Posts Tagged ‘experience’

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.

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?

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.