Compassionate Strangers

One of my favorite questions to ask strangers is some form of, what do you love about life?

A week’ish ago I pulled out this question just a few minutes into a conversation with the woman behind me in line for the bus to Albany.

I love asking this same, simple question is because the answers are always varied and often surprising, in the best of ways.

Her answer? It came pretty quick and was quite clear:

People’s ability to care and to show compassion for other people even if they have no relationship with them.

The second reason I love asking this same, simple question is because the conversation then usually heads off into uncharted territory.

This uncharted territory is both for me (which, with a stranger, everything is pretty much uncharted), and – more importantly – for them.

She’s a new teacher in the NYC public school system and she told me about her challenging week.

One major question that confounds her:

How does one balance the need to control the classroom and garner respect from all students, while also knowing that some students who show disrespect to her or to others may know no other way to call out for help?

I don’t feel right sharing some of the details of this story, but one thing that I do feel comfortable sharing that truly blew me away was when she said this:

The worst thing about being a teacher is about encountering parents who don’t care. Parents who will save your number specifically so they won’t pick up when you call because they don’t want to hear about their child.

We talked a bit about experience we had abroad. When she learned I had spent quite some time living in China she immediately wondered aloud, I read something about how Chinese teachers spend a lot of time discussing strategies for classes, much more so than in America. Is this true?

Our conversation extended from the line, through the bus delay, and all the way to Albany. Teaching in New York, China, Cuba, Pakistan, relationships, love, Humans of New York, and more were the topics of the evening.

She told me at one point that she doesn’t usually talk to strangers.

What was it that lead to a stranger conversation that day?

Did she just need someone to talk to?

Was it a conversation that took an unfamiliar twist after a short warm-up of regular chit-chat?

Something else?

Maybe if the result was so excellent for everyone involved, the reason’s not all that important?

Do you think it’s possible to find compassion – and comfort – in an interaction with a stranger?

Maybe you’ve experienced it before?

When was the last time?

What was it like?

Fear is the Root of Your Problems

Have you considered the relationship between procrastination and fear lately?

These days, I’ve been giving “fear” a fair amount of thought. This post is the first that comes to mind from some of my recent writings.

Today I was introduced to Leo Babauta, who writes a great blog called Zen Habits. Click on Leo’s name above, you’ll see he does some other cool stuff too.

The title of this post comes directly from his post, Fear is the Root of Your Problems because I’m not sure it can be said any better.

I linked to Leo based on a conversation that started with the relationship between fear and procrastination. Though this is a connection I’ve made before.

The connection I hadn’t made before, and my larger takeaway from Leo’s post, is that fear isn’t something to be conquered, but to realize that it’s something within us.

In other words, it’s something for us to recognize, understand, and accept about ourselves.

The next time fear arises inside of you, what will you feel, think, do?

Instead of the need to go battle against your fear, what if you joined forces with your “enemy”?

Or what if you let your fear fuel you?

Instead of a need to conquer, how about you chose to coexist, even allow the fear to fuel you?

Where might this take you? Your work? Your relationships with others? And your relationship with yourself?

Leo’s got some terrific suggestions in his post that are worth a gander.

—–

This evening at dinner I was chatting with a friend about her friend who is going through a challenging time. Family member with cancer. Job down the tubes. No relationship in sight.

All complaining, all the time. No sunshine in sight. And my friend wasn’t exactly sure what she could do for her.

I wondered was causing her to feel and act this way? What was this friend of my friend most fearful of?

I shared with my friend my new learning about fear and my intention to write about it tonight.

She immediately mentioned the way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear as something you invite to come along on your journey, but don’t give voting rights to for any decision.

What a beautiful thought. Do you need to read that again?

My friend described her personal fears as this wounded part that needed extra care and attention.

I thought back to this friend of my friend who seems to be having a rough go at it.

It seemed like she was trying to convince my friend – and likely others – that she wasn’t going to make it.

But why?

Why does she prefer the status quo when the power is within her to change?

And if she’s having trouble, help is at her side. What keeps holding her back from moving beyond the pain and the fear?

No matter who we are or however well-adapted or well-equipped to deal with any and everything life throws at us, it seems to me that fear will never really leave us and will always be a part of us.

