Let me be Pan

Any writer will tell you the stuff that comes off their fingertips is an extension of themselves. I’m no different than anyone else in this regard.

Sometimes, though, the connection between the words and the writer’s core takes on a supercharge and runs with scissors through said writer’s soul.  The following passage, from the script I wrote for the original stage/multi-media production, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, was like that for me. So much of what I write is gone as soon as it hits the page. Released. But this passage sticks with me. Haunts me, even.

307425_217342001742923_1654308793_nI suppose the underlying idea and feeling aren’t done with me yet. In fact, the whole reason this blog post exists is because they creeped back in today as I was contemplating a new TV series/pilot I’m developing with the MESSAGES guys.  Well, “creeped in” isn’t quite accurate. There I was, minding my own business and trying to figure out the A plot for the pilot episode, when I was startled by a decisive knock.

So…”creeped in” isn’t quite accurate at all.

Alright…come on back in and make yourself at home.  I guess we got some more business, you and me.

Excerpt from HE WHO GETS SLAPPED script:

The MAN stands at the edge of the circus set, watching the ACTOR stew in his misery.

MAN: I remember, when I was a child, my mother telling me that I could not attend a party for my best friend. I no longer remember the details. Why and whatnot. Memory is like that…

The ACTOR rises and slowly exits through the upstage curtain. At this time (and through the rest of the MAN’s speech) the screen shows a sepia-toned montage of the ACTOR and STARLET as Hook and Wendy from their Peter Pan days…rehearsing lines, falling in love. The MAN watches the montage unfold as he speaks.

MAN: Mostly cloudy. I didn’t throw a tantrum. But I buckled over, wracked with despair. My mother demanded to know what was wrong, and all I managed to get out were these words…it will never come again. A childish reaction, perhaps, but who is more in touch with the unvarnished realities in life than those whose senses are not yet dimmed by the gathering haze?  It would never come again, and the knowledge, the brutal clarity of it, was simply too honest to bear. For in that moment was carried the most profound realization to my young soul–that each moment we live, from our first breath to our last, will only be once. And upon each step we make, the one before it is lost forever.  Is it any wonder we all should not be so affected? Memory is malleable. We can mold it to our heart’s desire. Truth is cruel, and it mocks us as it slices through our souls.

On the screen, the ACTOR and STARLET kiss. The MAN can’t bear to watch it. He moves to the wall, touches the hash marks. He talks to the PROJECTOR as, on the screen, the ACTOR and STARLET snuggle…content.

MAN: Have you invited all these people here to settle a question? Is this memory? Or is it truth? Please…let it be memory. For in the fog, rather than being the Hook, and meet my bloody demise, let me be Pan, and freeze time and preserve the moment…when we loved each other last, before it was lost forever…never to come again.

The MAN falls to his knees, anguished, as the film returns to the screen.

© Please do not reprint or distribute without prior permission. All rights reserved.

Photo: the amazing Jim Coates as “Man” in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. If you need an actor, hire him. If you need a teacher in the Alexander method, hire him. A great actor and friend. http://www.actsup.com

Diamonds are a blog’s best friend

This little orphan of a blog turns 10 years old this year.

We’ve been through a lot together, TRUE LIFE and me. Life and death (literally).  Ups and downs. And more downs. And finally ups. Re-birth and re-re-birth.

Betrayal and forgiveness.

The betrayal is perennially courtesy of me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve abandon TRUE LIFE. And yet, this little blog always seems to forgive me. Always welcomes me back.

I’ve beat myself up over this plenty over the years. I mean, come on! Why wouldn’t I? I am, after all, a freakin’ champ in the guilt Olympics. I can find a reason to feel bad about something I’ve done with mind-boggling ease whether it’s warranted  or not. And I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit feeling terrible about how I’ve treated TRUE LIFE.

And because I am also a gold medal-level performer in avoidance behavior, my subsequent reaction is pure poetry: I simply pretend the blog isn’t there.

Of course, avoidance doesn’t work. Not forever. Slowly, but surely, I am learning that in life. When I avoid things, they don’t really go away like I wish they would. Most of the time, they fester and get much, much worse. And bigger. Then they come back and bite me right on the ass. I’ve lost so many pounds of flesh over the years that it’s a wonder I don’t need a prosthetic ass.

