December 17, 1997

Ice Songs

I now live near the Ipswich River, a tidal river and a major watershed for this area. The river rises and falls twice a day while I go about my business. It is my first tidal river, so I am still getting use to it. The Aberjona River of my childhood was steady and always there. Sure it fell a little in the dry season, but it seemed pretty constant for me. My new river is always in change of motion.

Winter has brought layers of ice to the river. I cannot explain it well because I have not observed it long enough. But the layers are not one on top of the other. The ice looks like a frozen deck of cards spread out from the middle of the river up the bank. The layers step up, having hardened at different times as the river receded to the ocean.

I marveled at this new pattern of nature - at least new for me. It was another beautiful image for me to carry.

And then I heard the sound - a faint high pitched creaking. I thought that it might be a tree, but then it came again - a fine, expanding shudder of air and solid. The ice was moving, ever so slightly and it was singing.

The voice of the ice carried me back to Meatball Reardon.

I know ice. Long Pond, at the end of a trip deep into the woods, was the chosen skating pond of my youth. With my older brothers I traveled the path at a young age to days of hockey joy.

My memories of Long Pond involve more sounds than visual memories: the voices of the players out on the pond, the clicks of the pucks hitting the sticks, the scrape of the chair supporting a young child as she struggled across the ice, the voices of the players exhorting a teammate for a pass. And Meatball.

Meatball Reardon was at all games. Sports were his life. Meatball, as you might guess, was a large presence, always twice my size. He was a little older and not someone I hung around with, but he always appeared at pickup games. He was a little rough around the edges but he was a good soul. He had a love for any game and he had a voice.

Meatball did play-by-play during all games in a high pitched voice. He was always Bobby Orr or Sam Jones and he would “Score!” And he would whine. Boy, could he whine about any pass which was not thrown his way.

I can hear his high squeaky voice now. And I heard it yesterday in the ice. The sounds of the ice reached me like no picture album could. It unlocked imprints of sound memories buried deep inside me. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a sound can be a song.

December 15, 1997


I’ve got rhythm. My son the budding musician will tell you otherwise, but I know that I have it. It’s just a different kind of rhythm.

Actually I have rhythms - plural. I am talking about the rhythms of my life. If I only had one rhythm, life would be easy. It would be like setting the car on cruise control and sitting back and relaxing for the ride. But life is not always like that. Sometimes it is more like speeding with the foot pressed to the floor, the “pedal to the metal” way of life. At other times I cannot seem to get it out of first gear. And then there are those days of demolition derby.

If only I could choose. I would like to wake up in the morning and choose which kind of day it is going to be. I use to wake up and be disappointed if it was not going to be one of those cruise control days. I love those smooth days - no ups, no downs, just mellow. Of course, they hardly exist, so every day I would be disappointed.

I do not get to choose. Instead I am chosen. I have come to accept that my body and mind may have different ideas than I have. I may want to come roaring out into the day, but they say, “Whoa boy, take it easy. There is a rhythm going on here and try as you might to change it, you will not change it. Today is a first gear day. We need one whether you recognize it or not.”

I had a great week last week - five days of highly creative and productive living - pedal to the metal living. I just got things done! But then I crashed and here I am, three days later, still not back at that same level. Why not?

The question is not why not. The wrong question will lead to a useless answer. The question is what do I do with the information that my body is telling me. If my body is telling me I need to be in first gear, then the answer is that I need to be in first gear. I need to honor the rhythm. I need to stop fighting it and stop wishing to be in a different place.

There are no bad rhythms. You see a lot more of what is around you when you are driving in first gear. Things become clearer. I will not be as productive, but I will still get done what needs to be done. But more important than doing, I will be who I need to be. And who I am is the gas for tomorrow.

December 10, 1997

Flying Upside Down

Santa was upside down this year. No, that does not mean that he flew with his head stuck to the floor of his sleigh, confusing Rudolph with his foot signals. No, he did not bungee jump down the chimney. Santa flew upside down in my Christmas cards.

My annual family newsletter was the culprit. This year I chose Santa to be the poster boy for the Hession Family and his subdued visage was the background for my message. The computer was the culprit. It did the job wrong. It was not my fault. The printer was the culprit. It printed the pages upside down. Dinner was the culprit. If my printing routine had not been interrupted by dinner, Santa would have been OK.

I noticed the problem after I had written a few cards. The Hallmark label was at the top of the page and that seemed strange - and it was. You had to look close to tell, but Santa definitely was upside down.

I need to tell you that I have this small, tiny, minuscule problem with perfection. It is something that I am working on imperfectly. Should I stop the assembly line and run out and buy new paper? Will anyone notice? What will they think of me?

I like to answer my own questions. “Get over it, Jim. These are going out to people whom you love and care about. This is not a resume. This is not a test. You have not failed again. Get over yourself, Jim.”

I answer my answers too. “OK, I will not kill the whole run, but only half are wrong. Maybe I could choose to whom I will send the bad ones?”

“Get over it, Jim...Get over yourself, Jim.”

So I did - I got over it. I think. Maybe. I am not perfectly over it and I would like to be. I am somewhere in that messy in-between - that place of living life.

I like it. Sort of. Some days.

But on other days it feels like I am flying upside down.

December 2, 1997

Far From Routine

My mornings are off - way off. It has to do with my hair. No, not really. My hair is fine - for now. It has to do with when I comb my hair - not how I comb it. I have changed that sacred cow, my morning routine.

For most if not all of my life, at least for as much as my life I have so far lived, my morning routine was this: shower, dress, comb, brush and shave. I could do it in my sleep and I often did. But now the vagaries of the layout of my new house have changed the order to shower, comb, brush, dress and shave. And it is not working.

The shower part is still front end loaded so I am doing pretty well with that. I am clean. And the hair part works well theoretically because by combing right after my shower my hair is still wet and manageable (as in silky smooth.) It used to dry when I was dressing and do whatever it wanted. So my new routine should be better.