It’s like a person – one who is a mainstay in our lives. They may come and go, but they are always there. Maybe we like to interact with them, maybe not. But either way, we must. They are a part of our lives.

But how would you choose to interact with them?

And how do you choose to interact with your fear?

Do you try to conquer?

Do you just take away its voting rights?

Or maybe there’s another way?

What role does fear play in the story of your life?

Why choose fear when you can choose love?

No matter where you are or with whom you’re with.

How might a different way of interacting with fear influence your work? Your relationships with others? And your relationship with yourself?

Authentic Sustainability

There is a lot to unpack from one of the quickest 3 hour workshops I’ve been to in recent memory.

And though I can’t break down all of my takeaways from this afternoon at Yale FES, I wanted to start with where we started and where I ended.

As usual, it was a question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

I worked at a hotel in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province for 2+ years. At The Linden Centre, there was always talk of “the Real China” and/or experiences that were authentic.

This was always hard for me. Because of this same question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

Well, today I may have advanced my thoughts on this just a little bit.

By considering another question:

What does it mean to be inauthentic?

Many of us have ideas of what it means to be authentic. Based on my experience in Yunnan it’s a taste or a feeling of something that seems to be quite real.

Perhaps it’s something we haven’t experienced before.

Because, when you have had something “authentic” before, it sure feels hard to have something equally authentic again.

And so I have been exposed to more people thinking of authenticity as something exotic or fantastic rather than something as real as what’s in front of them on a regular basis. How could everyday life be authentic?

In my former case – how is everyday life in Beijing or Shanghai any less authentic than everyday life in Yunnan?

But when you re-frame the question to explore what is inauthentic, it’s very hard to argue one place being more or less authentic than the other. Provided everyone is being themselves.

I don’t exactly see Beijing pretending to be Shanghai any more than it would pretend to be Yunnan.

So when we re-frame that question to explore what’s inauthentic, it brings something quite different to me to the question of what is authentic.

Perhaps these opposites provide balance to the conversation. If we are to define what something is, then we need to define what it’s not. And by defining both, it enables us to come to greater clarity on what something is.

Given that our conversation was about authentic sustainability and now that we’ve established that definitions are good, one definition of sustainability used today was that attributed to John Ehrenfeld:

“Sustainability is the possibility of human and other life flourishing on earth forever.”

Sounds a bit hippy-esque, but essential it boils down to how people and other life forms can be awesome and at their best all the time and for all of time.

Stated in another way, sustainability is a pathway to planetary, organizational, and human flourishing.

As the conversation warmed up about how we understand and perceive authentic sustainability, we discussed as a group about conversations between people we labeled either as “effective” or “stuck” conversations.

 

And as we listed takeaway soundbites from the conversations around effective and stuck conversations we had with our neighbors, as a group we started to see the patterns where effective conversations were often when both sides focused on the mutual benefits.

Whereas in stuck conversations, there were always feelings and background conversations in our own heads that we were not dealing with openly that seemed to halt progress – often on both sides.

What really started to come out for me from there on out is that it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about sustainability or something else. The type of thinking we’re talking about with authenticity comes down to whether or not we’re ready to get real with ourselves because this has a major influence on how we relate to and interact with others.

My thinking started to drift into thinking about my authentic self. My relationships with others. How things were working and how things were not? What mattered to me and what mattered to another in this moment or that? I tried to bring a balance to both sides, both arguments, both thoughts, feelings, and words, in order to bring greater clarity to a particular situation from days gone by that was never resolved.

And I considered how I could have chosen to act – or react – differently.

One thing I realized over the course of today is that I can be quite emotional about the people and things I care most about.

And when it comes to those people and about those things, I am probably the least vocal about expressing my emotions.

I’ve never really admitted this to myself before.

And when I think of what I actually want out of life. It’s not to not communicate what I’m thinking and feeling, especially when it matters most.

This is an important part of who I am. When something matters, it matters. Holding that in doesn’t appropriately enable me to communicate to the people I care about or to others about the things I care about. And that was lost during my time in the dark.

Fortunately I came to realize that the only way for this to change is for me to more regularly express. Which is what this 60-days of writing has been about. Practicing expression. Being vulnerable with myself by opening myself up to these conversations with myself and with others.

But enough about me for the moment, how about you?

What is authenticity for you? What does it mean to be inauthentic?

What is the authenticity that you experience and appreciate?