Okay…TMI. You didn’t need that visual. Sorry. Besides, this isn’t about my ass, anyway. And it’s not a pity party.

It is, in fact, a celebration.

Because it only took me 10 years to figure out why this little blog exists. Not bad, eh?

It’s about the learning.

Turns out my brother, Action Jackson, is one clever mo-fo. He’s the one who deserves credit for tricking me into embarking on this clandestine voyage of self-discovery in the first place. And just how did he trick me? The sneaky S.O.B. hid the lesson precisely where he knew it would be most difficult for me to see–right out in the open.

“This’ll be a really great writing exercise,” he said with all his murky clarity. “It’s gonna help you find your authentic voice.”

Huh? It’s…going…to..?

FLASH FOWARD TEN YEARS (Well, nine years and one and one-quarter months, but who’s counting?).

OoooOOOOoOOOOoooohhhhhh.

I always thought running away from TRUE LIFE, coming back to it in fits and starts, changing its poor little name, and ultimately abandoning it was a problem. Now I see that could not be further from the truth. It was all part of the learning. This whole thing–the entire blogging experience–has been an…exercise.

My fav part of one of my fav movies, THE COMMITMENTS, is when Jimmy Rabbitte and Joey “The Lips” Fagan see each other for the last time. It’s the middle of the night, and Jimmy’s walking home, dejected. Wilson Pickett didn’t show up for their show like Joey promised, and the band just imploded. When Joey buzzes up on his scooter, Jimmy lets him have it. To which Joey responds in all his cool, hip and Buddha-like wisdom:

Joey: Look, I know you’re hurtin’ now, but in time you’ll realize what you’ve achieved. 

Jimmy: I’ve achieved nothing! 

Joey: You’re missin’ the point. The success of the band was irrelevant – you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.

I got wrapped up in TRUE LIFE kinda the same way Jimmy got wrapped up in the band. What I thought I was ultimately gonna get out of the experience, namely, (don’t laugh) recognition and fame was soooooo off the mark. But I also wasn’t wrong to dive into the blog with that expectation because there was no right or wrong in the equation. There was only the experience and how it formed me. As a writer. As a person.

There was only the real poetry of TRUE LIFE, and in the end I cannot put a value on its contribution to raising my expectations in my own life, nor on how it helped to lift my own horizons. How it helped me to temper my expectations.  How it helped me to realize audiences come and go and come back again. How it helped me feel not so desperate all the time. How it helped me to modulate my message without sacrificing my voice. How it helped me learn it’s okay to figure things out along the way, even if you’re doing it in public where it feels like one of those dreams where you show up at school or work or on stage buck naked and you worry you’ve made a first class fool/ass of yourself. How it’s okay even if that happens because you live to see another day, anyway.  How there truly is no failure if you’re honestly learning a lesson in the process. How it helped me understand why I write in the first place.

I am not satisfied with where I am as a writer (and I hope I never am), but I am today a working writer in no small part because of TRUE LIFE…and, of course, that tricksy Action Jackson.

So…dear TRUE LIFE…thank you. Thank you for being there for me. Thank for loving me enough to (paraphrasing the most excellent Jason Mraz here) allow me to do some navigating and waiting patiently to see what I’d find.

I found it, thanks to you.

Now…some of you are looking up at the blog banner (look up…yeah, that one) and scratching your heads. A few of you might be smiling in recognition. To those of you smiling…yes, that’s a resurrection of the original TRUE LIFE blog banner from 2003. To the rest of you, feel free to dig back into the TRUE LIFE archives to figure out what the hell that strange tag line is all about. Hint: look early (2003-2004) and look for references to Wil Wheaton. You’ll eventually get it.

I plan on keeping this banner for awhile, and I plan on hanging around my TRUE LIFE again. After all, there are more exercises. More lessons to learn. And more tricks up Action Jackson’s sleeve…I’m sure of it.

Here’s to TRUE LIFE! And here’s to you. Happy New Year, TRUE LIFERS!

Cheers!

POTA-nova: Caesar is home

Those of you who know me personally know one immutable fact: I am a PLANET OF THE APES (POTA for those in the know) fanatic.  The 1968 original officially ranks as my favorite movie of all time, and I am even willing to sit through all four sequels and not cringe…and, in fact, enjoy the experience.

Or…let me put it this way for folks who are a little younger than I.  STAR WARS is STAR WARS, but POTA is my STAR WARS.  Get it?