However, I have this problem with advanced age and I often forget to comb. I find myself getting dressed with a wet head and fretting over the results. Why do I fret? It was OK to do it that way for many years, but now that I have a new improved method, it is suddenly no longer okay. I do not understand.

The new position for brushing in the batting order is working very well. I find that standing half naked in a steam filled room encourages lingering, so my frequency of flossing has increased. Is that more than you wanted to know?

Shaving is a big problem. It is the only thing left to do after I dress and I forget to do it. It is now two days in a row that I am running around with stubble which only I can see. If I had a heavier beard everyone would think that I was in style like all of the famous athletes and movie stars.

I am thinking about hiring a coach or a management consultant to help me with this problem. There must be a solution! There must be a winning strategy! A systems analyst should be able to bundle these activities into a cohesive and predictable force.

But I am not going to do that because those would be old school answers. The books which I have been reading lately are telling me to get rid of my winning strategies, that they are limiting me, and to embrace the impossible. Or something like that. Make the impossible my possibility! That’s better.

But how will I get the floss and toothpaste off my wet clothes?

December 1, 1997

Rooms For Rent

The sign out front of the Cadillac Motel reads, “Rooms for a night or a lifetime.” Now that is my kind of place. I have never stayed there and I probably never will, but the possibility itself is enough.

I can see myself waltzing into the small store-front motel office.

“Do you want it for tonight or for a lifetime?” the clerk asks.

I hesitate because I had not expected such a big decision.

“Can I get it just for tonight and then extend tomorrow if I want to?”

He sighs his pat answer, “The sign says either a night or a lifetime. It doesn’t say a week. It doesn’t say a month. There are only two choices. What will it be?”

“A lifetime is a long commitment,” I mumble. “Could I try it for one night, check out in the morning and then come back in again to register at night? I am kind of a day-to-day guy. But I am ready right now to commit for the whole night!”

“Sir,” he says, underlining the ‘r,’ “the sign says...”

“Yeah, I know, but I believe in living in the now and the now is tonight.”

The office man clearly is not into Eastern thought. He darts words between his clenched dentures, “Then choose tonight.”

“I would, but I might miss out on the great deal of a lifetime. And I want to be committed. No, not that kind of commitment. I want long term commitment which will fill up my life. But I want my freedom too. Can’t I have it both ways?”

He just looks at me and softly looks past me. Snapping his gaze back he says, “Sir, I am sure that you can have it your way - but not here, not now. Perhaps you should try sleeping at Burger King.”

November 21, 1997


What use will I make of this newsletter? What will it mean for me and for you? I am not sure. I think that the proof will be in the pudding. It will take time for this thing to evolve. But I see it as a voice, my voice. I will be able to articulate the things which are important to me in living a full life. I will probably wear different hats. One day I may be a teacher and the next a comedian.

I read an interview recently with Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer turned writer, who “writes widely on feminism, pornography, and criminal justice.” She was asked, “Do you hold forth all the time, at all times of day?” She answered, “I’m a hold-forther, to many people’s dismay.”

I do not intend to be a “hold-forther.” I do not know much about many things. But through experience and hard work I have learned a few things about living. “Living” sounds like an easy topic, but I find that I can make it pretty hard. There are so many places in life to get stuck.

So I hope to pass things along that I notice help make for a jazzed up life. We all know how to do the boring life routine. That one comes naturally. But to be “really alive” takes some learning.

And learning is what I do. I take a snippet from here and add it to a wacky idea from there and sometimes a thing makes more sense. Small victories multiply and before you know it, watch out, life is exciting!

So is that clear? If you answered yes then you need help, because it is not clear to me. But in those spaces of gray, in that mystery, in that confusion and frustration, a life is boiling up and getting ready.

So in the words of the immortal Temptations (or was it Smokey Robinson and the Miracles?), get ready cuz here I come.

November 16, 1997

Slow No Wake

I often take a walk down my street, a pretty country lane. It runs parallel to the Ipswich River and winds through the marshes and the old farmlands. I peek at the river as I go, but mostly I solve the day’s problems. My mind is always going. As part of the walk I pass over a new bridge which spans the creek running to the river, which shortly flows into the ocean. I particularly love the open marshes beyond the bridge. There is something about open expanses that moves me.

Today I stopped on the bridge. I rarely stop because the marsh and the end of the street is my real destination. I noticed that all of the boats were now out of the water and their moorings were gone. Winter is coming. But no, there was one boat about fifty feet away that was still tied up to the dock. I did not notice that sailboat at first. And then a duck landed in the water across the creek. It was soon joined by two friends and they got into line for their trip up the creek. Geese rose up out of the marsh and fled in formation. Small terns squeaked as they flew overhead.

And that sailboat had a stunning reflection in the water. It took me a few more minutes to notice that. The longer I stood there, the more I saw and heard: the swirling currents of the water, the airplane overhead, the rustle of the wings of the flying geese, the church bells filling the Sunday morning and more.

I was struck that all of this unfolded in layers. My mind and senses were unable to take it in all at once. It was a progressive revelation dependent on time and attitude - dependent on me. It was not dependent on what was happening because what was happening was being filtered by me. This scene full of action and animation is available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. I am available less often. I rarely stop on the bridge. I am headed someplace else. My mind is someplace else.

I noticed that my shoulders relaxed as I stood there. Of course I did not know that they were tense. But there was a significant release into the life outside of my head.

When I left the bridge I noticed that a channel buoy had been washed up to the edge of the marsh. It said, “SLOW NO WAKE.” The “NO” had one of those red circles with a line through it, just in case you could not read well. It spoke to me, “SLOW NO AWAKE,” “SLOW NOT AWAKE,” “SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE NOT AWAKE!”

I got the message.

November 14, 1997

The Burning Shirt

I love raking leaves. It is one of the very few physical activities that I do really well. I am not one of those yard guys who loves gardening, mowing the lawn and pruning the bushes. No, I hate all of those things. I only like to rake leaves.

