The other day, I saw a bunch of headlines about the death of Boris Berezovsky. I guess he was some important Russian who fled to England, and I mourn his death the way I mourn the death of any person. To quote John Donne,
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
I looked through the local obituaries to see if there was a recent death around here with which I could compare Berezovsky's death; the death of an important person to those close to him, to those involved in mankind, but stripped of all the intrigue of a Russian Oligarch. Each obituary seemed both too close and too distant at the same time.
There is enough going on in my life right now, so I didn't write anything. Then, I found out that my boss' wife's grandfather died on Saturday. It was not unexpected. He had been in hospice. The family had gathered around him during his final hours, unlike Berezovsky who appears to have died alone. The wake is today and the funeral tomorrow, but I couldn't juggle the schedule to be there.
So now, it is evening. Kim is off at an event. Fiona is working on homework, and I am checking in on my connections on social media.
On Alan Jobe's Facebook timeline, I see a message,
Alan passed away 3/25/13 of a stroke at 7:50 PST.
I know he told me a lot how he loved having so many friends on here.
Alan and I have been friends for a long time. We were friends on Facebook, Twitter, Empire Avenue, EntreCard, and I suspect several other places. We had a lot of friends in common, mostly people who explored EntreCard and Empire Avenue. Yet, I never met Alan face to face, just as I haven't met many of our mutual friends face to face.
On the 21st, Alan put up a blog post, Gay As Hell or Where’d My Audience Go?. He reflected on how he has had more interaction at other times, and how things like 'mission inflation on Empire Avenue' may have affected his traffic. Several people stopped to write saying they were still there, still reading, but not interacting as much for one reason or another. Others stopped to write about what was going on with Empire Avenue.
So, I pause to say yet another goodbye. I'm too late for him to have read my comments while he was still alive, but I hope these words will mean something to the members of my online community that were friends with Alan.
I continue to keep my connections with Alan on all the social media sites where we were connected. It is the right thing to do.
It is chilly this morning, sitting on the deck of the Cape House. The sun is out, but has not crept around to the porch. The wind has died down a little bit, but it is still a March wind. The leaves rustle, and a collection of birds sing. A week or so ago, I wrote about the song "In My Own Little Corner" in the musical Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Like in the music, the theme comes back around, not like an earworm, but a gentle reminder.
My memories of the television production of this musical are that the first time this theme is introduced, Cinderella is sitting in her own little corner, finding a moments respite from the constant demands placed on her. There is something special about flights of fancy, but they can be hollow.
Last night people gathered around various media devices. The kids were watching the Kids Choice Awards on a laptop in one room and the adults were watching Diving with the Stars in another room. I sat with them briefly to be social, but much of what is broadcast these days seems more like bread and circuses, than even flights of fancy.
I returned to my little corner and thought of the redux of "In My Own Little Corner". Instead of being the diversionary flight of fancy from when the theme is first introduced, the second time Cinderella sings it is mournful. Her flight of fancy of going to the ball has crashed. She is home, alone.
This occurs right before the Fairy Godmother appears. We all know the story and what is about to happen next, but for the character of Cinderella, at that moment, all that is known is disappointment.
It feels a bit like Holy Week. Today is Palm Sunday, The Sunday of The Passion. We start off the service celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Yet as we remember the week, the crowds turn against Jesus, shouting, "Crucify him!". Judas betrays Jesus, and Peter denies him three times. We all know how the story goes, but like Cinderella, Peter and the disciples don't know what comes next and it must be agonizing.
I am caught up in dramas and turmoils of my own right now. It is of a much smaller scale than the trip to Golgotha. I don't know what will happen later this week, and it is frightening. Will the Fairy Godmother appear and make things better? Will there be a crucifixion or resurrection? What about many of my friends that are suffering through all of this together with me?
Next week is Easter. Already flowers are popping up amidst the snow on the Cape. There may be another storm or two yet to pass, but it will be getting better.
The sides of the road were covered with fresh snow. Clumps clung to the branches of the scrub pine trees. It was a spring snow, damp, thick and heavy; the sort that doesn't stick around for long. The pile on top of the old osprey's nest resembled a giant white bowler and the houses along the highway looked like cliched paintings bought in the tourist art galleries in Hyannis.
These are the paintings of Cape Cod in the Winter, with heavy layers of white zinc oxide oil paint. The sky above was a clear post-snow storm light blue and the pond in front of the house was a colder darker blue.
This was not the typical summer trip to the Cape, with anticipation of six days of laying on the beach, listening to the waves, soaking up the sun, and excitedly looking at some whales, seals, or other sea creatures that happened to visit our little stretch of warm sand. Nor was it the emergency trip, to a funeral or some crisis. Instead, it was something in between.
It would be a three day weekend at the beginning of spring with the extended family. It would be a brief respite from ongoing litany of recent crises. It was an inconvenient time to go. There were several burgeoning crises and others still in full bloom that needed to be attended to. Yet the whole extended family would be there and I knew that I needed at least a little time to decompress.
Even so, I was heading out late, alone. Kim and Fiona had already left the morning before, but I couldn't manage to take as much time as they were taking.
Before I left, I visited Librivox; a website where volunteers read books in the public domain, mostly from Project Gutenberg, and share them for anyone to download. I had a collection of short stories and Virginia Woolf's third novel, Jacob's Room, which I had loaded onto my cellphone. I listened to them the way others listen to books on tape as they drive. A volunteer from Richmond Virginia named Amber intoned, "This is a Librivox recording. All Librivox recordings are in the public domain. Jacob's Room, Chapter 3, by Virginia Woolf read by Amber; Richmond Virginia"
I've always loved Virginia Woolf's writing, and as I listened, I wondered how much her voice has changed mine. I listened to the short stories and thought of more ideas for my own writing.
