The Facets Of Tinley Park

Tinley Park is a suburb located south-west of Chicago. I am not sure that I have ever been there despite living in the greater Chicagoland area all of my life.

Recently Tinley Park has been in the news. Good news and bad news. Even towns have facets.

First the good news. Tinley Park  received kudos in the November 17 issue Business Week as “America’s Best Place to Raise Your Kids” .  Not one of the top places but THE top place. Pretty special.

Then in the November 19 edition of the Chicago Tribune this headline appears.

Tinley Park Woman Charged with Hate Crime for Tugging on Woman’s Head Scarf.

Best place to raise kids and an atmosphere of intolerance that leads to hate crimes. Sounds a little schizophrenic to me.

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I Am Who I Am

The title paraphrases that great sailor philosopher Popeye. His more earthy version is, “I Yam What I Yam”. Well said, so simple and so true. (Visit Popeye here).

Many of us try to be something we are not. Such an attempted transformation rarely lasts and is often transparent even to the most myopic observer. Think lipstick on a pig.

More realistically many of us strive to push beyond our natural limitations. This is generally quite admirable. My caution is to be self-aware enough so that when you fall back to your natural state, for a moment or forever, you recognize that every moment you have surpassed your natural state has been a grand moment and that falling back into your natural state does not make you less.

So, where is this coming from and where is it going you may rightfully ask. Over the last week or so I have had to face some facets of my self that I work hard to overcome because they limit me and what I can bring to the world. Lately I have fallen and I tend to beat myself up pretty hard for it–this, by the way is one of those facets. Writing about my foibles is partly a cathartic exercise. However, I work under the general assumption that feelings I have, others have. The sum of me is unique but many of the parts can be found elsewhere.  So the other reason to write is to connect to the community of people who share parts of me.

<Warning, Warning. Major tangent ahead. Feel free to skip the italics.>

So now I am thinking about why I write this blog. Lets share the perspectives of some friends. Not long after I started I shared the fact that I blog with some long time friends. M, a woman, said something to the effect of ” Isn’t that a bit narcissistic. Why would anyone care what you write?” Maybe it is but so what? I harm no one. No one is required to read what I write. Yes if I was doing this strictly for me I could write a journal and not publish. However, I want to become a very good writer. The feedback helps for one. And for two, I enjoy the community, however small, that this blog creates.

Now back to the regularly scheduled topic of the day.

So what about who I yam has come to the fore lately. The main one is my biggest personal challenge. I am a Man Of Fear. Big and small, too often big. How did this come about? Inherited or learned behavior from my maternal grandmother. She was The Worrier. Some families have warriors, ours had worriers. (Example. We lived 15 minutes from her house. After a visit, the phone would be ringing as we walked in the door. She wanted to know we made it home safely. Every time.)

So how does this fear thing work with me. I see disaster around every corner. In small moments such as being in traffic and imagining accidents about to happen–all the time. In big moments it freezes me momentarily from doing things I know I should do. Left to my natural state I might not do them at all. I have learned to face my fears and then push through them most of the time. It takes its toll. It is a tough and tiring way to live.

I am also a procrastinator. Many of the people who know me well know that one. I don’t know why. To do what I do for a living well, which I do,  I need to be organized and to juggle multiple assignments. Here too I have learned to push through and to do tasks now, at least work tasks I am less good at personal tasks.

What recent event brought on this wave of self awareness that I am taking my sweet time to share? My car shook.

Starting on the drive into work Wednesday morning and on the way home from dinner, it shook constantly. Never before Wednesday. My Fear–I had screwed up the engine because  was months late in getting an oil change. It may have been as much as 6 months (procrastination in case you missed it). I could hardly sleep that night and I was sick to my stomach all morning as I waited at the dealership. I was convinced that not getting a $30 oil change i was going to cost a $30,000+ car instead. Not a good time financially to do that.

It ended up being some coils that were covered under my extended warranty. Replace the coils, get an oil change and fork over $89 and I was done. This is how most of my fears turn out. Much ado about next to nothing. However, I Yam What I Yam.

