A needlepoint journey starting with Ganesha

I’m old enough now to hear the newness of discovery in the younger folks around me as they begin to line up along the compasses of their lives. I’m going to be 50 in a little less than a year now. The funny thing about the young folks I work with though is that they make a Hell of a lot of sense... and remind me to, as I practice in Yoga, always work against being brittle and emotionally/mentally sedentary. To breath and reach toward flexibility. Always just a little beyond what feels comfortable because that’s where the ideas live.

So I’ve survived my youth, several career changes, a heart attack,  married to my best friend, reconciled with my estranged brother (whom I mostly estranged in the first place), with a growing collection of lovely friends. I’ve morphed into a vegetarian, a runner and a meditation practitioner over the course of the past two years. All this pursuit reminds me mostly to live in the moment and do the kinds of things that challenge us and promote emotional growth in the process. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it hurts. And a lot of times it feels like standing naked in front of someone and feeling totally self conscious about every aspect of yourself as I felt while working with my therapist regarding my anxiety disorder and grieving process related to being a survivor.

I dedicated 2017 early on to doing things that scare the Hell out of me. The good things. The ones that feel like trimming back the heads off a basil plant in the summer time that make it explode in aromatic yellow gold leaves of new growth.

I want to own 49 and make it mine from February 2017 through February 2018 and look back on the kind of year that made me think I took a moment and did things differently for once. Maybe turn the course of my navigation by a few degrees and come across all new places and peoples along the way. Raucous parties. People who aren’t bound by traditional norms and think outside the box like myself – at least how my inner person thinks anyway underneath all the protocol and personal dogma.

Cleveland

A very old college coworker of mine used to go to Tibet with her husband on a regular basis. I was something like 20 at the time when I knew her. She told me Ganesha was the remover of obstacles and the opener of doors. Bringer of luck. Liked to be on the physical right side of things. Was surrounded by sweets and always had rats around him. I liked the imagery so much that I gave the piece she gave me to my brother back then framed for some occasion. I suck at presents and special occasions so that’s pretty much saying something there. But Ganesha always found himself back in my home through other peoples gifts. I’ve had that imagery in my house for decades now. Always on the right side of things like Cathy told me.

design

When it finally came time to hook up with a tattoo shop it was Ganesha that kept coming to my mind. The design I talked through with my tattoo artist Andy from Long Street Collective represents this story perfectly. I wanted to start with my back as a way to remind myself that someone had opened doors for me. That I had walked through them leaving my old self behind while finding a new understanding along the way. I’ve always been lucky to have Eddie nearby, a collection of good friends and of course, somehow, finding the right amount of spark in the anxiety driven commotion inside my head to think clearly enough for a short period of time to make the leaps I needed to make. That’s what the back tattoo means to me. A less than literal representation of Ganesha to mirror how I see life through the mask of anxiety… but more clearly the more I meditate, run and get closer to myself while reaching out to more people and making friends, taking chances and standing naked under the stars while humbling oneself during some brutally honest internal conversations.

As I’m finding out, the back sucks pain wise but it’s like the cloud meditation. The pain is like clouds in the sky… it’s not the sky itself. It passes and you through it.

The back is the first third of what I have planned for the year. Next we move onto the shoulders, arms and chest. I plan to look for patterns and to honor the time bomb in my chest, the constant insanity of my brain, avoidance, self medication versus clarity and purpose, taking chances and allowance of change. Of not having time to wait around any longer to decide what “I want.” Or what do you want to do when you grow up. The time is now. Right now immediately now for all of us. We just don’t all see it at the same time is all. Tomorrow is the illusion.

first

Living life day by day is the edict. Jumping off new choices, sometimes in a tattoo shop and other times a pizzeria in Cleveland, with people I love around me is the direction. New, and old, experience is the practice.

In the end? Love is the result.

Posted in personal

Being There: Practicing mindfulness in the Workplace

This post will attempt to deliver a message of being present. Staying focused on a given job and doing it with 100% attention to the people around us. I will be sharing three techniques I learned over the course of 18 years.