Is there anything about your authentic self that you’re keeping locked away?

It might not be something you – or others close to you – even realize. But if you take some time to look, to listen to yourself, and to others, you may find something unexpected that might make you feel just a bit more sustainable i.e. fully and completely and extra alive.

i.e. an even better version of your best self.

Didn’t think it was possible?

Well, you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to look and listen.

—–

Interested in more on Authentic Sustainability? Learn about Gabriel and Jason’s work here.

“Sustainability”

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a number of people around New Haven – and beyond – about the topic of “sustainability.”

People sure love to buzz about it.

Sustainability this. Sustainability that.

Both through reading and conversation, it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who seem to feel that “sustainability” is somewhere between a load of BS and something that just can’t really be defined.

But is this any different from anything else that’s hard to define?

As this concept continues to penetrate our mainstream mind and thoughts, it’s only more important that we think – on our own and in groups – about how we define it today with an eye towards something, somewhere further into the future.

That’s why these recent conversations have been so excellent. Conversations with thoughtful people who are also struggling around what “sustainability” is has been great.

Because when one tackles something so large, something that you can come at from so many different angles, a range of perspectives shared between strangers who share a mutual interest in understanding and doing something with this enhanced understanding is invaluable.

It can be through the struggles and through the hard times, where the future is hard to see or know, that can result in the greatest momentum, of growth, and outcomes.

It would be hard for me to put together everything I’ve learned in these past few months right here, right now, and combine that with the amount of thinking I did about this while living in China’s biggest northern city and one of its smaller Southwestern villages over the past decade.

But my answer today, is a lot like answers look on Jeopardy: in question form.

Given the magnitude of the conversation around sustainability, it’s hard to find that an answer that’s one size fits all.

And perhaps that’s the point when we’re thinking about what it means or what it can mean.

So yes, of course, everyone has a different definition.

Which means the real question is: what can and does it mean for us?

And what can we do about it today as we think a bit about tomorrow?

What Did Your Parents Think…?

Prior to my writing Moustaches and Mental Illness, I had started to share with others – some close, some not – about what it was like to be in, and recover from, depression.

Often labeled as the guy who asks a lot of questions and doesn’t share enough about himself (maybe I love learning about others a bit too much?!), these days I have a lot to share.

And these recent conversations have gone to places I did not expect go, with most of the people I’ve spoken with on this topic.

Moving beyond these one on one or small group conversations, since writing, these surprising conversations have continued, the only difference now is that some people have started to share about their relationship with depression without a prompt.

One friend was quite curious what my parents thought of my depression, and of my “seeing someone” for help.

I knew they were supportive and thought it was good, so I told her as much.

But inside I was thinking that my parents and I had spoken about this over Thanksgiving, which was more than a month ago at this point. And besides, with more than a month to let this knowledge set in and and to already see the change in me over the Christmas/New Year holidays, I was curious to hear what they would say now.

So I asked them.

My Mom went first.

She seemed to feel like something might be up. But she didn’t realize how big of an issue it was.

In classic Mom fashion she was glad that I went for help, got help, and it was helpful.

Simple and straight to the point 🙂

She was also proud of me that I had the presence of mind and courage to talk with someone that did not have an emotional investment. That people generally have a hard time doing this, especially when struggling. This was good, she felt.

My Dad echoed these thoughts and was equally surprised I was so depressed.

He also appreciates how open I have decided to be about this, but felt like writing about this here at Finding My Voice Here was a being a bit too open.

He was concerned that people could easily misunderstand my writing.

And make up their own thoughts.

Because what I wrote was very revealing.

He related a conversation from earlier in the day he had with Mom about the blog post. She had thought that my ultimate hope might be able to help other people.

Dad thought he would have found a different way do this. And probably would have chosen a more private route. Because he  would worry about people feeling sorry for him or getting the wrong idea.

That said, he recently attended a talk on social media where the discussion centered on how easy it can be for others to relate to people who are so open.

And it made him feel that he could be more open to sharing – sharing something on the more personal side that could help others.

Ultimately he just felt bad that he couldn’t have been more available to me. And he wished that I could have been more honest with them about how I was feeling. Though surprised that I was feeling this way, he felt like there were some clues along the way. There were some moments where he felt like there was something going on. That they/he could have helped me through this rough time. Maybe he could have been a little more thoughtful? Could have called a bit more? Wrote a bit more?