I love my apes.

I’ve been amazed at how many people have emailed me over the weekend, wondering what I thought about the new RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie.  It’s like when you get dumped or everyone finds out you have an incurable disease.  Everyone sends their empathy and healing vibes…  “What did you think of the movie?  Hope you’re okay.  Love and simians!  [insert xxoo’s or appropriate emoticon here].”

Of course, they all know that I am still not quite recovered from that one thing that happened 10 years ago.  No, not the thing in September.  The other thing.  The July thing.  The re-UNimagining, as I called it as my friend, Mike, and I drowned our disappointment in too many Taco Bell chalupas after wasting two perfectly good hours of our lives exposed to the piece of-  Wait.  I am gonna stop right there.  The pain.  Still there.  Still deep.

When I heard they were making another APES movie, I was angry.  Really.  I know.  Seems dumb, but I was.  People checked in then, too.  Poking around, on eggshells, like they were waiting to hear some diagnosis: benign or malignant?  At that point, I didn’t know.  I only knew I was angry for having to go through the process of finding out sooner or later.

In other words, I was going to have to watch the damned movie when it came out.

As the day drew nearer, I made plans to see it with my family.  Thought I’d make a spectacle of it.  Wear my Caesar the chimp as Che Guevara T-shirt and everything.  Make it a Rocky Horror-worthy experience, ready to ridicule and heckle in equal and liberal measure.

When the day came, though, I couldn’t do that.  That didn’t feel right.  It felt…disrespectful, I guess.  More, it felt like it feels when you’re meeting an old flame for coffee years after a bad break up.  Nervous.  But curious.  Wanting to make a good impression for some reason.  And nostalgic.  And wanting to remember the good things…find some meaning and end things–at long last–on a good note.

So I didn’t see the movie with my tribe.  At 9 AM on Friday morning (yes…there was a 9:15 showing.  Cuh-razy), I forgot my morning coffee time (and my work) and headed over to the local cinema to reunite with my oldest of loves.

And what was it like?

Awkward, at first.  But as I settled into my seat and the movie began, a sense of calm, and then familiarity, and then happiness settled over me.

There are a lot of not-so-great things I could say about the movie.  There is a list in my head of everything that was wrong with the thing.  And it’s not short list.  Its biggest offense is that the storytelling is kludgy.  There are altogether too many moving parts, and the script does an amateurish job of making them function in the same machine.  The engine runs, but it knocks…and it sputters at times.  And blows black smoke out of the tailpipe.  You get the drift.  End cliches here.

But…

The sweet love that Andy Serkis and the WETA SFX folks make to create Ceasar makes it all worth it.

More, what the movie lacks in technical merit, it makes up for in heart.  For all its problems, the movie’s heart shows through, and that, too, makes it all worth it.

The movie has stuck with me in a very good way since last Friday.  And I know I want to see it again.  That’s a good thing.  I find myself pensive about it…contemplative.  That’s a good thing, too.

Mostly, I find myself remembering back to when my friend Mike and I were 10 years old.  That was the year we spent the entire 4th grade year–all of the long school bus rides, all of our sleepovers–planning how we were going to run away and steal a baby chimp from the Como Park Zoo.  We were going to live on our own in downtown Minneapolis and raise the chimp ourselves…and teach it to talk.

We were, to paraphrase Ceasar from CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, going to give our own rise to the birth of the planet of the apes.  Because more than anything, I suppose, we wanted it to be true.  I still don’t know why.  Taylor from the original ’68 movie would probably say even then we sensed that there must be something better than man out there.  I think we were just bored.  And more curious than a couple of shit-kickin’ hayseed kids from the boondocks had a right to be.

The best thing about RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is it brought that memory back to me.  It let me live in that fantasy again…if only for a little while.  Because Mike’s and my dream was the real legacy of POTA, anyway.  To unlock the audience’s imagination and get them to look at the world from a slightly different point of view.  It accomplished that in spades for the likes of Mike and me.

I mean, that’s what a good movie’s suppose to do, right?  Open a door into another world where we can escape.  Where our lives and minds are expanded, or we are at least afforded a measure of comfort.  Both, if the movie’s firing on all cylinders.  For this movie watcher, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did all that.  I guess that makes it a good movie.

