April 2007


April 30th, 2007

I could have been a school shooter. Maybe if I had been molested as a child. Perhaps if my father had physically abused me instead of only using me as his on again, off again, verbal punching bag. Perhaps if windows of my car had been busted when it was T.P.'d and egged. Perhaps if instead of being ridiculed by the jocks in front of the front office I'd been beaten and left behind the school. Perhaps only a few more abusive nudges to one side or the other and I would have been the kid in the school with a gun in my hand.

Today I learned about a book called Nineteen Minutes, which I plan to begin after work. It's a fictional account of a school shooting. While reading an interview with the author I found that she'd done a great deal of research before committing pen to paper (or is more likely the case, fingertip to keyboard). I learned about one of the Columbine shooters, how a psychologist had spent some time examining the boys and culture at the school. Since that particular school had security cameras in place he was in the unique position to view the boys in their normal day to day activities.

In particular he'd viewed a tape of one of the boys walking down the hall when another student pushed him out of the way. The soon-to-be shooter's reaction was passive. He did not react, he did not lash out, he did not say, "Hey, please watch where you're going." The psychiatrist's comment to this event was that it was so common to the boy's experience that he didn't have to react. It was normal.

As an adult I wouldn't take kindly to someone shoving me and can see myself demanding an explanation. Yet as a high school kid I can in all honesty say my reaction was identical to the Columbine killer's. Nearly every day I was pushed aside by a "jock", sometimes violently, sometimes not so much. At the very least if I passed a row of them hanging out by the office they'd be sure to remind me how terrible my clothes were or how I'd never get laid.

After years of being bullied one learns that the safest course of action is to silently put up with it. Any other reaction can and often does lead directly to physical retribution.

I recall, for instance, being stuck between two guys in middle school gym class. You see, during role the coach would have us line up against the wall in alphabetical order by last name. Murphy's Law, being what it is, had me square between these two jocks who were fit and spent much of their time weight training and there I was, the skinny little nerd boy, and when the coach turned his head I'd find myself getting the wind knocked out of me by two sets of fists. Coach turned around, the violence would mysteriously stop.

Being of sound mind I didn't want to be beaten but at the same time I knew that if I went to a teacher to complain the two would simply find me after school and triple the violence (in an ironic way the gym environment forced them to limit the beatings). So being an eccentric kid I asked myself, "What would Gandhi do?" He'd experienced a hell-of-a-lot worse than I was so I thought okay, I'm just going to launch my own peaceful protest and not give them reason to abuse me any farther. So day in and day out the two would wait for roll call then proceed to knock the wind out of me and each time I'd stand up and look straight back into their eyes without saying a word.

Three days later they simply stopped.

As an adult I find it ironic, if not sad, how children are permitted to treat each other in ways that as adults we'd be tossed in jail for. One questionable phrase I've often heard is, "Boys will be boys". I really don't understand this mentality and it strikes me as anathema that adults, who should be role models for appropriate behavior, make excuses when children act abusively towards each other.

My daughter, for instance, had a best friend that was terribly manipulative, dishonest, and emotionally abusive. This friendship went on for years and I would talk to my daughter about how it made her feel. I would ask her where she wanted to put her personal boundaries and make it her responsibility for defining those. Eventually she said enough was enough and though difficult, I was proud of her for making the decision to walk away from a friendship that brought her more grief than joy.

A few days ago her old friend rode up to our house while my daughter was out. When my daughter returned home I said the friend had been by and my daughter's reaction was understandably one of anger. "She's a jerk," she commented. I responded, "That may be true but it seems like she's trying to make a peace offering. If you're going to be angry at her for something she did in the past then you're stuck. Do you want to be stuck like her?" I encouraged her to see the peace offering for what it was and open the door to the possibility of a new friendship. Somewhat reluctantly she got on her bike and rode over to the other girl's house. She arrived there to be told, "I don't like you at all but I wanted to know if you wanted to play,"--the kind of statement I'd come to expect of this little girl--but my daughter had made an important step in living a life of integrity by recognizing an open door and being willing to turn the other cheek.

I'm proud of her for that.

April 23rd, 2007

Took a power nap Saturday. Three or so hours starting around 5pm and ending at 8pm. Not sure if I slept so much as dreamed. I dreamed and I dreamed and I dreamed.

My first dream was a nightmare. As is typical of my nightmares I found myself surrounded by people who weren't hearing me. I don't recall the specifics, only that I didn't much care for the dream and wanted to get as far away from it as possible.

I then found myself in a strange hypnogogic state as I lay on my back. I remember consciously thinking I didn't have to have a nightmare. What other dream might I have? I examined the other possibilities as if they were slides, click, flying dream, click, sex dream, click, working dream, click, walking through high school naked dream, click, spending time with friends, dream, click, click, click.

