Friday, March 30, 2007

The Loss of a World

I spent some time with my Mom tonight. She is disappearing. Or, it might be more correct to say that her world is disappearing. I suppose when it comes down to it, they are both the same thing.
Here are some examples from our conversation.

Mom: Help me out. Where am I now?
Me: You are at Havenwood Mom.
Mom: Really. oh. What city?
Me: Concord. You are in Concord.
Mom: (completely astonished) Really!?! Really?!? Ohhh. I thought I was in
some other state somewhere way off. I'm in Concord? (pause) That makes me feel better. (pause) Where in Concord?
Me: In Havenwood.
Mom: I know that. Where is it though?

Me: On the Heights near Loudon Road?
Mom: Where?
Me: Near East Side Drive.
Mom: Ohhhhhh. Good. Okay. How did I get here?
Me: You turn off Loudon road by the Pizza Hut and Burger King.
Mom: Ohhhhh. Okay. I can't picture how I got in this building though. All I
really remember is this room. And how to get to dinner.
Me: I know.

And so it would go. At various times I would recount the brothers and which one of us have been to visit when recently. On my last visit, after counting off who had been to visit, she said, "Then there is David. He hasn't been here for ages." It took her about 10 seconds to realize that I was sitting in front of her.
I could list off several other examples of how her world is shrinking, both in time and space. For all this, she seems relatively good humored about it. Frustrated certainly, but lately more bewildered, wondering where it all went, not sure why it's happening. She is aware that there is a bigger world, and that she once dwelt in it. Aware that the world she inhabits now is severely circumscribed, shrunk, falling inward upon itself daily. She is unaware of which parts are falling away, and how rapidly.
I sit with her and we talk in loops. When reminded of something, someone, someplace, sometime, she often is able to recall it - for a short while. A few minutes later we loop back around to it again.
I sit with her, and I long will this go on. I think of the woman who hugged me when I got stung by wasps, who told me to go out and play, who fed me for years. I think of the woman who was frustrated to tears when I would not clean up my room, and who cried when I left the house at 18. I think of her reading to me, and teaching me to read, and watching me play, and I watch her now. She is the same person, and she is much changed. She is certainly all of herself and much less at the same time. I'm not sure what to make of it.
I'm not sure what to make of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What to Read?

I tend to read in spurts. There are times where I will have 3 books going at once. Other times I will slam one right after another. Right now I’m in a funny spot where I don’t have a book that I am reading. I don’t like it. Makes me feel kind of strange.
I’m not going to spend money on books right now. Soon certainly, but not now. The library in my small town, as fine as it is, doesn’t really have what I’m looking for. So I find myself poring over my bookshelves to see what is worth re-reading. Then of course, I come across a few things that I own, but have not read. Let's see....what looks good.
For my business, I’ll be re-reading The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
For fun I’ll be diving back into The Histories by Herodotus. Never finished. See how far I get this time. Just in case, I’ll be keeping a copy of Hawthorne’s short stories handy, and a couple of early sci-fi lightweights by Rober Heinlein. Something in there should hold me until I come up with something better.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Three Hundred

I have not seen the film “300” yet, other than the 6 or 7 clips available on Yahoo!Movies. Although I suspect that those 6 or 7 clips probably give a pretty good flavor of the primary themes and direction of the film, I suppose you should take what I say with a grain of salt.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I fully intend to see this film and I’m really looking forward to it. I think it will be a blast. You see, I am already biased in favor. Just thought you oughta know.

At this point, however, what fascinates me most about this film is the way the publicity has been unfolding. In general the critics hate it, the public loves it, and the historians are tearing out their hair.

It seems that the critics hate it because they are, for the most part, complete wieners. They come across as prissy little mommy’s boys (and girls) exhibiting a haughty distaste for what they see as crude, over the top, film-making with a bludgeon, saturated with (gasp) violence, and (even worse) racist and (most horrific of all) homophobic overtones. All the while they make knowing winking remarks about the buff bodies of the Spartans, as if this only proves that homophobes are all homos at heart. Hmmm.

I could be wrong (I’m not) but all such reviewers, the legion of them, seem to have committed the cardinal sin of the literary critic. They fail to judge the film by it’s own standards. Girls! Listen up. It’s a comic book!

When you read a comic book, you judge it by the standards and conventions of comic books. You allow for extreme action, superhuman postures, heroic proportions. It’s all part of the genre. Are women really shaped like that? Well….not most, that’s for sure. Men? We like to think so, but no. Can Spiderman really…? How can Wolverine do that? The simple answer is…it’s a comic book. Exaggeration, bombastic speeches, witty repartee, exciting action – it’s all just part of the fun. If we didn’t want that, we would just read Jane Austen and be done with it.

Their complaint seems to be that "300" is badly done Jane Austen. What they want is well done Jane Austen. Fine. But this is a moving comic book and they just don't seem to like comic books. I have no sympathy or much patience for people who don't like comic books. Their distaste is mostly an affected desire to appear intellectual, high-minded, or both. They do not wish to dabble in the vulgarities. Heroes, they contend, are for fools. To enjoy the heroic is childish.

