Observations

May 1, 2019

An interesting series of things happened the other morning that cause me to elevate the mental acuity of my youngest yet again.
Already slightly exasperated because she forgot her book bag, I’m listening to her from the back seat engage in this long ball of yarn treatise on things that disappoint her, things that ran the gamut from shoes to the colors I liked and  how they were different from the colors she liked. Then, out of nowhere, she looks over and sees a dog in the back seat of the vehicle besides us. The first thing she says is, “Oh look, it’s a cute little puppy.”

It really wasn’t a puppy, but it’s a thing that we do and she has picked it up. Doesn’t matter how big or small or old the animal is, they’re still a puppy. Anyway, she looked at him and made that comment And then without missing a beat she said, “well, I hope he’s wearing a seatbelt.”  At the intersection I pull up just so she could see the puppy and we both look over at the same time and before I could say a word, Addison Rose at the top of her lungs yells, “oh my gosh! Hey! Put down your damn phone”  because the driver of the vehicle was on his phone.

First of all, full marks to the kid for being so safety-conscious. Second of all, full marks for using all of her words in that sentence correctly and in context. Now I could tell looking at the dings and bumps on this guy’s Cadillac that he probably wasn’t the best driver, and according to one nice big white scrape on his wheel well he probably tried to hug a wall or a parking pole too close for comfort and the wall was having none of it.

But her sheer Brilliance and understanding of what the guy was doing and recognizing that he wasn’t being safe was a thing to behold.
Luckily for the operator of the Cadillac, Addison’s voice carries. So he heard her and rolled down the window all the way. “Excuse me?” He asked the question more perturbed than indignantly. Before I could say a word Addison Rose said, “put down your phone!” And he looked at me and shook his head as he said, “your kid should mind her own business.”

I couldn’t help myself or stop the words that came out of my mouth as I said, “Maybe that’s why you have a dog instead of a kid, but it’s pretty bad when a five-year-old has more common sense than you. Maybe you should take the bus.” To which Addison said “yeah!”

Well, the fella told me I was number one but he used his middle finger to do so as he rolled up his window. He continued playing with his phone, probably updating his social media status, likely not to reflect that he had just been schooled by a 5 year old. Addison turned her attention to the dog in the back seat and just kept talking to him even though the window was up, just cooing over and over again about the cute  puppy.
So, that’s what life with Addison Rose looks like.  Don’t even get her started on not using your turn signal indicator.
On a more serious note, more serious than all of this, think about your actions and the examples they set as well as how much common sense is going into your decision making process. this isn’t just about driving, it’s about life in general.
Don’t be afraid to exercise common sense And make the right choices.  There’s nothing wrong with being a good example, just like there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
If a five-year-old can figure that out some of the time, then we’re simply making the  process too difficult for ourselves.

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Why Being Authentic Matters

March 29, 2019

I’m currently on a ride and drive tour. I have learned a few interesting things during this tour. I continue to learn. I learned being authentic matters more than it ever has.

I learned courtesy, capacity, patience, and awareness. Above all else, I’ve grown to truly appreciate character and integrity.

With courtesy, I simply reinforced something that I’ve known, which is to be nice to everyone, even those who can’t be nice to anyone. And the reason why is because once in a while those people come around. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, you know you’ve left your mark.

Capacity. I learn to show up prepared to give 100% every single day. Sometimes that means creating a shield to protect yourself from the negativity. All you have to do is create a shield where your energy flows out but theirs does not flow in.

Patience. It’s a dangerous presumption that because you value your time and everyone else’s, that they will reciprocate. It’s a dangerous assumption to believe people will do what you ask them to in a teaching, training, or facilitation setting. Be patient and set limits, and for those who don’t want to come along, move the rest of the group forward and they will either catch up or be left behind. It is the 10-80-10 rule. Don’t waste your time on that 10%. There’s never a positive return. Not ever.

Awareness. Be aware that some people are going to come in and troll whatever experience it is you’re creating. They will bait you, either with talk of religion or politics, or simply by being demeaning to you and everyone around them. They will be course, they will be knuckle draggers, and they will know little of civility.
Be aware how you enter,  start, end and leave. Leave The space on a high point. What the individuals do with that is their business. But you don’t want to give them a reason to trash you. Those who will are likely to do so without a reason. Those who want are likely to extol the virtues of your ability, your skill, and your engagement. Leave them grateful for the experience.