What I settled on is not so important is that my subconscious mind was aware that it had a choice. Did I want to be frightened? Elated? Happy? Sad? Perhaps for the first time in the dream state I recognized I had a choice, that my reality wasn't something I had to experience simply because I was already experiencing it or because it seemed to make some kind of rational sense, but that it was liquid and could change according to my wishes.

For years I have known this consciously. What a gift to recognize it while asleep!

I am slowly awakening to myself.

April 21st, 2007

The Naming Of Cats
- T. S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

April 20th, 2007

I woke a little late the morning of Thursday May 21st, 1998. As with most mornings the first thing I did was check my e-mail where I found a somewhat curt letter from my partner asking if I'd go to Subway, get a sandwich, and take it to her work. I didn't give it a second thought as I knew her job could be emotionally taxing, especially if she was having a bout of low blood sugar. In no hurry I took my long morning shower, brushed my teeth, dressed, then headed down 13th to the Subway by the UofO then walked across the street to the hospital where she worked.

I entered the public relations office and stopped in my tracks. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, and I found myself ready to get the hell out of there. There I was, a blossoming psychic empath, and something told me I'd just walked into a field of death and my first thought was that a school bus full of elementary children had been hit by a train. Little did I know a few hours prior a young sophomore at Thurston high school had gone on a shooting spree and my partner at the time was doing her best to field hundreds of news media calls so that hospital staff could focus on their job, saving lives.

Thurston, then Columbine, and now Virginia Tech, school shootings have always had a substantial emotional impact on me. I've seen the depth of emotion, shock, and sorrow of friends and family. I've observed the morally contemptible behavior of our sycophantic media. I've watched as our culture attempts to make sense of something as abhorrent as this.

And I feel great sadness.

At the time of the Thurston shootings I was working for a computer gaming company called Dynamix. We made games for younger folks such as 3D pool and train set games. We also designed what are known as "First Person Shooter" or FPS games such as Starsiege, for which I wrote the multiplayer levels, and Tribes, which is now one of the most popular Sierra games available.

Immediately after the shootings the "blame game" started. It was Kip Kinkel's parents who hadn't raised him "right". It was the psychological establishment and school that hadn't responded to the "clear" warning signs. And it was those damned violent video games.

Needless to say companies like Dynamix fielded a fair amount of flack. Having worked in a gaming company and played plenty of violent FPS games in my day, it frustrated me to no end the blame being pinned. We were an easy target and as the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine demonstrated, there were plenty of other easy targets people took pot shots at but no clear, resounding answers.

I encourage you to take fifteen minutes and click on the following link:


Therein you will find pictures and short biographies of the thirty something people that were murdered at Virginia Tech this past Monday. There you will find thirty something families that were impacted and their friends and co-workers and…the number of people impacted by one person's decision number in the thousands.

In my humble opinion there is one name missing from the list of victims: Seung-Hui Cho

It may shock some to hear that. I don't mean to say that in any way Seung-Hui's actions were justified; frankly, if there is a definition of "evil" his actions are just that. But he is a victim. His mind was poisoned by anger, by hate, by sadness, and a need for "justice". Like all of us he experienced suffering and yet can you imagine suffering so badly as to violently retaliate against those you believe have caused you pain and misery?

Although I haven't made it a priority to keep up with all the news this time around there are themes I see in all the shootings. In each there are one or more young men who are often described as quiet, weird, or outcasts. They grew up in the same culture as you and I but with two differences: first, they did not have the same social support systems you and I take for granted and second, they were so accustomed to existing on the fringes of the social worlds they inhabited that their ability to accept support from others had become retarded to the point, in some cases, that they were incapable of accepting something as seemingly simple as friendship.

I want you to imagine that for a second.

Imagine you're having a bad day and your best friend gives you a hug and your emotional reaction is revolution. Imagine you're walking down the street and someone smiles at you and your first thought is, "What the fuck are they so happy about, those lucky bastards who don't know what it's like. They just want to screw with me like everyone else." Imagine what it would be like to always have the opposite response, the negative one, the self-destructive one. Then imagine that you don't want to be this way, that you want to be able to internalize the love and support of others, but there's something in your heart eating away at you, turning every smile and compliment upside-down and backwards. Imagine living with that mental aberration for a month, a year, a decade.

Seung-Hui's, like the others, has been villainized. Instead of understandings his writings and videos they were first called diatribes and later the fancier sounding term "Multimedia Manifesto" was ascribed to them. People have described him as quiet, yes, but also as weird, dark, and uncomfortable to be around. So I have to wonder, in a culture so quick to judge and ostracize those that are different, that are drowning in suffering, and that are trying to express their pain in the only ways they know how--how can we justify our judgmental behavior as "normal" or "healthy". We're not listening to those who suffer from the mentally debilitating effects of being a minority of one.