Raking must be done in an orderly fashion of rectangles. You rake long sweeps of rectangles to clear a larger rectangle. Then you lay out a rectangular tarp to capture the leaves. The four corners of the tarp are then joined carefully together, one laid over another, without twisting, and the leaves are dragged to the pile.

The beauty of this arrangement is that the rectangles can be of any size, depending on your ambition. I like to keep mine small. It is easier to do more small areas than to peter out in the middle of a big one.

The real topper is to mow and bag the areas after they are raked. The mower sucks up any leaves left behind and a carpet of green is left where only an hour ago dead leaves resided. Do not get your fears about perfectionism get in the way. The reward is worth the jibes of your family and friends.

A tinge of sadness always accompanies my leaf raking. I learned my raking skills from my dad when at an early age I was conscripted to help out in the yard. He had not heard of the notion of paying children for yard help, so it was viewed by my brothers and me as slavery - which it was. But he was a benevolent master. And he always wore his burning shirt.

A burning shirt is a red and black plaid wool shirt which is worn for yard work in the fall. My dad always had one - not the same one because they do wear out every ten to twenty years. Please note that it was not his “raking shirt.” It was his “burning shirt” because after all those leaves were raked he would burn them. He would spend the entire weekend afternoon tending little piles of burning leaves.

I can still smell the smoke and the smoldering ashes. I would dance around the fires pretending that I had some good reason to be there. My favorite occupation was tossing chestnuts into the fire and then waiting for them to explode.

Sadly, burning is no longer allowed. The air we breathe may be better off, but I am not sure that we are. So there is always a let down after my raking. There is a touch of something missing each time I hang up my burning shirt.

Yes, I have a burning shirt. In fact, it is the very shirt my father wore during that period shortly before he died in 1971. I wear the shirt more sparsely than he did, so it has lasted me many years. I cannot afford to wear it for other activities, because it cannot be replaced.

The leaves themselves will be replaced. Spring will always bring a new batch of candidates which are allowed a few months of green before being retired to their true function. And I will be out there with my insane rectangles. Some days I will share with my son. The challenge is to pass along the love without the rectangles. But most days I will be by myself. But in my burning shirt I am never alone. I am just part of the transition.

November 4, 1997


Detours have always fascinated me. I can remember frequent street closings from back when I was a child. The orange flames of the oil lamps burned mysteriously throughout the night.

My father hated detours and he would mutter under his breath as we passed along unfamiliar streets carefully following the arrows on the detour signs so that we could eventually get back to our proper route. There was something about being in the hands of others during this rerouting. We were temporarily lost and dependent on those who knew where the streets went. We were not in complete control and we had to trust.

I passed a detour sign in my hometown yesterday and I roared laughter. The sign had two arrows attached, one pointing left and one pointing right. The motorist will be in the middle of the detour and will come to the end of the street and face this sign. He can choose to go right or to go left. Only one way will take him back to his proper route. If he goes the other way he will be lost.

I would be upset if I came to such a detour sign in an unfamiliar place. I would feel let down. Who is the detour sign for? If I knew which way to turn, I would not need any sign at all. I need direction back to my route and someone has given up in the middle of that job. I am stranded. I am on my own and I am lost. The promise of an orderly route to my destination has been summarily withdrawn.

I wonder what the lesson is in this crazy detour sign. I think of the frequent detours which I take in my life. I will often have an objective or a destination, but I will find myself off wandering on a detour, large or small. In the legal system there is a phrase for this. When an employee, while on company time, goes off on a personal errand, he is on a “frolic of his own.” That is where I am - off on a frolic of my own. Something else has grabbed my attention and I have lost my focus. This can happen for hours, days, weeks, or months.

The funny part is that I did not know that I was lost. I thought that I was on a detour which would lead to my destination. I made up the proper arrows for the detour signs in my mind. I thought that I was making progress. It is only when I reach a point that makes no sense, when the arrows point in both directions, that I wake up and laugh - or cry.
Detours are part of life and are important. If I stay on the same old route all of the time I will miss a lot. I will miss all of the new neighborhoods of life. And I will think that I have figured it all out. I will know the way - the one true way.

In truth, the way is in the detours. The way is in the frolics. The way is in focusing, getting lost and refocusing. In the middle of the night, at the blockades of the detours, the oil lamps burn brightest.

October 25, 1997

Lost Saturday

I gave it away. No person or no thing ripped it from me. No, it was entirely voluntary. I gave away last Saturday. And it was not to a good cause.

Saturday is usually a favorite day of Americans. For most it is the first day after the past work week and the day the furthest from the next work week. But I guess that I did not need Saturday. I just slid it into the universal dumpster.

Where was I? Oh, I was here-sort of. What was I doing? I was doing the usual stuff.

I spent a good chunk of the day taxiing my son around to his activities. Can you here the sense of obligation and being used in the word “taxiing?” That is how I felt. I usually look forward to spending this time together with my son, but not on Saturday. I was angry the entire time and the anger had nothing to do with him. Sometimes it is easier to be full of anger than to be full of fear.

And Saturday was really about fear. I have some stuff going on in my life which raises a lot of fear. The details are unimportant. What is important is my reaction to the fear.

Saturday could have been a great day. I would spend some one-on-one time with my son, my daughter was visiting home from college and my wife was home - a formula for a wonderful day with the family.

But for it to be great, I have to show up. I have to have my body and mind present and fully involved in the interactions. This I could not do. My body was there, but fear and anger sent me rocketing off into the future and the past. I was everywhere but where I needed to be.

I missed so much. I was with the people whom I love and who love me, but I could not be present. I call this a serious loss.

I cannot afford this type of loss any more. I do not know whether or not it is an aging thing. I do know that all of my days are now precious. I used to spend most Saturdays like this last, lost one and I thought they were normal. But now I know better.

I have become selfish with my days.

