Posts Tagged ‘chad calease’
“Donating your body to science” is a well-known but poorly understood concept, at least, according to my own experience in helping my own Mom accomplish her last wish. It is important to know there are a lot of options out there for donating but there is little, if anything, written about the process and true aftermath, both pro and con, of doing so.
Donating a body to science is a concept most of us are familiar with inasmuch as we have heard of it, but few of us would know how to go about actually doing it. Makes sense, really, as those who do end up leaving their body to science are not around to share their experiences. Meanwhile, the process is not something that is typically discussed by the living anecdotally at dinner parties.
I equate it to being struck by lightning. Many lightning strikes occur each year but no one really knows how many. Most of them are never reported. People who survive them are simply happy to be alive. They go on living their lives and generally no one else is aware anything ever happened.
Donating our bodies to science is not simply a matter of having a carcass dropped off at the nearest medical school. There are legal matters to attend to and, even if there were not, there is not much a typical lab can actually do with a human body unless they are in urgent need of an otherwise cumbersome and morbid paperweight. Donating our body to science is a complex and highly regulated process. There are many ways and levels of involvement one can endeavor to donate. For example, it is possible, to some extent, to let science use a body without being dead.
What follows is an informal guide on the levels of using our bodies for the good of science:
Entry Level – dipping toes in the body-donating pool
At the beginner’s level, it is possible to donate our bodies for research for a short period of time and also while we are still alive and walking around in them. Most all scientific research related to health and longevity requires human volunteers. By seeking out our nearest university with a psychology department, for example, we can find a great need for the study of somewhat normal, healthy people. Typically, this involvement requires only our physical presence to perform some trivial task or another. Such experiments are safe and easy. The risk involved is very low, especially as each initiative must first obtain ethical approval.
If you fancy something a bit more involved or “hi-tech”, the nearest neuroscience department has interesting offerings. You may, for example, have parts of the brain shut down by TMS and spend a long afternoon in an fMRI scanner. The possibilities are interesting wherever the brain is involved but, yes, at a somewhat greater degree of risk.
There are undoubtedly other methods and formats to volunteer for but, at the outset, these entry level types are a good way to donate our body without losing any of it, more or less.
Novice Level: Mid to long-term bodies for hire
More invasive experiments technically do not require we lose any part of our body, but our body is used more intensively. Drugs for example. Trials, whether by hospitals or pharmaceutical companies, are performed on animals before people well in advance of being released onto the market. We can volunteer our body to do this. I had a roommate years ago who augmented his income in this way. He was literally paid to allow testing of pre-FDA-approved drugs on his body on a regular basis. He made, as I recall, about $500 a week. I always thought he should renegotiate. The downside of suffering potentially negative side effects from putting an experimental compound in his body, with likely metabolic or physiological consequences that could be potentially quite damaging, seemed worth more than that to me.
On rare occasions drug trials go wrong and make the news. Have you ever heard someone say “They should not test these things until they can be absolutely sure they are safe.” A statement like this misses the point. Still, if we are willing to accept such risks (which are are more typically quite minor) then there are plenty of places to sign up for participcation in such trials.
Takeaway: entering the Novice Level may carry a financial reward but requires greater risk. We get to keep all our body but it most likely may be changed in some way.
Mid-Level: Partial donation (but temporary)
If we are hungry for the next level, willing to actually surrender some of our physical body for the good of science, well luckily there are ways to donate bits of oursleves to science that regenerate in time.
The most obvious and noble of these is donating blood. Everyone might consider doing this as a matter of course. I donate regularly and giving blood is an innocuous experience. It requires very little on the part of the giver yet can be the difference between life or death for the receiver. Please do consider doing it. It may not be scientific in the sense of research, but as most body donation goes into research towards saving lives, it is just cutting out the middleman and getting to the task of sustainability when someone is in dire straits. It is as old as the hills (as far as science goes) and simply works. It doesn’t hurt, either. Plus, we get snacks and juice and we feel like we deserve them for once.
From a certain perspective, we do get to see some decent science while we donate blood, too. Data collection is important as they need our medical histories and schwack like that. They also need to check our blood iron levels. I expected some high tech scanning device but, alas, they used the copper sulphate test, a brilliantly elegant and simple test whereby they put a drop of our blood into a tube of copper sulphate and wait to see how long it takes to sink. The more iron, the faster it sinks.
We can donate bodily tissues to science, too, which are more involved depending on what sort of tissue we donate. The blood donating thing is important, though, so do that first as a kicking-off point before advancing to the next level.
Advanced Level: Partial tissue or organ donation (this is permanent)
It is possible to donate one or many of our organs to science. Typically, this has to be done posthumously but we can also do it while still alive. One of our “spare” organs, for example, can be donated exclusively for use in transplants. If we wish to donate organs posthumously for transplant, then we can do so simply by joining the organ donor database. There is still the debate as to whether organ donation should be opt-in or opt-out. A tough debate, that one.
Should we wish to donate our organs to science, there are ways of doing this, particularly if we want to leave our brain to research. There are many people to contact if we wish to do this. I will stress, based on experiences I’ve had, that you shouldn’t try leaving your brain to the charities dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc. Charities are usually dedicated to funding research into the condition and raising awareness, they don’t actually have any use for the organs they focus on. Cancer research charities don’t actually want people’s tumors, it’s the same logic here. Please see the appropriate organisations in the link above should you opt for level 4 body donation.
Expert Level: Full Body Donation
This is what Mom chose to do, well ahead of when the time came. She was dedicated to donating her entire body to be used for scientific research and teaching. Always committed to learning, it is thanks to her I am not afraid to admit what I do not know and to ask questions, even ones that reveal my ignorance, in order not to miss a teachable moment. It’s how she operated. She knew most donations will be used for students to practice perfecting surgical techniques and procedures. If our remains are going to be dissected and studied by numerous young medical students or trainees, their safety is paramount. Ergo, we can’t donate our bodies if we succumbed to some rare and communicable virus or anything that doesn’t have a known cause. This means most terminal brain disorders exclude us.
For the sake of medical teaching, a human body also has to be as intact and as “normal” as possible, to reflect the majority of people a typical medic will encounter, so any particularly disfiguring illnesses (internally or externally) may also rule us out of donating. In a way, to successfully donate our body, we have to be in near-perfect health. Dead, but otherwise generally healthy.
She had already done her own research and had made up her mind. She knew, too, her mind was succumbing to Vascular Dementia, and knew the time she had to actively participate in such decisions was running out. I found out exactly how aware she was of this after she died. She had written letters saying goodbye to each of us, speaking directly as if sitting beside us, walking us through the process of her passing. Talk about planning. That woman loved us so much she planned everything in the most mindful and intentional way possible.
None of us could have known how her choice would affect us later on. As we began to get some time and distance from her death, it would be a source of comfort that she believed in the power of learning right through to the very end. At the moment, it may have meant simply beginning to prepare for her absence, and it was certainly frustrating to many family members. There would be no service, no funeral, no formal goodbye other than the ones we would have with her over the course of her decline as she meandered in and out of consciousness towards the end, sometimes aware of our presence, sometimes not. In time, however, we would come to discover that the aftermath of her decision was one of her greatest gifts.
The downsides to this kind of choice are obvious (and shocking especially to very religious people, which Mom actually was) but the upside is this: giving us prior knowledge of her wish meant we were able to do some of our own planning and learning in advance of her passing. In retrospect, it was a gift on so many levels. She gave us the gift of control, in the sense of learning about death in the empirical or scientific context, even as we knew the situation was completely out of our control. We were along for the ride and had to adjust to it as best we could. Grief is a strange animal, so she gave us as much lead time as she could in her decision. Even in her suffering she was present enough still, incredibly mindful, to give us everything she could to prepare us for the number one item on The Top Ten List of Things That Do Not Get Easier With Practice: Saying Goodbye.
The Top Ten List of Things That Do Not Get Easier With Practice Part IV: Saying Goodbye to Uncle Mike
On an incredibly cold and windy day in December of 1995, I was standing atop some forty-plus feet of scaffolding, perched vicariously near the edge of a river, another 20 feet below where the scaffolding’s feet stood in the wind, shaking slightly from my tinkering about at the top. Just outside the small town of Denver, Iowa, I was busy, employed to construct a Lindal Cedar Home. The land was secluded, a 5-acre spread along the bank (literally) of a picturesque river, current still flowing, effortlessly moving against the frozen air. The grey water moved below me like so many mirrors, memories of winters past, the sounds of it barely audible in the high winds.
At the particular moment I am imagining, I was busy trying to complete the soffit beneath the roof’s overhang. Four-inch, tongue-and-groove cedar is painstakingly difficult to finish well under ideal conditions, let alone in roaring winds in near-zero-temperatures, upside down, forty feet up. No doubt, the results of our efforts would be breathtaking, however, the hours, days, and weeks it took us to complete the exterior before the worst of winter hit were character building, to say the least. The immediate goal that day to was handle all loose ends of the exterior so we could move indoors for the rest of winter, completing all that yet remained to be done inside. The nearly seven-thousand-square-foot floor plan illustrated a 40-foot peak in the main living room. The house, constructed almost entirely of cedar and glass, turned its glassiest side to the West, looking over the Iowa River. Breathtaking, indeed.