He appreciated how keenly aware and in touch with my feelings I am these days. But questioned if I could do that with everybody? Or even wondered when one can do that with anybody?

But I told them – and him – how I wished I could have known. I wished I could have told them. The point is, I couldn’t. I had no idea. What I thought and what I felt was masking what was ultimately underneath. And that’s not something I was able to access without help from someone impartial, from the outside.

He responded that he has always stressed the importance of anticipation. And how he’s quite good at this. How could he not have anticipated this?

Again, I said, there was nothing he could have done other than to be himself. And wherever we are today, however we got to today, we’re better for it because we’re together and talking about it now.

This is a new era of openness for me.

I now have access to thoughts and feelings that I did not have before, even though I thought I was a pretty honest, open, thoughtful, and emotional person before my time south of the clouds.

But this goes beyond depression.

Because, as I think about it in this moment, this wasn’t something like, Oh, MCK is so expressive and emotionally open.

Enter depression, stage left.

MCK is depressed for X period of time.

Depression leaves, stage right.

MCK is back to being the guy he used to be.

The depression, despite the challenges it brought, actually turned into a catalyst for me to grow.

It enabled me to move into a new stage in my emotional life and relationships with others, especially those closest to me.

Granted, the activation energy for this catalyst was more than I ever could have imagined. And I had to put in a serious amount of work to release myself from its grasp.

But it’s been worth it.

Because nothing ever truly worth achieving is easy. And in the wake of the greatest struggle can come the sweetest of rewards.

And in this new era of openness, one of the best rewards to date has been reaching a whole new level in my relationship with the people who gave me life.

My parents from the start have provided me (and my sister) with an incredible home and upbringing. They are wonderful teachers and advocates for the both of us. Instilled in us values of hard work, in making a difference in the lives of others, and the importance of contributing to our communities. I could not be more thankful for all the ways they have supported me and continued to support me.

And although I thought I had a very good relationship with each of them before, through sharing these most intimate struggles with them – we’ve put on the table the good, the bad, and the ugly – I feel even closer to them. For this I am so grateful.

None of us are perfect beings. We all have our faults and flaws.

And for all the faults and flaws I struggled with over the past few years, the faults and flaws I was most unable to accept in others were because of the faults and flaws I was unable to accept within myself.

Once I was able to be honest with and accept myself, I had the strength and courage to be extra honest with and accepting of others.

What about you?

What are the faults and flaws of others that you find yourself struggling with the most?

And beyond the frustrations you feel when dealing with them, what do these frustrations tell you about yourself?

And let’s even assume that there’s no need to accept the faults and flaws in yourself in order to accept the faults and flaws in others.

What if you just decided to accept someone for who they are – faults and flaws and all? How might your relationship with them change? How about your relationship with yourself?

Yelp-ing: How and for Whom?

I have a couple friends who are pretty excited about Yelp. They are regular contributors. One has even achieved the exceptional – elite status. And not just once. She’s a three-time champ.

Having watched from the sidelines for quite some time now, and using it regularly to make more informed dining-oriented decisions, I’ve started to feel like the right thing to do is to give back.

And given my foray into the restaurant business, I’m also quite interested in how it feels on both sides. While I’ve been in the seat of a diner more than my fair share of times, lately I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be behind the counter as someone who aims to serve.

I had a great conversation today with two gentlemen about how they use and think about Yelp. The question I thought to be most interesting – what do the stars mean?

Since there are various things that go into a review and much of it comes down to expectations:

Is it 5-stars for what it is or 5-stars compared to everyone else?

One of my conversation partners says for him it comes back to this one basic question. If somebody was to ask him, where should I go to eat in New Haven?

His answer would look a bit like this:

Answer = Food Quality + Experience + Service + Price

My other conversation partner then wondered back to the question of the number of stars “for what it is.” Let’s say that we’re eating at the only buffet in New Haven – no matter what type of food – does that change the numbers of stars you assign?

Are we comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges?

Now, I’ve had a bit of experience with the whole social media rating game having worked at The Linden Centre, a boutique hotel in rural China (Yunnan Province, Dali Prefecture), where hospitality meets a richer educational and/or immersion experience.