I don’t know if we’ve made the difference we were meant to yet, Mike and I.  If our living into this present is doing much to save humanity (which is the implicit message, right?  Save humanity from itself!).  But I think about a Mike and Bill in a parallel universe without POTA, and I am certain those guys don’t fare half as well as we have in this one.  And there’s still hope.  For Mike and me…as well as for the whole world.  And if not, POTA assures us that re-birth and evolution–even the simian kind–is okay, too.

So…simply…I loved the movie.  In spite of its quirks and hitches, it’s a thing of beauty.  And Andy Serkis deserves a freakin’ Oscar this time.

Long live, Ceasar!

P.S.  Ooo!  Ooo!  Yah, yah!

Pop Art Makes for the Best Snuggie

In a January 16, 1957 letter, Richard Hamilton, creator of what is universally regarded as the first piece of “pop art” (Just What is It that Makes Today’s Homes so Different, so Appealing?, 1956), concluded with, “I find I am not yet sure about the ‘sincerity’ of Pop Art.”  If the father of pop art was having a difficult time buying the genre’s legitimacy, it’s easy to see how others in the art work could and did question it.

Yet, pop art not only survived, it’s become a metaphor for our collective consciousness in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.  Why?  Paraphrasing from H. de la Croix and R Tensey’s book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Wikipedia states, “The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.”   The overriding attitudes leading to pop art were the rise of existentialism and relativism–our certainty that there is no longer any certainty, except that we are all kicked off this mortal coil at some point.

Any legitimacy the genre has garnered, therefore, is not from experts, but from a dazed populace whom I believe, took some comfort in a form that at least celebrated the absurdity this clash between our programming (there is an absolutely truth “out there”) and our revelation (all that stuff about there being an absolute truth is bullshit).  To this end, I submit that pop art doesn’t challenge the beholder, so much as it validates their response in the face of this schizophrenic clash of ideas.

Consider Hamilton’s Appealing.  A young and buff adonis stands almost self-consciously in the middle of his pad, a hodge-podge of all the modern trappings of life…including a stripper in tassels and a lamp shade, waiting to party.  The Tootsie Pop he holds becomes a bloated phallus about to explode, and the promise of “Young Romance” on his wall overpowers the shameful glare of the unidentified Victorian man in the painting beside it.  The whole is no more than the sum of its parts…it simply says, “Yes…you feel ridiculous in this life, and that’s okay.”  What makes homes today so different and so appealing?  Now one can laugh at the whole thing–life and convention and decency–right in the face and simply enjoy oneself…because enjoying the ride’s all you got left.

Nothing But Flowers

Legendary economist and social commentator Peter Drucker once wrote, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…a ‘divide.’ Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself–it’s worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions.” He goes onto claim that we’re currently living through just such a transformation.

I believe that postmodernism is an implement in the transformation Drucker writes about. In fact, the very aspects that bring criticism raining down on it–the disconnection, fragmentation, and numbness it generates–are creating a cultural, intellectual, and philosophical clearing that fosters this transformation.

As messages mash together into some relativistic white noise, and the significance of ideas and philosophies reach a point of equal banality, the din will eventually morph into a form of silence, similar to the phenomenon where sensory stimuli of a static nature is eventually tuned out by our brains. Therefore, instead of having a merely entropic effect, all of this postmodern chaos might just help create a new “quiet.”  In this quiet, new ideas, philosophies, and conversations may be heard with greater clarity, in which case, we should be more clearly guided by them (their Marco to our Polo) through the old arrangement and into the new.

In this environment we will, I believe, be guided into a nexus of objectivity.

Today, as I was driving, the Talking Heads song, “Nothing but Flowers,” popped up on my playlist. The song is a testament to this notion. Talking Heads were postmodern poster children, yet bandleader (and Renaissance man par excellence) David Byrne never came off as a deconstructionist or a hedonist. Moreover, it never shocked me as much as I thought it should when he abruptly changed musical genres, from art/pop/punk to Latin world music.  Yet, today is the day I think I finally, really grokked Byrne’s shift.

I think Byrne’s “old” music with Talking Heads served as a tool to desensitize audiences to the inherent absurdity part and parcel with the existential hell we’d created for ourselves. Talking Heads helped us look at all that in way that helped stay our hands from slitting our own throats.  They helped us just laugh at it.  Once we were done laughing, rolling our eyes, or being downright ornery about the whole thing…once we were past our “fear of music,” as it were, we ceased to notice either the music or its underlying messages much anymore.