Before that experience, looking upon such structures, I had imagined a small army was required for such feats. I came to find out first hand it took only the three of us, led by my Uncle Mike, a Jedi-class woodworker and experienced private contractor. He was also a spiritual mentor, who had earned the greatest respect of myself and my closest pals of that age: his two sons, Adam and Ben, along with their childhood pal, Joe. We looked up to Uncle Mike and he never took it for granted. Rather, he was one of the most kind, patient, and empathetic men I have ever known, one of my first mentors. Mike always encouraged us to tinker in his metal and wood shops, equipped with the tools and organization of a true craftsman, a mindful and dedicated artist. His influence on us in those days informs each our own respective pursuits today.
Meanwhile, it was my first house building experience as a carpenter. Since I was the newb I had all the jobs no one else wanted for two reasons: 1. I had much to learn and 2. That’s just the way it goes. I called myself the “King of Visqueen” (I even made up a song). Visqueen, for the uninitiated, is the plastic sheeting used to seal insulation into the frame of a wall. Visqueen is not the culprit, or that which makes that job a living hell. Insulation, at least at that time, was made of fiberglass, which is the bane of the existence of any residential carpenter. Its fibers are microscopic and, no matter how well we attempt to cover ourselves up and hide our skin from its perilous burn and itch, it seeps into cracks big enough only for air to fit. It is impossible to insulate a house, let alone a massive one, without being completely overrun by fiberglass and driven to near-madness by the pain and itch that ensues. The only relief upon arriving home at the end of a long day is taking a cold shower to close the pores, forcing the fibers out, followed in quick succession by a hot shower, to flush them away before embedding themselves, once more. In short, nasty stuff. Work I shall not soon forget.
Among the uckiest jobs, though, there is, of course, an upside. For example, I discovered I had a knack for interior trim work. The satisfaction of getting it just right is unparalleled by arguably any other task in the trade. We spent the remainder of the winter finishing out the interior, complete with dark room and media center. Uncle Mike often reminded me how building a house is a good metaphor for life. Day-to-day it is easy to lose sight of the goal, to feel as if little or no progress is being made. That is why, every few weeks, I would follow Uncle Mike out, beyond the property to view it from afar. It was an occasion to do so. Even as we walked a quarter mile away, we could still smell the cedar. When the house was finally completed, we walked out there once more. What we saw there was, in the words of Uncle Mike, “no half castle.”
I write about him like this now as a farewell. Michael Clore left us today. Fortunately, we all had a chance to have those last conversations in time, in preparation for what he assured us only a few short months ago was inevitable. He was brave in his choice to live his life out on his own terms, freeing himself from the burden and stress of treatments that most likely would have robbed him of these past few months wherein he traveled and saw to it he lived them to the absolute fullest.
In time, we are fortunate if we have a few gurus, mentors who show us the door, even as we stumble around in the dark to find the key to open it. Uncle Mike led me to more than one. As we rode to work in the dark of the early mornings, building that giant house, day after day, we rode quietly together drinking coffee, staring off across towards sunrise on the prairie, meditating on building something, inch-by-inch, moment-by-moment. No half-castles.
Perceptions sure are funny things. Everything depends on them. Especially outcomes. This is one for the memory banks.
Here is some context: last weekend, my little boy and I had just gotten home. We were unloading our bikes from the day’s festivities (it was Memorial Day Weekend), carrying stuff back into the house: he his stuffed animals, water bottle, toys, and treats, while I carried in the picnic lunchins, blanket, camera, etc. That’s when a woman came to the back fence and asked, “Does this little girl belong to you?”
Dash and I went to the gate. We found ourselves looking at an adorable little girl, probably 2, along with a woman and her daughter, maybe 7 years old, holding their dog on a leash.
I asked, “This little one, here? She’s not with anyone?”
“I found her at the end of the alley,” the woman replied. Our alley is a quaint dirt road that runs behind a row of houses on a residential street here in a quiet part of Evanston. Generally safe but not for a 2-year-old all alone. There is a minimal amount of residential traffic but it is traffic, nonetheless. How did this little girl get here and where were her people?
“I’m calling 9-1-1,” the woman said, and took her phone out of her pocket.
“Wait,” I said. I looked at the little girl and said, “let’s see if we aren’t able to find your people first, huh?”
The woman held her phone handy but seemed almost miffed.
My mind was full of thoughts at this point but I will get back to that.
First thing was first, I took Dash by the hand and we went out of the gate to the little girl.
Dash walked right up to her and took her hand. I just love how kids often act way more calm, cool, and collected than adults when the pressure is on.
At this point, I had Dash’s hand and he had the little girl’s hand as we stood behind the house with the woman, her daughter, and their dog looking on. I asked the little girl, “Where is everybody?”
She was cool as a cucumber. Not visibly worried at all. She pointed.
I said, “Let’s go find ‘em, shall we?”
Surest thing you know, the little one looked at Dash and started walking. The three of us sauntered along. As we were walking, Dash began to sing and hum. If anyone was worried, it wasn’t us. The little girl smiled big at Dash as he hummed and chortled down the way until, three houses down, the girl led us up to another gate, this one slightly ajar. Wouldn’t you know it, just wide enough for a little girl to get through.
The woman, her daughter, and their dog were right behind us and she shouted, “EXCUSE ME!!! EXCUSE ME!!!”
A woman came to the screen door, then out onto the deck and said, “Yes?”
“IS THIS LITTLE GIRL IN THE RIGHT PLACE?”
The woman on the deck looked REALLY confused. She had been given no context, whatsoever. That’s when I spoke up.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you. Do you have a moment?”
“Sure,” she said, and came down the steps, across the yard to the gate.
By the time anyone started saying anything at all in this, the little girl had already wiggled back inside the gate, still holding Dash’s hand. I said, “Stick around, please,” and he let go, though, not without some reticence. He wanted to follow her but was a good sport about it.
The woman came to the gate and the woman behind me said, “WE FOUND THIS LITTLE GIRL AT THE END OF THE ALLEY WITHOUT ANY SUPERVISION,” in a most confrontational tone. The woman behind the gate looked stunned. All she knew was that, last she probably knew, the little girl was inside the fence and now, as if she had never left, appeared to STILL be inside the fence.
I said, “See here?” I drew her attention to the gateway, that it opened against a railroad tie along a small garden bed outside the gate but just enough that her little girl could get out.
“Oh my!” said the woman. She looked down sweetly at her little girl, now standing just on the other side of the fence from Dash. “23 months old? So that’s when you made your first successful jailbreak?” The little girl flashed a big, toothy smile and ran back into the yard giggling. “I am so grateful! Thank you for finding her and getting her home safely! Thank you!” she said, looking down at Dash.
“Your welcome!” said Dash, two-year-old style. This kid!
The woman went back inside, calling after who I presume was her husband to secure the gateway and chuckling about the little girl’s resourcefulness and good fortune to be found and back home safely.
I was grateful Dash and I were there. I was so surprised, though. I would expect another mother, especially, to be empathetic to another parent’s wonky situation. Calling 9-1-1 as a first effort could have gone a number of different ways, mostly wrong. I could not conjure her logic, myself. The woman could not communicate with a two-year-old enough to figure out where she belonged? It seemed natural to me to make every effort to locate the little girl’s home before creating such a drastic intervention. Why is my definition of best intentions so different? Calling the police on such a simple matter could have led to further misunderstanding, even so far as to get DFYS involved, creating unwarranted problems for that family. Who knows?
Communication is such an art form. Why is it so easy to misunderstand an audience? Does it take something special to apply empathy in a situation like that? I certainly felt, right away, “What would I feel like as the parent of this little one?” and “What is a logical explanation for this?” because no one would intentionally leave a two-year-old alone on their own like that. As a parent, I immediately felt there was something I could do to help. Calling the police was the last thing on my mind. How was it the first thing on hers? The snide way in which the woman spoke was also disappointing. I have on occasion witnessed the motherly competitiveness among females but this seemed waaay overblown. In addition, she also did not consider the woman she was shouting at had no context to answer her question of whether or not the little girl was “IN THE RIGHT PLACE.”
Dash and I were certainly in the right place that day. I was proud as can be. I loved the way he responded to that little girl in such a comforting and empathetic manner. I loved the way he pretty much shouted with glee, “You’re welcome!” to her mother who genuinely thanked us, clearly surprised at what had happened. It could have happened to anyone.
As we walked, we caught up with the woman, her daughter, and their cute dog. Dash wanted to pet the dog but neither the woman nor the daughter made any gesture to facilitate it so we kept walking. “All’s well that ends well,” I said. Nothing. No one said anything, except Dash, who said, “High tower, papa?” which meant he wanted me to lift him up so he could ride on my shoulders. “Okay!” I said and lifted that sweet little boy up there.
Dash started to hum, again. We had helped our neighbors. We had shown compassion but even better – empathy. We were problem solvers. I was grateful we were there, grateful we could communicate well with both the little girl and her mother. We walked home but then kept on walking, onward around the neighborhood, into the evening, humming and chortling together, feeling good. Tall as towers.