TripAdvisor was always on the owners minds, and rightfully so, so many people use it to inform their final decisions about where they will stay. Anything less than a 5-star review on some levels felt unacceptable.

But after a conversation with one of our guests one afternoon, my perspective changed.

Instead of reading the positive reviews, he actually likes to read the negative reviews first. For a place like The Linden Centre, and most places he would choose to stay, these reviews are few and far between.

The advantage to reading the negative reviews is that he can very quickly figure out how much he is or is not like the people writing. And whether the things they care about are the things he cares about.

Rather than reading all the good stuff, the “bad” stuff he finds to often be more useful and more telling. Of course the good stuff helps for some recommendations on how to spend his time. Or point him in the directions of things not to miss.

But the bad stuff could be the clincher, in a very good way, whether or not he thinks the hotel is a good fit for him and his lady.

In slightly more direct words, he told me, the negative reviews helps him decide if the people writing them are crazy. And, if so, he definitely wants to do the opposite of whatever their review says.

I thought back to that moment today because of this article we talked about at lunch.

It’s interesting what expectations we bring to the table when it comes to dining – and reviewing. And how some of us feel we have the liberty to comment on things – and desire to influence the decisions of others – without balancing the facts.

In the unhappy review highlighted in this article, the writer(s) expressed their displeasure that stemmed from a service that the restaurant did not offer. After following through on their promise to write a scathing review, someone from the restaurant wrote a direct and thoughtfully tongue and cheek reply.

But let’s zoom out for a moment.

While we may make many balanced and level-headed decisions on a regular basis, what sometimes makes us so resolute about our opinions, especially in those times when our opinion has not taken into account all the facts?

Why do we sometimes project ourselves – and our biases – into our on-line and off-line conversations with others? Do we realize it when we do this? Do we realize it when others are doing this to us?

These reviewers were so hell-bent on getting their food, they forgot to take into account that deliver is just not an option.

But, of course, they’re right. Aren’t they?

What has you feeling so resolute these days that you’re not willing to take other important facts into consideration during your next conversation about it?

When do you want to believe something so strongly that we’re willing to overlook the facts?

How does that influence our review(s)? And how does that affect others involved in that and future moments?

So, when we’re making comparisons, are we comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges?

And when we’re assigning ratings – is it 5-stars for what it is or 5-stars compared to everyone else?

Is it 5-stars for them or is it 5-stars for you?

—–

First thing’s first – the focus of the post written by Andy Isaac is a restaurant called Voltaire and I would absolutely love to go to Kansas City to eat there.

My conversation partners are working on a couple cool businesses these days.

The first, IQzic, a new music platform that just might provide a fun way for you to find your next favorite artist(s). Interested in getting in on the ground floor? Consider supporting their Indiegogo campaign and/or signing up for the beta launch.

The second, Chairigami. Think the furniture you need, that’s durable, but also easy to move, because it’s made of cardboard. Myself, I’m thinking about going for a standing desk, but you should see what might fit your life and your space here.

And by the way, you may have been wondering where we ate today – Sitar, Indian spot, buffet lunch. Hence the hypothetical “only buffet in New Haven” question.

As far as my review, I haven’t written my first one yet, though I’ve pretty much decided what I’ll give them. 3-stars. Food was fine. Service was good. Nothing to write home about. But the company was exceptional.

Though I wonder how I’ll feel while thinking more about the meal when I write my review. And how I’ll feel next week. I only had a few items today. But with an afternoon of work ahead of me, and since I’m planning on being a regular, I was pacing myself.

So, about those crates. Also, Socrates

notebook_2014_writing

2014 has been the most uncertain, hardest, intense, and illuminating year of my life. And with a few hours to go, we’re not even done with it yet 😉

I have grown in ways I could not otherwise have imagined or anticipated.

And it’s been the best year of my life.

Some people live their entire lives, never having the opportunity to know themselves.

I felt like I’ve had a pretty good understanding of myself, for awhile.

But the past 19 months, and particularly these last 12 have enabled me to see much more of myself.

I was looking at a lot of surface stuff for far too long. Taking stock in what I thought I saw, rather than what was behind all of that. And asking and answering questions that didn’t matter.

It wasn’t until I started to give myself time and space to think, that I started making progress. And it wasn’t until I started to focus my writing, daily, that the speed at which I progressed increased multi-fold.