And when a minority of one, a Seung-Hui, heard about the Columbine killers he found people he could identify with. He couldn't with his poetry teacher who was not unknown to criticize his clothes and even throw him out of class. He couldn't with his drama class who described his writings as morbid, sick, and confusing. He tried, he failed, and so he did what any of us would have done, he looked for a sense of belonging by empathizing with others who tried and failed.

America is perhaps one of the most disassociated communities in human history. We have huge cities, amazing transportation, radio, television, the internet, and a melting pot mentality (most of us, anyway). And yet in a city of a hundred thousand people it's somehow easy to find oneself alone, without friends or companionship of any kind. What does it say of our culture when there are so many of us but so many suffer from the effects of social poverty?

It may sound trite but we're all in this together. We are a culture. We are a community. We are responsible for all our joys and all our sorrows, our successes and our failures. It's time to listen to the suffering of those like Seung-Hui Cho, learn from it, then ask ourselves who we can reach out to today.

April 17th, 2007

I remember seeing a movie in the 80's about a man with a facial deformity. Although I remember very little about the film besides the extreme prejudice shown against him I recall him meeting a girl who had been blind since birth. Since she couldn't see his face she couldn't judge him hence he found acceptance. At one point in the film she asked about colours and to explain red he handed her a hot object and to signify white he handed her something cold. I remember thinking how creative this was and though she'd never truly understand what red or white looked like, she had a feeling for it.

Explaining intuition leads to similar difficulties.

Say you sometimes have "visions". What does that mean? Does that mean you actually see something with your eyes? Do you see them in your mind's eye (what we might otherwise call our imagination)? Say you sometimes hear voices. What does that mean? Are the voices are real as listening to the radio? Say you have gut feelings that are always right. What distinguishes them from other "normal" gut feelings?

For thousands of years psychics have clothed their skills in the beliefs of the cultures they've found themselves in. The Oracle of Delphi, for instance, existed as a center of prognostication for hundreds of years. They had their own beliefs, business system, and what have you. Various pagan groups throughout the eons had different ways of viewing their gifts. Some saw them as gifts from the gods, others as skills passed down from mother to daughter, but always, always some sort of belief system to explain something that, at least to my mind, is not something science is even remotely close to explaining.

Today we have a whole new set of beliefs to explain psychic phenomena. Some psychics, for instance, claim the gift of prophecy handed down by the Christian God, others might believe they're able to communicate with spirit guides, others believe they're given messages by angels, while others believe they're simply tuning into the Akashic Record (a spiritual record of everything that's ever or will ever happen in the universe). Every belief system helps explain the unexplainable, it helps those with the gift feel certainty by having some kind of explanation for why they see the universe in a way most others don't.

I don't have a belief system. I don't know why I can read people like books or know when people close to me are thinking about me. I don't know why I sometimes know that the phone's going to ring in two seconds and that such-and-such is going to be on the line. I haven't a clue the rhyme or reasons behind the visions I sometimes have--they often seem random and irrelevant. I don't know why I sometimes just "know" something and then it happens, exactly the way I'd envisioned it.

I'm constantly questioning. I don't know but I'm curious, I want to know what's behind all this wild and wacky stuff, I want to know not just so I can understand, so I can explain it to others. I don't know how to explain it! I mean, how do you see the colour red? Did you think you were going to wake up one day and learn how to see red or did you just recognize that the roses in the garden by the house happen to be red?

I don't choose to see the roses but if they happen to be there, how can I help but notice their colour?

April 10th, 2007

I sometimes fantasize of retiring and moving to some forest retreat up in the mountains. Maybe, I think, I'd move up to the Grand Titons where the winters would snow me completely in, force me to live by a campfire until the spring thaw. I'd live a simple, quiet life reading books, going into town from time to time for the necessities, but otherwise enjoying my sunset years surrounded by nature.

I've come to recognize that though I may one day pack up and move to such a place it represents an escape, my own personal fantasy. You see, I don't feel like I've ever quite fit anywhere and sometimes…oh, there are days…where I feel like an absolute screw up. This mountain retreat is a fictional place that pops into my mind when I feel that I can't say or do the right thing, when I feel I don't have any answers to some of life's struggles.

And I do wonder. I wonder if I was just too different growing up to find a place for myself in a world of strict social boundaries. I wonder if my twenties were just so dark that the lessons I've learned have made me impossible to relate to. I wonder if I'm just too different to do anything but blend in for a time in one place before moving to another to blend in again. I wonder if I'll work hard, ride my motorcycle, and die alone.

I don't have all the answers. I have some of them but…it humbles me to know just how much I don't know. You'd think being psychic would make a difference but no, having a few random visions and insights here and there does not make a complete picture. And so I bumble along, maybe more so than I should, trying to find my way, trying to find my voice, trying to be helpful and loving while remaining true to myself. Why does life need to be so complicated and so hard? What is there so much suffering or more to the point why do we cause ourselves to unnecessarily suffer when we could be laughing and living and working and playing?

Why am I not always able to make that seemingly simple choice?

