Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Not Start Early?

We are heading to the home stretch of 2008 – day 331. For some of us, life is getting more hectic with the holidays approaching. This means traveling, visiting family and friends and holiday shopping.

Personally speaking, the goals I set at the beginning of 2008 seem to be forgotten. Actually, sometime in the middle of the year, I realized that my goals were not really goals – they were aspirations. They described how I wanted to live my life on a daily basis not just short-term. They were not specific enough and not measurable like a goal should be. I’ve actually incorporated these into a personal manifesto.

With 2009 quickly approaching, I realize we are nearing the time of the year when we look ahead toward New Year’s resolutions or goals. The new year is a natural time of reflection of where we have been and where we want to be. For some of us, we will resolve to hit the gym and start working out more. I see it every year at my YMCA when, in January, I practically have to fight to use the equipment. I think to myself, ‘where were these people in November and December?’

I propose that we should not wait until the end of the year to set and start working toward our goals for 2009. Let’s start now. Time is precious. The greatest coaches are the ones who make adjustments within a game, not after the game is over. These early adjustments give their team the best chance of winning. Let’s start making some changes and setting goals in our lives today, not on New Year's Eve. We should use the holidays not only as a time to be thankful for our lives, but also as an opportunity to reflect upon where we want to be.

Last year, my blog buddie Christine Kane had a great post about choosing a word for 2008. My word was “connection.” While I have had some great moments of connection this year, I have a lot of room for improvement in this area.

Whether you choose a word, make a New Year’s resolution, set goals, etc., we should start now and not wait until the beginning of the year. You never know… your mind might get crowded like the gym.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A New Day

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Food For Thought: The Simple Pleasure of Food

After a long day of running errands and shopping, the last thing I really felt like doing was cooking dinner. A few nights ago, I planned to make a pizza and picked up the dough from Trader Joe’s on my way home from work. Their dough, by the way, is awesome!

I decided to make a meatball pizza and garnish it with a little mushroom and basil. First step: take out the pizza dough from the refrigerator and let it rise. Second step: make the meatballs. Yeah, I had a few meatballs frozen, but my “perfect meal” called for all fresh ingredients. I’m a stickler that way. With the meatballs in the oven, I sautéed the mushrooms and got the rolling pin and dough ready to roll. The first time I made pizza a few years ago, I did not have a rolling pin and trying to spread the dough on the pan was comical and took fifteen minutes. Last night, rolling the garlic and herb dough was simple. I took the meatballs out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes and began slicing. Then I built the pizza: sauce, meatballs, mushrooms, basil and cheese.

The thing that was most enjoyable was the process of making the pizza. As someone who spends considerable time in front of a computer or in meetings during a typical work week, there was something therapeutic about using my hands to prepare my meal. A few years ago, when I was laid off from work and I had time to cook every day, making dinner was practically a religious event. Though my life had moments of frustration during the job search, the daily ritual of cooking a good dinner was something that centered me and allowed me to feel a sense of extreme gratitude. It also allowed me to use my creativity as I found different ingredients to make an ordinary meal taste not-so-ordinary.

Today, as our economy is faltering and our anxiety is high, I realize that the opportunity is there for all of us to feel this sense of gratitude every time we cook and eat a meal. I realize that we shouldn’t think about what we don’t have or what we might not have in the future, but what we do have right now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Way I See It #17

I was at Starbuck's the other day and had a coffee with my favorite "The Way I See It" quote to this point from Keith Olberman.."The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you're not good enough. On occasion, some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don't take it personally when they say "no" - they may not be smart enough to say "yes."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Spalding and the Art of Storytelling...

Visit your local bookstore or music retailer, and you’ll encounter the very small “spoken word” section somewhere near comedy. You’ll find anything from Martin Luther King’s greatest speeches to audio versions of some notable books to the non-musical performances of Henry Rollins. As a word geek, I’m usually on the lookout for something with great storytelling and eloquence. Most of the time, I am let down.

If you were to ask me who my favorite storyteller is, I would say without hesitation-- Spalding Gray. It has been roughly ten years since I’ve witnessed his word mastery at the old Goodman Theater in Chicago. But his work has had a profound impact on me. Picture a solitary man sitting at a table with a glass of water and some notes. This, I’m sure, does not sound like an interesting scenario. But Spalding had a virtuosic ability to tell a story with equal parts comedy and tragedy. Whether he described the “perfect moment,” his relationship with his live-in girlfriend, or becoming a father late in life, Spalding captivated his audiences. I was fortunate to see him twice and both times I walked out of his performances wishing I could tell a story half as good.