October 24, 1997

L'amour Nu

The poster had been on the restaurant wall for all of the ten years in which I have been going there on a regular basis. For me it was color, a bright red and orange to fill an empty space. It was more subdued than the art print of the tiger hanging next to it, but its simplicity drew me to it. A French movie title hung over a brilliant rising sun.

About two years ago the same poster stunned me. It took me eight years to notice that the sun was only part of a heart rising out of the ocean. Let me try to explain. Remember that I am visually handicapped. Draw a heart. Notice the two humps on the top of the heart. Place a pencil horizontally through the two humps and then rotate the heart but not the pencil forty five degrees. Imagine that the pencil is the top of the ocean. What you have left is part of one hump above the ocean and the rest of the heart in the ocean. Trust me.

Where had the heart been for eight years? It was a few shades lighter than the sun rising, but it was still pretty clear. I guess that you can only see what you are ready to see.

Two weeks ago I saw the sunrise at Crane Beach. The sun can be seen with a clarity at that time of day. As it rises, its outline is clear. This clarity is diffused as it passes through the sky and through the day. The clarity is there every day, but you have to be awake in order to notice it.

I have a new favorite song, “Another Day” by James Taylor, off his new Hourglass compact disk. The lyric goes, “Another day, another chance that we may finally find our way. Another day, the sun has begun to melt all our fears away.”

Fear kept me from noticing that heart. I was always worrying about one thing or another. I could not see what I was looking at. I was not awake enough. The fear kept me from noticing that each day brought again the opportunity for connectedness with others which makes life worth living.

Hillary Clinton was asked what she has learned from life. She passed along a slogan which she had learned from Dr. Estelle Ramey, a professor at Georgetown Medical School: “I have loved and been loved and all the rest is background music.”

The opportunity to love and be loved can carry us forward through the day if we are awake enough to notice it.

October 22, 1997

Part Menopause

It must be the change thing. You know what I mean, the change of life. We get it now. Only women used to pass through it, but now men do too. It says so in a new book titled “Male Menopause.” I have not read the book because the title is enough for me. I can guess what it says inside.

I am sure that there is a chapter on hair. And it will deal with more than the male problem of lack thereof. There are other bigger problems. I know. I suffer from one of the big symptoms.

Yesterday, the part in my hair moved. No, not part of my hair moved! THE part in my hair moved, and it moved all by itself - about four inches. It used to be on the left side of my head and now it is on the right. And it is still there today! This is some kind of a filamental shift, a new follicle paradigm.

I stopped trying to tame my hair many years ago. I comb it straight back when it is wet and I let the part fall where it may. And it always falls in the same place - until yesterday that is. About a week ago I got a haircut, a bad haircut, a VERY bad haircut. But this forehead perambulation did not follow for a week. I do not think that it is connected.

No, it is a sure sign of male menopause. It is just another item on the long list of the debilitations of aging which we men suffer. Oh sure, I can hear you women saying , “Men - Oh - Please” instead of menopause, but you are wrong. I know that your symptoms might seem bigger to you, but it is sort of like the story of the tortoise and the hair...

October 21, 1997

Frozen in Time

A meeting in Boston made me part of the early morning commute on this weekday. I dislike driving as part of the slowly bumping horde of cars so I took the commuter rail. The train holds a special place in my heart because my father took it to and from work every day. Some of my warmest memories involve riding with him or waiting on the train platform for him to come home. So riding the train is in my genes.

I commuted a long distance to high school. While I usually took busses and subways, I sometimes rode the train. I got tired of the masses of people, the heat in summer, the too much heat in the winter and the smells. So I have mixed feelings about the train.

The trip to Boston was uneventful. The conductors have the same uniforms that they wore thirty years ago. It was at the end of the ride that this thing happened to me. I stepped off the train with all of the others and we turned to march down the platform to go into North Station.

I was in the wrong place. It had never been more clear to me. The heads were bobbing, the arms were swinging in the silence of the open space and yet there was no movement. I was frozen in the wrong place. I thought of all of those movie scenes of the busy streets of New York in which people are jostling, steam in pouring up through the sidewalk, horns are blaring and lights are blinking. But my scene was silent. We were all walking in one direction, with no faces, no voices and no feelings. We were frozen into the commute.

Could I do this everyday? No. I had thought that maybe I could, but that moment in time has made it clear to me that I am no longer capable of spending two hours a day doing that. I do not like that statement. I sound elitist and that is not my intention. I am not suggesting that others should not be doing it. But for right now it is not right for me. I feel a loss by rejecting this possibility. I want to be “part of” and not set myself apart. But I also do not want to be frozen.

October 19, 1997

The Real Thing

Coke used the slogan “It’s the real thing.” But then Coke had the fiasco when they changed the formula to make it sweeter, so for awhile it was no longer “the real thing.”

I like to know if I am getting the real thing when I buy something. I am not into labels, but I do not want some cheap imitation that will fall apart, whether it be a tool or a running shoe. I want to know what I am getting.

A stage show, the theater, is a little different. We expect actors to be playing a role, and even though it may seem true to life if they do a good job, we know that they are acting. A good acting job, while not real, is the real thing.

I went to see Rob Becker in “Defending the Caveman” at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. “Defending the Caveman” is a very funny one man show by a comedian about the difference of the sexes. At first I was bothered by the presentation by Becker. His speech pattern was often sing-songy and he sometimes spoke too fast. His movements about the stage were awkward. At many times I thought that a little theatrical presentation would add to the show. He had performed this show over two thousand times, so why was he not smooth and polished? This is what I expect on a stage when I pay big money for a ticket.

Somewhere in the middle of the show, I got it. My mind caught on. I saw that what he was doing was being himself. He was not acting. He was delivering a set piece on a stage, but he was doing it completely as himself, with all of his warts and limitations. He was being authentic. This authenticity brought a whole different level of meaning to the material and I connected to him in an intimate way. Here was a guy who was telling me his truths. Here was a guy who I could trust and understand.

