Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs

A few months I heard National Public Radio commenter, Scott Simon, talk about Shotgun Lovesongs, a novel by Nickolas Butler. I was taken by the piece and ordered the book from my mobile phone as I had my coffee and a bagel at Brugger's. 

I was drawn to Lovesongs because it sounded like the book was about friendships and place.  I like friendships, especially those that are long term.  I also like "place" as a human theme.

Even before I got my copy of the book, I contacted members of a bookclub that last met over a dozen years ago and told them about the book. One of the bookclub members recommended that we read the book and meet online to discuss it.  

The book was everything that I'd hoped it would be, including good friendships, a strong sense of place, complexity, warmth, surprise, understated heroism, and good doses of redemption. 

Lovesongs is written differently. Each chapter is written in the first person point of view of a character. I had to catch on and I wrote down notes on each character to keep things straight in the beginning. That style takes a while to build a framework for who is who and their relationships. But it works for this book. Once the framework was in place, which was about the first half of the book, the story takes off with intensity. At that point, I couldn't wait to get to the next page.




Thursday, July 3, 2014

Short take: What happens when ...

What happens when a person intentionally tries to treat others better? For example, when talking to a telephone service representative? You know, someone who is anonymous and you'll never deal with again.

It's hard to do so. It's easier to quip back at people, rather than to great the service agent warmly before communicating my concern - even if I've had to wait for 20 minutes to get to a human being. Then communicate my concern, listen to the service agent's response with patience, and then work through what I hope can be done to satisfy or resolve my concern. I've been aware of that recently; and, to be honest, it's worth the effort. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Erosion


I heard a reference yesterday that is sticking with me. It was that erosion was the big threat to a rock. Think, the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.  Subtle.  What happens when erosion happens to the values a person holds dear, or to guiding values? Does one lose something important?  Does one become desensitized? Uncaring? Frightened? Brazen? This conversation can go in multiple directions.

It would be a healthy exercise to recall decision points in life where things went well, or went poorly, and to look at what triggered a good decision or a bad decision, and then follow the thread.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What do you care about?


I came upon a postcard as I walked through London last year that read, “Do I look like a frickin ‘people person’?” I laughed and almost took a photo of the card, but I was too timid to take out my camera.

As I thought about it, I internally acknowledged that I value being a “people person.” Other people – their stories, cultures, struggles and needs – mean a lot to me.

I’ve long felt a moral compulsion to be aware of people on the margins of society. This term might sound demeaning, but it’s meant to identify people who suffer injustice and/or indignity silently, for whatever reason.  

These things are often on my mind.

The theme of caring for the vulnerable runs throughout the Bible. Three classes of people are often cited for special care: aliens, orphans and widows.

Caring for the “weak” is the theme of Psalm 41. It appears that active caring is a requirement for a healthy relationship with God.

A couple of blogs I recently came upon are certainly on my mind - and bring up something that I care about. These are high school students who are dealing with real issues. I care about the kids who write these blogs. I care about kids who are able to share their lives, struggles, hopes, dreams, fears and needs. Here are links to two of the blogs:
StandingUpSpeakingNow and BradRobertBen.

I continue to be inspired by the work of Hudson Taylor and Athlete Ally.

I know that some readers will struggle with these blogs. Yet, these kids are dealing with real life issues. That matters. Thus, I care about them and their lives.

I think that I'll journal on what I care about during Lent this year. Please feel free to let me know what you care about.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Gratitude

A New York Times article said,

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taken Back to School

Even though I was on summer holiday from my job as an independent school administrator, a recent experience took me back to school.

I closed this past summer with a short vacation that included a few days in Prague followed by a stop in Paris. Nick Reynolds, a friend who lives in London, arranged to meet me in Paris since he was also on summer holiday. We share a passion for our common hobby, photography. Paris sounded like an excellent late summer photo opportunity.

We arrived in Paris on the second Sunday in August. I took a midday flight from Prague to Paris. Nick traveled on a late afternoon Eurostar train from London’s St. Pancreas Station. I checked into our hotel before taking the subway to Gare du Nord to meet Nick’s train. We made a quick return to the hotel to drop off his bag, and then we collected our camera gear and tripods and set out to photograph Arc de Triomphe.

It was a beautiful evening in Paris. The late setting sun provided a few hours for us to work the angles as we circled the monument taking photos. The sun set slowly and the cloudless sky changed from orange to blue to black, marking the photographic “golden hours” that bracket dusk to early evening to night. Just after 9:00, lights turned on illuminating the Eiffel Tower in the near distance.

It was a perfect night in Paris and a great start to what would be a brilliant few days in France.

On our walk back to the hotel, even though it was late, we decided to search for a market near Porte Maillot where we could buy a bottle of wine to enjoy in the outdoor patio attached to the hotel lobby. We were not ready to call it a night and there was a lot to catch up on since we live on different continents.

Just as we began to worry if we would find an open market, we saw a man walking towards us with a brown paper bag in hand. That gave us hope that there was a store in the vicinity. Thoughtlessly, I pointed to the paper bag and blurted out, in English, “Where’s the market?” The man with the bag gave me a patient look, made an exaggerated swooping gesture with his free hand and said, “Bonsoir” in perfect rhythm with the wave of his hand. To be sure that I understood the lesson, he focused his gaze on me, eye-to-eye, and repeated, “Bonsoir.” 