When I was in high school, this thing called the internet was all the rage. Thanks to email and AOL IM, my sister and I inadvertently produced more than our fair share of busy signals for people calling our house.

At the time I also started to write on a BBS/message board (hosted by the Section 2 Harrier site, created and moderated by a nice guy named Jon Broderick) that kept (and continues to keep – go Jon!) all cross country / track and field fans in our corner of New York State apprised of important news. It was also a very cool forum where some decided to talk trash. I took it as an opportunity to share ideas and reflect on things I was seeing, and I was exposed to a new way of developing meaningful relationships.

I have given credit for awhile now to email, instant messaging, and the section 2 harrier message board for helping me to develop my writing voice at that time.

The hours I poured into emails and online conversations enabled me to develop my identity and to engage in meaningful conversation with others.

Writing was my outlet to the world.

I finished out high school with a healthy understanding of myself, ready to move forward.

And I continued writing in the early days of college.

Until I slowly turned my priorities elsewhere.

Though a move back to America last year (May 2013) was a natural segue* into a return to regular writing dates. From the beginning, I came down with a serious case of “writer’s block” or was giving into my perfectionist tendencies in those early days back in America.

Maybe I should have accounted for that after a decade away of sharing writing like this with others?

It was then I realized I needed a new space to find my voice. Here, a new blog, seemed a worthy spot to do so.

Not long after my irregular blogging began, during my time at the East-West Center‘s Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) in Honolulu to close out 2013, we all had to put together a portfolio, a collection of mostly written reflections – thoughts about the past, present, and future. It was time to make something with a real timeline, deadline, and commitment. 4 months and 100 pages later, I was working off a bit of momentum.

But 2013 ended and 2014 began in the midst of uncertainty. Uncertainty doesn’t need to be a negative thing, and hindsight is 20/20, but much of my problem was my choosing fear over love.

Sure, it was masked by “uncertainty.” But I was still a bit uneasy about my identity. I was trying to please someone I loved, but how could I please her without communicating, without pleasing myself, and by not even being me – that guy she loved. I was going about it in all the wrong ways.

I knew there was a problem. Actually, I was drowning, but it looked like I was a pretty good swimmer.

I was doing my best to figure “it” out. And I was failing, miserably.

Ultimately it just looked like I was a problem that needed fixing, not there was a problem that we needed to fix.

It takes two to tango, but I’m not sure either of us really knew how, we didn’t really practice, and we had no teacher. I felt very alone. Maybe she did too?

I tried to reach out. But my message must not have gotten through to her. And her messages? Well, I wasn’t getting them either.

Missed messages like ships passing in the night?

I knew I couldn’t solve old problems in the same ways  and I thought I was doing everything that I could. But it wasn’t working so I had to keep trying.

I was lost, but I found trust in my notebook and bic pen. It went far beyond my regular note-taking, by taking notes of deeper thoughts and feelings and fleshing them out until I could better understand whatever was on my mind.

Writing was no longer an outlet to the world, but an inroad into my soul.

Have you visited lately? It’s a pretty deep place.

Terrible one-lines aside, these deep conversations that extended into the depths of my soul, mediated through writing, have been a significant reason why I’ve had an incredible year.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone. And it won’t necessarily help you in the same way it helped me. But at a time when I needed greater clarity, it was the writing that was there for me.

No person, no matter how close they were to me – my parents, my sister, my closest friends – could help me. This one I had to start on my own before I could get back to a place of confidence, a place of greater understanding, a place where I had regained my identity.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to hold yourself back. It harder to realize that you are usually the one doing the holding.

Whether it’s beliefs, behaviors, or certain actions that are self-limiting, we can do a number on ourselves often thinking that if external circumstances would change, things would be better.

How might you make a difference in the lives of those that matter to you by starting with yourself?

When will you set aside some time for a constructive and thoughtful conversation with yourself? Find that time and space to work out your thoughts? To rediscover – perhaps even discover – things about yourself you haven’t seen in awhile (or have never seen)?

What questions are important to think through? What questions should you be asking of yourself? What suggestions might be made?

Be the sounding board that you need the most. But remember, it will only work if you choose to be honest, to lay it all out there, and to lead with love, not fear.

When it comes to the things (or thing) that matters most right now to me, I’m certainly not out of the woods.