The surprise in all of this was that the real thing turned out not to be the real thing at all. I was expecting a performance and I viewed Becker as an object to be judged. But when it turned out that he was not acting, I found myself in relationship with a person and not an object. The real thing was not the theatrics, but was Becker himself.

I was surprised by authenticity once before. I attended a one day workshop in Cambridge. The topic is unimportant. The presenter, Alan, did not have any of the right moves down. I have been to many workshops, and I have led a few, and he just did not have his patter down. He mumbled and he stumbled. He admitted not knowing the answers to some questions. He just was himself, and when I got over all of his selfhood spilling out, I could see what a wonderful teacher he was. I learned the material and he taught me about being authentic.

I was taught to not be authentic when dealing with other people. This did not mean lying. It means that I would concentrate on providing what they needed to see in me so that they would approve. My interactions would improve if I just improved my skills and figured out what they want. Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” I was a player. If I was good at it, the right people would like me, I would have friends, I would get the job, I would win the client, and I would close the sale.

It is hard to be authentic. It is hard for me to put myself out there with my strengths and weaknesses. My blemishes show. But I am finding it harder to be inauthentic. Actors are pretty weary after a show. A lot of energy is expended being anything other than what you are. As I age, I cannot afford that energy loss anymore. I also have lost my patience. I want the real thing all of the time. Anything less is a fraud. I want to be with real people and in order to do that I must be real. Real people attract real people.

Shakespeare was wrong. We are not “players.” We are funny looking creatures, in different shapes, with different voices. We are accumulations of warts, blemishes, quirks and stories. But when we present our uniqueness in an authentic way, it lowers our walls and it draws us together. And we get what we wanted all along - the real thing.

October 16, 1997

Sharp Points

This fear thing has me by the throat. It does not want me to breathe. It wants to twist and turn me until my eyes bulge and I can no longer see.

I have a meeting coming up soon that is causing this fear. It is a private matter so I cannot give you the details. Frankly, the details are not important. What is important is the effect of fear in my life.

I am not paralyzed. I am working hard to get done what needs to be done, but life is not the same. All of my other emotions are right below the surface. I am ready to cry at any time. Look at me in a funny way and I might bite your head off. What was funny yesterday has completely lost its humor.

Here I am in the middle of the peak of the fall foliage season and I cannot notice the color of the trees. My mind is elsewhere. Even when I think of the trees and force myself to look at them, I cannot sustain my focus. The present is gone for me. This is the biggest loss. I am living in the past and in the future and I am missing the glory of today.

I keep looking for a solution to the way I feel. I keep telling myself that I really am not that scared, that I can handle this. But that is a lie. I tried replacing the fear with the new obsession of painting the basement, but that just gave me a different excuse to feel lousy. Stuffing the fear does not work because it just keeps bubbling up anyway. Eating does not work - well, maybe for a few minutes - but I am quickly back to where I started.

So I am trying something different. I am sitting and going deeper into my fear. I am not looking for a solution, or the reasons for the fear. I am not looking for a way out but for a way in. Chogyan Trungpa Rinpoche said, “lean into the sharp points.” Fear is a big sharp point for me. When I lean into my fear, I end up in the present and I find my heart. I do not change how I feel, but I change how I am. I am no longer running. I am part of the present and I am me. Great joy exists in being my authentic self.

October 10, 1997

Fall Foliage

The tree out front turned first -- squash yellows, burnt oranges, briny reds. My house is ringed by maples and that one out front starting changing color and dropping its leaves three weeks ago. The other maples are still green as green can be. They have not received word that autumn has arrived in New England. They are hanging onto the wild, young days of summer.

When my maple first started turning I wondered why it was different. In its top half it is much thinner than the others. It is tall and thick, indicating a long life, but it is sickly. I started noticing other similar trees as I drove through the countryside. Some were misshapen by time. All looked far beyond their prime. All are dying.

I first thought that it was sad that they were dying. But they get to make these singular displays of splashing color long before the other trees. They get to show off their plumage first and their brilliance, no lesser than the later trees, is more noteworthy in its isolation. This is not a dying display by a dying tree. It is a shout-to-the-rooftops presentation of life by a dying tree.

I have been effected strongly by the fall foliage this year. Since my return from Arizona, this change of color is the one thing with which I connected the most. I wonder if the change of my dying maple is like the wisdom of our elders -- loud, out front and brilliant if only we would listen.

And I wonder where I am among the trees. At forty-seven, I do not think of myself as one of the elders. And yet I am far from one of the saplings. Maybe I am somewhere in the middle. But I have been thinking lately that that is no longer true. If I were right in the middle of my life, I would live to ninety-four and that is not likely. So I am closer to the end and I am gaining on it. And I will never know quite where I am until the end. So maybe I need to live as if am one of the ones who gets to make that brilliant display early. Maybe I need to strut my stuff now.

October 9, 1997

I am wired. Right now, I am wired. Right at this very moment, I am wired. How long will it last? I do not know.

Did you ask, “What does ‘wired’ mean?” I can only tell you what it means to me. It means that I cannot sit still. I want to do a thousand things and I want to do them all at once. But I can only do five or six things at a time, so it does not seem like I am getting anything done. I have to close my eyes and try to concentrate just to write this. Energy is surging through my body. All the tense spots hurt more than usual. I want to go. I want to do. I want to talk. I want to scream. I am singing, whistling and tapping. The sky is bluer. The colors are brighter. I am in the flow.

Am I the only one who feels like this today? I am sure that the answer is no. I think that there may be people who feel like this a lot. We each have our own set of energy levels. We are not always at the same level, but one level predominates. I classify myself as a low energy person. I do not feel this wired state too often. My wired state maybe the natural state for a high energy person.

One evening I met an old friend, a high energy friend, who was in town for business. Now evening is the low point of energy in my day. As our conversation progressed I could find myself stretching and struggling to meet her energy level. I was sitting up on the edge of the chair, talking excitedly, and waiving my hands. I was trying to be wired, and it was so hard. Finally I stopped. I stopped trying to be someone who I am not. I went back to my normal energy level and went back to being who I am.