Curation is fundamental to how we process messages in the world. There is simply just too much information to process without filtering it for content and quality. Curating it. We curate all over the place. Social networks are among the most well-known of curation tools. That is coming under some threat, however.
Twitter is now even threatening to curate our curation. Please don’t do it, Dick. Don’t turn other social networks into Facebooks. Facebook has its robot-fed feeds and everyone loves/hates them. Please don’t ruin Twitter with that schwack, Dick. Let us keep Twitter what we want it to be. Please. True curation is the art of usability. </rant>
Let’s go waaay back to the beginning, shall we?
Social curation of the Web
In the beginning of the Web, many of us created webpages. Many more, however, recoiled from such freedom. As algorithms matured (ie PageRank, et al), mere fluency in HTML & CSS could not guarantee our user-generated pages would retain relevancy or be easily found as such virtual real estate began popping up in exponential growth ratios. New sciences, such as SEO suddenly came to be new fluencies required to maintain relevancy as the online world evolved faster than it could be studied.
This is exactly how Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and other pre-fab platforms took hold in the first place even amidst privacy and IP concerns. It was easy for the average bear to quickly see their name up in lights.
Point is: given a choice of social freedom or curation, the herd chooses curation, so now we’re dealing with the ripple effects of those choices. Could it have been better? Sure. But it’s not all bad.
Curation or Criticism?
An interesting comparison is the beginning of the music industry. We (fans) actually paid for albums. We had to be mindful of our choices because there was overhead. “Music critics” emerged as publications saw opportunity to influence purchasing decisions. At the time, how something sounded on our own systems was part of the magic, unless we just happened to hear it on the radio or at a record store. Now, we can discover how anything sounds in mere seconds, via YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc. Curation effectively neutralized the music critic. That any blogs mention an album at all is more important than what is written about it. We can download, listen, and decide for ourselves.
Publication vs. Filtration.
Before the Web as we know it at the moment, we typically got news from one or two publications, completely closed systems, typically tuned in to a single culture, devoid of diversity of perspective. When newspapers began to die and the content went online, another new word, aggregation, came into play. This allowed for sources to be more distributed and, arguably, somewhat more egalitarian.
By now, any search on current events typically reveals thousands of articles on the same topic. The sheer number of reports on a current, happening event skyrockets. Curation of that aggregated data is crucial in order to find value in any of it. Without filtering to find the relevant, true and/or interesting bits, readers whose days are dedicated to other matters would have to manage that on their own in addition to all the other schwack they gotta do.
Original reporting is still as important as it was before — perhaps even more so, because being “patient zero” on a story is a great way to get everyone else to link back to you.
Consumption devices curate functionality.
Finally, we arrive at the sort of curation Sarah Rotman Epps talks about. The Kindle, cellphone, MP3 player, GPS, and other purpose-specific devices curate functionality in order to deliver a better experience than a general-purpose desktop or laptop computer ever could. This holds especially true for devices designed around consumption, such as big-screen televisions. For example, iPads are merely recent tools designed to curate content on a personal level. Is it still curation? Tough question. Even before them, we could read any link later using Instapaper, or from a Twitter account, or ancient RSS feeds (some of the earliest forms of curation), which could then be read on whatever device we choose.
Content on tablets, by design, are generally curated via their relative manufacturer “stores” like the App Store, which has specific criteria, quality standards, etc, before apps and content of any kind are allowed in. As such, Apple initially took curation a bit further, following a model of integrated experience, retaining more control over the content available to the device in the name of optimal user experience. This is a fierce debate, while other companies have little or no scruples regarding what they allow into and onto their devices. This sort of culture continues to unfold but the battles of taste will surely never be won.
In light of all this, it is worth pointing out something: non-curated computing will never cease to exist. Just because we can make a Facebook page, a Tumblr blog, and countless lists on Pinterest doesn’t mean we can’t still create and post to our own website, silo’d off somewhere in the deep Web where algorithms and search strategies are irrelevant, useless things, incapable of finding such hidden gems. There is something quite comforting and mythical in that. Like finding a cool rock on the edge of the sea, worn smooth from years of being present but only just found to be admired by someone walking alone on the beach at dawn who, upon putting it in their pocket, assigns a value intrinsic only to their own, secret economy.
So, what’s my point? This: algorithms, app stores, etc. are nifty and all but real curation is the true art of Web usability. Want to get good at it? Find someone who is great at search and finding the best schwack on the Internet and watch how they do it. Humans are still better at it than machines. So far, so good.
I was married to my first wife for 10 years. We were together for 3 before we married. It was a fabulous adventure, a tale to tell, full of ups, downs, and everything in between. We lived all over the place, followed our hearts, made sacrifices to spend time with friends in far-flung parts of the world, lived and worked overseas, found pleasure in the things that matter most. I thought we would be together forever.
R. Buckminster Fuller knew a thing or two about failure as a part of success. I am fond of his idea that “If the solution is not simple and elegant, it is not the right one.”
As my then wife and I approached our 10th anniversary of being together, I asked her, “How are we doing? Are you still getting what you need from this?” I asked because I, myself, was trying to figure out how I was feeling. We told each other at our wedding that we would check in every ten years or so. It was a joke. Kind of.
At the time, my experience was that we were going pro at misunderstanding each other. We were both moody, prone to swings of withdrawing, frustration, being dishonest about our feelings, things that were seemingly spawned out of thin air. In a word: unhappy.
I cannot speak for her, but here is where I know I went wrong in it: I let that energy affect me. I channeled it back at her. Instead of distinguishing it and extinguishing it, which is what we both wanted, after all, I only coasted on it. I am a most effective antenna, capable of not only picking up on the true feelings of others, but also have to be mindful so as to not let someone else’s energy affect me.
It took a total overhaul, a complete reboot of my life to learn to start to get it right.
Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” His dedication to science is creedo to a whole creative class of knowledge professionals. No doubt, Mr. Edison would be surprised at how it now resonates within historically conservative spheres of business in the US. Companies like Pixar, for example, are radically contributing to the shift. They do not simply encourage their small army of creatives to “fail early and often” but mandate them to. How many years will we have to wait for a complete overhaul, a total reboot whereby successful companies all over the globe begin to find that the best way to succeed is to fail, again and again, until we get it right? Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, recently published a book, Creativity, Inc., that speaks to this so well it’s worthy of its own post.
People who rise to true greatness are intimately familiar with this, even should they keep it on the down low. Seems it is all about being willing to admit failure, own the mistake, and get back up and try again. Most of us will do anything to appear “normal”, though, whatever the heck that means.
As for me, I was not a fit in school. I knew nothing about “normal” because I was most always the new kid. In addition to that, I was too excitable for the classroom, unable to contain my enthusiasm for topics of interest. I wanted to be immersed in conversation, intellectual conversations about things. I wanted to find the smartest people in the room and get my butt kicked about until I was as smart. Smarter. Dad always said, “Want to get good at something? Find someone who is and let them kick your butt at it, over and over, until you are, too.” Great advice. Thanks, Dad.
Even at a young age, it was clear I was not a good fit for the pace of learning in traditional settings. That we moved around a lot probably did much to protect me from otherwise being pigeon-holed as a problem child. I was constantly trying things, failing, trying more things, until making breakthroughs, big and small, in my own learning. I loved project-based learning, labs, and other such opportunities for this reason. I had to make my own mistakes on the slow rise to comprehension and ascension to learning.
If failing is conducive to success, why are so many so resistant to the idea? Are we really that generally self-conscious as an entire race? Guess so.
If this is too much, let’s give it some context any sized brain can get interested in: Money.
Where does this idea leave companies? As more and more get hip and secure in this concept of encouraging experimentation, they will need more and more employees like me who aren’t afraid to fail on the way to success. Like my little boy, 2-and-a-half, who I can already tell can barely contain his enthusiasm for what is happening all around him. His passion is so self-evident, his likeness staggering as I watch him learn to learn, see him right in front of me develop his own, unique tools for interpreting and navigating the world around him. There may not be a thing more captivating to me. 2-year-olds are relentless problem solvers. He is, however, learning to ask for help, but that is another post, too ; )
“If we could think of failing as a path towards success, then I think we would all be better off,” said John Krumboltz, an author of Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win, and a Professor of Education and Psychology at Stanford University.
The longevity of a trend like this will depend, in part, on positive reinforcement from more than just hiring managers. Parents will need to motivate their young children by protecting them from too much “no” or “never” or “can’t” and “no” and “don’t” and “won’t” and any and all negative notion early on. Parents, don’t laugh at your kids when they fail. Even if it’s cute, be mindful of what message you may be sending. To boot, companies, too, will need to convince prospective hires that they are serious and committed to supporting failure and not just paying trendy lip service to it as a concept or “initiative.”
When my first wife and I divorced, I went on a walkabout. I had the world to carve out, able to craft and build it the way I wanted. You know what? It was too easy. Any of my own, modest successes were too small-minded. I wanted to build something selfless, something larger than myself. I still wanted a family. As the gods would have it, a wonky series of events led to this special little guy showing up in my life. Unplanned? Perhaps. Unexpected? No. I have always known I would be a papa, even as my first wife was staunch about not wanting kids and even as I tried zealously to get on board with that. It was not a question of if, merely when.