  • Story telling
  • Active listening
  • Mindfulness

Lee-Evans-photo-Dec.-9-2014-shot-of-downtown-Dallas

I was flying back to Dallas from SFO in 2012. A Bill & Melinda Gates funded NPO reached out to me for an interview. The guy I was seated next to proceed to give me the best professional advice I ever received. He told me to “replant yourself every three years.” I had done this through the 90’s up until the time I worked for the largest privately owned wine and beer company in the Nation. While SFO proved to be too cost prohibitive for my family, I knew I needed a bigger pot.

One of my first career plans was cooked up over a glass of wine and a conversation with one of my account reps. I got a job managing a wine shop in the French Market after I dropped out of forestry school. The trajectory I plotted was to go from the wine shop to work at both a white tablecloth restaurant called Tapa Tio and then a private club named The Capital Club. After that the plan was to hire onto a wine distributor and move on to become a broker. I made it as far as becoming a wine rep for the best independent boutique companies in Ohio called Bauer & Foss. I was hooked on the nerdiness of the food and wine culture.

Champagne

You really get a feel for an industry when you work all angles of it. The thing I Ioved about it was all the romance. The mystique of wine tasting, pairing with foods and all the storytelling involved. When you are slinging bottles the best way to do it to have some fire inside about what you are selling. I did this by learning more about where things came from. The people who made it. The grape growers and then all of the magic that happens when you pop a bottle of Champagne and pairing it with something stellar like Osso Buco. Yeah that dinner was incredible.

Whatever your trade, it’s incredibly important to learn how to tell your story and with the same passion that carried you into it. Let’s say you want to talk about a JavaScript or CSS methodology. It’s best to hold the concept loosely like a feeling. The challenge is to not become an evangelist but an artist explaining an idea and letting it become something new when telling that story to others.

One of the best articles I’ve read about storytelling came from the Harvard Business Review. The author broke it down into these steps to tell your story beautifully:

  • Start with a message
  • Mine your own experiences
  • Don’t make yourself the hero
  • Highlight a struggle
  • Keep it simple

Carmenet

Yeah, that’s me a long time ago careening down the side of Carmenet’s mountain side. Bauer and Foss would send us out to wine country every once in a while to meet with and listen to the people who made the products we were selling. This usually involved spending time on the vineyard in the guest house, hot days spent in the vineyard itself checking out the growth of the crops, smell of the soil, mood of the region from fog to sunlight to soil composition. We’d usually spend the afternoon in the barrel room tasting things that were on the make or things that few people outside the winery boundary had an opportunity to experience.

On one trip I met the folks from Ferrari Corona, Preston, Carmenet, St. Supery, Acacia and a hand full of others. I loved seeing the winemaker’s homes. Listening to the music they enjoy. Eating the food that their creative palates gravitated toward. The laughter. The friends I made while outside of my orbit and very far away from home. Sometimes letting loose and riding a flatbed truck down a mountainside with two of the most special colleagues I’ve ever had.

It’s these experiences that we were encouraged to take back home with us. We were wine reps on a route including fine wine shops and white table cloth restaurants. A small boutique company facing both larger and smaller ones. We were the ones who were passionate about it though. Our friendship with the people who made the product is what made us stand out among the competition… and enriched our lives in the end.

Whatever aspect of the tech industry you are in there is something about it that makes you want to do the work you do. Find that spark and get to know the story behind it. The people. Find a connection and then share that with your team mates and clients. Be careful not to evangelize. What you want to do is to share your enthusiasm about what makes the thing that sparks you excited. People tend to trust people who are open, honest, a bit nerdy and take the time to share something personal about the product you are selling.

Me

I made my switch to IT when a larger national company called Glazer’s bought Bauer & Foss. I had purchased 5 Pentium PC’s and set up a mini Red hat 5.0 lab in my home. I taught myself networking, server technologies including Apache, SAMBA, MySQL, Send Mail, DNS and early firewalling. From there I moved into languages including HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL and JavaScript in addition to various scripting frameworks. I was kind of hooked. So when I was faced with the potentially disturbing reality of selling peach flavored Chardonnay instead of the likes of Cakebread and Kistler I took an opportunity to participate in the data migration as part of the system conversions.