Is it good to be wired? I do not know. I have not decided yet. Until recently I thought that it was bad for me to be wired because I seemed to pay a price on the other side. My energy level would dip below normal and I did not like the cycle. But now I do not seem to have those dips. The cause of these surges is now a more natural high. It is not sugar or caffeine. It is living fully with hope.

So I am not going to look for a surge protector for my brain and body.

October 2, 1997

What Do You Do

The question is no doubt on its way across the room. I was rehearsing the answer on the way over in the car. I run it through my mind all of the time, never satisfied with the result. It is now here in front of me. I am meeting someone for the first time. We get through the names, the places of residence, and the whether you know so and so from there, and then, oh, there it is, “What do you do?” I wince.

This question always feels like an attack to me, because I know that he will not like my answer. Unless I lie. Sometimes I do that. I ignore the obvious marketing opportunity that all of the books on marketing trumpet and I lie. “I am retired.” He will then say “Oh, but you’re too young to be retired.” I nod and laugh and he nods and laughs. We both are feeling uncomfortable, but he will not be able to stand it for very long. He quickly asks, “What did you use to do?” “I was an attorney.” That makes him happy. We are now back on familiar ground and I am a safe person again. He has put me in a box and he can now tell lawyer jokes or ask if I know attorney so and so. I am part of the real world as he knows it.

Most of the time I tell the truth. But the description changes. I use to say, “I am a life coach,” but that did not move the conversation forward. An unknowing, empty pause would gape at both of us. The other person would be speechless because what he heard did not fit into any box that he knew. I would try to help him by quickly adding, “I coach people around life and career renewal and planning.” This would usually get a knowing nod, since my partner in this strange conversation does not want to look stupid twice. But he would then try to turn my response into something more acceptable. “So, you do career counseling.” “No, not really, it is different than that.” I just repeat myself, “I work around career and life issues.” I will then get a big “Oh” of acknowledgment. I am never sure if he does understand, or if he is just happy to change the conversation to another subject. I suspect the latter. I knew it would have been better if I had lied.

I place no blame on my unsuspecting, curious partner in this. He is only trying to do what he has been taught to do in this culture. He is trying to find some common ground for us and work is the thing. Work is the central issue for most people in our culture. Work certainly takes up the most time. A good argument can be made that it should not be the central issue, but that is a topic for another day.

A friend of mine deals with the question in a different way. When he is asked,”What do you do?” he replies with the question, “Do you mean what do I do to make money?” He refuses to be defined simply by his work. He knows that his life is much more than his chosen occupation.

I would like to be able to give a better answer to the question “What do you do?” but I do not have a better one yet. I have tried, “I help people through life transitions,” but that does not work any better. I am thinking about trying, “I help people find purpose and meaning in their lives,” but I have the feeling that this one will also miss the mark. Maybe I could devise a Top Ten List for Reasons to Use a Coach. Every thing on the list would say the same thing in a different way in the hope that one thing on the list would speak to the listener. The truth is that people are either going to get it or not get it. If they do not understand what I am talking about, then they probably are not yet ready for a coach.

Do you really want to know what I do? It has already been said well by David K. Reynolds in his book, A Thousand Waves. David teaches a system called constructive living and writes,


“What do you do?” he asked.
“I listen; I teach,” was the reply.
“You listen? What kind of work is that?”
“Just listening.”
“People pay you to listen?”
“Don’t you think listening is worth something?”
“Well, I never thought of it that way...”
“That is what I do. I listen; I teach. Just now.”
“Just now?”
“Oh, I see.”
“Thank you.”
“You are an unusual person.”
“Thank you.”

We need to change the question. When a Navajo meets another Navajo for the first time, he asks, “Who are you?” Now that is a powerful question. It would allow the responder to bring his essence into the meeting. Each person would learn what the other holds as important or sacred in his life. Would that not be a better foundation for a relationship?

I know that the question is not going to change. The best that I can hope for is to develop an answer that will explain that part of me called “work” and which will keep alive the possibility for developing a relationship. It has to become user friendly. My answer is not about getting new clients, being right or receiving approval. My answer is about encouraging relationship, friendship and community, the very essence of living in the world.

Meter Readers

“Your mother wears combat boots.”

“Your sister has a mustache.”

“Your meter reader uses binoculars.”

What? Binoculars?

Yes. I was shocked. I love meter readers. Some of my best friends are meter readers. (not true) One of my favorite legal clients was a meter reader. (True.)

I have been fascinated with these guys (they are always male) since I was little. My mother would let these strangers into our house to read the gas, water and electric meters. I knew that you were not even supposed to talk to strangers, but these people would show up in a uniform and my mother would let them in. A fictitious uniform would not be hard to come by.

But then I got big and I had my own house. I let them in too. My kids were always asking who they were, but I knew they were safe. They were the exception to the rule about strangers. These were special, safe people with whom I felt connection.

Times change and the good old days are just not the good old days any more. I know that they have technology now so that they can read the meter from the street in some places. But I mourn the guy on foot. He was my friend whether he knew it or not.

The other day a car pulled over to the side of the street in front of my house and the driver was looking at my house -- through binoculars! He was reading the gas meter. If I had little kids, I would have dragged them back into the house. Who trusts a guy with binoculars? Anyone can buy a uniform.

September 24, 1997


Cyberchic. The word itself conjures up images X-rated web sites. But that is not what it means. Cyberchic means to be in style with the world of the computers invading our lives.

Who is cyberchic? I have no idea. I do not converse well with techies, so they are not in my circle of friends. At least not that I have noticed. But perhaps they could be so far advanced that I would not even notice it if they were with me.

I also think that it is an age thing. I would think that cyberchic people would be no older than their early thirties. But then maybe people over that age really are not any kind of chic.

Finally, it is a location thing. Harvard Square, MIT - those are the places where the chic hang out to see and be seen. Of course I am only guessing, because I am so old that I cannot even recognize chic.