Companies on the brink of success need to convince their investors they can rebound after each failure. VCs often learn way more about a company from its failures. It’s the same as play. We can tell way more about someone in 10 minutes of playing with them than in 20 years of working together. Still, finding success through failure is not limited only to companies with billions at their disposal. Any sized business can learn from what Krumboltz calls the “small failures that we should be encouraging.”
It is some years later now and my first wife and I are better friends than ever, having moved beyond our values changing, changes of all sorts and degrees. We talk like two people who might have saved each others’ lives in a war. We are. We set each other free rather than staying together out of fear of the unknown. We are better for it. Want to know what? Relationships between people? They don’t ever really end. They only begin. What we do with them, what we get out of them, as they succeed, as they fail, like business, like learning, like simply living well, is all in how we handle the rebound.
TAG transcends cultures, ages, races, and politics. Long after childhood it remains an innate part of us as we discover our identities and pursue whatever it is we choose throughout the rest of our lives.
Enjoy this brief, stream-of-consciousness meditation on TAG, featuring stories from the voices of people of all ages and cultures around the world sharing their names and rules, just some of the infinite variants of this game that is a part of each of us.
(best with headphones in a quiet room)
The dream of falling startled me awake in the strangeness of that place, on the edge of the bed. So familiar and solid, though, for such a shaky thing, that dream.
The night, it did not change. It remained, by measure of all physical senses, intact. Cars passed outside, tires whispered on streets, headlights glimmered through the window, panned across the wall. The room still smelled of clean laundry, burnt coffee. Trees swayed in the breeze, branches danced shadows in light of the Moon. Hands in my hair, flat and greasy, through the coiff of sleep deprivation. The seconds hand continued a barely-audible tick-tock rotation around the clock, hanging on the wall over a table overcrowded with flower arrangements, cards, and photographs.
Our Mother was gone.
Slipped away in the stillness.
In between moments. I knew it was coming. Now, the moment had come.
Some time has passed. Yesterday marked an entire year since her passing. I am grateful. The first year is the hardest. The first Mother’s Day without Mom, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, et al. We, those of us left in our family, celebrated each of these alone, probably so we would not stare at each other from across the table, sighing to fill the emptiness that is her absence. That is not what I had expected we would do but that is how the story goes.
Since she left us, we have been busy as bees, survivors rebuilding our respective hives, far-flung here and there. ‘Home’ is no longer a centralized reference point we once kept somewhere safe in a room in our minds. When the matriarch dies, it changes everything. This is magnified by the way everyone deals with grief in their own way.
At first it is startling, in that Unknown River. The current of being awash in a new paradigm grabbed me and left me often feeling lost. The center is dispersed. Everything feels fractured. No point of reference. In our case, Mom asked there be no funeral. No grave. Sometimes I crave it, though. Sometimes I wish there was a single place I could go and talk to her. Then, again, in the next breath I remind myself: anywhere. After a while it is not as scary as it is at the outset. It is just getting past the beginning that is rough. Pretty rough, yeah.
Things will disperse, given enough time. Is it true to say that it is the default? Is it only by real intervention something will hold still for any time at all? Is it the nature of most things to mingle back into the fray of time and memory?
Fortunately, given enough time, the frayed can also be arranged back into some semblance of order. It is what I seem to spend my energies doing, lately. There is comfort in it, even though deep down, beneath the hidden machinery, I am aware of its temporalness. Is that even a word? Guess so.
I channel the discomfort into celebrating her life, our life, LIFE, especially with my little boy. The world is only new with a two-year-old, and there is no better ballast than the extreme wonder he brings full-on into each and every moment. Lately, the only tears I have are sheer joy and awe. I thank him constantly.
The upside is this: grief is as often inspiring as it is daunting. It is work, tinkering, learning new technologies, writing, music, creative projects. The heavy stuff of life is also the greatest muse. I have learned some good, hard-won lessons. Keeping them close is just as important and I am grateful they are there.
Oh, funny life. The unknown. Call it home.
The Top Ten List of Things That Do Not Get Any Easier With Practice: Saying Goodbye PART III – One Year
It started the evening of April 23rd. I was in Chicago, on a conference call with some people. We were collaborating on a volunteer project for an inner city youth program, a very ambitious project to say the least, one we were pow-wowing over passionately when, suddenly, I received a text from Dad:
Mom’s vitals declining rapidly. Best be on your way
I had been making the five-and-a-half-hour-each-way journey to Cedar Falls, Iowa for months. I had, in fact, just made it the day before, having spent a long weekend into Monday there in hospice with her and Dad. The doctor reassured us she had at least another week in her before the final decline. At that point, she had been in hospice for three months. We were all on edge, fatigued, jumpy each time our phones buzzed, during the day and/or during the night.
I hung up with the conference call and called Dad. He was there alone as the others in the family had left from the weekend. She was one of eleven siblings so the visitors had been steady week after week. Some of them were returning upon hearing the news but likely would not arrive until after it all had gone down. I reassured Dad that I was on my way. I called hospice and spoke with the nurse. She said Mom’s blood pressure was 30 over something, barely enough to even feel a pulse. She said it was imminent. I swallowed the last sip of water from my water bottle, looked out at the night and collected myself. I had to get ready to go.
I made a step to the kitchen and the phone rang again. This time it was related to my then 18-month-old son. His mother was panicked in tone and informed me that he had diarrhea and had been vomiting all evening. Being that the tiny Wisconsin berg she was in with him (not my favorite whenever she insisted on taking him with her) was about an hour from the nearest Target, she worried about having access to Pedialite or some other hydrating solution for little ones should he need it. She asked if I would come, bring some Pedialite, and help her take care of him. She made it very clear she could not take him to daycare in the morning if he had had diarrhea within 24 hours of arriving there. The option of her staying home from work never entered the conversation, so I agreed. Fortunately, I work for and with a community that values family and what comes first. Besides, what is more important than taking care of your child, even as your own Momma is taking her last breaths? It is what Momma would have done, after all.
So the choice was clear. I only thought for a moment how I would feel if Mom passed away while I was en route to rural Wisconsin, well out of the way to her side in Cedar Falls. I knew exactly what I would do. I would silently pray/communicate to her the whole way that she might hang on until I got there. If it worked out, great. If not, I would be okay, too. I would have done what she would have done – make my son the priority at all costs, in any case. This was not, after all, the first or last time I would drive through the night to be at his side when push came to shove. I deeply enjoyed it. Not his being sick, of course, but feeling that useful, that needed, and that important to the survival of a little life like his. I was on the team, all the way. These are moments I will remember for the rest of my life. Is that why I write them here, now? It is not as if I could or would ever forget. I suppose I write this here now to help begin to process. Grief is such a bizarre animal.
I casually mentioned the state of affairs with Mom, so as not to seem selfish yet respectful of its gravity, collected myself, hung up and in about 10 minutes had packed an austere bag of necessities for the next few days. I had phone calls to make before I left, assistants to notify, superiors to inform, last minute things to do, domestically. I could not have known how the next day would unfold but I was ready for the river, whatever current was waiting for me. I shut off the lights, made sure the doors were locked, and jumped into it. It was startling.
First, was the three-and-a-half-hour drive from the city to the middle of Nowhereville, WI, but only after retrieving Pedialite from insert big box retail store name here. There was construction and deer crossings, and phone calls from friends that left me at moments too tearful to see straight, hence pulling over a couple of times, and mostly a lot of silence as I drove. And prayed or whatever it is we do to communicate to something larger than ourselves. What music do you listen to on such occasions? When I could not settle on anything I mostly just kept the music off. Although, at one point in my shuffling, a Christmas carol by John Denver and the Muppets was rather oddly soothing. Weird.
Upon arriving in that small, Wisconsin town in the middle of the night (shortly after 3am), I could already tell my son was beginning to feel better. By morning, he was snoozing comfortably beside me as his mother left for work. After our snooze, he woke smiling and then we danced to a new song I turned him on to and we made breakfast, hung out, danced some more, made a doctor appointment to make sure we was a-ok, and generally enjoyed the morning together. There is no better way to endure grief than in the company of a child.
By the time the doctor appointment came around, late morning, he was definitely feeling better and took the biggest, healthiest greezer in his pants in the lobby while we waited. One of the nurses was kind enough to let me change him in one of the unused examination rooms. Good thing, too. Stinkeeeeeeee. I knew right then that he was on the mend. Question I had for the doctor now was, can I travel with him? Is there a chance we can make it to Mom’s side before she slips away?
The doctor, upon examining him, taking a gander at that diaper, gave us a resounding, “Go. Now. There is nothing more important and he is fine to travel. Go!” We were up and out of there in a flash. We packed up all the stuff a little boy needs into our trusted Subaru wagon and drove off towards Iowa and Mom. Dad was not answering his phone. No way to know what the river looked like up ahead. No matter, the little boy and I rock and rolled down that road as if there was nothing else. He was still really digging that song. I was grateful and tearing up now for the sheer joy of him.