But these days I know myself more than ever before.

And, as a result, I’m much better prepared to deal with the uncertainty.

So, goodbye 2014. Thank you for being so good to me.

And 2015, I’m eager to see where we go together.

—–

*So, when segway came up as a misspelled word, I did a little investigating on how to write the word that I know to indicate something related to a transition. Apparently this word is an Italian derivative and thought pronounced “segway” is written “segue.” You can take a look here to see what some have to say about this.

Today’s photo comes from my personal collection – the notebook and the pen that started it all this year.

This notebook actually dates back to my first year at college. I gave up notebooks in favor of recycling wasted computer paper from the libraries to make homemade “notebooks.”

I thought it was about time to make sure this one went to good use. It served me well in the early writing days this year – from ideas to The Oliver Chronicles and beyond.

All-Timers with Alzheimer’s

memory_brain_map

My Grandmother, we call her Babci (bop-chee: bop rhymes with top; chee as in cheese), has dementia.

Babci and I had lunch today at Friendly’s in Utica*. It was strange and wonderful all at once.

And it made me wonder whether all lunches should end with a sundae with a cherry on top. Senior citizens really know how to live it up 🙂

Living away in China for the years that I did, I missed quite a few family moments. And now that I’m back in the US, I’ve done my best to join in for as many as possible. This is one of those moments.

There’s a lot that Babci forgets these days. But that’s okay. I forget a lot of things too.

Though since her 90th birthday back in March, it’s incredible how quickly, and noticeably, Babci’s mental state has declined.

It’s stunning, actually. I was so impressed at her birthday party. A 90-year old woman, still very much on top of her game.

But these days she has no idea who I am. She doesn’t remember my sister, or any of her other grandkids.

In fact, given our lunchtime conversation today, she doesn’t even remember my Mother – someone who calls and comes out to see her regularly. She remembers her son, but doesn’t seem to always call him by name. Carol (my Aunt) seems to be the last remaining name her memory bank.

I suppose it makes sense. They live just around the corner from each other and see each other daily.

Actually, over the past few months, you wouldn’t believe the number of times Babci has described to me how to get from her house to or from Aunt Carol’s.

But she describes it well, and I don’t mind hearing it. It’s a beautiful thing to see how her face lights up each time she makes the final zag with her fingers, “…and we’re there!”

So many of us take our memory for granted.

Babci seems to be extremely proud of these things she remembers well – like how to get between her and Carol’s house or stories like the one about how she and Grandpa (Dziadziu) moved into their place on Noyes Street. We reviewed that she’s been living in her house for 63 years at least 3 times today.

What if we treated our memory like a gift rather than a given?

What if we were a bit more understanding when someone re-told us a story that excited them, even if we’d heard it before?

What if we were a bit more understanding when someone that mattered to us forgot about something that mattered to us?

What can we learn from interacting with the people closest to us with dementia / Alzheimer’s that we can apply to all the other people in our lives who have moments of forgetfulness?

Memory is still very much a mystery to me. And parts of me wish that I could remember more than I do. But, you know what, my grandmother no longer remembers who I am. And that’s okay with me.

Today may have been Babci’s and my last supper.

Over the course of 90 minutes we had the same conversation a handful of times. Many of the same questions from her. And I did my best to improv with my answers.

But we laughed. A lot.

She may not remember what we talked about five minutes ago – along with all the other stuff – but she sure hasn’t forgotten her sense of humor, to laugh at herself, or to crack a joke.

Though today Babci didn’t need her memory to remind me of one of the all-time greatest lessons I’ve learned about compassion.

Is it more important to remember and be right or to remember to be who the other person needs you to be in that moment?

And laugh, as much as you can. Because when all else is lost, we’re never lost in laughter.

—–

*For all of you playing the Upstate NY game [*ahem*, Camille], Utica is in Central NY.

Today’s image came from the google search “memory” and the UCLA Longevity Center’s Memory Training page.

60

60

60 is a significant number in time.

For one there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. These are the basic building blocks for the cycles by which we live our lives.

Moving beyond the basics, 60 years is a significant milestone in China.

Some might say once you’ve hit 60, you’ve done it all. You’ve spun around the zodiac wheel five full times, matching your zodiac animal with each of the terrestrial elements – earth, wood, fire, metal, and water.

