often than not physically jarring. I’ve described the sensation to those not in the know as feeling like someone has slammed your tailbone, full force, with a mildly padded cricket paddle.

Every time we break or twist something we wonder how long to heal. And, amidst all of the other thoughts, that this could be a career ending injury. This reminds me of a comment a fellow stunt man made years ago. He said we are intentionally doing things that could potentially break us and usually with the bare minimum of safety equipment.
So it’s reasonable to believe if I’m beating my body up, then I deserve the beating I get in return.
That’s the thing that causes me some days to feel much older than I really am.

Which brings me to my newest badge of honor. An impinged disc is a literal eye opening experience.
The pain associated with neuropathy? That’s a whole new level. I know plenty of individuals who believed if you can’t see the source of the pain then you’re just making it up. I’ve always wondered about things like sciatica, constant tingling in the extremities, pain that manifest itself in ways that create new benchmarks for personal pain comparisons. But then impinged discs step in to give you the kind of experience that makes a first person narrative too dramatic for words. Suddenly, trying to find a way to get from point A to point B with the barest minimum of debilitating discomfort and – this is almost just as important – not demonstrating to the rest of the world what’s happening. It’s like being a poker player in the game of life where you don’t want to tip the rest of the table to your tell. Dealing with the pain, you start thinking, “what could I have done differently? Maybe I should have spent more time warming up and stretching as well as warming down and stretching.” I know it’s not the latter.
An old friend of mine once gave me a hard time about being so careful with my pickup truck. It was a good natured ribbing about me not wanting to get my truck dirty or scratched. He said a truck needs to be rode hard, that was the thing that gave a truck character and told you it would be reliable.
I guess the human body is the same way. If I were to use my friend’s assessment of trucks as a model of comparison, I’d have to say my body is full of character.
Because let’s face it, nobody ever thinks about stretching after a physical activity. And when I say nobody, what I mean is most every individual I have ever worked with or talk to. The reality is any time we do anything physical we should warm our bodies up for the process. And we should stretch and cool down after. Being aware of this is useful but does little to distract me from the realities of the pain.

And that’s something else to think of. If you know somebody who complains of these issues? try to be a lot more sympathetic and empathetic then you might be.

Early in my Film and TV career I was at a social event bragging about being a stunt man. This old timer, Glen Wilder ( one of the truly finest and venerated individuals in the entire industry), overheard me and leaned in.
“you’re a stuntman,” he asked?
I said, “yes sir.”
He said “you’re not a stuntman till you broke something.”

I’ve been a stuntman for a long time. Like every other stunt man and woman in the business, I can walk you through a connect-the-dot diagram of every injury sustained and tell you where, when and how it happened.

It has been an incredible journey, getting to where I am. I’ve traveled the world, lived in several countries, and made lifelong friends. Two plus decades of defying death in the name of art has been a life alive with charm. It’s never the gravity, or the fall, but the sudden stop at the end.

Now then, where is that ibuprofen?