I believe that Byrne was aware of all this at some level, and he knew that we, his audience, were ready to receive new messages…ones that represented the real things he wanted us to know. He delivered these to us wrapped in a happy Latin beat so we would recognize them as different from his previous messages and connect his new songs to a contiguous stream of thought. “Nothing But Flowers,” a standout track on Talking Heads’ final album, was Byrne’s introduction to this new paradigm. It didn’t even present his thesis yet, but it was certainly an invitation to all of us, “Jump in, the apocalypse is fine.”

And on the other side it’s quiet.  And nothing but flowers.

Years ago
I was an angry young man
I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it

Wood stir sticks for coffee: an environmental impact analysis

A short paper I just wrote for my Sustainability for Business class.  It ain’t Shakespeare, but it does represent an important epiphany I had this morning: the businesses that are selling wooden stir sticks as a “green” alternative to plastic ones could very likely be full of shit.

Here it is:

Recently, I’ve noticed a move from plastic stir sticks to wood ones in nearly every shop I visit. I’ve assumed this change is an attempt by coffee shops to be more “green” because a move away from petroleum-based to organic products intuitively seems to be a good one. When it comes to wooden stir sticks, looks may be deceiving. Upon conducting a brief lifecycle assessment of wooden stir sticks, I would have to rate the trend a 7 or 8 in terms of its impact on the environment. In other words, despite distributors’ assertions that wooden stir sticks are “better” for the environment than plastic ones, they still represent a potentially significant negative impact on the environment–specifically as it relates to the destruction of virgin resources required to make the sticks and the waste generated after their use.

There are five stages in the lifecycle of a wooden stir stick: 1. Growing and harvesting white birch trees (the wood primarily used for stir sticks), 2. Manufacturing the sticks, 3. Distributing the sticks, 4. Using the sticks, 5. Disposing of/recycling the sticks. Although one could find red flags at any step in the process, the types of concerns raised in stages 2-4 are common across today’s commercial spectrum. The rise in the amount of white birch to accommodate increased demand, however, presents a real and immediate environmental concern. Further, although technically compostable, companies selling these sticks tout it as a presently meaningful benefit. This claim is erroneous, if not outright misleading.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources states, “The volume of paper birch (another name for white birch) has decreased significantly since 1983.” Moreover, growth rates have decreased over the past 23 years and are currently negative, which means that white birch mortality currently outpaces new growth. Present-day harvesting methods are one probable culprit, as birches grow naturally alongside aspen trees in the wild. The two types of trees fair better in “mixed” woodland systems, yet require different harvesting methods to most effectively support regeneration for each of them–aspens flourish with a clearcut method, while birches do well with a see-tree or shelterwood one. Commercial cutters typically favor clear-cutting. As a result, aspen trees often take over in areas that were far more balanced before cutting was initiated. This trend has put birch populations in a precarious position, as the number of pole-sized trees has decreased almost 35% since 1996, and the number of seedlings and saplings has decreased as well. Even more alarming is that the ratio of removals to growth tripled from 1983 to 1996, which implies that commercial cutters have not gotten the message that the birch population is in trouble.  An increased demand for this type of wood from stir stick manufacturers can only exacerbate this already troubling situation.

Companies’ composting selling point is also an area for concern. Although wooden sticks represent no more waste than their plastic counterparts (in fact, they represent less intrinsic longterm waste, as they break down easier), the composting claim as a selling point could lead to negative impacts. To be certain, wooden stir sticks have been deemed “compostable.” Whether they are “backyard” compostable or, like corn-based PLA containers, need to be composted in a commercial facility is still up for debate. Assuming they are compostable via facilities only, their use reaps virtually no net gain in environmental impact terms. At present, according to an article in Coffee Talk magazine, “There are only 144 commercial composters across the country serving 30,000 communities, the compostability…becomes almost an irrelevant environmental benefit.” Besides, in order for stir sticks to be composted, they need to be disposed of in a separate container–not the garbage. To date, I have not personally seen or heard of any coffee shop in the US that boasts a “compost bin” for stir sticks, PLA containers, or any appropriate organic waste, for that matter. Finally, one has to wonder whether the false sense of security the composting claims creates might lead to consumers using and disposing of wooden stir sticks much more freely than they used and tossed plastic ones. If this is the case, the change to wooden stir sticks could represent a net reduction in sustainability for the coffee shop industry over their plastic predecessors.