April 9th, 2007

Today (or as the case may be yesterday, depending on when I publish this) I spent two hours working on a bookshelf. I've had this project in mind since moving into the house. I mean, there's a staircase and under it an empty wall screaming for a bookshelf and it wasn't until last fall that I got up the courage to begin ripping through the sheetrock. Yet after making that big hole it just sat there and for whatever reason I didn't get back to it. One weekend my parents would be over. The next I'd be Christmas shopping. The next I'd be so exhausted from the previous two weekends I'd call an "Aslynn Time Out" which I used to sleep in, catch a movie, and read a book.

Being a highly visual person I spent many an evening going through the designs in my mind. At first I had planned to simply tear the drywall down. Instead of taking down the existing supports I left them up and planned to simply line them with 1/8" planks of hemlock. Yet something never quite felt right and I knew that cutting those 8x10" boards would be a nightmare on the table saw, even with Vipassana helping me guide the wood. It wasn't until someone with a great deal more experience with home improvement looked at the project with a raised eyebrow and asked, "Why don't you just take those beams down?" He continued, "They're not holding up the staircase, that's what the 2x4's are doing right there. You should just build the shelf then slip it in place."

It seemed reasonable but I'd already about nearly $100 of hemlock which I didn't want to go to waste. I hemmed and I hawed until I realized the hemlock could serve another function, the wainscot I wanted to build into the living room walls after completing of the project. Oh, I hate waste and was enormously happy to recognize what I could do with the wood.

So I knocked down those four "support" beams and had my daughter jump up and down on the stairs to insure they'd be stable and then breathed a sigh of relief. Then after buying my new-old car I went on another trip to Lowe's where I picked up half a dozen 8"x6'x1/4" planks of hemlock which I brought home and then again, made a few excuses over a few various weekends until enough was enough and I went started to build a foundation for the shelf to rest on.

And then I hit another road block. You see, whenever engaging in a home improvement project I like to be prepared and as such want to have all the right tools. Yet, as so often has happened, I realize the tools I have are sorely inadequate to the project at hand.

Case and point: the table saw. Here I had grown up using a table saw for little pet projects (one of which was to build a soap car racer with my dad) and I'd just assumed it was the silver bullet of all tools. It cuts short pieces of wood, long pieces of wood, and I also use it as a routing table. To date it's seen me through a dozen projects so when I took that 6' plank into the garage to cut an angle on one end I was shocked to recognize the inevitable, that guiding a straight cut on such a long piece of wood--to use a handy-man pun, "It just wasn't going to cut it."

I should have known better. You don't use a hammer on a screw and you don't use a screw driver with a nail. Each tool has its function, an important place in the tool box. One cannot be a carpenter without recognizing the importance of not only having a full tool box but also using the right tool for the job at hand.

And what I needed was a miter saw.

Oh great, I'm thinking, this project just keeps getting more and more expensive by the minute. And I'd never used a chop saw before. They seemed simple enough but I knew next to nothing about their use, what functionality to look for, quality, or what have you. What had I gotten myself into?!

A few weekends ago I was again blessed not only by being the host to someone with more experience than I, but also someone who worked daily with a miter saw building cabinetry and other necessities for those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. So I told him my problem and asked if he'd be kind enough to join me on a trip to Lowe's and he agreed. A few days later we went down and looked at about nine models starting at about $100 and going all the way up to $700 or so. We examined several models before recognizing that the $250 De Walt was one of the few with a 12" blade capable of cutting 8" planks, which was the most basic requirement, and having a great deal of admiration for De Walt products he said it'd be something that would probably last me all my life.

Good enough for me.

Two days later this new fangled machine was assembled and sitting on the table saw. I picked out some junk wood and he demonstrated the different ways to make angled cuts, how to use the saw safely, and what other things to expect. I thanked him and then mentally planned my attack over the coming weekends. First, I'd cut the bottom, then the top, right, and bottom sides.

And then I was stuck. Again!

Here I thought I'd solved the problem but no, I had more decisions to make. In particular: Would I assemble the frame in the garage then slide it into the wall or would I screw the planks in place one by one? The latter seemed to be the easiest route but then on doing some board placement I quickly recognized doing this would 1) prevent me from securing the top piece without the screws showing and 2) since the 2x4's already part of the house weren't perfectly measure there would be slight (but significant) discrepancies inside the top right and left corners of the book case. Option 1 it was.

With Vipassana's help I used the chop saw for the first time a week or so back. Cut outside of the frame. Simple enough. Now it was time to cut some miter joints in the base and to do that I'd have to use my Craftsman router which I'd been dreading for some time.