Character and Integrity. Everyone has an idea of the latter. A colleague on a set once deliveried the perfect definition of Character. She said, “character is defined as making the right decision when the choice isn’t obvious.”

So, the next time you have a class, session, seminar, or event, be authentic, be energetic, and serve the people you are there to teach and train. The good ones will get it. They’ll feel your authenticity, and they will carry your message forward.

That is grace and elegance, and what truly matters.

The Kindness of Strangers

March 7, 2019
Very early in my film and television career I was told by a friend with far more experience than I had to “be nice to everyone on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.”
It is always far easier to judge than to take a moment and arrive at a conclusion. By judging, we quickly assess and ascertain, we file and categorize, and then we move on. By doing so we miss out.
I’m reminded of a trip I made to Key West with an old friend. Towards the end of the day we wound up at Mallory Square, where we met a fellow who went by the simple moniker Pirate Tom. He was a guy with an old dog, a beat-up guitar, and not much else. But man could that fella tell a story. He was genuinely happy or at least took great pains to make us believe so. We spent several hours with him, hanging out and talking to him. Wound up getting him a couple of beers, and considering the experience, I think we got away cheaply.
I’m currently on the road. Will be for the next month and a half or so. Part of the new promotional team introducing a brand new automobile to Market. It’s been a lot of fun, being able to utilize my facilitation and content delivery skills in such a varied and often challenging environment to a range of individuals who run the gamut from enaged and caring to completely disconnected, disrespectful, and diseased.
Think about it. We show up to a dealership and ask for these people to give us several hours of their time so we can review content with them and help them understand the vehicle better so that they can then approach customers and clientele appropriately. The response we got really did span the Spectrum from gratitude and warmth to disrespectful crabbiness and colorful commentary. We got all sorts of questions from those who have a genuine interest in learning to those who simply asked when they could get some damn cars to sell.
We show up as strangers and leave sometimes optimistic that we’ve set a group of people up for success, and other times less than hopeful.
Today was one of those days right down the middle. At the end of the day I headed down the road to my next destination and checked in to my next hotel. I’ve become quite The Connoisseur of what should and should not be in a hotel room.
Crossing the threshold into the elevator with my carry-on behind me I turned to hit the button to go to my floor and the key fob from the vehicle I’m driving slips out of my hand, bounces on the floor before taking a well-aimed dive into that space between the elevator itself and the elevator threshold. I watched it disappear and could only imagine what kind of trouble it was going to be to bring out a certified elevator technician to come out, lock down the elevator, raise it and climb down into the pit to retrieve the stupid key fob for the hapless and clumsy human. Thankfully one of the hotel staff saw me looking stupidly at the elevator floor. Once I told her what happened, she tracked down the hotel’s maintenance individual. A few minutes later Miguel showed up, grabbed a flashlight, and shined it down into the dark abyss. Eight or so feet down was the key fob boldly taunting and staring back up at us. He told me he could get it and disappeared before I could react. I quickly followed behind him as he went to a large space that had become a sort of catch-all closet for everyone support-staff related. There he grabbed a very large piece of metal trim, and a magnet.  He went back to try his magic, and it worked up until it got to the bottom of the elevator where the fob forced the magnet to release its steely grip and freefell back to the floor.
Miguel disappeared again, this time returning with a coffee hook affixed to the end of the flat length of metal. In his first attempt he hooked the key ring and very slowly started to pull it up. Before you knew it he handed me the key fob and suggested I keep it in my pocket.
I know too many people who would have turned the other way. I’ve seen too many instances where individuals have all but said ‘it sucks to be you’. I found out from the front desk manager that this is simply the kind of person Miguel is. He doesn’t know what the word no means. Reminds me a lot of Leon, a gentle soul very much like a brother to me.
I asked for Miguel to be called to the front desk. And there I gave him a tip. At first he would not take it, and then I insisted if he wouldn’t use it for him maybe he could buy someone dinner or get something for a grandkid. After much protest, he accepted the money. I think even my abundance of gratitude may have been too much for him because he disappeared before I could thank him again.
What’s the moral of the story? Forgo fumbling with a fob? Take the stairs?
Be grateful for the kindness of strangers. They may happen to be your salvation and your sanity when you least expect it.