Both concerns are compounded by the fact that, according to CoffeeStatistics.com (which purports to be the leading provider of coffee statistics), Americans alone consume about 146 billion cups of coffee each year. And the coffee shop industry continues to be the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant business. The number of coffee shops in the US grew 157% from 2000 to 2005, and it continues to grow at a robust 7% per year. If the industry is truly committed to a sustainable path, real eco-friendly alternatives to both plastic and wooden stir sticks need to be found…quickly.

You are here…don’t panic.


Chaos In thinking about today’s post, I stumbled on a familiar question,
"Why does my life feel so chaotic?"  Immediately, I bristled.  Crap!  I don't wanna
write about that…why my existence seems to be in an apparent constant state of
disarray and how I feel powerless in the face of it much of the time.

Before I poo-pooed it, I decided to check in on my good friend,
Google.  Chaos couldn’t only mean “confusion and disorder.”  If that’s the case, why have a “Chaos
Theory” for example?  Just to
explain how screwed we are?  That
seems too cruel.

Wikipedia says chaos theory is used in “studying the behavior of
dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions
,”
presumably as a predictive tool to aid in identifying how to respond in these
systems with an eye on achieving a more favorable outcome.  Reading this, I felt a little less
bristly.  A little less screwed.

That’s because the notion of my life being merely confused and
disorderly connotes that my actions upon the system of my life have no impact.
 No matter what I do, I can't change anything because the continuation the
confusion and disorder is inevitable.  It makes me feel like I have no
power, and that makes me feel like I wanna give up.  It feels passive, and
it feels like victim mentality.

And I don’t wanna be a vicitim.

As I read on about chaos, however, I realized a few things:

1. There is a "method to the madness" of chaos.  Even
though the system might be too complex for my brain to perceive offhand, events
in my life are following a logical pattern.  They’re responses to an “initial condition” that triggered
them, and they’re following a trajectory. 
The course of my life intersects with other “conditions” and evolves,
sometimes erratically.  Yet,
outward and immediate appearances aside, it’s not random.

2. It’s “deterministic,”
which means that it’s possible to trace the course back to the “initial
condition” that created the system (i.e., Bill’s life) in the first place.  It is, however, not “predestined,”
which means that the end hasn’t been written yet.  I am not locked into one inevitable outcome, and possibility
and potential are still valid.  I am afforded the luxury of envisioning a desired outcome and, at the very least, influencing the
course to steer toward that outcome. 
This is good news, because it means that understanding how I got right
here, right now, is doable.  Even
better, I can use that knowledge to take action and navigate away from endings
I don’t want, and to the ones I do want.

[side note: Conceivably, this also means that applying the writer's tool of starting with your desired ending and then working backward to identify the steps to getting there can be applied to life as it is in movies, ala the LIFESCRIPT training my friends at Sagepresence use to help people live into their best life stories.  I mean, it's a theory, right?  It's there not only to describe past or present states, but also to model potential future states.  In other words, the very existence of chaos theory lends credence to the notion that we can proactively design our future in a manner of our choosing and then chart a course to it.  This is not your father's version of chaos..!]

3. In order to be chaotic, the system being observed has to be
"topologically mixing.” 
Through the course of evolving—in fact, in order to evolve—a particular
“region” in the system will overlap with all other regions.  Metaphorically speaking, it means that
transformation REQUIRES taking the good with the bad, the pain with the
pleasure.  Interesting.  Good to know that ahead of time and prepare
for that.  Expect it, knowing that’s not pessimism.  Rather, it confirms the whole “It’s
not easy, but it’s worth it” notion. 
Hard and painful things aren’t obstacles; they’re as much part of the
trip as the good stuff.  You can’t
help but get a little from column A and column B (not to mention columns C, D,
E, F, and so on, and even some columns you never even heard of before) along
the way because it IS the way.

Yes, the whole chaos thing also means…damn! This life thing is a freakin'
complex system with a lot of actors and reactors all, erm, acting on each other
at every freakin' point along the way, and it's virtually impossible to keep up
with the whole unfolding, much less control it.