This is my first router. I bought it about three years ago at Sears having never used one before and have completed a number of projects include a pine shelf which is hanging in my bathroom above the toilet. I've enjoyed that bazillion things I've learned to do with a router but must admit, the thing scares me. Many a time have I broken a wood bit to hear it shoot across the room like a piece of shrapnel (yes, I always wear eye protection and wood working gloves). But it wasn't that, no, I'd learned to use it with more skill and when using smaller bits had gone from the el cheapo models to the more expensive titanium counterparts (what can I say, I prefer not to end up in the emergency room with a bit in my scrotum!). It was the fact that the more I used the darned thing the harder it became to adjust the drilling depth to the point that…

To the point that this last Wednesday or Thursday I went out to prepare to make four simple, straight forward 1/8th inch joints when I found I couldn't adjust it at all. It wouldn't budge, it was stuck. I slammed it against the table saw to perhaps free some sawdust out. No luck. I took the entire thing apart to clean it. Still no luck. Finally after about forty five minutes trying to get an otherwise perfectly working machine back into working order I gave up.

The reality was unavoidable: I needed a working router. The other was too: it would cost money. I thought about my options for an afternoon. I might, I thought, go over to my next door neighbor who was highly skilled and had even built a workshop outside his house but no, I knew this was a tool I used from time to time and it had its rightful place on the workbench. So there I was, back to studying. I tried Craftsman a few times and frankly, I wasn't terribly happy with their designs--I mean, sawdust gets in power tools and if power tools aren't built to handle this they shouldn't be sold!!! Off to Lowe's again, off to check out a De Walt that actually came apart so the adjustable parts could be easily cleaned, off to purchase something I knew professionals used. Off to get something that would last a lifetime, as long as I took good care of it.

Back home I greeted Vipassana and a friend who were sitting on the floor talking about Reiki and tarot. I called my daughter in the garage and we proceeded to break the new router in, careful cut by careful cut, until the bottom board had two straight grooves separating it into thirds and then…oh, and then I did something really stupid!!!

On each end I cut a 1/8" notch for the left and ride sides of the shelf to fit snuggly into. Little did I recall that I'd already cut those boards assuming at that time that there wouldn't be a 1/8" notch for them to rest in. End result? The boards were both 1/8" too short!

Fuck a duck!

Well, couldn't be helped, I'd made a few mistakes and they were all just learning experiences. Would I have enough wood to make up for the mistake? Maybe.

Today I spend my afternoon in the garage again. My daughter helped me cut out two new boards for the left and right most sides of the frame and I was able to salvage one of the old pieces for a shelf support. All the pieces seemed to fit nice and snuggly on their own but the true test was having the frame slide into the wall!

Out came the power sounder, vroom, vroom, vroom. Left, right, top, and bottom, sanded down to a soft finish. And then the real work began. I started by having her hold the right piece to the base on the floor of the garage. She held the small square to these while I drilled pilot holes then secured the pieces with 2.5" screws. Next left side and finally the top! Finally, after too many months of excuses, inexperience, not having the right tools, and what have you, we lifted this trapezoidal hemlock frame in the air and my next thought was, "This thing'd better fit in the damn wall!"

And it fit like a glove!

A dozen screws later the top and bottom pieces were tightly secured. The job wasn't perfect. The existing drywall which it was meant to line up with perfectly wasn't perfectly straight and as I'd learned many times in the past: work with what you got. So we got it close, exactly at most points, a millimeter or two off in a few. Then cut the two horizontal shelf supports and just before I was ready to drill pilot holes for the nails that tiny drill bit broke off into the board.

Oh well, nobody's open on Easter. I'll get one tomorrow (or today as the case may be depending on when I publish this).
Morals of the story:

  • If you engage in work with the wrong mindset you'll make bigger mistakes than you might otherwise make.
  • Take time outs when you need to. There is no rush.
  • Your original plan is not always the best one nor the one you're required to follow.
  • Be open to expert advice. They're called experts for a reason.
  • Plan ahead, expect to make mistakes, and be capable of adapting to circumstances.
  • Always use the right tool for the right job. This can't be forced, the tools know what they were designed for.
  • Don't beat yourself up over setbacks. Hell, there are no setbacks. There's just a goal and finding the best way to get there.
  • Accept help when necessary.
  • Take it slow.
  • Keep it real.

P.S. Easter pictures are up on the Visions page for those interested.

April 8th, 2007

I'd like to take a moment today to pay my respects to someone who was a huge part of my life many years ago, my then mother-in-law Debbi Hammond. I've put a memorial together which I would like you all to visit when you get a chance.

Debbi died a few years back from cancer. I knew her for nearly a decade and as so many said at her memorial I can't get her crack up laughter out of my head. It was wonderful and could fill an entire football stadium. Though I only saw her a few times a year I can say that she was an extraordinarily loving soul. How could I say this? Fifteen years ago I suffered from a deep suicidal depression which gave everyone reason to judge me and yet she never did, not once. I was always welcome in her home, I was always given a broad smile and a hug, and completely fucked up or not I was family, damn it, and she'd just give me warmth. She accepted me for who I was, where I was at; never did she ask me to be someone other than I was. I didn't have to be happy for her to pat me on the shoulder, I didn't need to be positive for her to have a positive attitude, I was just me and she was just her and it was perfectly acceptable for us both to be who we were without changing anything. Many a time we spend on the couch or in the kitchen bantering back and forth. Wherever she was at, that was home and somehow she had this magical spark that allowed everyone else to feel that way too.