One part of cyberchic is clothing. The Boston Globe reported that Steve Mann, one of those MIT guys, is developing a line of cyberclothes, which are wearable computers. These are not just clothes which look good with computers. No, the computers are in the clothes. Steve can read his email on a computer screen in his sunglasses, when he is not sending pictures of everything he sees to his web site. He probably can do both things at once. MIT is good at multitasking.

He has other nifty gadgets throughout his attire. But the one that caught my eye and my imagination was the “ham radio station in his underwear.” This brings a new meaning to the phrase “pressed ham.” The thermostat in Steve’s apartment broke and so he replaced it with a radio receiver which would pick up signals from his body. When he gets cold, “sensors in his underwear turn up the heat.”

I am worried about Steve. It is rumored that he is moving to an apartment with central air conditioning. Therefore, his little gizmo will have to be wired for cold too, so that when he gets hot, the cool air will kick on. But what if Steve gets a date someday. I know that is not a real risk for a cyberchic techie from MIT, but what if? What if some cold December night he has a date, the evening progresses, and Steve gets hot? The central air will start to blast cold air on the big occasion! Goosebumps of anticipation will be replaced by hackles of hypothermia!

I am sure that Steve will come up with a solution. Maybe an override switch could be activated by an altimeter carefully placed to determine the altitude of a certain body part.

I just cannot wait until Steve adds a wind speed and direction detector to his underwear. Now that will be a valuable early warning system which will be sure to push cyberchic over the top.

September 23, 1997

The View

I went to a different beach yesterday. No, I am lying. I went to the same beach that I always go to, but it looked different. It is usually crowded with sun worshippers, but Labor Day has taken them all away. A few hardy souls made up the small community.

Two middle aged lovers in black embraced and groped each other standing near the water’s edge. Although not alone, the near emptiness of the beach provided adequate cover for them. I wanted to go up to them and suggest that they use the beach as their bedroom, no one would care, but I avoided them and walked the other way.

Further down the beach a boy and his mother splashed in bathing suits. The air temperature was 68 degrees and the water was around 60 degrees, so bathing suits were not the normal apparel of the day. It is autumn after all. Summer ended two days ago and most people had received the message and stayed home. But no one told this child. He wanted to be in the ocean. If this had been a cool day in July, the beach would have been crowded, but most had moved on to a new schedule of activities now. Only the boy frolicked. Even the other walkers were dressed for cold and they walked with purpose. Cold weather means serious stuff here in New England.

Two old men were working independently, sweeping the sands with metal detectors. They walk hunched over with their head phones on tightly. I have never listened to one of those things, but I assume that it produces a static like the Geiger counters on TV. But maybe it is a totally different sound. I hope it is. Maybe it is like the cry of humpback whales. Maybe the squeals of dolphins fill their ears. Maybe they are really listening to their favorite CD’s.

The men worked rhythmically, back and forth down the beach. It would be a lulling motion. I would like that. But once in awhile they hear something and stop. And they get down on their knees and start sifting. They carry a sifter that looks like a wacky joke on Mr. Coffee: a coffee pot full of holes. They kneel and sift the sands of time. What an image. What a metaphor.

I stopped and sat half way up the wooden bridge which goes back over the dunes to the parking lot. This was a different beach today. I think it was the angle of the light that changed the beach for me. The sun drops lower later in the year and leaves sharp, crisp impressions. It focused on the vignettes of the lovers, the boy, and the old me. Or maybe it was the angle of the viewer.

September 19, 1997

Be Happy

I can just here the song now. “Don’t worry..... Be happy.” Oh, how I hated that song! It made a star out of Bobby McFerrin, put I would not pay a plug nickel to see him. I would be afraid that he would sing that stupid song.

He had it all wrong. My song went, “Don’t be happy..... Just worry.” He could sing his little ditty all that he wanted because he did not have to live my life. He did not have all of the problems that I had.

A few years have passed since the time of that big hit, probably more years than I want to think about. But I am back to this “Be happy” thing. It sounds so simplistic. I like more complex. You can get lost in complexities. They take up a lot of time, and if you spend enough time maybe you will not have to face whatever problem it is that you do not want to face. I did not want to face this “Be happy” thing because I did not know how to be happy. Why would I want to embrace some thing which I did not know how to do? No card carrying perfectionist would do this.

Times change. I get older. I learn. I want to be happy. That admission is a big step for me. I am committed to being happy - an even bigger step. Happiness is not some Pollyanna view of the world. It is the experience of joy in every day living. I want the joy. I want passion. I want rapture. Those are great words! Those are great feelings!

And I want to sustain happiness over lengths of time. Of course life brings ups and downs, but a sustained level of happiness is possible. I have met people who do it.

How do you do it? Ah, that is a bigger question. I wish that I could give you a simple answer, but I do not know one. Maybe one exists, but I do not know it. I do know that there are things that I can do in my life which lead to this state. But the answers will be different for each person.

I am working on this happiness thing. I have learned that the first thing which you must do is make a commitment to it. Make a decision that you are going to do whatever it takes to have happiness in your life and then start to do the things, to be the person, which creates happiness for you.

But for now, “Don’t worry..... Be...” No! Do not sing that silly song! Find a different anthem! But be happy searching for yours.

September 10, 1997

The Essential Sensual Day

Try saying that fast five times...Essential Sensual Day, Essential Sensual Day, Essential Sensual Day, Essential Sensual Day, Essential Sensual Day. I cannot do it. But it is a good exercise for building up the saliva in your mouth, should you ever require an excess supply.

I had an Essential Sensual Day recently. I had not planned it, but the day started slowly and I could feel myself doing a lot of stretching and sighing. My body was crying out for attention. I found myself standing in the hot shower, mesmerized by the sensation of the tumbling hot water. My body said thank you, thank you, and I knew this was going to be an Essential Sensual Day.