Upon arriving, it was self-evident that it was imminent. Mom was not responsive (had not been consistently for a few days now), though something had changed: her breathing. She was breathing so shallowly now. Her whole chest seemed to heave with the effort of merely maintaining stasis. Her eyes did not flicker beneath their lids. Her skin was grey and patchy. It felt like paper.
I had not slept much, save for an hour or so with the little boy earlier that morning, so was beginning to feel the effects of 36 hours of sleep deprivation. As a young man I was built for this. Now, it was wonky. My senses were caving in on me. I was experiencing audible distortions, seeing things, shadows running out of my peripheral vision, and I was trying with all my might to be present. I wanted to feel all of this but was collapsing under the weight of it. Isn’t it remarkable, though, how much we can take?
My sister, Kelly, arrived then and we sat on either side of the bed with Mom. This was one of the most beautiful moments of the experience of Mom’s decline: my sister and I, sitting on either side of her, telling her how much we loved her. We thanked her for being so gracious and kind and for teaching us so much. We told her it was okay for her to leave now. We would not be upset. We told her she had earned it. Time to go.
Another breathtaking (literally) beautiful moment was the weekend before. Mom was still responsive at times and I had had a particularly emotional stay of it that weekend as I knew it was getting close. It was indisputable at this point. Any day now. With tear-soaked eyes, I was able to say,
“Momma, when you get wherever it is you are going, please tell them thank you from us. Please tell them we said ‘thank you for our Momma.’”
At that, she acted as if she was trying to sit up, opened her wide, blue eyes widely, madly, and looked at me deeply as they welled up with huge tears that streamed down her face.
That is the last time I ever spoke to her and can be certain she heard me.
Now, I sat beside her at approximately 10:30pm on April 24th. Everyone was heading back to Mom and Dad’s new apartment. It was a place we had no memories of as Dad had moved them into it during the beginning of Mom’s decline. Once she had become mostly unable to walk, he made the tough choice to move to a place where she could live as independently as possible. It would hardly make a difference it was such a short amount of time. Within only a few months, we were faced with moving Mom to a nursing home. It was one of the toughest days of our lives.
Now, here we were some months ever further down the river. As everyone was fixing to leave, it was clear to me that I would stay. I knew in my heart she would not make it through the night. I was so tired I could not see straight. My son’s mother arrived and informed me she could stay through the night but had to be back at work early the next morning. I was grateful.
After everyone was gone, I left Momma’s side for a few minutes to get something to eat across the street at the nurse’s insistence, returning with some noodles from a Chinese restaurant at that late hour. I sat beside her and talked as I ate. I talked about how grateful I was. For her teaching me to play baseball. For teaching me about music. For her kindness and dedication. I apologized for my stubbornness and willful irritability during my twenties (we had already had this conversation it seemed like so many times but I was doing a full-on inventory), and mostly told her of everything wonderful about her heart, her soul, and her love for her family. She had the done very best she could. I know no one more devout and true to her family, her God, or her privacy.
She lay there, silently. Chest heaving. Breath shallow. I could not eat but a couple bites, after all. The exhaustion of the previous night’s journey was overpowering me. The moment hardly lent itself to appetite.
Even though I was running out of steam, memories inside me stirred from a long slumber. Out of my control they ran rampant through the rooms in my mind. Next thing I knew I was relaying one of them to her out loud.
When I was very young, around eleven, I remember Mom being famous in our neighborhood at the time for her homemade pizza. Every kid we knew would constantly vie for an opportunity to come to dinner on a night when she was making it. The smell of it wafted across the streets and yards of our neighbors, so it was difficult not to detect. She made it more frequently in the summer, often sending me out with bundles of the stuff, leftovers, wrapped in aluminum foil, to be delivered to this pal or that. It was the most happy time in her life. She loved that place, that house, that chapter in our lives. She held those memories closer than the rest of us did. The smell of those pies sticks in my head like glue to this day, along with the words she used to say whenever I went out to play, because it was also one of the last things she would say to me, “Don’t wander too far from the house.”
As I told this story that was the end of the noodles. I chucked the lot of them into the trash as I said, “Nothing compared to the love you put into those pizzas, Momma. I will make pizzas, too, but of course they won’t be like the ones you make.”
I sat there, spent, my arms folded on the side of her bed with my chin resting on them, a wet, soppy mess of me. I was in between moments. I did not want to sleep but at the same time was so ready for her to let go. We were all exhausted from the journey down the river that led to this moment. It is a hard way to live, waiting for someone you love to pass on. It is a cruel struggle between wanting them to hold on, even come around, and battling feelings of relief from when it is over. Oh, funny life.
I last looked at the clock at 1:45a. I told her, “Momma, I am beat. I am going to get some sleep, too, okay? Let’s take a little snooze. I am going to hunker down here next to you (one of the nurses had extended the chair and made a comfy bed of it for me), but before I do I am going to say goodnight like we used to, k?”
At that, I realized it had been almost 25 years since I had done what I was about to do.
As children, upon preparing to sleep, we had a ritual identical to the Waltons. I would typically start it out, until my little sister got older and would make an equal contribution to getting it rolling before we retired each night. It went like this:
“Good night, Momma”
Upon which she would reply from her room, “Good night, Chad.”
“Thank you, God, for Momma.”
“Thank you, God, for Chad.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she would reply (or Dad, too, when he was home).
“See you in the morning light.”
“See you in the morning light, too.”
On this night, however, as she lay there, quiet, motionless, and grey, it was only I:
“Good night, Momma.”
“Thank you, God, for Momma.”
“I love you bigger than the whole wide world.”
I fell asleep. It felt like I had been asleep for a very long time when the nurse nudged me gently at 2:30am, only forty-five minutes later. She whispered kindly, “She’s gone.”
It was April 25th, 2013. One year ago today.
Momma, I love you.
I miss you.
I am grateful to be your son.
I am grateful, also, to have the first year behind me. The first year is so rough, with all the “firsts” – the first Mother’s Day without Mom, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, all of it. It seems like a constant battle, getting used to the matriarch’s absence.
It does not get any easier with practice, however, I am grateful for the gifts you have left behind, the letters, the photos, the memories, the lessons. I carry them, and you, with me. I am grateful. Always. Thank you.
Are not scientists, more than anyone, acutely aware that the data tells only a slice of the story? Would not anyone truly, passionately in search of an answer (an accurate one) be more likely to ask themselves something like:
Only the whole story tells the whole story?
And would it be worthwhile to ask something like:
Even though largely at odds with one another, the “hard” and “soft” sciences need each other?
Storytelling may very well be the oddball cousin of the two that bridges them more successfully than any other? If so, for good storytellers the future seems to be very bright, indeed.
While a nice spreadsheet or graph might be a quick read and enable us to draw fast conclusions, reassuring us with a false sense of control, only the whole story tells the whole story. Infographics sort of work better, at least tell us more but only if we possess the right kind of visual literacy. That is another post, though, so let us not be distracted. This post is about storytelling and the underestimated power of it. To hear a whole story? Well, it takes as long as it takes. Someone has to listen. To. The. Whole. Story.
Have we been warned enough already against such paraphrasing of knowledge? Lots of people, smart, accomplished people have tried to tell us, and we even throw those quotes around like cocktail party anecdotes. Is data alone ironic? Is it like measuring the weight of all the water coming into the boat?
It bears repeating: only the whole story tells the whole story. Storytelling is gaining real street cred, emerging as a hard science right in front of our eyes.
It is an understatement to say YouTube has changed things. It has replaced Encyclopedia Britannica (merely an artifact from another age of learning) as the de-facto go-to resource for everything everyone may want to know, including how to fix an engine, cook dinner using a recipe, even how to tie our shoes. It is a utility, now. Like turning on a faucet, we expect water to come out.
For better or worse, YouTube may be best described as a showcase of fandom, attempts at something indescribable but driven largely by simply being a fan. A kind of fandom that morphs meaning, bends perception, voices expression, and yes, sometimes dilutes meaning. Still, each misguided attempt, flat-out mistake, or gleaming triumph of these efforts teaches, distracts, entertains, annoys, and surprises us. When was the last time a young human shared their favorite YouTube video with you? Next time it happens, instead of watching the video, watch them watch it. Watch them revel in it. Watch them be a fan.
The definition of fan is tricky. Most think of it in the context of sports or entertainment. In that context, it can be both good and bad to be a fan. It can be psychologically unhealthy. It can also be positive. All things in moderation. This is not the kind of fandom I am talking about.
For me, being a fan is something very diferent. It involves unbridled curiosity and the confidence to express it whenever and wherever we experience it. I think of it as a miniature and earnest expression that says, “I bow down to you and your awesomeness.”
Finding awesomeness in such moments leads us to joy, to humour, to the fine appreciation for all that is right and good in the world – to fandom. It is this spirit that is our best defense against the tough parts of living, the grumpy moods, dealing with bullies, and even our own self-doubt. It is contagious. No one would be inspired to do or make anything if they had no sense of it and were not a fan of other people and their actions or ideas. Can following that spirit lead to other ideas, invention, and potentially innovation?