I was embarrassed by my bullish lapse in manners that framed me as a not-too-photogenic “American in Paris.”

I got the lesson.

I’ll remember the second Sunday in August 2011 as the night I was schooled by a Parisian who did, in fact, direct my friend and me to a fruit stand market where we bought two liters of water, a bottle of Bordeaux and a basket of strawberries.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Surviving Maine


As a newly appointed assistant dean, and fresh arrival to the College, I was honored when students asked me to be faculty advisor to the outing club. Perhaps, I thought, this means that they will no longer be suspicious of my judgment, as they had been since learning that I moved from Santa Barbara, California to live in Waterville, Maine.

My association to the Colby College Outing Club came with benefits. I had free access to a storehouse of outdoor gear, including the canoe that I checked out to use on the river that ran beside my house, and I could sign up for trips to explore the beauty of Maine. Some of those trips rank among the best in my memory of outdoor adventures. The return hike on Mount Katahdin, the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, included a take-your-breath-away trek across the precipitous “Knife Edge” that traverses the ridge between Baxter Peak and Pamola Peak. One morning’s adventure led to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. We were among the first people in America to see the sunrise that day, since coastal Maine is the easternmost edge of the United States.

A particular spring Sunday afternoon held three adventures that tell three stories of personal survival. That was the afternoon that two students invited me to go kayaking on Great Pond, which sounded like a great adventure since it would be my first time kayaking. Even though we were in open water, we used river kayaks, which are closed hull crafts with a “skirt” that seals the boater in the kayak. Kaj, the outing club president, gave me a rudimentary lesson on using a paddle, and added at the end, almost as an afterthought: “Since we don’t have time to teach you to roll, remember to pull the skirt off your boat if you go over.” With that, we pushed off; I took up the rear as the two students, who were experienced kayakers, led out across the pond.

Kaj’s final instruction proved to be lifesaving because within minutes my kayak flipped over. I was submersed head first in Great Pond without the ability to right myself. My first thought was, “I am going to drown.” The reality of certain death arrived with surprising calm, and with as much emotion as hearing the weather forecast on a sunny day: “slight chance of afternoon clouds.” Then, I remembered Kaj’s lesson, “… pull the skirt off your boat if you go over.” The skirt came off easily, and I bobbed to the surface. I righted my boat when I noticed my dislocated shoulder.

I survived turning over in a sealed kayak, and this story avoids being a tragic tale told by someone else. The students towed me and my boat to shore. We drove to the hospital in Waterville, where adventure number two commenced, since, like me, the doctor on duty had never seen a dislocation, which would make putting me back together an experience of orthopedic speculation. The third adventure followed when we left the emergency room and went to dinner, where I learned not to eat Thai chili peppers.

My years in Maine held many adventures that are, to me, individual stories of grace and wonder. Those stories, however, like survival adventures two and three, will have to wait their turns to be told.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update

I did purchase the trip - well, an altered version of the original trip with a bit more finesse,

I met a former student for coffee who told me about his recent whirlwind trip through Europe - pretty much all of it. He strongly encouraged me to add Prague to my itinerary, which I was able to do since I hadn't finalized with the airline.

Splitting the trip equally between Paris and Prague adds more interest, to me. And, since I'm allowed one stop over in the itinerary, adding Paris as a stop over cost no extra miles for this trip. I'm fortunate that Air France is the partner carrier with my airline. The natural route is Los Angeles - Paris - Prague  - Paris - Los Angeles. The only add on was additional taxes of about $54.

What's the lesson now? Perhaps there's not a simple take away. I'm glad that I acted. I'm also glad that I waited long enough to be able to have a creative option that is more satisfying and interesting than my original plan.


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Monday, July 18, 2011

Not my gift

Spontaneity is not my gift,

I like options, so making a decision takes away options, because I've decided on a path. However, in keeping options open, I miss opportunities.

This sounds like a no-brainer when I put it in writing: loosen up and take some risks. I wish it were that easy.

I did, however, do two and a half spontaneous things yesterday and I didn't wake up today feeling like my life is a disaster.

One: I joined the Bowers Museum. I bought and online membership and visited the museum with a friend yesterday afternoon.

Two: I signed up for an online writing course with Gotham Writing Workshop. I'll begin a six-week course starting next Tuesday.

One-half: I have a reservation on hold to go to Paris next month using frequent flyer miles. I was able to get a reservation on non-stop flights at a reasonable mileage rate. I'll also be able to add on a hotel room, using points, just steps from Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées.

This is where the rub is: I haven't made the commitment to take the trip. I have the time, the cost for the flight and hotel will come to $140.00 and points. A more spontaneous person wouldn't have hesitated.

What's the point of this post? Perhaps I'm making a public statement about how small risks loom large when a person (that would be me) is overly cautious. Of course I'll commit to taking this trip. I'll enjoy my week in Paris and everything will go smoothly. Another outcome, hopefully, is that I'll build more trust in the value that spontaneity adds to life.