From a writing perspective, this month has started off well with lots of material to work with. I'm back in the pattern of at least a blog post a day, and most of them have been lengthy pieces. However, I'm pretty wiped out and don't have an in depth commentary to write. I've also been wanting to work more on my wordcraft, but I don't have the energy for that this evening either, so today will be a lighter day.
This morning, I was still quite tired when I woke up. It was hard to get out of bed. When I did, I went through some of my typical morning social media and then went outside to shovel. We had received about three inches of snow and the cars needed cleaning off and enough of the driveway cleared so we could get out.
They've been doing work on the parkway tunnel, and yesterday, the traffic heading to work was particularly bad. Today, the traffic was light and my trip to the office was uneventful.
I listened to the news, stories about football injuries and some guy who used to do broadcasts recognize amazing parts of ordinary life in California. I tried to get in touch with that perspective but found nothing to grab my attention along the slush covered roads.
The day passed uneventfully. Various political stories I've been following continue to unfold. I should write more on several of them, but not tonight.
Tonight, I shall try to rest, to pace myself, and if I'm better rested, tomorrow tackle something more on the blog.
Every month, I head up to Hartford for a CT Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellows Program meeting and I come away with lots of new questions to think about. A couple key ideas that I've personally been focusing on is being more intentional in my actions and more focused on the impact they are having. At the same time, I'm focusing on being more public about what I am thinking and feeling and the questions this brings up. It is interesting to see how these ideas interact.
This month, we spent some time talking about leadership goals we have and skills we want to work on. There seems to be something very powerful about this, and perhaps it is a good question to start every day with. What leadership skills are you going to practice today? What new discovery will you make?
It reminds me of a section from Winnie the Pooh which is quote in the Tao of Pooh:
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.
As part of our gathering, we did the The Diversity Shuffle.
[The] exercise helps to encourage discussion about differences and similarities within our communities. This can then be used as a springboard for a dialogue about power differences in our communities and how they can be addressed.
It seemed as if everyone in the group had experienced forms privation and prejudice as well privilege and plenty in different ways. Remembering the some of the experiences was painful for some of us at different times. I found the exercise very empowering. I believe that recognizing the full spectrum of our experiences is something that can help us as leaders, as we try to recruit others to work with us and as we tell stories of what we are trying to address. It was important for me that this took place in a safe environment where I could explore my background, my feelings about that background, and think about how it fits with my leadership style.
Two quotes that I often refer back to are, "There but for the grace of God go I", and a great quote from Virginia Woolf, "The only thing wrong with privilege is that not everyone has it." When I think about friends who have led much more difficult lives, I can say, there but for the grace of God go I. I can say the same thing when I think of those with great privilege. Underlying all of this is a fight to get things, too often thought of as privileges; housing, a good education, health care, healthy food, etc., to be recognized as a right, or at least a privilege that everyone should have.
The exercise was done after we had seen the movie, Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In.
The movie is close to an hour long, but it is well worth spending time watching and thinking about. It is so tempting to think about the United States with a mixed race President as being post-racial, but I suspect many of us don't know or fully comprehend the impact of U.S. racial policies in the twentieth century.
One of the big questions that whole day left me with is, what are the policies of our country today that people will look back with horror at a century from now? Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?
Perhaps the biggest lesson is one that we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis, especially as we think about political leaders. Perhaps the real leaders aren't those who think they have all the answers, the real leaders are those who aren't afraid to search for new questions. The Health Leadership Fellows Program is helping me in this search for new questions and I hope these blog posts will help you search for new questions as well.
It was a grey January morning as I climbed into my black 1997 Nissan Altima and headed north; warmer and damper that it should be at this time of the year. It was a Friday morning of a very busy week. Too many nights I had been out late at meetings and up early the next morning for more meetings.
On a good day, the lack of sleep would left me a little more distracted than normal, but with so much going on in my mind from all the meetings, and with the day ahead of me, I was even more distracted than normal. I left a little later than I would have left if I were heading to the office, but still it was very close to the morning commute. I left the radio off to ruminate, to work on composing various blog posts and emails in my mind. I reached for the silver travel mug, full of black decaf coffee. In the coffee cup holders were various receipts, my cellphone, but not the travel mug.
On one trip, even more momentous than this trip, I had left a coffee cup on top of the car. It had stayed up there for miles, several of which were on the parkway. I was on the parkway again, and I listened for by travel mug sliding around on the roof. It was a different shape and if I had driven off with it on the roof, it would probably be laying in the driveway back home. More likely, it was on the coffee table in the living room.
I had about a quarter of a tank of gas and thought about the best place to get gas, and perhaps a cup of coffee. I knew that the further north I got, the less expensive gas was likely to be. I wanted coffee, but just a little, not enough so that I would shift uncomfortably in my seat at the funeral home during the service.
In Greenfield, the GPS on my cellphone said to head north. I knew that the funeral home was to the east, but the best gas station was to the west. I headed west, filled up the tank, got a small cup of black decaf, and then headed east on the slower and more direct route. This was through town and would bring back more memories.
At one point on my blog, I retraced some of William Least Heat Moon's travels using Google Maps, and any blog posts or news stories I could find to create a Virtual Blue Highway. The feeling of blue highways came back to me. There was the music store where my folks had bought me my first clarinet. Down this street was the funeral home where we paid our final respects to one of my aunts. Up this street was a toy store we would sometimes stop at on my way to that aunt's house. I passed a neighborhood where cousins used to live. I saw some of the fancy old buildings, now deteriorating, along the way that had always caught my imagination on my trips to visit relatives.