Some years later after building custom web based reporting tools I implemented an open source DMS that caught the attention of the corporate office in Dallas. They asked me to relocate and come work for them in the Java/IBM shop on WebSphere applications. It was challenging work going from the sequential coding background I had into the full blown OOP world of the Spring framework. As time went on I volunteered and became the lead of shepherding the SharePoint and .Net platforms that they bought for enterprise collaboration.

These were days full of “big doin’s” as they say in Texas. There was a great deal of prejudice against Microsoft, and I get it, but I like to think in terms of what Jean Paul Gautier said once. “The idea is more important than the means used to implement it.”

I worked with some pretty hostile project team members who wanted nothing more than to see the return of the ideas of the 1970’s. Storytelling alone was not helping me either. I had to pick up some new moves so I bought some books on negotiating and brokering deals. One of the best techniques from this research is called “active listening.”

captain-ahab

Once I relocated to Dallas I had to adjust pretty much everything about my life. I still had that Bauer & Foss independent streak burning brightly saying that I could overcome any challenge with enough hard work, dedication and creativity. It had been one of those career gear shifts that put me into arena where I had to learn Java Spring and the principals of OOP along with JSP and DB2… fast. After a year I was given a chance to lead the introduction of SharePoint 2007 and the .NET 3.5 framework to the enterprise. I grew the team to a humble 6 people and we did some big things together. It was not, however, without moments of despair and serious pain.

We were dragging the company away from IBM while it was kicking and screaming. There were two modernization efforts going on. The first was to convert all our decades old Lotus Notes applications to SharePoint for the purposes of collaboration and department based app ownership to reduce costs and technical debt. The other was to convert from a custom IBM AS400 LOB to SAP. Things were going great and my team was getting more accolades as SharePoint adoption was improving across the enterprise. Then that one project hit my desk. SAP didn’t have a way to incentivize sales reps so the knee jerk reaction was to build an ancillary system that interfaced between SAP and SharePoint.

I used to go to all of the Microsoft conferences in Dallas. They have a very large campus in Irving. It was at one of these gatherings that I heard a speaker say that “you can do anything in SharePoint, the trick is not to.” I architected the system to meet the requirements of the old AS400 system. My team was busy for 6 months solid, then 3 months in testing and UAT and iterative testing. Then we rolled it out to one of our States as a small rollout. It was a huge success. We then rolled it out to the largest portion of the company and the wind changed.

There’s a paraphrase from Melville I heard in one of the Star Trek Next Generation movies, which I think is better than the original line, which goes “if his chest had been a canon he would have shot his heart upon it.” That is essentially what I proceeded to do while protecting my team and taking the responsibility for the crippling system failure. SharePoint simply could not handle the massive through put that we were forcing upon it. We had used InfoPath, the .NET workflow framework in conjunction with Timer Jobs and PowerShell scripts. A great formula for small endeavors… not so great, as we discovered on the larger scale.

There was one point where a massive blow up occurred and it hit me square in the chest. I almost teared up while facing a situation where there was nothing I could do but clean up the mess and then go to the executive meetings and face the music.

All through that one year I was faced with dealing with waterfall project managers who were not digging the conversion to SAP let alone the loss of Lotus Notes. I knew I had to learn some new skills to surf the conversations toward brokering an agreement. So I went to the library and picked up some communication books. It was in one that I learned of a technique called active listening.” Essentially what you do is to be in the presence of someone who is talking, either in a meeting, your development space or anywhere else for that matter. You listen, think for a minute and then when it’s your turn to speak you stop yourself. You stop yourself from saying what your reaction is. Instead you wrap it within the original speakers’ message. So something like “Let me know if I understood you correctly. What you said is that XYZ. I appreciate the feeling behind XYZ but I wonder if we have considered ABC. What do you think?”

This technique lets the speaker know that you heard her or him and that you are invested in what they are saying. What does this do for you? It makes the speaker more inclined to invest in you. This technique can really save your deals, your projects and relationships.

After spending the better part of a decade in Dallas, a year after I the San Francisco interview, I got a call from a Microsoft Gold Partner to come work for them as a senior SharePoint developer. So me and my family packed back up and moved home to Columbus Ohio. The work was awesome and the technological culture vibrant. I was firing on all cylinders and enjoying the challenge.