I really loved the hell out of that lady. And that's just the kind of soul she was: amazing. She accepted everyone, she loved everyone, and she was there for everyone. Few I can honor by sharing such words.

It's been a long time in coming but I honor her now.

P.S. And yeap, I'm probably one of the few not to have a complaint about my mother-in-law. Just an all around spectacular person. What else can I say?

April 7th, 2007

Thursday nights growing up were Cosby nights. The whole family would huddle in close around the digital campfire and enjoy a story that spoke to young and old. No, we didn't live in the city, no we didn't have as many kids running through the house, and no, we weren't black, but we were a family and we could laugh with this fictional family that we had many a thing in common with.

Sometimes I miss those days where things were simple, where we just sat down to watch and we laughed when we laughed and we didn't when we didn't and that was all there was to it. We got together to get together, we enjoyed to enjoy, and though we all were watching the same exact thing one of us might react in laughter to something that another might have a soft tear to. And it was okay, that's just the way it was, no judgement, just a family coming together doing what families are supposed to do, that is, be a family.

I don't know where everything got so damned complicated. Was it me? Maybe the people I attract into my life? Or maybe it's just that as a child I saw things more simple and there was a certain health to this view that I lost somewhere along the path and maybe, just maybe, things were more complicated for my parents but they allowed me to believe in the simplicity and certainty and connection in the here and now. Perhaps a growing pain? A recognition, a wisdom? A heart pulling moment of nostalgia?

Funny, I was going to write about how every season they revamped the theme to the show and how we sat in anticipation every fall to see what they'd come up with this time. Guess I sometimes don't write about what I sit down to write about.

C'est la vie,

April 6th, 2007

I recently engaged in a conversation with a fellow programmer who I value as perhaps one of the best technical writers I've met. Their wife, I've come to find, works in a very different industry where having the gift of gab is essential. For her the social niceties and "perception issues" are highly important. Us? We have to work with machines that require highly specialized input to get the output we're after.

Knowing this I asked him, "How do you communicate with someone when your communication styles must be very different?"

Hey looked back at me with a slight grin and responded, "I've learned to just look her in the eye and listen until my eyes glaze over."

I've spent the last twenty years of my life observing how people communicate. I entered college as a psychology major in part due to this fascination and curiosity. I've read countless books on the subject, joined Toastmasters, and have been involved in a number of workshops. I'm constantly asking people about their communication styles and asking for input.

Case in point, this week I was involved in a management meeting to resolve issues on a certain topic. For the purpose of this example let's say we got together to answer a fairly straight forward question: what kind of food are we going to feed the company dog? So the meeting starts out and the question is put forth. Before I knew it one person was talking about how different types of food effect different types of dogs so I said, "While I recognize it's important to acknowledge the breed of a dog when considering food, since we have a border collie I think we should focus on foods that are best for that breed." It appeared this seemingly rational argument brought our conversation back on target but thirty seconds later another person started talking about a poodle they had while they were twelve and how it liked eating table scraps after dinner while another person went on for five or ten minutes about the possibility of getting a dog-friendly cat to keep our company dog company. These tangential conversations went on for a significant slice of the meeting and at one point I was ready to pull my hair out. When there were only five or so minutes left everyone, having apparently seen the clock, mysteriously and in synchronization jumped back to the initial question and after a few minutes decided we'd go with Purina Dog Chow.

Now I'm not a big fan of long meetings. I think a meeting should be focused on a specific agenda and the length of the meeting should be determined by the difficulty of answering the question at hand. In this case the question of dog food could have easily been answers in five or ten minutes and yet for whatever reason it wasn't. After the meeting I went to one of the managers who I respect for their ability to keep people focused. I said to them, "You know, though we finally answered the question we'd initially brought up it felt like we were chasing our tails most of the meeting," to which they replied, "Welcome to management."

Insert personal tangent here: sometimes I feel like I'm in a Dilbert strip.

I then asked how they handle similar situations in their work which is much more meeting intensive than mine. They answered, "You just put aside an hour, let everyone say what they need to say (even if it has nothing to do with the agenda), then make a decision." I was a little astonished to hear this given how effectively I'd observed their abilities to keep people on topic and yet I also recognized they always let people talk (and sometimes talk and talk and talk and talk and talk) and only when the conversation had completely gotten off track would they pull at the chain.

