Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bird in the window

That's Life

These are the best of times, and the worst of times. Every day that we wake up there are lots of things that fall into both of these categories.  And that’s life.

The best of times: I was invited to attend a 60th birthday party in Las Vegas for a friend I’ve known for more than 40 years (but haven’t really seen all that much in the past 20 years). His wife planned it as a way of making a bunch of 60-somethings feel something different than being 60-something.  Lots of ways to do that (I guess), Vegas being one of the best (or maybe the most popular).

There were two distinct groups of attendees: the first included a small number of friends and relatives who knew the birthday boy from years ago, but not so much now; the second were guys who are and have been contemporaries during roughly the last 20 years. Amazingly, all of us got along like we’d known each other the whole time. And also amazingly, the friends that he’d attracted then and now were exactly the same. Lots of what we did fell under the heading of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but not everything. We roasted the birthday boy at dinner one evening – everyone getting up and telling personal stories about experiences they’d had with him. Interestingly, the stories from long ago from the rear view mirror were strikingly similar to those that were contemporary as seen through more current window panes. The point I’m trying to make is that real friends stand the test of time and can easily slip back into the bonds of friendship even when time intervenes.  It’s the lucky ones who have this, and have the opportunity to see that this is in fact true.  Having an experience like that is the best gift anyone can give, or get.

The worst of times: I was also going to Vegas to see my Mom and her ailing boyfriend of 9 years. It’s interesting that as our parents live longer, some go through the experience of losing long-term spouses and establishing new relationships for comfort and companionship.  It’s a bit confusing for the families, but in the end it’s interesting to see how our parents start acting like our kids and how we deal with role reversals like that. In our case, Mom and Jerry lived a more than active life and had more activities and friends than we did.  So it was hard to see them start to slow down. And then I got a call as I was boarding the plane that Jerry died.  Good that I was going.

We met his kids, all of whom are grown and live around the country.  They had a memorial service there for all of Jerry’s friends, and while funerals can be somber, this one was a rollicking celebration of life. His kids told of growing up with their Dad, and everyone was polite as they learned more than they’d known. And then, one by one, the friends got up and told stories of dinners, and dancing, and learning and playing bridge, and movies, and attending a weekly classes for seniors at UNLV, and all kinds of other activities that would exhaust much younger people.  If ever there was an example of 85 being the new 65, this was it.  And while we most often dismiss those kinds of clever claims as less than realistic, this one seemed very real.  This group showed how living life to the fullest was a great idea.  Not a theoretical idea, but one that was real and inspiring to all.

As I flew home on the redeye Sunday night, all of these thoughts swirled through my tired mind. Life really is a mixture of good and bad; life really does present us with daily challenges and opportunities; and life is something we need to treasure and live to its’ fullest every day. Trouble is, every day is bogged down with the mundane things of life that often get in the way of or blind us to the greater things about life that are all around us.  And it usually takes an event, or in this case, a couple of contrasting events, to shake us into recognizing that if we don’t live our lives to the fullest we’re apt to miss something both good and important.  In any event, birthdays and deaths shouldn’t be the only times we connect with those who mean the most to us. Take time today to reach out to those you love – don’t let another day go by without telling them and thanking them.  That’s life.

My message this week is about taking responsibility for the things that are important and mean the most to you:

Arte Nathan“Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people ever read.”

-William J. Thoms

William John Thoms (1803 – 1885) was a British writer credited with coining the term "folklore" in the 1840s. Thoms' investigation of folklore and myth led to a later career of debunking longevity myths. Hence, he is the "father of age validation research" to demographers.

How will you live today?  And how will others perceive how you live today?  When you own something, everyone seems to keep an eye on you.  When you were in school – people probably watched how you kept your desk or locker.  Today, if you own a home – they’ll watch how you keep the lawn.  When you own a car – they’ll watch if you keep it clean.  And at work – they’ll watch whether you keep your work area neat and clean, and what your desk looks like, and the quality and timeliness of your work.  We are responsible for, and thus own, all these things, and how we keep them and deal with them will be watched by people around us.  Our actions will always be read and noted, so be careful what you do with the things you own – these will be the tales that people will read and remember about you.

Stay well!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Plan Ahead

NYPD Impound Plan Ahead

I love listening to those goofy brothers on NPR talk about cars.  Let’s face it, most of us grew up with cars and still define ourselves by the cars we drive.  And even though I’ve been in the big city without a car for nearly a year, I’m still a California guy humming ‘get around, get around, I get around…”

So it was a nice surprise when a friend who was going away for a month asked if we wanted to babysit her car. Hey, we’d have wheels and wouldn’t that be fun. On the appointed day we took the subway and picked up our loaned wheels. As we prepared to drive away, all the while thanking her profusely for letting us borrow the car, we heard but didn’t really understand when she said it was a good deal both ways. We smiled and nodded as if we knew what she was talking about.  NOT.

So we took a leisurely and luxurious ride home, and when we got to our neighborhood I proceeded to drive around looking for a parking spot, and then drove around some more looking for a parking spot. I finally found one, proudly and expertly parallel parked and walked the few short blocks back to our apartment.  Next day I thought I’d be a sport and go see if the car was ok – and as I walked to where I had parked it, it wasn’t there. Ok, so maybe I was confused.  I walked around some more and, guess what – it wasn’t there.

I freaked out. The police have a website that will tell you if they towed it – all you need is the make, model and license plate number.  Who has that – especially on a car that’s not yours?  Our friend had that information but she was on her way out the door.  But she got it for us, we entered it into the website and, don’t you know, they had the car. Next, I had to find the impound lot and give them a copy of the registration, a driver’s license and check or credit card that all had the same name on it.  Of course my name wouldn’t be on the registration, even if I had the registration. My wife noted that we needed a notarized statement from the owner attesting to the fact that we were legally, if only temporarily, the possessors of the car. So we called our friend back, just as she was leaving, and she miraculously had a neighbor who was a notary, scanned the letter and a copy of the registration and emailed it to us.