If only something as simple as a can of spinach could change everything. Instead we persevere, being the best us we can be.

Public Speaking

This past Thursday at  1:30 EST I began to speak. Unlike most of the times I choose to speak, I was standing up in front of a roomful of about 40 people who paid to attend a conference and decided to come listen to what my friend Shelly and I had to say.

We had 75 minutes to inform–and entertain. I made a short introduction, then Shelly did her thing and I followed. There is an old entertainment saying that goes something like, never follow an act with children or animals. Let me add one to that– or Shelly. She is a naturally captivating speaker. Audiences loves her. She comes across as smart, funny and sincere– because she is all that. As she tries to finish, she is being asked one question after another, I stand there off to the side with a growing sense of trepidation running through my brain faster than Marion Jones on steroids.

Before continuing this story lets go back in time. First of all I am an excellent public speaker. To quote Walter Brennan’s character in The Guns Of Will Sonnet, “No brag, just fact.”  Normally I do not worry about speaking in front of a group, I do, however, like to be prepared. I had planned to practice on Wednesday morning until some client work got in the way. I also had been coughing for a week and had dreams about hacking throughout the entire presentation.  And now I had to follow Shelly’s stellar performance.

Good news. It went well. Once I get rolling the only trouble I have is staying focused on what I had intended to say while a thousand ideas are going through my head sending me off on tangents that I may never recover from. Far too quickly it was over. Given time and a locked door I could have gone on for at least another hour or two.  

This was fun. I need to find ways to do it more often.

Charlton Heston: Multi-Faceted Actor and Man

He was born John Charles Carter in my hometown of Evanston, IL. What comes to mind when you thinkof Charlton Heston?  A man who played strong dynamic characters? Hell, even his stage name exudes strength. Say the words Charton Heston slowly a few times over. This is a man who played Moses and Ben-Hur. He was strong but of good character. He was not an overnight sensation as we see too often these days. He plied his craft at Northwestern University. Took time off for to be in the army. Then to jump start his theatre career he started a playhouse in Ashevill, NC.  So while he eventually acheived the heights of his profession, including an Academy award, he worked hard for what he earned. I loved the roles he played in the great movies though he had his share of stinkers.

What else comes to mind?  Right wing supporter of a number of causes including the NRA and Ronald Reagan? True. He clearly was on the political right in the years of my adulthood. But this is also a man who in the 1950s spoke out against racism and supported the civil rights movement well before it was popular even in Hollywood. He supported Stevenson in 1956 and Kennedy in 1960. He even supported gun control in 1968 after Bobby Kennedy was assasinated.

I guess the point I most want to make is for those of you who remember him, remember the whole man. The man of many facets.

Enjoy the chariot race from Ben Hur. Warning, it goes 9 minutes.

The Daredevil, The Intellect and the Mench

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I have been contemplating the recent deaths of three people; Steve Fossett, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Baba Amte. While the first two are well known in the U.S. the latter distinguished his life in a more saintly fashion. In different ways I hope to become more like each of them.

Steve Fossett made a fortune by his early 40s on the options exchange. For a man known to seek challenges of height and speed  one would assume he was a trader. No, he made his money renting seats on the Chicago and NY exchanges.

He also had a list of things to achieve which showed that he dreamed great dreams. According to The Economist, “Mr Fossett had typed out a list of things to do that included…doing all the World Loppet cross-country skiing marathons, swimming the English Channel and climbing the highest mountain on each continent. He did them all, except for climbing Everest, for which he found he did not have the patience. But he also took part in the Le Mans 24-hour car race, the Boston Marathon and the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. He performed the fastest sail circumnavigation, the fastest sail transatlantic crossing and the highest flight in a glider, nine miles (15.5km) above the Andes. By sea or by air he set 116 records, of which 60 still stand, sewing them up (ever the keen Eagle Scout) like badges on his arm.” He also sailed around the world in a balloon, not letting several failed attempts stop him.