Then again…maybe we're not supposed to control it.  One
application for chaos theory has been to attempt to predict weather patterns to
help commercial aviators navigate more safely to their desired destination.  It ain’t about changing the
weather…it’s about course correction in the face of it.

Maybe by accepting the thing exists, embracing it, even, we can…influence
our course.  Because chaos isn’t
the question.  It’s the answer.  As we understand it better, and as we
understand the systems of our lives better, we can more effectively navigate the
paths we tread through our lives. 
Not to master the Universe, because that’s asking too much.  But to live better and be more at ease in the
system, knowing it's okay that the best we might be able to do is to guide
ourselves safely home.  And, if
we’re really on our game, maybe to beat our own butterfly wings here and there
in hopes of shifting the winds in our favor.

Peter Drucker saves the day

Druckerno The late (and legendary) Peter Drucker had a really
interesting take on the notion of responsibility.  According to him, responsibility has a direct relationship
with—and is likely synonymous with—authority.  He went onto explain it, saying that when someone takes
responsibility for something, they are making an explicit claim that they have
the authority (tangible, moral, or otherwise) to attend to it or to see it to
fruition.

Drucker went on to assert that validating claims of
responsibility according to this test was essential to creating and maintaining
a healthy socioeconomic system. 
This applied to both responsibility assumed and responsibility bestowed.

Although this implies larger societal implications
of bake my noodle proportions, it struck me most profoundly in the most micro
of economic levels.  The economics
of Yours Truly.

Taking responsibility for things I have no business having
my mits in is classic Bill True. 
I’ve definitely subscribed to the “more is more” mentality, and it’s
gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past.  It’s always been well intentioned, of course, an effort to
help out or do a good turn or whatnot. 
I’ve learned some hard lessons, though, as I've failed to keep promises time after time because I wasn’t in a position or didn’t have the ability to
keep them.  It's cost me credibility,
business, and even friends.  After all, the road to Hell is paved with tons of those little suckers, right?

To date, all I’ve really been able to do is recognize it as
a shortcoming of mine.  I know it’s
a problem, I know when it’s happened, and I know how to circle around and
grovel for forgiveness when I’ve really gotten myself into a pickle.  That, and I’ve turned flogging myself over
it into an art form.  What I couldn’t
see yet was a way to proactively sidestep the pitfall of over promising and
under delivering (or worse, not delivering at all).

Peter Drucker, turns out, is my hero.  He’s given me the answer.  Finally, I have really good litmus test
to determine whether or not opening my trap is the right thing to do.  From now on, when that little voice
whispers in my ear, “You know, Bill…” I am going to take a moment and ask
myself two important questions:

1.    
1. Do I have, at present, the ability in terms of
time, connections, experience, and knowledge to deliver on the promise of
assistance I am about to make?

2. Even if I have the ability, is taking on the
work associated with this promise really the best thing for either me or the
other person?

For years I've struggled with saying no to people because
I’ve been afraid that doing so would jeopardize my relationship with them.  I’m a people pleaser.  It’s what we do.  It’s more than that, though.  I’ve also had difficulty seeing whether
or not making the promise would adversely impact the relationship later
because I wouldn’t be able to fulfill it. 
Moreover, I didn’t have a simple and compelling definition that helped
me see it when it’s happening, as well as to understand how and why it’s not
only bad for me, but also bad for society in general.  In other words, I didn’t have a strong argument with
respect to possible negative future impacts, should I make the promise, that could
overcome my desire in the moment to say yes.

Now I do, and I’m excited to try it out.  So if I tell you “no” in the coming
days, weeks, months, and years, don’t be offended.  I’m simply contributing to the socioeconomic health of you and
me…and to the whole wide world.

I am waiting for Vicini!

After I hit publish on the last two posts, I fretted.  I worried that they weren’t dynamic or
groundbreaking or clever enough.

On one hand, the fretting is all me.  It’s one of my favorite pastimes, and I
am really good at it.  On the other
hand, the fretting speaks to a deeper issue—a truth—that’s important to
mention.

I dove back into the blogsphere because a good friend of
mine in the self-help/professional development world encouraged me to do
so.  She thought I had a lot to say
about “getting real” in the personal and professional realms that people needed
to hear.  That felt good, and I was
excited about the prospect that my words could help people.  When it came down to sitting in front
of my keyboard, however, I froze.