Now, it is Saturday morning. I look out the windows of the beach house and see the white caps on the bay. Much of the snow has already melted, but there is still plenty on the ground. I remember, years ago, hearing Angelica Garnett talking about life in the Bloomsbury Group. It is a whole different story which I often tell, and should write down for my blog. I believe she was talking about Virginia Woolf, but she may have been talking about Vanessa Bell, who would be the first one up and stare quietly over her cup of coffee. "I have done with words, how much better the silence, the coffee cup".
But now, the youngest of the Fallon tribe have awoken. They are sharing stories from some novel and talking about shopping in Provincetown, so my time of quiet writing time has come to an end.
It almost feels as if I haven't had any real time off since we went to Cape Cod last summer for vacation. Since then, there has been the campaign, my mother's death, storms, the Health Leaders Fellowship, and plenty of things to deal with at work. Yes, there was Christmas, like Dar Williams sings, "a long red glare shot up like a warning". I worked on Middnight on Main for New Years Eve. At least I got to see Dar that evening. Since then, I've take a few days off here and there, to go to a funeral or to help clean out my mother's house, but that's been about it.
So, here we are as Lent leads into Holy Week. The vernal equinox has come, and hopefully we will soon be done with snow until next winter. At church, we have a pick-up choir, often doing fairly simple pieces so anyone can easily join in. But, for Good Friday, we are singing part of Heinrich Schutz's St. Matthew Passion. It is probably the most challenging piece I've sung since college and for the group of singers gathered, I'm probably the least accomplished. It is a stretch, but it feels good. The section we're singing fits well with Good Friday, as well as my Lenten contemplations.
So as I sing Schutz, I ponder poetry. The start of spring brings several poems to mind:
"Nature's first green is gold", Frost wrote and notes it cannot stay. Wordsworth talks about "a host, of golden daffodils". He goes talk about thinking about these daffodils when on his couch he lies "In vacant or in pensive mood."
Yeats "will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree". There, he will "live alone in the bee-loud glade". Yet for me, one of the first poems that caught my attention over two decades ago was Sea Fever by John Masefield. "I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…"
I remember reading this poem in fifth grade and deeply feeling that sea fever, that longing to return to a peaceful simpler time; a time simpler than all the trials and turmoil of fifth grade. Tomorrow, before the crack of dawn, I shall head out to The Cape, "if it's fine tomorrow". My thoughts turn to Virginia Woolf's James Ramsay as he thinks about heading "To The Lighthouse". "These words conveyed an extraordinary joy".
My mind drifts to H.D., to her Sea Rose, caught in the drift, and her pointed pines of the sea. But I am tired and my mind is drifting. If I want to go to the lighthouse, or make it out to the Cape in good time, I'll "have to be up with the lark". This time, Virginia's Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway comes to mind, "What a lark! What a plunge!"
Last week, I attended another session of the CT Health Foundation's, Health Leadership Fellows Program. (As an aside, applications for the class of 2014 are due April 1st). For me, a few different themes came together.
The first is the four stages of competence. In the first stage, we are unconscious of our incompetence. We don't know how to do something, and we don't recognize our lack of knowledge. The next stage is being consciously incompetent; we discover what we don't know and that we need to work on. The third stage is being consciously competent. After we work on a skill for a while, we master the skill, but we still have to think about it as we do it. The final stage is becoming unconsciously competent. The skill has become natural, effortless.
I tend not to think of myself as a leader and when it comes to leadership skills, tend to think of myself as in the first stage. Yet the program has caused me to rethink some of my views on leadership, as well as the skills that I have or wish to develop.
One of the most important areas of this is what I like to talk about in terms of intent and impact. When I write, when I try to work on something important to me, too often, I don't think about the intent. I am unconscious of my intent. On the simplest level, too many of us live lives of quite desperation, where our only intent is to get food and housing, to make it through the day, through the week. Yet shouldn't our lives be more than that?
Then, if we do get in touch with some greater intent, do we actually have the impact we were hoping to have? How often do we ever even know the impact we're having?
I think social media provides a good example of this. So many people working in social media intend to build audience. They look at how many followers or friends they have, how many hits their websites get, maybe even how many times something they say is shared or retweeted. Yet that isn't really a meaningful intent. It also leads to those trying to be more intentional in their use of social media not to focus as much on impact as perhaps they should. If I am being intentional in my social media activity, why do I want to get distracted by hit counts? I'm spending much more time trying to determine the intent of my social media activity, as well as other activities in my life, and then try to find out if the impact I'm actually having matches up with that intent.
This takes me to an aspect I thought about a bit during this month's Health Leadership Fellows gathering: What are our values? How often do we really think about our values? How do they relate to our intent in our various activities?
In a discussion leading up to the session, a few of us talked about how people's values don't always match their actions. In politics we scream at others for being hypocrites, claiming one value and acting in a different manner. I mentioned the saying that if you really want to know a persons values, take a look at what they like or post on Facebook.
However, perhaps the accusation of hypocrisy is overdone. Perhaps it relates back to the four stages, not knowing our values and not acting on them, knowing our values and but not acting on them, knowing our values and acting on them, and ultimately getting our values and actions so inline that we don't think of our values as we act them out.
Another way of looking at this is thinking about our values, what we believe internally, and our commitments, how we actually act. Consciousness, competency, intent, impact, values and commitments; all of these are ideas that I'm exploring further.