Stuff in hand, I found the impound.  It wasn’t nearly as confusing as the DMV and they efficiently took all my information, then took a rather large check and pointed to a sign that said “wait here for escort”.  I got in that line, put my hand in my pocket for the keys and discovered I’d left them at home. That was it for me.

As I stood there with a terribly forlorn look on my face, that old adage popped into my head: Plan Ahead.  And that’s the lesson of this sad tale.  If only I had planned ahead.  If only I’d taken a moment to learn and know the rules, to study the things I needed to know, to plan how I was going to deal with what I was doing, to have a backup plan if things didn’t go right, to talk ahead of time with my others about the complexity of what we were doing or getting into, to stop when disaster struck and calmly assess my options, and to think everything through.  All of this was relevant to my experience, and it all applies to all the other things we do in life each day too. And out all this I’ve come up with one more New Year’s resolution:  Plan Ahead.

And my message this week is about another New Year’s resolution that some have made:

Arte Nathan“Help Others”
At the end of the day there’s nothing like helping others.  You can always help yourself – that seems to come naturally. You can do what you do… for you, but the real value comes when you do what you do for others.  You can talk to yourself, you can walk with yourself, you can cook for yourself, you can clean up after yourself, you can work for yourself, you can read to yourself, and you can always think for yourself.  But where’s the joy and satisfaction and value if at the end of the day you’re just left with yourself. The best part of life is sharing, collaborating and engaging with others. Self-satisfaction – the kind you get when it’s all for and about you - is far less rewarding and fulfilling than the satisfaction you get from doing things with and for others.  Look around – you’re not alone.  Listen – there’s a world of people and stuff all around you. The key to real success and satisfaction is the way you play and work with others, is the way you engage with others in common pursuits, is the way you feel when you experience the reactions of others. Make a point of helping others – today and every day.

Stay Well

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Right Tool for the Job

 The Right Tool for the Job 

I saw a commercial on TV this week for a Dodge Caravan, and the announcer exclaimed how it was “the right tool for the job”.  Hey, wait a minute; if like me you grew up in the 60s you’ll recognize that as the byline of Mr. Natural, one of R. Crumb’s crazy comic characters. Amazing how "far out" ideas becomes mainstream.   But now that they mentioned it, I am always looking for the right tool for the job too, and I think I found a new one.

Some background: The internet is a great source for information and ideas to use for just about anything.  Put something into one of the online search engines and you’ll get a cornucopia of information in no time. Don’t know the dates or facts for something – no problem, a quick search can rectify that.  Looking for just the right word or phrase, or the meaning of a word – that’s easy, use an online dictionary. With most of the dictionaries we use – either in print or online – there’s an actual method for deciding which words are listed.

But now there’s a new kind of dictionary – it’s called Wordnik (no kidding, I read about it in the New York Times)., is a dictionary that evolves as language does. On Wordnik, users can add new words and meanings, tag words with related expressions, see real-time search results for words from Twitter and Flickr, discover how many Scrabble points each word is worth — all on one page.  Check it out – you’ll be amazed.  And then read about how it got started, and you’ll be even more amazed.

So, when’s the last time you saw a really new dictionary?  Probably never.  But just like with Wikipedia, this Internet thing is changing the way most of the things we grew up with are done today.  I’m always looking up stuff as I write these messages, and between Wikipedia and now Wordnik I’ve gotten new tools that are right for this job.  I could never have gotten such easy access to so much information before.  And in this is one of the lessons of our times.

We are witness to an amazing array of development that produces changes to many of the things we’re accustomed to.  And we’re expected to adapt to all these new things in ways that really stretch us.  Not unlike our grandparents, who lived thru the advent of the automobile, air travel, televisions, calculators and more, we’re now experiencing changes that are more frequent and in many ways more amazing.  Who’d of thought that as kids when we marveled at Dick Tracy’s watch/phone combination or Buck Roger’s space travel that there would be things like that in our lifetimes?  Well, there are, and so much more too.  Stop and try to imagine a world without computers, the internet, cable TV and cell phones.  Could we get along without this stuff – probably.  Would we be better off without this stuff – probably not. But either way, it’s here and we should choose what works for each of us and make the most of the things life now offers.

So, go check out Wordnik.  Or go find something else that is new in this New Year.  Because no matter what, we should always be looking for the right tools for the job.  We should each be on the lookout for the new tools that can help make our jobs easier, and the results of our jobs better.  That’s the challenge of life.  And in the answers to those challenges are the wonders of life.

In the spirit of New Years, this week's message is about one of the resolutions people generally make for this holiday:

Arte Nathan“Get in shape” -Unknown

On the surface, getting in shape is seemingly about the need to shed unwanted pounds and inches.  But there are lots of others things that might also benefit by getting in shape.  How about your attitude: is that in the right shape for this New Year? If your attitude is not as good as it could or should be, chances are you won’t approach the things you need to see and do with the openness that would be needed to make the most of them.  How about your commitment: is that where it should be to start off on the right foot?  Because if you’re not really committed to the things you need to do then they won’t get the most out of the things you do.  How about your focus: are you in the moment enough to see what needs to be done clearly?  If not, how can you expect to be the leader or role model that others might need you to be?  These are some of the things that will be significantly improved if you’re in the right shape to implement and execute them effectively.  So start getting every aspect of your life in shape today.

Happy New Year and Stay Well!