Life With Epiphanies

July 14, 2018

While the title suggest time spent with a Greek philosopher, it truly is about that elusive boon: the Epiphany. Epiphanies are an interesting thing. For most of us they typically show up after the event or cycle of action, causing us somehow to adjust our perspective, if we’re paying attention.

Lost a night of sleep this week standing Sentinel over my youngest daughter’s 102.6 fever. Lost another night of sleep when I had to bury our dog at 3:30 in the morning, digging a hole to lay to rest the body of a creature we loved unconditionally. His passing has cast a dark Pall over the household, and a grieving aching sadness I couldn’t have possibly imagined. If those two things in a seven day period are not enough, my full-time employment came to an end.

That is a busy f****** week I don’t wish on my enemies.

I’ve learned a lot and had several epiphanies during my full-time gig.

I learned if you are not creating happiness at home and with those you love, it means little that you’re creating happiness anywhere else.

I learned I am not good at hiding my frustration. I learned I am pretty good at stepping on toes, sometimes upsetting people and bruising egos.

I learned I’m a failure when it comes to putting up with BS.

I learned it is not only important, it is necessary to have people in your corner.

I also learned I am still as passionate an advocate as I have ever been for the operation, the right people, and the right reasons. While I still believe more than ever that one should bloom where planted, do everything in your power to make sure the soil is firm and nutrient-rich, and you are surrounded by others that will help you shine and grow, and not be buried in the weeds.

I learned I loved that dog more than I could possibly have imagined. I discovered how much I missed the click click click of his toenails across the wooden floor. All the things I found annoying, like him jumping up on the couch and trying to nest through the leather, are things I would happily sacrifice just about anything to hear that sound and see the event one more time. He was the most food motivated creature I have ever known in my life, and that’s even considering me, who likes a good Buffet. Whenever anything dropped on the floor, which was a regular occurrence, all someone would have to say was “Uh oh Bucks,” and wherever he was even if he was in a deep REM-induced sleep, you would hear that tap tap tap of paws and claws as he would come to the kitchen. He often made it unnecessary to keep a broom and dustpan nearby.

Huckleberry didn’t have issues, he had subscriptions. To my account, he bit me four times. There is a permanent laminated sign with each of the dogs in the household. Next to his picture it says, “I look as sweet as an angel but I will bite. No matter what I do, whether I jump on you or wag my tail, don’t fall for it.” He couldn’t help it. Every time you did me, he would cry the most mournful cry, the saddest thing you ever heard come from a dog. It was as if he was being remorseful. He had been severely abused. That’s another conversation all together, but suffice it to say, Dante carved out of special ring for anyone who sees fit to abuse an animal. That is not your place or purpose in the world.

I was irritated and frustrated by all the puddles I had to clean up. I was certain it was my Orange Grove dog, who I’d literally found dying in an Orange Grove. With Huckleberry gone, so to have disappeared the never-ending scattering of those pools of various sizes. Was it possible I had been blaming the wrong dog? Yes it was. As a friend once remarked, “Huckleberry was the sweetest dog I never did pet.” If you did find yourself fortunate to hold and cuddle him, which happened every time there was a harmonic convergence of the planets, you would discover his fur smelled like hay, a pleasant smell indeed.

The vacuum is vast for space that had once been filled by 14 lbs of lovable sausage with legs. To quote Gibran, “Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

I learned a lot in a week. Above All Else, I reaffirmed my priorities.

I learned there’s no time like the present to show those you love whether they have two legs or four legs how much their presence in your life means to you. I learned that the same mindset holds true when you run a multi-tiered operation. I learned that no matter where you are and what you are doing, partnership makes the difference.

Most importantly, I’m reminded of something my neighbor once said. I once shared with him the crazy hours of my schedule and the fact that sometimes a day or two would go by and I’d only get a glimpse of my family.

He said, “Nobody ever gets to the end of their life and says, ‘I wish I would have worked more’.” That’s a wise man indeed.

I haven’t yet found anything I can’t do, but I’ve discovered a few things I won’t do. Sacrificing time with the people who matter most is one of them.

If you are not taking advantage of the time you have with your friends and family, whether they have two legs or four, you might consider adjusting your priorities.

Remember the parable about the two wolves? This Epiphany is all about feeding the right one, while taking care of both of them.

No matter what you do with it, ultimately your time is your own.

My daughter is better, my dog has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and now it’s more important than ever to look forward.

 

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.

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.