As an advanced member of Toastmasters, I will soon start a new manual of speeches – the Storytelling manual. I can honestly say that my time spent at Toastmasters and studying improv comedy at Players Workshop has helped me become a more comfortable, confident speaker. But I know I have room for improvement, especially when it comes to telling stories. Just as a starting quarterback needs to study game film to improve his play out on the field, I will attempt to become a confident, entertaining storyteller by watching and listening to Spalding in action. I am fortunate that I have a few copies of Spalding Gray’s work including Terrors of Pleasure, Monster in a Box and Swimming to Cambodia and I’ll be taking notes. To see an example of some of Spalding’s work, feel free to check the clip below from the "Swimming to Cambodia" movie.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Favorite Part of New York

I feel fortunate to have taken my first real "vacation" in a couple years earlier this month with one of my best friends. It was our first trip to New York and we did the typical tourist things...we saw the Statue of Liberty, visited Ellis Island, visited the top of the Empire State Building, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, ate huge bagels in Times Square and enjoyed the Guggenheim. We spent a great deal of our time either rushing to get to various spots around Manhattan or waiting in line (for the Empire State Building and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty).

Finally, on our last Morning in New York, we hopped a train to Brooklyn and Coney Island. For both of us, we felt instantly at home. While Manhattan is filled with a wide variety of people and interesting sights and cultural attractions, Brooklyn had a neighborhood feel to it. If I lived in New York, I don't think I could ever swing the high rents in Manhattan. But, I could picture myself living in Brooklyn.

Early that Monday morning, Coney Island and the nearby beach felt like a quiet, laid-back oasis after our running around in Manhattan. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the pace was slow and I could feel an inner peace. We walked along the beach watching the older European immigrants and young moms with their kids. We did not take a ride on the Cyclone or the ferris wheel because it was still too early, but this place just oozed fun- we had huge smiles on our faces. Nearby, the new minor league baseball stadium had music playing and kids were playing baseball in the practice fields next to it. A little later, I enjoyed a hot dog at the original Nathan's. This is what vacation is all about!

It sounds like they are going to make some major changes around Coney Island very soon. Part of me understands why this change might take place. But my nostalgic side simply cringes at the thought. In Chicago, they have turned Navy Pier into one of our city's biggest tourist destinations, but it lacks soul. It feels fake. I sincerely hope that the special Coney Island magic remains there forever...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What is Your Procrastination Style?

I admit it – I am a professional procrastinator. I feel that I am probably better than most people at putting things off. Some of the things I’ve been putting off include taking a vacation (4 years), going to the dentist (4 years), getting my eyes checked (at least 5 years), getting in touch with old friends, flirting with that beautiful woman on the train, taking the cooking class I have been curious about, etc. You get the idea.

Recently, a few of these things I have put off came to a head in my life. Last weekend, I went on vacation and visited New York City for the first time in my life. I had an incredible time with a great friend of mine. Before my trip, one of my molars cracked. I have set up an appointment to visit my dentist this Saturday. While I do not look forward to this, I know it is necessary to make an appointment. I came to the realization this evening that I am beginning to confront a couple things that I have been putting off (vacation, dentist). What I am hoping is that by taking action on these things, I will begin to get a little unstuck in my life.

In the past when I have taken action on things I have put off, I regretted this avoidance. Almost ten years ago, I learned about Toastmasters from a group of people I met at a networking event. While I was always intrigued about improving my public speaking skills, I never went to a meeting. Five years later I got laid off from a job I liked. About a month and a half later, I finally went to my first Toastmasters meeting. I was hooked! I confronted my fear of public speaking. Today, I continue to see improvement in my speaking skills and confidence as I work to become a better speaker and leader. My biggest regret: not joining Toastmasters earlier.

According to Dr. Linda Sepadin, there are six styles: Perfectionist, Dreamer, Worrier, Defier, Crisis-Maker and Over-Doer. I guess you could say that I am a combination of a few of those styles. Sometimes my need for perfection stops me in my tracks from starting; other times, I am a dreamer and I am vague about what I need/want to do; I am also a worrier and sometimes I let my fears prevent me from moving forward (e.g. I worry that my dentist will find more cavities so by avoiding him, he can’t).
I will say this is not logical thinking. I hope to confront my procrastination in the next few months. I will start by taking small steps to move forward. By doing this, the small steps will, I hope, add up to big progress. At work, we are going to soon discuss “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Not surprisingly, I procrastinate at organizing my paperwork. I hope these steps will help me to move forward in several areas of my life. So, what is your procrastination style?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Harold Lloyd

