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.