An Essential Sensual Day is somewhat akin to a mental health day and may even be part of a mental health day. The focus shifts from all of the outside daily activities to bodily sensations. Your goal is to nurture the body which nourishes the soul.

I chose the word “sensual” for the name because it just seemed to fit so well. I tried other words like “body,” “kinesthetic,” and “senses,” but no other carried the feeling involved in the day. The dictionary defines “sensual” as “excessively inclined to the gratification of the senses; voluptuous.” Ah, there are the right words: excessive, gratification and voluptuous. They are right on target. They express the carnal nature of such a day. It is by definition excessive, because any amount of this stuff is excessive for someone who never does any of it. But it also must be done excessively. You cannot just take an ordinary shower. You have to get extra soapy. The water has to be almost too hot. You have to get lost in it, lose track of time and drain the hot water tank.

The only purpose of such a day is self-gratification. You do not do it for anyone else. Now this is not an old Yankee principle. Our Puritan forefathers and their modern day successors like to talk about “delayed gratification.” There is a place for that--but not during an Essential Sensual Day! Save it for the rest of the month. Today, indulge!

Voluptuous is an even better word. It carries dark, sexual overtones and those are part of the day too. I am talking about luxuriating in the body and the body is sexual. Now the second dictionary definition of sensual is “lewd or unchaste.” Since this is a family publication I will not comment further. But you may--comment or whatever.

Here are some ideas for an Essential Sensual Day. I like heat and water: showers, jacuzzis, steam baths. I am not a fan of saunas, but others like them. Comfy clothes are a must (not in the shower.) Sweats work well and my favorite is fleece--fleece anything and everything. But this does not work well in the summer in Arizona.

Eating and drinking must rise to the level of an experience. Holding a hot cup of tea works for me. Sometimes I even drink it. Eat spicy foods. Savor them. Eat too much. Belch a lot. Or eat too little. Fasting can sometimes bring my body more in tune with the surrounding sensations.

Be outside. Sit in the sun. Close your eyes and feel the sun and the wind. Smell the air. Just let the world slosh around in your consciousness. Think of the day as a hardball candy. You close your eyes, pop that sucker in your mouth and the first burst of sharp flavor fills your senses. Savor your day and suck out the juice that life has to give you.

Do not “do” anything. My recent Essential Sensual Day was cut short when I started cooking. I thought that cooking would just add new smells and sensations, but it was too busy. I was using my brain too much. Remember, this is a sensual day. Whatever you do must create a sensation in your body and you must be aware of the sensation. If you are “doing” you will lose your awareness.

So schedule an Essential Sensual Day, or an Essential Sensual Half Day or an Essential Sensual Hour. Try it, you’ll like it! And let me know what works for you. I will pass along the new ideas to others. Together we will build a library of voluptuous activities for the common man and woman. What will we call it?

September 5, 1997


“Style” is my middle name--or so I would like to think. I am pretty good at telling what goes with what. Now my children may not agree since my choices of clothing seem to bring them endless amusement.

I thought about them the other morning when I was getting dressed for my daily, walk, run, crawl or whatever it happened to be that day. The T-shirt I had chosen really clashed with my running shorts. So what! Who cares! Who is going to see me at this time of day? None of the neighbors know me anyway!

Well, I care. I have been taught to care. I have been taught that how I look to others matters. I have also been taught that how I look does not matter to me. I cannot figure out that one. All that I know is that I judge others by what they wear, so they must be doing the same to me. And I want to be loved, so I changed my T-shirt.

My abilities related to style are not limited to clothing. I am also an expert on flower color, although I did not know this until recently. My wife and I were moving around a pot of flowers near our front door, trying to find just the right spot for it. This is not a pot which I particularly like. It contains about seven different varieties with seven different colors of blossoms. And even I know that orange, yellow, red and various shades of purple do not go together. I think it is the orange. Orange really goes with...well, orange. It just looks out of place in this big pot with a frenzy of blossoms. It looks so...uncontrolled and unplanned. But of course, I did not plant it and, amazingly, I had not been consulted.

But now was my chance! I was being consulted about the best rearrangement of several pots, one of which contains those orange flowers! We agreed on the final location and I remarked that the big bouquet clashed with the purple hanging plant in the background. My wife simply replied, “All flowers go together.”

“All flowers go together.” My God, she is right! Since flowers are among the most beautiful of the natural wonders on earth, of course they would go together. To think otherwise would be sacreligious. My mind has seen the glory.

In addition, my mind has seen the utilitarian nature of such a view and the value of its possible expansion. If all flowers go together, then would not all T-shirts and shorts go together? Would not all socks go together? What about fabrics in the living room? Do curtains really have to match?

I do not mean to make light of my wife’s statement. I truly believe that she is correct. And it has lifted from me a certain need for coordination and order. I am ready to break out of some of the old molds. But I am not sure that my neighbors are ready for my morning perambulations.

August 20, 1997

I Need a Voice

Celebrate this first issue of ZIGZAGS, the voice of me, Jim Hession. I need a voice. Too much is going on in my head and I need to be able to get it out. I need to share it for me and for you. There is something in the utterance which brings truth and clarity to a statement. While it is knocking around and bouncing of the sides of my brain it is not doing any one any good.

The enunciation, the evocation and even the exasperation are what give timber to the voice. And the timber, the sound and the aliveness lift me up. I do this for me. I hope that it also lifts you up. It is this sharing that we expand our circle of humanity. We rise and fall together.

I am indebted to Mary Catherine Bateson for the name ZIGZAGS. In Peripheral Visions (Harper Collins, New York 1994) she speaks of the “Zigzag people,” who are always changing and who are always starting over, again and again. I had always been taught that life would be a straight line on the graph always moving up or rising. And if I did not experience it this way, then somehow I had failed. I now know otherwise.

Life is all about change and adapting to change. The paths of life are zigzags. The cuts and turns look random but they are not. Zigzagging is the way to go. Remember, zigzags, seen from another angle, are rising spirals.