The masses think differently. It seems the masses long for heroes. Bombast and big muscles have a thrill factor. They appeal to something deep. Not base. Just deep. I suspect that may be the appeal of "300." It is a story of heroes told heroically.

I have a bit more sympathy for the complaints of historians. I heard recently of a high school class that was required to see “300” as if it were a documentary on the Battle of Thermopylae. Hmmm. Not so sure that’s smart. I can see where historians are envisioning everyone from 2007 forward growing up thinking that Xerxes was a hyper-gay super-pierced drag king whose empire consisted of mobs of monsters, freaks and fiends. Of course, he wasn’t and they weren’t. And it’s probably true that many people will be unable to separate the fantasy from the fact.

But, consider this. Now EVERYONE has heard of Thermopylae. Now EVERYONE will remember what the Spartans did there. That is worth knowing. And maybe a few will be inspired by that story to do something worthwhile at great cost. Maybe.
I’ll provide my own review after I’ve seen it. Maybe I’m wrong (probably not) but I think it’ll just be a hoot. I’ve always loved comics.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Well Aimed Arrow

A few days ago a friend asked me a question that was so perfectly timed and so penetrating in it’s nature that it caused me to experience a professional epiphany.

I want to remark primarily upon the experience of being asked, and then answering this kind of question. The context was a conversation about a sales presentation in which I came away with mediocre results. The particular situation was full of potential that I simply did not maximize, and I was not sure why and I was not particularly happy about it.

My friend then asked me what I was focusing on communicating to my prospects. The exact questions was, “What were you pounding on?”

I immediately answered the question with the obvious answer, and then instantly my world did this sort of flip flop as I realized that I had totally missed the boat. I had simply done the same presentation I always did, pounding on making money and reducing stress, which is a perfect message for 98% of my audiences. In this case, however, I failed to account for some significant differences in the way this particular audience would perceive what I had to sell. In a flash, all this was revealed to me by one simple question. These people were much more interested in saving time and reducing stress, but not very interested in making more money. Most of them had that part nailed and certainly didn’t need my help. By remaining in my familiar rut, and assuming that money was the most important thing (even though I KNEW they made lots of money) I completely missed a huge opportunity.

It was such an amazing experience to realize this. It almost felt as if the world truly flipped upside down.

I thanked my friend by swearing at him and calling him a son of a b***h (maybe it’s a guy thing). He laughed because he knew that meant that his question had the intended effect. It is never pleasant to see oneself exposed for being stupid and shortsighted. It is, however, a good thing. He is still my friend, and I appreciate his courage and skill in asking me that question.
The direct lesson will be invaluable to me. The indirect lesson may prove to just as valuable. The elegance of the properly placed and well timed question and change someone’s life. What a tremendous skill to learn. It will be even better, when I learn to ask myself those kinds of questions.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

First Sortie

Why all this talk about dragons?

Let me explain. I believe strongly in the value of systematic personal development. The crafting of a good life is not accidental. To that end, I am always working to become a more disciplined and focused person. I know that sounds really serious and kind of wonky. So be it.

Nevertheless, as part of this process, I occasionally will take time to meditate on the purpose of my life. This, I believe, is not so much something I impose upon myself, as much as it is something that I discover. Over the years, I have gone through several iterations of purpose statements, most of which have been quite banal -- at least in the choice of language. Lots of ordinary words or phrases you might find in thousands of self help books you would find anywhere. For example, for a long time, I felt that my purpose was to "Inspire others to become their best selves." Isn't that lame? Good in concept, but totally lame in expression. My own purpose statement was decidedly NON inspirational. (yawn)

So I decided to bring a little poetry into the equation. An image. A metaphor. Something that would elicit a more powerful and visceral reaction. As I cast about for the right image, I recalled this paragraph from the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Suddenly the image I needed came to me. My purpose in life is the serve others by Slaying Dragons.

A dragon is any challenge, problem or difficulty in my life. It could be a bad habit, a fear, or a circumstance. It could be a financial problem such as debt, or a sudden expense. It could be a problem with a personal relationship. It could be all manner of internal or external circumstances in my life. A dragon could even be simply a challenge I pose to myself, or decide for myself that I will take on. It need not be imposed upon me by outside forces. I can even create dragons solely for the purpose of killing them. Almost all dragons are by definition created by and arise from my own choices.

What makes this click for me so powerfully is the poetry, the imagery of it. The fear, the sweat, the struggle, the combat, the danger, the courage, the triumph. Not everyone's cup of tea perhaps, but I've always been attracted to and deeply influenced by the heroic.

My life's work then , is to hunt down the dragons of my life, find them and exterminate them. I do this for myself, for my family, and for my community.

If this picture seems overly dramatic to you, that's fine with me. It's not about you. Frankly , it fires me up. This helps me when I am faced with a task that I am not looking forward to. Perhaps it is mundane, monotonous, hard, or just NOT MUCH FUN. When I look at it in light of my purpose Then I get caught up in the excitement of what I am really doing -- killing dragons.

I have since added to that statement. to add a more positive element. I have now come to understand that my purpose is to kill dragons and build castles. It is not enough to destroy the obstacles and enemies that threaten my good life. I must build systems and structures that will protect and help my family.

So I am a warrior, and Lord of the Manor. That's a lot to live up to. God have mercy.