This weekend, I had the privilege to watch my first silent movie in over a decade. The movie, "Speedy" starring Harold Lloyd took place at the restored Portage Theater and was first in a series of the Silent Film Festival. I was pleasantly surprised how good the movie was. My exposure to slapstick has been limited to The Three Stooges and a couple Abbott and Costello movies. I've seen bits and pieces of a few Harold Lloyd movies and have been intrigued - now I am convinced that Harold Lloyd is the master. I especially enjoyed scenes of Speedy (played by Lloyd) at the local amusement park with his girlfriend as they wreck havoc in the park. Accompanying the film was a live organ player who added additional life to the experience. I was surprised at how much I laughed at the movie and happy to see the Portage filled. To see a sample of Harold Lloyd's antics click on the scene below...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blown Away

Today was the last day of the Tony Fitzpatrick exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center. Earlier last week I stopped by to see Tony’s work in person for the first time. To be honest, I was probably more familiar with Tony from his brief stint as radio talk show host here in Chicago than his work as an artist. I remember winning a double live CD of the Police on his show as he invited listeners to give him the best reason why we should win the CD. I described the time I purchased a bootleg version of this concert and that someone must have sneezed on the vinyl because I heard a “pop” on a couple different songs every time I played it. My tale of woe gave Tony a brief laugh and I won the CD. I digress.

I knew Tony’s art had won him critical acclaim and that his artwork has graced the last few Steve Earle album covers. For some reason, though, his work never connected with me. Until last week. The exhibition is a tribute to Chicago, the city he grew up in. As a lifelong Chicagoan, myself, I felt connected and blown away by his work. Especially the piece that features Joe Crede. Fitzpatrick really hit the ball out of the park (pun intended) in the work and I flashed back to Crede's emergance as a star in the 2005 World Series run. In seeing Fitzpatrick's work in person, I was able to really see the 3D elements of his mixed media work - and I was amazed. I walked out of the exhibition with a new perspective and a giddy feeling of really seeing and understanding something for the first time.

Like all works of art that resonates with me, I feel motivated and inspired to create my own artistic statements. I think all good art has the ability to challenge and inspire us to express ourselves creatively. Thanks, Tony for the inspirational kick in the butt!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Future King of the Blues?

The largest free blues festival in America (the 25th Chicago Blues Fest) took place in Chicago last weekend and as usual, it offered visitors a mighty good time. It has been a tradition for me to take a day off of work and head down to watch some of the greats perform. Deep down, I am a huge rock and roll fan, and I realize that without the blues, it might just be “Roll.”

As a music fan, I have been around the block a few times, but I always discover “new” musicians that catch my attention at the Chicago Blues Festival. This year was no exception. Walking toward the Front Porch Stage, I heard a soulful voice beckoning me. As I got closer, I discovered one of the most expressive and gifted singers that I have heard in a while in Jo Jo Murray. He had the ability to sing an emotional, soulful ballad and follow that up with a down and dirty rockin’ blues tune. Why had I not heard of him? He was simply amazing.

The evening, though, belonged to Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, one of Chicago’s unspoken blues heroes. Yes, Buddy Guy is “the man” in Chicago – and deservedly so. But Mr. Clearwater showed the crowd that he deserved some attention. With the recent release of his first Alligator CD, “West Side Strut,” Clearwater’s set included a handful of special guests that appeared on the CD. These guests included Lonnie Brooks, Billy Branch, Otis Clay, Jimmy Johnson and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Clearwater started his set playing three songs with his touring band and it was clear he was in good form. Later, Ronnie Baker Brooks took over with his band while Clearwater went backstage for a costume change. Brooks played with fiery abandon as his more distorted tone rocked the crowd. After a costume change, Clearwater re-emerged to the stage with Indian headdress to the explosive version of “They Call Me the Chief.” What grabbed my attention was Ronnie Baker Brooks’ blistering lead licks. The sight and sounds of old school and new school co-existing with such musical harmony was magical. Yes, I admired Eddie Clearwater for the blues wisdom that he brought to the stage. But, suddenly, Ronnie Baker Brooks had captured my attention with his magical playing. I was mesmerized. Later, Ronnie was joined on the stage with his father Lonnie, Billy Branch and Otis Clay. Together, these all-stars put on a musical clinic. It struck me how magical these moments were. I haven’t been blown away by a blues performance for a long time and last Friday's performance was a pleasant surprise. I could not help thinking that I was seeing one of the “early” performances from a future blues legend in Ronnie Baker Brooks. Could we be seeing him headline an evening at the Chicago Blues Fest in the future? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Graduation Season

It was one of the happiest, most satisfying moments I have had in my life – it was my college graduation day. I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment, growth, and hope as I looked forward to my future. I had arrived. Recently, I attended my cousin’s 8th grade graduation, and while listening to the commencement address, I was once again transformed back to this time of hope in my life.