A couple years into this I had found my swing and had become a highly functional consultant. Yet life throws us curveballs from time to time and I ended up catching one in 2015 that very nearly put me out of the game of life for good. After that everything changed. It was a struggle dealing with the emotional consequences of what happened so I hired a therapist, started running, became a vegetarian and started to tackle meditation.

meditating

My meditation practice was halting at best. I knew however that it improves the chances of not having a second heart attack, makes life generally better like you have heard about in “10% happier” and just makes people more present with one another.

Everything actually ended well in Dallas. It was a lesson learned for myself and the department and part of our platform maturity path. It was around 2013 that I got an email from some guy in Columbus Ohio who I’d never heard of before. He worked at a company called Cardinal Solutions. He had concocted a LinkedIn search using the keywords SharePoint, OSU and Texas. I met with the team, got an incredible job offer and relocated back to Columbus within a month.

I brought back my scars from Dallas and my hard headed determination from Bauer & Foss and proceeded to work on as many projects as I could handle. It turns out that I could not in fact handle everything especially when I was juggling two very prickly clients. In April of 2015 I had a surprise heart attack. No warning signs, no history, low risk and yet I walked out two days later with a bag full of medicine and a piece of platinum in my chest.

MI

After an exhaustive amount of soul searching I was determined to rejoin the living and to get back to work and to be as productive as I could be. While I am an atheist I have learned to appreciate both running, vegetarianism and Buddhist principals. I know it sounds strange. But really, Buddhism is more of a philosophy and less of a religion than most people realize. With that I began to approach meditation with the goal of living longer. The American Heart Association endorses various relaxation techniques including meditation, or mindfulness as it goes these days.

I am not a touchy feely person by nature and the whole idea of sitting on a pillow after writing more lines of code than I could count to simply listen to myself breath sort of challenged me. I struggled with it for 6 months until I heard one guided meditation speaker say “it’s the spaces in between the thoughts that distract you which pull you back to the breath that is the true practice of meditation.” In that moment I knew it was OK that I was thinking about the class file I had just edited, my client visit tomorrow, what shirt I was going to wear, why is my cat sitting in my lap now, oh wow I should not have had that much spicy food at lunch, I wonder what Kevin Mack is up to this weekend… it never ends. But I knew right there that I was in fact meditating successfully every time I hit a spot of nothing, between thoughts, and was listening to my breath again.

Meditation in fact is a lot like programming. It has patterns. These patterns develop and grow the longer you practice. One quick and easy technique is to, now I want everyone to try this in a moment, tell your brain you are going to listen to your breath for a few cycles. That’s important. You are announcing mindful intent in the face of constant mindlessness. Then you inhale counting 4, hold counting 4, exhale counting 4, hold counting 4. Repeat two more times. OK, now try. You might not feel very different but physiologically your heart rate may have slowed, your blood pressure may drop, your thoughts may become clearer and your memory may have just gotten better. I use this technique not just at the beginning of a meditation session but in the board room, or while having negotiations with a difficult client, arguing with my partner about me leaving the protein powder on the counter and not in the hidden spot he’d rather me put it.

The idea behind this is that there is nothing fancy or mystical about mindfulness. It’s a simple practice of coming back to your breath. Over and over again. It makes you come back into the moment with your colleagues, team mates and friends. You know it’s funny, a lot of people blame our technology for scattering us into bad practices like multi-tasking. In reality it’s us. We need to learn to acknowledge life around us and let it be. To participate but not to let it take us too far away from our breath. Each other. The person right in front of you in the meeting or the one you are pair programming with.

We have covered my personal big three professional techniques of interfacing with the people around me to get cool work done while having fun and making memories. Yours will probably be different. But remember that it’s your passion, ability to listen/negotiate and be present while honoring yourself and the people around you that make us successful in everything we do.

being there

So why the title “being there?” There is a 1970’s film, one of my all-time favorites, that inspired this post. It’s a film where the main character is portrayed as both a genius but with a severe intellectual disability. The point is that no one really knows, including ourselves, but if we believe in something and then just let it go like the breath, life really is just nothing more than a constantly changing collection of thoughts… and all that beautiful space in between.

“Life is a state of mind.”