Though enormously effective this is very different from the world of Toastmasters. A Toastmaster meeting is a very structured environment. A certain person, designated that meeting's "toastmaster" leads the meeting and is responsible for it running smoothly. The timer keeps track of how long speeches and other aspects of the meeting take (helping members learn to speak more effectively given a specific timeframe) and other members provide functions to keep the meeting interesting, to evaluate each other's speaking abilities, and so on and so forth. The purpose of a Toastmaster's meeting is to practice communication skills, in particular public speaking skills, in a positive, encouraging environment.

Those skills, however, don't always translate into environments where someone heckles you or falls asleep during a presentation. They don't always help when the person you're talking with has a point of view and they're going to be right no matter what. And they make unfocused meetings even more frustrating because one knows it doesn't have to be that way.

There are no silver bullets to communication except to keep in dialog.

Last year I read a book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. It is perhaps one of the best books I've read regarding interpersonal communication skills. A few of the key points in the book include:

Start with Heart - Focus on what you really want and refuse the Sucker's Choice."

Learn to Look - Look for when the conversation becomes crucial. Look for safety problems. Look for your own Style Under Stress.

Make It Safe - Apologize when appropriate. Contrast to fix misunderstanding. CRIB to get to Mutual Purpose.

Master My Stories - Retrace my Path to Action. Separate fact from story. Tell the rest of the story.

State My Path - Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for others' paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing.

Explore Others' Paths - Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare.

Move to Action - Decide how you'll decide. Document decisions and follow up.

I realized I've just suggested a second book in as many days and all I need to say is I read it once, definitely worth reading two or three more times. Worth a read. And definitely skills I need to continue to work on as many who know me well can attest to.

April 4th, 2007

I have now read three wonderful books by Don Miguel Ruiz: The Four Agreements, The Voice of Knowledge, and The Mastery of Love. The latest of these I read last weekend while heading to and from Walla Walla, Washington, to visit family. As has so often been the case in my more recent life it was the right book at the right time and at the right place.

I think you should read this book but before waxing poetic about the benefits of doing so allow me to admit I am biased. I don't often pick up a book and say, "Wow, that's exactly what I believe, that's exactly what I've observed with my six senses, that is spot on!" but when I do I just want to share it. I want to give it to my best friend and say, "Read this!" I want to buy it as a gift for a potential partner and say, "Here are some answers!" I can, as so often has been the case in my life, become so excited to find something I resonate with and that I see as one piece of the puzzle for building a better world that I feel impatient and I want to share it with everyone!

To summarize the book it's focused on the beliefs and assumptions we make that cause suffering and unnecessary drama in all our relationships (not just romantic ones). Ruiz talks about how many of our core issues, if we're unable to take ownership of them, end up owning us. Instead of love and acceptance we project our fears and desires on others and this, according to Ruiz, is living in a dream. To wake up and experience freedom and joy in our relationships we need to know who we are, take responsibility for our perceptions, and nurture a spirit of loving playfulness not only in our relationships with others but also with ourselves.

Amazon.com describes some of the main subjects discussed in the book to be:

    • Why "domestication" and the "image of perfection" lead to self-rejection
    • The war of control that slowly destroys most relationships
    • Why we hunt for love in others, and how to capture the love inside us
    • How to finally accept and forgive ourselves and others
One key lesson I walked away with: "Don't take it personally".

I remember in high school I used to tell these absolutely hilarious jokes but no one would respond then my best friend would repeat the same joke only seconds later to be greeted by uproarious laughter. I was furious! Not only was the bastard stealing my jokes but he was gaining all the recognition while I, the one coming up with everything, had to simply accept living in his shadow. And not only that, these people, these fuckers, ignored the short, skinny, quiet straight-A student but responded immediately to the tall, dark, and handsome guy. I hated them for ignoring me, I hated the lack of recognition, I hated being so gifted but so invisible.

One day, many years and much pent up frustration exploding outward later, he told me that he was envious of me. He envied my ability to pick up any instrument and just start playing along with the pep band. He envied my ability to pick up any subject without too much work. He envied my quick wit. That's why he always retold my jokes. Yet I still took it personally and it wasn't until many years later where I recognized that he was the only person in the room consistently hearing me, recognizing the value of my humor, and his way of demonstrating appreciation for it was to pass it along in a way others would hear too.

Over the last five or six years practicing not taking things personally has been one of the major building blocks of my personal evolution. If someone needs space, I give them space and I try not to take it personally. If someone needs to call me names and say they don't like me, well, I feel hurt for a moment but I try not to take it personally. If someone cuts me off in traffic I grumble for an instant and then "Poof!" I let it go. Always I allow myself the luxury of being human, of having an emotional response but that response is mine, it doesn't come from outside of me but from within my heart and mind. Then? Then I simply do my best to allow others to be in whatever space they are whether it be happy, angry, mad, distant, chatty, loving, or what have you.