Fandom and humour are cousins, whimsical and mischievous. Even at their worst, they create bonds between us. At their best, laughter, and where there is laughter, is there not promise?
It’s the 27th day of the month today. Turns out, the number 27 is singular. The Internet can tell us why, mathematically, the number 27 is so unique. For example, 27 is a perfect cube (3 cubed), a completely balanced equation. In math, that is truly saying something.
The number 27 pops up a lot, which is what led me to learn more about it. While I was at it, just for kicks, I made a list of 27 things my ideal 27-sided-self values. Please note, I do not take myself too seriously here, rather this is simply an exercise, a playlist, of thoughts and notions on moving the ball closer to the goal of growth, being a better communicator: a better pal, partner, father, son, and generally well-balanced cube, er, dude:
1 – Arguably, one of the greatest strengths may be helping others feel more comfortable being themselves. This does not imply enabling others to cultivate their hurtful traits, rather their best, most productive and positive ones.
2 – “Please” and “thank you” are two of the best parts of any language.
3 – Good moods are contagious. Spread them like colds.
4 – Be mindful of others’ aural, physical, and visual space. We all have different boundaries.
5 – Respect and trust require respect and trust.
6 – Words and tone of voice deliver packages to others. Stop sometimes and wonder what it may be like to receive them.
7 – Short fuses burn ourselves and others. Take a moment, get all the facts, or step away until it passes.
8 – Being open to constructive criticism is worth risking the initial discomfort of trying it on. Nothing to lose.
9 – Read, preserve, and share books and stories. Like music, they are the crux of so many good things.
10 – Good aesthetics are like good manners. Create atmospheres that foster acceptance. See #1.
11 – Any voices inside that say “You are not good enough” are illusions, shadows of fear. Break through them.
12 – Skills are not demonstrated better than by putting them to good use for a good cause.
13 – Laugh. Play. Pause objectives. Let fun in. It is not irresponsible or a waste of time.
14 – When I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, pause and read #24.
15 – Keep moving forward. Giving up is easy. Building anything good takes compromise, resources, and work.
16 – Things work out whether I like it or not. Do not underestimate the “unswerving punctuality of chance.”
17 – Do not be afraid to accept or admit we each need someone who does not give up easily.
18 – Forgive ourselves. Moments of weakness do not make us fundamentally weak, only fundamentally human.
19 – Make and share good, healthy, and tasty food with friends whenever possible.
20 – Risk being affectionate and vulnerable.
21 – Keep money and ‘need vs. want’ in perspective. Measuring against others is an empty pursuit. See #11.
22 – A brief stop to smell the roses is worth being ever-so-slightly late for on occasion.
23 – Values only mean something if stood by when inconvenient.
24 – Stress kills slowly and silently. Reduce it by taking a break, a walk, reading, writing, or something else. Don’t do too much of any one thing all the time. Try to find balance in work and play.
25 – Music in any shape or form helps everything.
26 – Stop and listen. A clear mind is open to ideas.
27 – Keep it simple. Show up and do your best.
Certainly, there are many moving parts to our success in pushing the envelope of what is possible, how fast we can go, how far we can push, how much we can take to exceed our previous attempts. Fear and anxiety, and our capacity to overcome them, are key. Physicality, mental toughness, preparation, are all important ingredients that separate good from great. In addition to these, however, is technology and some say it is disrupting the integrity of competition. Some disagree, saying it is only driving us to greater heights, faster times, higher achievement.
Over time, technology has played a deeper and deeper role in the overall performance of what athletes are capable of. From the obvious gear-driven needs, wants and wishlists of the elite, trickle down conventions that change the game, literally, for the masses.
Consider any sport, from skiing to basketball, race car driving to swimming. Each and every sport is touched in some way by technology, even if not visible on the surface. Doping affects the metabolism of athletes, allowing them greater lung capacity or overall strength and endurance. Biological, chemical, and mechanical technologies are playing key roles in competition now, whether we like it or not. Have they always?
There are many examples to think about. Just in my own lifetime, the introduction of instant replay changed everything. When Speedo introduced Shark Suit technology, the swimming world was turned upside down, while records were being broken by larger-than-ever-margins. Likewise, the ski world has been revolutionized from long, stiff skis like the Volkl P9s of the 80′s to today’s parabolic designs that accommodate all-mountain competition, which means one pair does it all: bumps, steep and deep, or GS. Whatever you want. Radical. Radical? That’s not really radical anymore. This is radical.
While all of these advancements are cool, they are each and every one moving closer and closer towards the same question, I think:
when will it open the conversation for a complete and total permissive class of competition, one that allows for any and all-out enhancement, whatever the risk or cost?
Imagine a class of competition in every sport like open classes in auto racing where anything goes. What would that look like? The most radical and extreme would compete against each other, offering a true spectacle. With Olympic and pro athletes already pushing the limits of what conventional rules allow for, such a thing may not far away. Ethics could play a role but – ticket sales often trump them.
So imagine we are there now. What would it look like? I imagine a sort of International Race of Champions (where each driver races the exact same car), for every sport emerging where each competitor is offered the same enhancements and technology. Imagine each takes the same performance-optimizing drugs, suits up with the latest state-of-the-art gear, modifications, etc. Then, these humans compete in exactly the same vein as the original IROC drivers. Let them modify to the hilt and go for it. See who comes out on top in every sport imaginable. Some would argue it’s already happening but only behind the scenes. Who knows?
It was discontinued in 2006, but in each of the IROC races, each driver had the exact same car: same chassis, same engine, same modifications, same tires, everything. So, in the end, it came down to the drivers. A great driver never blames the car.
You’re a ghost driving a meat-coated skeleton made from stardust. What do you have to be scared of?
Buddhists sometimes meditate on the vision of their own corpse. Imagine that for a moment. That this whole thing is temporary, accepting the inevitability of death is an act of courage that opens life up to even more capacity for joy by basking in the fleeting nature of it. No one makes it out of here alive, as Dad says.
How counter-intuitive. Perhaps that’s why I find this particular assembly of words so motivating and beautiful.
Buddhists also believe the soul never dies. Giving in to the impermanence of the idea of life, at least in the sense most of us think of it, is incredibly liberating.
With so many of our loved ones passing on in front our eyes, it helps to bend the days thinking in a more conducive way, thereby approaching, processing, and getting on with what we have left of it.
Keeping fear at bay is a life pursuit for most of us. Fear is the mind-killer. This phrase that so conveniently spread around the internets over the past year has brought me much comfort, not to mention, something to meditate on. What is left to fear when the odds of such an odd combination of forces have converged to give me even just a quick passage of life here on this strange, blue planet.
We have no idea what we are doing here, really, so there is no manual, no proper-way, no right or wrong way to do anything we do. We are pioneers falling, spinning, floating, on a sphere within a sphere, within a sphere, stuck to this particular sphere by gravity? All the while, inside, a ghost of some kind drives our meat-coated skeleton made from dust fallen from the stars? Really? What do we have to be afraid of?
Building things is an existential endeavor. It takes mettle. Mettle requires an optimism inherent in the doing. It is the spirit within which the work is done that makes something great and powers said mettle. It is a self-powering process that feeds itself forward.
My new favorite form of building is taking an idea that is not so good off the start and making it great. Spending so much time these days playing with a 2-year-old, I notice how much better I am getting at letting him lead the play, come up with the ideas, and then we build on them. This is not to say he only comes up with not-so-great ideas. Quite the contrary. His ideas are generally incomplete, mostly. He is the perfect collaborator for this. He has no ego in the way, yet. In fact, he’s a little idea machine. His ideas just need a little help being shaped is all. That’s where I get to come in.
Puppet shows are a good example. He will choose a toy. Lately his favorite is Dora, followed distantly by “Country Bear,” a stuffed bear who talks only with a Southern accent. He will start it off, chatting them up. I will wait and see if it sticks. Sometimes he’s only into it for literally a few moments. If it sticks, before we know it we have a full-blown puppet show going on behind the couch and the stories get pretty far out there. He’s two so anything goes but the atmosphere we create feels more improv than toddler’s play space.
Any process of creating an unassuming atmosphere is pretty much a perfect approach to any problem-solving scenario. I think back on some of my experiences in various fields and recall how I solved this problem or that. It is clear to me that what is really going on here, what this sweet little boy is teaching me, is showing me how to collaborate in a new and highly effective way. I have always been a pretty playful type when it comes to solving creative problems but this experience has gratefully taken it all to a new level. It has less to do with control and more to do with building trust through fun and letting the idea meander – even if it isn’t particularly interesting at first. In short order, it will turn into something playful and fun and then the real rubber begins to hit the road.
Figures Plato would say something like this:
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
As grown-ups we tend to glob onto specific ways of doing most everything. The more we age and the more we get set in those ways, the less magic we allow into the whole experience, perhaps, because we begin to start thinking we have seen it all or have run out of interesting new ideas. Who needs new ideas?