And yet the magazine also had this description of him, “You could tell by the look of him that he was no thrill-seeker: a plump man, even plumper in a pressurised suit, who had to breathe in sharply to wriggle into the tiny capsules on his record-breaking craft, and whose thin grey hair lifted in the wind as he struggled out again. You could tell it, too, by his soft unhurried voice. There was no self-promotion, only method and doggedness.”

Doggedness? I am not sure that one can eliminate thrill seeker from the description. Look at the things he did. My wild aspirations go no further than biking in hills, breaking the 18mph mark and having some cool SCUBA adventures. My regular list has more to do with losing the 15 extra pounds I carry and doing enough yoga so I can touch my toes. I have much to learn from him. Or would if he had not been lost after leaving his home in one of the least adventurous of his flying machines, a single engine Bellanca Super Decathlon. He was declared dead on February 15 at the tender age of 63. I aspire to his sense of adventure.

William F. Buckley, Jr. died at age 82. He needed the long life to work his way through his voluminous vocabulary. According to the New York Times he “marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse”.  I may not have agreed with his politics but I loved to hear the man speak.

I do not go for the loquacious speaker but the times I heard William F. pontificate, I never considered him verbose. Just magnificently educated, elegant and insightful. It almost, and I mean almost, made me want to be a Conservative.

This man wrote book, founded The National Review and for many years had his own show “Firing Line”  which ran from 1966 to 1999. It became the longest running program with a single host — beating out Johnny Carson by three years. He sailed across the Atlantic at age 50 (I am 2 years too late) and wrote novels. When do people like him sleep?

The part I most admired about him was the intellect and the style he brought to his opinions. He was the anti-Limbaugh. Is there a Conservative in the media today that does much beyond attack and rant? I aspire to his eloquence.

Baba Amte was born into a wealthy Brahmin family in India in 1915. For a time he was a successful, highly paid lawyer. He began to change, to find out how the less fortuate lived.

And then one day his world changed. As described in The Ecomnomist, ”

HE HADN’T meant to touch it. As he grubbed in the rain-filled gutter to pick up dog shit, human excrement and blackened, rotten vegetables, stowing them in the basket he carried on his head, he brushed what seemed to be a pile of rags, and it moved a little. The pile was flesh; it was a leper, dying. Eyes, nose, fingers and toes had already gone. Maggots writhed on him. And Murlidhar Devidas Amte, shaking with terror and nausea, stumbled to his feet and ran away.”

This encounter led to a lifetime of helping lepers. He worked in leper clinics. Then he founded an ashram (a secluded residence of a religious community and its guru.)  “It was called Anandwan, “grove of joy”; its philosophy was that lepers could be rehabilitated not by charity, nor by the begging life in railway stations and on streets, but by hard work and creativity, which would bring self-respect. Not by tears, but by sweat, Mr Amte wrote once, and noted how similar those were.

By his death around 3,000 people lived at Anandwan. The farm grew millet, grains and fruit; in the schools, lepers taught the blind, deaf and dumb; there were colleges, two hospitals, workshops and an orchestra, where popular songs were conducted by a polio victim. Warora townsfolk, who had shunned the ashram in its early years, had learnt to buy its vegetables and drink its milk without fear of contagion.”

I can think of no greater descriptor for this incredible man beyond that of Mench. I aspire to his selflessness.

Three men, unique in their own ways, have left us in the month of February 2008. But for a combined 238 years they created legacies like few before them. Somethings to aspire to be.

Hearing Maids

The title refers to a name given by a child to her hearing aids. An article about one 4 year old’s transformation upon being able to hear clearly connected with me on several levels. It was a heartwarming holiday story. I am experiencing hearing loss. The story describes how the parents defined their daughter before they knew she was not hearing normally and how they came to understand and experience her differently.  All this from one story. Let’s see if I can sort this out.

The story about Angeliki appears in today’s Chicago Tribune in the Perspective section. It is a touching story told by the girl’s mom. Two years to diagnose. High frequency hearing loss in both ears. No discernible cause. An entire article could have been written on frustration with the medical community or the pain of the lost years — half of a lifetime for a 4 year old and at a critical time in her development. Instead the story focused on the positive. On how her and their lives changed for the better. This story could have appeared at any time at yet it is in the Sunday edition during the beginning of the winter holiday season. I suspect that this is due to its uplifting message. Just right for now.