Heading east on the Mohawk trail, I drove through Gill, past Turner's Falls; another important childhood memory. The words of Wally Lamb came to me, "I know this much is true". I felt as if I was accessing some fundamental truth about myself. I passed the road that headed up to another late aunt's house, past the church where we said our final goodbyes to her, not far from the farm my mother grew up on.
I crossed the French King Bridge. There was no traffic in the middle of this dreary morning. I slowed down so I could get a good view up the Connecticut River. There was the rock in the middle of the river that I had heard stories of my aunts and uncles swimming out to during warm summer days of their childhood.
This is bayt. This is home; not just home as in some suburban dwelling we return to after a long hard day at work, but ancestral homeland; patterns of life inherited; thought patterns, patterns of DNA.
Two months ago was my mother's memorial service in the town I grew up in. We had a nor'easter that prevented me from making it, but many friends and relatives were there. This morning, I was going to the funeral service for her niece, my cousin. I first heard about my cousin's illness during the planning for my mother's memorial. As I traveled the final miles to the funeral home I wondered who would be there.
I was traveling alone. My wife had to work. My daughters had school. My sister would be there, as would various cousins. My mother would not be there, to explain, in her shaking voice who each person was or how they were related.
How are we all related? We are all stardust. Hydrogen atoms fused together with others in stellar reactors lightyears and centuries away, making heavier elements, stardust, which became the building blocks of who we are. Some of these atoms combined into molecules, combined into living cells, passed on from my mother to me. The cells have died, the molecules have moved on, but the patterns remain, in our neurons, in our DNA.
These are the patterns of the lives of my relatives that worked in the tool shops and paper mills in the Connecticut River Valley. My ancestors settled here, having come from the Canadian coast, and stopping along the way in different New England towns.
Northfield, Orange, Athol, Millers Falls, Turners Falls, Lake Pleasant; it is not these towns themselves, but something they represent; hard work mingled with joyful recreation, melded together with compassion for neighbors. It is what makes up our lives, and what we remember when we gather to say our final goodbyes.
The funeral was familiar. The same comfortable words, the same friends and relatives, the same motions. The cemetery was where my aunt and uncle are buried. The reception was at the same community center that hosted the reception after my aunt's funeral, and the family stories told by the surviving cousins were similar stories as have been told at funeral receptions for decades.
I know this much is true, this is bayt, we are stardust.
Rest In Peace, Cousin Linda
When I think about 'The Cousins', I usually think about my wife's brother's three daughters. They are about the same age as my daughter and are the cousins that she sees most frequently. She has other cousins, but doesn't see them so often. We've also talked about first cousins once removed, second cousins and other variations.
Yet today, I was thinking about a different set of cousins; my mothers nieces and nephews. Back in October, my mother died. She was the youngest amongst her siblings and was the last to go. The sons and daughters of Vivian and Dorothy have all passed away. Now, the next generation needs to find ways to stay together.
When my mother died, we learned that my cousin Linda was quite ill. Last week, she passed away, and today we gathered to pay our last respects. The reception after the funeral was the same community club where we had gathered about eight years earlier when Linda's mother had passed away.
With my mother being the youngest in her family, my sister and I are the youngest of the cousins. Linda was ten years older than I and so there wasn't the same sort of connection that Fiona has with her cousins. I remember the trips to Uncle Bud's house when I was young. They had big black labradors and a snow mobile. It wasn't until family reunions much later that I started to get to know Linda better. Much of our connection was around dogs. In her final years, she had a spectacular silver labrador named Lucky; they were lucky to have each other.
At the reception, the cousins were more reflective, reminiscent. We talked about family history and genealogy. We remembered tidbits from family gatherings and artifacts from our childhoods together that still hold special meaning.
There were jokes about having to stop meeting like this (at funerals), references to Harold and Maude, and promises to get together soon. Perhaps most important was the recognition that there is something more that shared ancestry or DNA that makes us cousins.
After college, I moved into an old cinnamon factory with a bunch of aspiring artists in New York City to be a writer. I was most interested in writing poems and short stories. I also had dreams of writing a great novel, but end up writing mostly computer programs.
Fast forward three decades, and I'm sitting in a nice house in suburbia writing blog posts on a laptop computer; a writing implement and genre that didn't exist back in the spice factory days. My online writing style continues to evolve. There have been times that I've written daily, sometimes, not very eloquently, in an effort to hone my craft. Other times, I've just been too busy to write regularly.
I'm starting off 2013 with a good string of blog post, but I've got a busy week ahead. I have to get non-blog writing done for other projects as well.
I'm also spending time trying to find things to inspire me and stimulate my creativity. Yesterday, I ended up on Sarah Kay's Ted talk, If I should have a daughter …
It got me thinking. Should I start hitting some of the poetry open mics? Should I start writing some more poetic blog posts to be read allowed, and then make a video of me reading them which I could share on YouTube? NPR has been doing an interesting series of having poets visit their news room and write poems about the experience and the day's news. Could I do a spoken word poetic news recap, perhaps drawing from other experiments in creative news, from the Daily Show to Autotune the news?
For politics, could I, a former, and perhaps future, political candidate, deliver spoken word poetic stump speeches?
I hope to give some of this a shot, perhaps even today, Epiphany, if I get the time.