What I mean is, I remember when this little boy first showed up. I was frightened that I would run out of ideas. I honestly did. I can clearly see what I was looking at when I thought I would most definitely run out of cool things to do and say and teach this little life. What a bunch of malarky – number one – but number two is the best part. Number two is: what about taking an idea that is not so hot and slowly, intentionally making it great? That’s where it’s at. Let the not-so-awesome ideas come out. What a great framework within which to build something that is truly great. Intentionally start with an idea that isn’t awesome? Talk about taking the pressure off.
Not so sure why I was ever so afraid of sharing ideas that were less-than-stellar. Now, thanks to the influence of Little Mister New to Everything, I have a new perspective on how to approach building things, creative work specifically and problem solving in general.
That’s how it’s done.
The French have a phrase for the set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes that operates as a unifying force within society. The term was initially introduced by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his Division of Labour in Society in 1893.
They say it like this: conscience collective (imagine saying it with a French accent).
It is difficult to debate.
What we do not know is so much more interesting that whatever it is we think we do. 1000 years from now, or even 100, most of what we spend our resources proselytizing will likely be laughable. We may very well be the barbarians of our age.
Still, we keep trying. The interesting thing is how discoveries seem to come in droves.
This idea of collective consciousness is interesting to meditate on because suddenly, out of the blue, things happen. Songs are written, innovations are made, similar ideas proclaimed all around the world simultaneously, that resonate a common feeling or notion or sudden awareness, need, or desire. There is no empirical formula for it or words to describe it.
When an artist hits a nerve, for example, we might pay close attention on personal, professional, emotional, and physical levels – levels even that we do not currently acknowledge or know of. We can know what we know. We can know what we don’t know. We can also not know what we don’t know. I digress.
These movements must happen for no uncertain reasons, influenced by some inertia, a motion of thought or experience or longing? The unseen has properties. Even more interesting is how these collective notions, or trends, are noticeable to only a very few, in turn inspiring innovation across contexts, industries, and cultures.
With the uprooting of business culture, the seemingly overnight arrival and continuing emergence of technology into our lives that has rendered many illiterate, including markets and cultures shifting in HUGE ways, the rising of underdogs and rallying of Dark Horses around the globe, it may be no surprise that certain songs, paintings, films, literature, spawned in a certain way, are all birthed from a collective feeling, a united yawp.
In the end, an interesting question might be: has art always foreshadowed the future in some esoteric language?
Recently, some educators I work with asked me what I thought the most important skill children can learn is. The question came to me in the context of technology, as I am responsible for technology operations and integration at a private school in the city of Chicago. I try to answer these questions as best I can and in the context they are asked. This is a huge question, one that transcends technology, and my off-the-cuff inclination, which was to say simply, “collaboration,” was not nearly going to cover it. My answer involves much more than that.
Perhaps it would be useful to provide some back story regarding why I do not default to a pro-technology answer in these situations, as is often the expected result from the folks who ask them:
From my perspective, technology just as easily gets in the way as often as it provides solutions. I realize this is not the type of outlook most “tech people” have but I can safely say I am not a bona fide “tech guy” for a couple of reasons. First, I was not formally trained in technical sciences in the traditional sense. I was instead self-taught through experience in various fields and my own tinkering. I learned most about systems and theory by trial and error in tandem with the good fortune to be mentored by some very smart and talented people who were not all technically fluent (though some very much so). Second, I am fortunate to have worked in multiple disciplines and sectors in unique technical capacities, in heavy adaptive, integrative, and creative contexts.
Being steeped in interdisciplinary use of these tools shaped and now informs my perspective in a refreshing way, specifically where and when tools are assets and/or obstacles to a culture, both in the short and long view. In other words, I have seen, and continue to see, the same patterns over and over again. These patterns do not always move as solutions where and when technology is involved, but you don’t have to take my word for it. We get in the way with our cultural choices more than we think.
Therefore, my default starting point is typically from a place of questioning revolving around existing tools. Are they working? Where? Are they failing? Where? Are they capable of more? Could they be modified in a way that would empower the culture to solve their challenges out-of-the-chute? If not, what additional level of complexity (the addition of tools, perhaps technology) can be leveraged to provide a solution that produces enough improvement to warrant a shift (displacement, really) of the working culture?
In other words, technology is the easy part. Designing, architecting, and implementing these tools is rather trivial when compared to integrating them into a culture. That is the real challenge and knowing when and where disruption of a culture is necessary in order to move it forward and where to allow it to grow without such invasive intervention is a tough call, requiring multiple perspectives in order to formulate the clearest picture of what the advantages and disadvantages will be, across contexts and disciplines.
What we are talking about is problem-solving here, in its simplest and also most complex forms. It is a process, but one that is less about technology and more about people. The most critical skill in designing and creating these solutions, and enabling the people we designed them for to be able to use them most effectively, is recognizing strengths in others. Bending the tools to the culture, rather than the other way around. Design is being present and mindful of the user.
For example, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant a change we make to a workflow is, we can always expect a certain level of push back from the culture within which it resides. Leveraging the strengths of the team is the key ingredient to success in any case. Empowering others to do their very best work, making them feel more comfortable being themselves, is non-negotiable in regards to radical changes (and, let’s face it, any change will be perceived to be radical) to any culture.
Through illustrating this, demonstrating this for our children, we can rest assured that we have done and are doing everything we can to instill in them this idea. By helping others succeed, we, too will succeed. In the end, perhaps, is this more a conversation about building community than integrating technology or teaching a specific skill set? Seems like the best teams do this without thinking about it – the goal is clear and when we are playing at it in earnest, the machine fires on all 16-cylinders and next thing we know we have accomplished more together as a whole than the sum of each our individual parts.
So, this has been a long way of answering the question. To put it simply, I suppose I could have just said:
some of the most important skills we may be able to teach our children are related to the art of alliance and how to recognize strengths in others. From a leadership standpoint, this is about finding a solutions-oriented approach to challenges that include everyone in the group. Such an approach gives the group, and each of its members, a sense of purpose. Purpose builds a sense of belonging and ownership in the work and thereby empowers everyone to do their very best work, regardless of the context.
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, why there are so many TED Talks across contexts regarding collaboration. Some great inspiration there.
Okay, so it may be cheesy to write like this, to point out my own gratitude for access to the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, all of it, and all of the things, minutiae, we seem so gifted at overlooking. Days like today, however, find me beside myself having met someone who is without one of these and who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, gifted with other ways to experience the world, and who reminded me that, of all the senses, there really is only one – touch.
Dash and I were at a framing shop getting a gift made, looking, touching, and talking about all the woods, canvases, and colors within, when a woman’s voice said, “Your son has a beautiful voice – you two have a most delightful bond” (complimenting this poppa’s little boy is certainly a sure way into his heart). We had the most amazing conversation. She was an artist who, after experiencing and living through a horrible car accident, had suffered brain trauma that left her without a sense of touch. Our conversation meandered in and around the senses, their value, and what comes of the absence of them. Especially touch. It is the only sense, really.
Touch is the light that graces the back of an eye, illuminates the retina, blankets cones, sends messages along the retinal nerves to the brain, all neurons firing across networks of touch, which become our perceptions. Likewise, vibrations wiggle inside ears against drums to give us our perception of life through sound. Taste is touch, too. Everything, in the end, is.
Experience is the move. The move to a new understanding, a motion towards a richer perspective. We spend our lives chasing it, striving to open up new opportunities for it, while surrounding ourselves with those who have it. A simple thing shrouded in a complicated skin, we crave it. Like water, we want to sit by it, live next to it, walk along it, sail across it, swim in it, drink it. Be it.
So many things contribute to the quality of our experience. Our choices in friends, careers, and habits are shaped by our interests and desires, which are likewise shaped by the friends, careers, and habits we allow into our lives. The cycle is fascinating and seemingly both within our control and without it at the same time. Perhaps, that’s what makes it such an elusive yet tangible thing all at once. The best things seem to work this way. A combination of choice and fate at work all at once. The simple wrapped up snugly in the complex.
Those of us with great experience generally tend to take it for granted while others seeking any at all wonder how to obtain it. A wise woman who mentored me once shared her secret to gaining experience, while ensuring its quality. She said,
Listen closely to the perspectives of someone who has not done something before. Their perspective is still fragile and open to influence. When we have experience, we tend to close our ears to amateurs, thinking we have a grasp of a skill or trade. Amateurs have an advantage in the potential of discovering things we missed along the way. Amateurs may in fact have much to teach us. Experience alone doesn’t optimize opportunities for innovation and discovery. Only openness to experience can.
Excuses. This is a meditation on excuses. Since it is, I am going to write it in the first person so there can be no mistake. I am not writing about you. I am not writing about your mistakes or your ability to justify them. That is your own business to choose to face or cover up as you like. I am only writing about excuses and my own concept of and relationship with and to them. If you hear a voice talking about you, that is all you. If that is the case, perhaps you may go write your own meditation on the excuses you make. I make no excuses for myself here. I admit nothing, other than I have an interest in and commitment to growth, which involves being honest about things like this. This is an exercise, not a fact.