Ruiz did not say this but I think he might agree that we all suffer from a mild form of non-debilitating and non-progressive schizophrenia. Put another way, our beliefs and projections, especially those based somehow in fear, disrupt our cognitive functioning including but not limited to abnormalities with our attention, memory, communication, and ability to perceive an event objectively. We see things that aren't out there but are deep inside our psyche's and we call this "reality". We don't always see what is but instead see what we fear, see what we're used to, see what we're comfortable (or even uncomfortable) with, but we don't, for the most part, see with an open heart that is as pure as a mountain stream.

We can be like that fresh water stream.

I hope that you decide to read this book and gain similar insights and wisdoms from it.

April 2nd, 2007

This morning I woke up at 7:30am to my alarm which is set to National Public Radio. I listened for awhile then got up and took a shower. Usually I continue to listen to the news while bathing but today I focused on the sound of the ceiling fan and the water echoing as it splashed on my shoulders, hands, and the floor. I dressed in silence and on getting in the car to drive into work I listened to the engine, the sound of the tires on the road, and the scream of a police siren as it passed me.

With the exception of the morning alarm I've decided to dedicate this week to silence. I made this decision in part because a movie I watched last night (Babel) that, while intelligently thought out, the level of suffering caused by people unable to communicate or hear each other left me feeling unsettled. So I'm turning off the radios, shutting down the podcasts, and staying away from the tv. I'm even putting aside books, of all things, as it isn't only external silence I seek but the silence of my mind.

And it isn't easy. I grew up with the television. I spent my college years watching it or listening to the radio because outside of class that was one of the few times where I heard human voices. It was comforting. And I liked knowing what was going on in East Bosnia or down in Central America, I liked being informed, it gave me a sense of completeness and helped me better understand the world around me, a world which was much to big for me to go out and completely explore without seemingly infinite time and resources. And I like spending the last hour or so of my day catching a documentary on The History Channel or finding a moment of comfort watching a rerun of something like The Cosby Show just before I hit the sack.

This morning my mind has been racing. There's a huge hole there, a gargantuan silence that it says isn't acceptable, that it isn't ready for this, fill it, fill it, fill my ears with voices! My thoughts have raced through work, through my friendship, though plans for today must do this must do that then must go here then must go there.

And then I stop myself.

I stop myself and I look at my hands. I stop myself and feel the soles of my feet as I walk down the hall. I stop and I smell the lotion I put on my face. I stop and I take a moment to recognize the now, where I'm at, and try to let the not where I'm at slide away.

So hard a day of silence. So long a week without noise. What a challenge. I look forward to the outcome.

April 1st, 2007

When I was a very young child my parents taught my brother and me a bedtime prayer. My mom or my dad would tuck us in every night and we'd put our hands together and pray. I must have said this prayer a few thousand times over my childhood every night before falling asleep.

As an adult the words to this prayer have eluded me. Sometimes when I lie in bed I try to remember them but all I can come up with is, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake…" Then I find myself lost so I make something that rhymes like, "Don't send me to Hell for Heaven's sake!"

And yet though I've lost the words to this particular prayer I've always prayed. Sometimes prayers were all I had. I've prayed for strength. I've prayed for love. I've prayed for wisdom, for understanding, and for compassion. Even now, having moved beyond Christianity, I find myself praying. I pray in moments of happiness for thanks. I pray when I'm feeling lonely, confused, or anxious.

I don't know what I'd do without prayer.

My favourite prayer as an adult is The Lord's Prayer. There was a time, maybe a year or so back, where I said this every night after tucking myself in. I'd close my hands together and wait until I had reached a deeply meditative moment then would walk with the words, one by one, taking in the phrases, allowing them to hold me with their meaning. "And forgive us for our trespasses," I'd whisper to myself, "and forgive those who trespass against us." And then I'd stop for a moment or two or even longer and just let these words sink into my being. What did they mean to my life? How did I need forgiveness? Who should I forgive? And why?

I once read a Buddhist author who wrote an article suggesting that The Lord's Prayer was perhaps one of the most powerful ones a person could say. Interestingly, it was their point of view that the various verses were associated with chakras throughout the body's meridians and that these affirmation helped cleans each. Now me, I don't know a whole lot about chakras but I can say that the words touch every area of my life. They humble me. They encourage me. And they give me hope.

I don't always say the Lord's Prayer. Most of the time I simply find a calm moment as I'm lying in the dark and I look at where I'm at and see what I need most, what I can ask for that makes the most difference in my life and by extension of that the lives of others.

Here is what I will pray tonight:

I pray for strength to overcome my weaknesses and when I cannot the compassion to love myself the way I am.

I pray for insight to better understand myself and bring more balance into my life.

I pray to be more conscious of the lessons I have learned in the past and put them to good use tomorrow.

I pray to be a light to those my life touches at home, at work, and on the street.

I pray for courage when I want to run away and hide.

I pray to gain the wisdom to better use and share what I have whether it be a thought, a word, an action, or something more tangible like money or time.

I pray for peace for me and for you and for the world entire.