Posted in personal, professional

Pink flowers and magic

Who schedules brunch on the day that Daylight Savings happens? Oh right, that was me. So I had brunch with a friend this morning at a restaurant called North Star in the Short North. Not to sound like an old guy but I remember this place when it used to be some sort of medical lab processing business and the White Castle was the only place to eat on that corner.

Eddie and I lived down the street at the corner of Second & Hunter Avenue for many years. I met him while he was in art school at OSU and later moved in with him and his cat Samson. It was one of those humble Victorian Village houses that was originally built as shotgun apartments for factory folks. We had so many parties there. These took many forms but usually went like this: tons of food, more alcohol than a well stocked bar during OSU football season, people laughing or passed out momentarily and everyone having a great time. The place had an incredible garden which later developed into Eddie’s landscaping canvass over time.

Many of our friends ended up taking some of the adjacent units over the years. Ted, Puck, Angela, Paul, Phil and Mike to name just a few. It was when I met up with Eddie over at Ted’s apartment where I found them all piled up in his bedroom watching some old black and white film together. It may have been “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” or a raunchy John Waters film, I can’t remember. But I do remember the enormous coffee tins that were overflowing with cigarette butts and Ted shouting “WHO SMELLS LIKE A BIG LILAC!?” When I showed up. I was into essential oils and herbs during that phase of my life and I was always mixing various scents together. Just as I did for Eddie in my old apartment on Hamlet St in Italian Village. I had this gigantic two person tub and I’d mix up things like neroli, vetivert and sandalwood and we’d hop in the tub for a soak on a cold winter night together. Ted introduced us to truffle making, a way of combining various foods and flavors and one of the driest senses of humors we’d ever meet. He lived hard and played hard. Sadly he passed away the first year we came back to Ohio and we missed a chance to say our goodbyes. (His is the only name I did not change for this piece.)

Angela was just plain fun. Maybe a little too much fun at times but she was always there with a shoulder and a smile when you needed it. I remember her as a strong young woman who had so much to offer people. Oddly enough, I think she was struggling with confidence more than anything. Be that as it may she was always boisterous, disarming and powerfully charming. We spent so many nights drinking with her at the growing number of bars on High Street. When Havana first opened up under Michael Counsel it was creative and cool. Our friend Chuck would see that we were properly inebriated, always laughing while surrounded by each others company. I always remember him when I hear a Missy Elliot thinking of his voice, smile and hand gestures.

Time passed. Angela got married to an incredible man and her unit went to our friend Paul. Paul. Oh god. We knew this skinny little crazy tattooed white boy when, of all places, he lived behind a church on 5th ave & High St. It was rumored that he was a heroin addict however it was acid that really floated his boat. There was a time when he’d lost his job and we sent out an invitation to all of our dinners that he was willing to try. He was too proud to come every night but we saw him a great deal during those lean months. It was then that we got to know him better. He had a wicked sense of humor, a wild streak and, at heart, a big ball of sentiment underneath his armor. I remember being called on the phone one night to come rescue him. He was panicked. A bat flew into his apartment on 5th. Eddie and I got there only to find Paul proudly, but still shaken up a bit, declare he caught it with an “ingenious” setup made from a laundry basket, a tshirt and a tennis racket.

Another story of his that I cherish is when he and one of his gentleman callers were headed out for breakfast one Saturday morning. They were blocked in the parking lot by two women who were doing some sort of drugs together. The neighborhood still had a definitive edge to it. Paul asked them to move whereupon the women began to heckle the guys. Paul being Paul hauled off and called the main character a “skank” which is when the situation escalated. The main character was pregnant, high and would have been a Wallmart denizon if they had been around at that time. She began to move on Paul like she was going to do some serious bodily harm when he jumped back into the car and made an escape to finally get breakfast. His moral from that was to “never call a pregnant white trash girl a skank.” To hear him tell the story is a joy though. It’s his hand gestures, smile and body language that really makes you feel the ridiculousness of it. In fact, when I die, I’d love for this moment to repeat over and over in my head until the lights go out… it always makes me laugh. Sadly his dad killed himself while we lived in Dallas. I’ll never forget that phone call. He was devastated but I could still hear the strength in his voice. I had another failure of character here however. I should have gotten tickets to go be with him through this crisis but I chose to remain in Dallas and work on some now forgotten corporate deadline. It’s only after carrying these kinds of regrets that you realize that family should always take precedence over work.