I mean, I couldn’t write just anything.  People were counting on me!  I needed to be brilliant!  And cool!  No one would notice, much less care, otherwise.

Wait a minute…that didn’t make sense, either.

A very dear friend of mine told me something about Paul
McCartney and the way he works. 
Apparently, he sits down at the piano for three hours nearly every
day.  He plunks and he plays, and, according
to him, very little of it feels inspired. 
Very little of it evolves into a hit song.

That story popped into my head again, and it gave rise to a
thought: what if it was okay to just keep it simple?  What if it was okay to NOT be brilliant in this moment?  What if it was okay to give what I have
right now…to keep it simple and basic, and just put something—anything—down?

Thus, the post “Confessions of a ‘Go for It' Guy” was
born.  After I read the thing,
I…well…you know.  But later I
realized that by allowing myself to be where I was, not beat myself up for it,
and then take a step forward anyway was a pretty brilliant stroke.

For one, it meant that I wrote something.  When you’re a writer, this is a pretty
big deal.  It’s the “you can’t win
if you don’t play” thing.  Any words
on paper means there’s a chance you might hit pay dirt.  No words on paper means a zero percent
chance that’s going to happen.

For another thing, I realized that most basic concerns in my
life, like how I stay on task to achieve my aspirations or how I deal with
anger, might be the same things that vex other people, too.  Suddenly, worrying about being dynamic
and groundbreaking and clever felt kind of selfish.  Meeting myself at the intersection of energized and nervous,
being honest with myself, and walking forward despite my urge to run away…all
of a sudden felt pretty dynamic. 
And groundbreaking.  And
maybe even clever.

It definitely felt real.  And helpful.  That
made all the difference and relaxed my furrowed brow.

You won’t like me when I’m angry


Hulk In a balanced world, it’s not hard to argue for the necessity of
anger, nor for the healthy expression of it.  In many of my talks, I tell people that I think anger is an okay
thing.  “In fact,” I say, “I feel
completely comfortable expressing it on a daily basis.”  Yet, how many times has it held me
back, stopped me in my tracks, and led me to make choices that were (ahem) not
in my best interest?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on this anger
thing.  Not to rid myself of
it.  I don’t think that’s possible.
 There has to be a way, I would
tell myself, I can achieve some…mastery over it.  How do I get to a place where I’m running my anger instead
of it running me?

My answer came in this realization: anger, above all, is a
reflector.  Put aside everything
else you know about anger, and think about how it functions.  When someone makes you angry, your
internal dialogue is “I can't believe so-and-so did that to me.”  That thought ticks you off, and it
leads to another thought: “Why would so-and-so do that to me?”  Then, if you’re anything like me, it’s
not much of a leap to, “Why would so-and-so think it’s alright to do
something like that to me?” and, the
Pièce
de
résistance, “Why would so-and-do want to hurt me like that?”

Each of these thoughts bounces off the anger reflector and hits you
again, knocks you around, batters you. 
Each ensuing bruise, each scrape pisses you off all the more.  Thus, begins the spin.  One “why me?” question begets another,
and so on, and so on, until your whipped into an emotional frenzy.  And worse, your mental bandwidth is
jammed with an ever-growing swirl of thoughts around this one…issue.  Pretty soon, you’re consumed, and deaf
and blind to everything around you, a captive of the reflector and the perfect
storm it creates.

The key to mastering my anger, I’ve found, is in simply
understanding that the reflector exists. 
Once I got a handle on that, I could start seeing when it would pop up.  “Wait…is this the reflector?”  This single question has given me
enough pause in potentially combustible moments that I can at least make a
choice.  I can choose to talk to
so-and-so, for example.  I can
choose ask myself a new question, ala Byron Katie: “Is that really true?”  Usually, I choose to chuckle because
when I take an honest look at the situation, I find that often I’ve
misinterpreted or misunderstood something…or put a meaning on it that the other
person never intended.  I give
myself the gift of a moment of choice…to be hurt, or not to be hurt?

It’s taken me a long time to get here, but once I understood this
aspect of anger it…helped.  The
reflector still pops up, and there are still times when storms brew.  Nowadays, though, they’re more
cloudbursts than full-fledged gully washers.  My mind is clearer, I don’t get stuck as often as I used to,
and my relationships—with others and with myself—are better for it.