I sometimes make excuses. To myself. To others. For myself. For others. Out loud. Quietly, inside. Consciously. Unconsciously. In an effort to avoid guilt or accountability, small or large? I am sure I have done this. To justify reasons for not wanting to do something? Sure. Why is making excuses so easy? Why do I have to actively and consciously shape myself against doing it? For example, I might justify my mistakes with anecdotal rhetoric that has nothing to do with accountability or resolving it. It may take me much longer to find a solution to something, directly proportionate to how much time I waste crafting an excuse that I am comfortable with. As I age, I am much more interested in solutions than excuses. Excuses rob me of learning experiences. In all fairness, though, I do not want to unfairly make excuses for writing about excuses.
What I find interesting about excuses as I age is this – I make less of them on my own behalf, as that is an active and intentional choice (why else would I be writing this?), however, I find I make excuses for friends and family as much as ever. I have only a few friends who I can speak to genuinely and tell them they really fucked up or really came through or whatever, on-the-level. Most of my casual pals are not interested in hearing it. That is okay, though, as I age I am becoming more and more tuned into each person’s comfort level. I used to do the intelligent thing. Now, I am far more interested in doing the kind thing (except in the case of challenging myself with meditations like this). Likewise, I sometimes make excuses for my family and the way they process big life events, ones we share and their own, personal ones. As a workaround, these days I have daydreams about conversations we might have about them, supporting each other, crying, screaming, laughing, evolving. Growing. I have courageous conversations with myself about them and answer their questions in the same honest and compassionate way, without resistance, without any push back against who might be “winning” or handling things better than who. I tell them how I might imagine our hangups inform each other, whether through sophisticated genetics or simple, emotional ties. In the end, we are remarkably clear about things, even as it is only an exercise in my own imagination. Why didn’t I think to discover this years ago? Certainly no surrogate for the real thing but, in lieu of that, I appreciate it if only for a chance to send them love and support in some unseen, though no less valid, way.
I have made excuses for people I once loved with all my heart who made their own mistakes of betrayal, abandonment, or isolation. I will likely not have such courageous conversations with them, either, so I have them in similar, imaginary settings. I do this for the selfish motive of uncovering more excuses I have made and, in doing so, also uncover beautiful memories. Sharing these with them is not possible but it is my reward for the exercise. Perhaps that is what makes it such a mythological ritual, this meditation, uncovering, a reverent matter intended only for myself in a certain visceral time and space. I make some silliness in the midst of it, too, as it goes, just as I might were it happening in reality. Silliness is the mechanism which works best to deliver wisdom. It is how I get through to myself. In these conversations, I uncover the excuses I made for things big and little. In the end we apologize, and wink at each other. They always end well. Funny what happens when courage is combined with accountability.
I care about what my people think and how they feel. I sometimes do not know I am helping others make excuses. It is my goal to be more aware of this. I want my people to feel good and confident and not take their insecurities out on me or abuse me as a form of affection. I realize that this is an expression for some, especially those who have endured the schisms of others for too long. It is easy to become desensitized to what is acceptable and constructive. I do not give myself permission to return that abuse as intended, no matter how they may attempt to bend, confuse, or move me into those patterns. For example, I might gently ask why someone has apologized for something out of their control. I will nudge them but only show them the door, not kick them through it. Still, I will not make excuses for making excuses helping any of them move further down a road we all may know leads back to the beginning of ugh.
I am as honest as I am able to be about this life: the roads I take are of my own design. No one makes me do anything. There are no victims in the matter of making excuses. Should I choose to not stand up for myself, that is my choice. Should I choose to make an excuse, I cannot blame anyone ex post facto for my lack of will. I can only move forward more aware of the possible outcomes of not being true to these thoughts, having experienced fully what that means in the moment and into the future. Excuses are informal fallacies of reasoning. There is simply no excuse for them. This is one of my resolutions this year, to continue being mindful of excuses and their overhead. I suppose that is why I write this. It will be interesting to revisit this in a year’s time. Meanwhile, Happy New Year.
I have aging, in part, to thank for the magnitude of gratitude I feel this season. I have enjoyed getting lost in the light of the holiday while doing an informal inventory of the things, people, experiences, and notions that have shaped me. There is something about getting older and becoming more comfortable with traditions, pushing back less and less against the angst-filled days of Gen-X-dome. Each year I age, it seems I am arguably more able to see and feel gratitude for the small things, the rituals of time that move us to slow down a bit, consider our situations, and simply be grateful. Rituals that encourage such things have great value.
Still, not to make too much light of it, getting old is a drag, no doubt. The sadness of the loss of youth does not get easier with practice. However, on the upside, can aging make us a bit more keen to be grateful and feel gratitude as the temporary nature of this life becomes more clear? Easy thing to recognize? Perhaps not for everyone. Bittersweet? Definitely. Profoundly so. It is this new “muscle” that seems to be getting plenty of exercise at this point in my life – feeling gratitude for such small notions. So, it is my hope and prayer for everyone I love that you, too, may find yourselves lost in the light of your own flavor of it this season.
For this humble narrator, there is gratitude for the new experiences and people that contribute to every insight, as I am certainly not single-handedly responsible for any of them. Spending time alone in new places, among new people, being challenged in new ways, diving deep into that experience with a minimum of fear and expectation, and generally allowing myself to enjoy the startling current of this river of living in earnest, are all ingredients that make for some mighty satisfying living. Though not easy, such intense, life-changing experiences sometimes enable us to reconnect with ourselves, again, for the first time in a very long time.
It can be easy to give up too much of ourselves, our self-identities, especially when trying to build something new, whether in our work, our love, whatever it is that gives us satisfaction in our lives. Especially when the giving or trusting are not returned in kind, it is still okay. Should it fail, we can rebuild again. And again. Isn’t this what children are so adept at? Is it why we get so much satisfaction watching them at the shore building sandcastles only to stomp them down and then to rebuilt them again, and again? Is the stomping, like the building, a sort of gift, even as it may be a counter-intuitive one? Is the stomping an equal and opposite reflection of the complimentary gifts of vulnerability and forgiveness? In this context, is it simply that sometimes we trust and it just does not work out? It does not mean we stop trusting. Or trying. Building. And rebuilding.
These ideas and questions are but small parts of the gratitude I am basking in this season.
I am grateful for the past year of challenges, for all those who have been lost, those who have been gained, and those who remain. None of these are greater, of course, than a certain little boy, who has taught me more than any single mentor so far in all my life. For new giving me so many things, like new steps towards understanding what mindfulness is, my sweet son, I owe you a lifetime of gratitude and service, something more than I can ever repay you. Thank you.
This is all just a long, drawn-out way of saying – Merry Christmas to all our friends and families. May the next year bring you all closer to your own hopes and dreams, and find us all, once again, basking in the light of gratitude.
A kiss on the cheek, for example? Is a kiss on the cheek the highest form of affection? When not used to say goodbye forever to a former friend or lover (or some other manipulative manifestation of power), does it come without agenda and without expectation? Is it a gentle gift that expects no return squeeze as a handshake? Less demanding than a more passionate kiss, does it offer affection more freely? Or as in a hug, does it transmit more to the receiver as a one-way offering of love? A one-sided hug is a sad thing. A kiss on the cheek, however, as a one-way-street-sort-of act, is solely a gift from the giver?
Regarding quotidian realms: there is always time and space for a kiss on the cheek? Aboard a crowded train? Or bus? In a tight seat on an airplane? Quickly in passing in the kitchen? In the hallway? Without contract for some greater or escalated lust or consummation? From behind the receiver in a flickering moment? It requires the receiver not even feel the transmittal of love and communication? It is, unto itself, a selfless act of giving?
Is it always flattering? In a crowd? Or an empty room? In private? Or in public? If it were a fruit, it just might be as perfect as a banana (like that one, there), comes as-is, in-and-of-itself, as a self-contained, tidy little gift of sustainability – of love, life, and grace? Is it the only form of public affection (besides hand-holding) always accepted both in the contexts of morals and ethics? Have I ever heard anyone mutter something negative about witnessing someone give another a kiss on the cheek? Is it a gift of presence? Of being in the moment, grateful, and unashamed to express it? Perhaps a singular mode of unselfishly expressing our love for someone in the moment we feel it most?
What a simple and superior thing.
Grace Murray Hopper was born on December 9, 1906. Before she passed away on January 1, 1992, “Amazing Grace” made significant contributions to the way we use computers today. The Hour of Code, a part of Computer Science Education Week, is held in her honor each year.
Grace was a pioneering American computer scientist who set milestones for many to follow. For example, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, devised by Howard H. Aiken, built at IBM and shipped to Harvard in February 1944. It began computations for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships in May and was officially presented to the university on August 7, 1944.
While engaged in this work, Grace developed the first compilers. Compilers are important to this day because they are responsible for translating human-readable code to machine languages that computers can understand. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with creating terminology still in use today, such as popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (inspired by an actual moth removed from the computer). Debugging is a methodical process of finding and reducing the number of bugs, or defects, in a computer program or a piece of electronic hardware, thus making it behave as expected. We use this term to this day in all kinds of contexts.
Her accomplishments are far too many to list. To honor her achievement, both as an early technologist and as a Navy Rear Admiral, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as was the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC. There are dozens of books written about her, too, as perhaps an expression of our collective gratitude for a woman who contributed her life’s work to the collective goal of moving humankind forward.