Another angle. I have been hearing progressively less for 3 years now. The incremental changes have been subtle but overall it’s noticeable. While the impact is very different on me at age 50 something than to a child who did not hear well to begin,  I relate to her story.

This affliction is annoying for both speaker and attempted listenee.  It particularly drives my teenage son to distraction. hearing_aid.jpgHe jumps from modest volume to a scream the moment I ask him to repeat despite my pleas to just take it up one notch. I suspect that he interprets this as not listening as opposed to not hearing. With my wife it can become a joke when I need 3-4 reps of the same words but too often I mishear instead of not hear and I can blow up at something that was not ever said. With the TV or at work I do the best I can and  have learned to live without knowing exactly what is being said around me. The worst is in a crowded room or anywhere with background noise. A word of advice. If you are talking to me in person please look straight at me unless you do not want me to feel the sting of your rapier wit or hear the astuteness of your musings. A second word of advice. This hearing thing is one of my few idiosyncrasies that I am unwilling to laugh about. (There is an implied threat buried in that last sentence. Beware.)

Many of us, if not most, begin to put labels on people we meet as we accumulate information. Most of the information is limited to behaviors at first. Words, the tone they are spoken in, the specific and very limited context we are in at that moment all begin to shape our judgements. Labels get affixed quickly. Nice, mean, intelligent, idiot, harmless, menacing, kind, fair, authoritative, autocratic, boring, fascinating, etc. These labels can get hard coded relatively quickly based on limited observations. Labels become our way of thinking about and interpreting the person.

Angeliki’s mom had labels for her daughter. Here is how Angeliki’s mom describes her. “For one thing, Angeliki had the loudest voice of any child I had ever known. Nevertheless, she didn’t talk much. She was a little slower to speak than other kids, and what she did say was difficult to comprehend. Although Angeliki was gregarious and outgoing, socially she struggled because she couldn’t seem to interact well in a group.” “Most of all, she was an extremely defiant, independent little girl. I referred to this affectionately as her “screw-you” attitude toward life: She would not be moved by any persuasion; she responded with the taciturnity of a boulder to basic requests; and with a steely-eyed gaze and expressionless silence, she would flatly refuse to do what I asked.” Well it turned out that much of her defiance, her screw you attitude and her social struggles were the result of her not hearing much of what was being said.

Lack of hearing is an obvious trait. Once we know it exists. It changes how we interact with a person, again, once we know. We tend to be more understanding. The labels change. Unfortunately, most reasons behind why a person is what he/she is, or even is at a moment in time, are hidden from us. We rarely take the time or spend the energy to find out. In the spirit of 48Facets, I believe that most of us are more than we appear. I also believe that in most cases there is substantial reward for finding out what lies beneath the surface.

Yet to quote that great paragon of philosophical deliberation, Grey’s Anatomy,

“Sometimes a jerk is just a jerk.” (Lexie Grey, 11/22/2007) 

 All this from one article.

48Facets on American Gangster

It is virtually impossible to build complex characters in a movie. Just not enough time. In American Gangster the two main characters have at least two facets each. Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, is a ruthless killer and drug lord. He also believes in discipline, honor, trust and family. He can be both at the same time. In one scene he is having breakfast with his brothers and talking about these traits when he calmly interrupts his talk to walk over to a rival who owes him money, pulls out his gun and shoots the man in the head in a crowded street.

Richie Roberts, played by Russel Crowe, is the most honest cop in the free world. In an early scene he uncovers $1 million in cash in a bad guy’s car and turns it in because it is the right thing to do. He is also a man who routinely cheats on his wife and makes no time for his son.

People we know in real life tend to get a halo effect. If we think of them as good people we assume that they are good at all aspects of their lives. Not necessary true. No more than the a-hole at work necessarily being one in another environment. Even if he/she is that way everywhere there may be other talents the person has that would make them envied in society. How else can one explain the Britiny Spear types of the world. Even a movie writer couldn’t make that up.