In other words, it is both the end to a full cycle and the beginning to the next.

Cycles are about rhythm. Writing too.

It takes discipline and patience to write everyday.

Since I started writing in this Finding My Voice Here (FMVH) format, I haven’t been disciplined or patient.

And today is the day to make a change.

I’d like to say I will write everyday for the whole year. But I haven’t had great success with goals like this in the past.

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”

This line attributed to everyone’s old friend Albert Einstein is one of those quotes that gets regularly tossed around. Perhaps for good reason.

It’s time to adopt a new mindset and new strategy on a project I’ve struggled with since coming back to America in May 2013.

But today is a new day.

And the future is not yesterday, last week, last month, or last year.

I have a choice and will have that choice to write, everyday. I can’t wait to see where I get to after my 60 day cycle.

For me, it will be a significant milestone.

Over the last year I experimented a couple times with 21-day exercises.

The first time in the Spring I failed. The second one in November I succeeded.

Discipline is what that took. A clear ranking of priorities. And more time than I expected.

But isn’t that true of anything worth doing?

Seth Godin sings this tune of daily habits and discipline – showing up day after day, working on something that matters, and shipping it! – almost to the point of being a broken record.

But the thing is, no matter how (or how often) he brings it up in conversation, it is never any less true.

Besides, have all of us followed through on making that concentrated day-in-day-out effort on our work we say matters?

Perhaps it’s worth playing on repeat then, just like the song you may be obsessed with in this moment.

What have you been waiting to do that you could start on today?

Here’s to the start of a new cycle – for you, for me, for us.

See you tomorrow.

—–

Today’s photo came attached to a blog post about what it means to be 60.

I’m always amazed to find out where the images I like take me.

Lessons about life, love, and loss from the lips of an angel is not what I was expecting with a sign that looks like it could belong on the side of a road.

But, the result – a few life learnings that might just be worth a gander.

Change the Conversation

UConn and St. Joe’s was the first game I saw this March Madness. It was love at first sight.

In my first March Madness since college, I’ve loved the games, I’ve loved the commercials, I’ve loved the commentary. But the very best? The seasoned teams, the ones with seniors who have stayed the course. And the marination of anticipation over the years – of playing through March and being the only team to finish the season with a win.

As the Wisconsin/Kentucky game got going on Saturday night, my Dad and I got into a conversation about one and done. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a phrase that has become connected to John Calipari and the University of Kentucky program, a team that starts five talented Freshman. One and done refers to those student-athletes who come to school for a year before they choose to leave school in favor of the NBA. Calipari will have had 20 such players on his team in the five years by the close of this year’s NBA draft (he has 17 to date).

Both of us were rooting for Wisconsin, a team with some season. But when I Google’ed one and done, I came across this article that is very much worth a read.

As a college basketball fan, I don’t want to see great players leave so quickly. Heck, in my college basketball watching heyday, I didn’t want to see the seniors go. But why is the choice for college basketball players, whether they stay or they go, come under more scrutiny than anyone else with a chance, a choice to pursue an opportunity that might change their life and the lives of their families?

As much as I wish my writing tonight was all about UConn and how great Kevin Ollie is as a coach, I really like what Coach Calipari has done as a leader – and how he’s attempting to change a conversation.

One a done leaves a bad taste in peoples mouth. But succeed and proceed, not only does it have a nice ring, it gets closer to the core of what’s behind these shortened sojourns at the college level for these ball players.

The article paints Calipari as a great recruiter, a great coach, and a great teacher. I agree with the idea that to proceed one must succeed. To continue on to the next level, one must have achieved.

But the part I love even more is that Calipari’s players support the idea that he makes no promises to them. That his attitude and coaching style invites them to grow up – and they have the choice to step up to that challenge.

Basketball, in some ways is just a game. But in other ways it’s a platform for learning transformative lessons. Of dedication and hard work. Focus and concentration. Sharing and teamwork. Looking out for others. And more.

Who are we to judge when someone has learned the lesson? And whether or not they should have the opportunity to pursue a dream to ‘play’ at the next level?

In an age where we say yes to kid entrepreneurs, how are these basketball players any different?

Coach Calipari, I’m not rooting for your team tonight, but I do have a little extra respect and appreciation for your craft and your coaching style. Thank you for helping me to think a little bit differently about this conversation.