Truth be told, I have always enjoyed listening to commencement addresses. Good ones can motivate, entertain, inspire and teach. I’ve sat through commencement addresses of several friends and even though I was not graduating that day, I felt motivated by their messages. The addresses I sat through reminded me of my own big day. They remind me that I still need to dream big. Scouring YouTube, I ran across an excellent commencement speech by Steve Jobs. Regardless of whether we are graduating from school or graduating to a better place in life, I think all of us could learn from listening to some of these speeches. Let us celebrate all those graduating this season – may these graduates, in their own way, make this world a better place.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Last Lecture

I recently finished watching an interesting segment from "Primetime: Live" about a dying teacher's last lecture. In the spirit of looking at life as one big learning experience, it is priceless wisdom...">

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Illinois Cornflake

I must say that while I am surprised and confused that anyone would pay over $1,000 for a cornflake that is shaped like Illinois (see story here), I am also encouraged.

Why? People refer to the United States as the land of opportunity. But, entrenched in the grind of daily life, I sometimes forget about this. The fact that someone could sell (or auction) a cornflake for such a large amount of money reminds me that anything is possible.

The fact that someone would buy a cornflake shaped like the state of Illinois for over $1,000 also reminds me that some people in this country have a lot of disposable income. If you have a product or service deemed useful to others, you can make some money. Yes, this is possible even in a tough economy.

This realization hits me at a time when I need it. If you build a business based on strong ideas and services, your customers will come. If you sell a product that is compelling, your customers will buy. Every day, all of us have an opportunity to set ourselves apart in one way or another. We are all selling ourselves in one way or another whether it be to our bosses, coworkers, friends or potential mates. We may not realize it, but we are.

So, are you an ordinary cornflake or a cornflake shaped like the state of Illinois?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Giving Eckhart Another Chance...

A couple years ago, I picked up a book that was getting a lot of buzz, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I had already read a book on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn called Wherever You Go There You Are, which was an eye-opening and influential book for me. I absolutely feel that now is really the only moment you have.

For some reason, I did not care for the book. Maybe it was the Question and Answer format that bothered me. I'm sure I could agree with some of the author's writing, but I could not get through the book. When I moved last year and got rid of some books to lighten my load, I sold my copy of The Power of Now to a used bookstore. In a practical sense, I found that Kabat-Zinn's book helped me really understand and appreciate what mindfulness (and the present moment) really is.

So today I am giving Eckhart Tolle another chance...thanks to Oprah's recommendation, I purchased my copy of A New Earth: Awakening Your Life's Purpose. I'm not really sure what to expect, but I will give it a chance and report back my opinion. If there is anyone out there who has read Eckhart Tolle, I'd love to know your opinion if you have read any of his books.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Old School

The numbness that I feel from the shootings at NIU is starting to wear off. The tragedy is starting to sink in. I am learning about those who were killed or injured which makes it more sad.

As an alum of Northern Illinois University, I spent my share of time in Cole Hall where the shootings took place. Most memorable was Coms 356 where we studied classic films such as Citizen Kane, Stagecoach and Annie Hall. This class opened my eyes to the different ways that film directors tell their story: lighting, sound, style and editing. Looking back, I feel fortunate that I took a class that helps me appreciate and understand the movies that I see today.

However, the memories of the students who witnessed this tragedy and escaped with their lives will be different. Their memories are likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives. They won’t remember the times they sat in class and gained a greater understanding of what they were studying. They won’t remember the times spent laughing with their friends, passing notes or falling asleep during their lectures.

News programs and radio talk shows in Chicago are exploring why this tragedy happened. I can’t be sure, but here is my take: as humans, we want to make our mark and have an impact on the world. We want our lives to stand for something. For some, this is easy to figure out. Some people are fortunate to stumble upon the perfect career and meet all the right people at the perfect time in their lives. These people always appear to have it all.

For others, one’s purpose and path in life can be difficult to figure out. When this happens, life can feel lonely, dark and filled with despair. The human need to make an impact on the world can be carried out negatively and I think this was the case on Thursday. I’m sure there is much more to complicated than this, but I think some people decide that it is much easier to have a negative impact on the world than it is to strive to make the world a better place. Ultimately, I cannot possibly understand why someone would do this.

What I will do in my own way of having a positive impact is to donate money to my alma mater for a Scholarship Fund that has been set up. Other than my prayers, that is the best I can do.

For another take, here's Chicago Sun-Times columnist and NIU alum Mark Brown's column from Friday.