Phil was always low key. We never really hung out at each others places too much but we were definitely patio and porch buddies. I think it was one night after drinking heavily with Paul, the boy liked to party, we ended up on our section of the porch outside of “Le Salon” as our apartment was known. Phil had brought a bottle of moonshine up with him. And with the livers of young people we all shared that with him. It was that night when the most dangerous thing happened. He was arguing that you could catch moonshine on fire for whatever reason. And then he poured some out on the deck and proceeded to prove his point. The place was basically a five alarm fire just waiting to happen. We had live gas light pipes in our ceilings next to electrical wire, some exposed, the place was old, brittle and dry as hell. How we all didn’t end up homeless, or in rehab, that night will always escape me. He and Eddie were fellow students in a Master program at OSU in the fine arts. And again while he kept to himself there were those moments that only your direct neighbors hear on hot summer nights when he had a lady friend over and they were both being very intimate with each other. We weren’t listening but our room was directly above his and everyone had their windows open as no one had the money for air conditioning.

Mike was different. He and I worked together at a restaurant called A La Cart. As our rent was a ridiculous $300 he decided to move in as one of the lower units opened up. He quit his job and started working on a stand up routine. He was a talented writer and a really smart guy. My only regret here is that I didn’t check in on him enough. I think he was worse off than I thought and probably could have used a better friend than I was. I think I had just jumped from waiting tables to doing the wine sales thing and was being pulled down toward Cincinnati. Not my best years.

Puck. He and his boyfriend Carlos literally shoved me out in front of Eddie one night at the Eagle dance club. I’m not very aware of what goes on around me in bars.  So I was surprised to learn that this handsome artist with a shaved head and hair everywhere was attracted to me. We kissed for the first time that night and that was it. I knew Carlos from my early college years when I was in forestry and lived with a group of guys on steroids. Puck was a skinny art/skate/queer/punk guy when we all met him. Things inevitably change. His relationship with Carlos ended. Carlos moved home to Florida, declared bankruptcy and started a new life. Puck moved to Broad St from his warzone home on Bryden Rd. It was around there that he started taking steroids. Lots and lots of steroids. While his musculature increased it actually changed his bone structure. Even his skin changed becoming more textured and welted. It was his thing so we accepted him for who he was becoming. Still, it always worried me. It was after the rouge guy directly below us (our Boo Radley myth), and before Phil, that Puck moved in to the unit below us. He did odd things like forego a refrigerator and baked awful cornbread. We’d all hang out in Le Salon together, make food, have cocktails, listen to music and talk about art/architecture and furniture.

We took a road trip to visit Eddie’s best friend in Chicago one year together. I remember that one because the comet Hale Bop had come to visit. We could actually see it from the car we rode in along the way to Chicago. Once there we all had a great time. It was however at one bar where Puck met Charlie. An old has been of an artist. Overly aggressive and usually offensive as decades of steroid use had made him. He later developed a Vicodin addiction. As he had been working the system pretty hard he had stockpiled so much of the stuff that before he joined rehab he threw a party and gave everyone a bottle of the stuff as a party favor. That one always confused me… why would you give the gift of addiction to someone else as you struggle to keep your intestines from rupturing again from the habitual abuse? But they fell for each other. When we got back to Columbus we immediately went to Havana and tied one on together. It was one of the best road trips, annoying moments or not, that I had ever completed. Shortly afterwards Puck decided to leave Ohio and go to live with Charlie. It would be many years before we saw one another again.

Every spring Second Avenue would suddenly explode into pink blossom filled trees lining the sides of the street and filling the air with perfume. I enjoyed walking down the street at sunset smelling the fragrance of the blossoms while everything around me was tinted pink, gold and orange by the sunset filtering through the branches above. It always looked like the street was alive and vibrating with life. When you see a scene in a movie where the character is contemplating and then you get a transitional device framed to “take you back” with the actor… that’s how this feels when I think of it. So when I saw the arrangement of branches at Northstar this morning I was hit with all of these memories at once. I was back on Second Avenue this morning having breakfast with a respected colleague. She’s a strong independent woman in the tech industry in her 20‘s. The fire in her eyes and the confidence in her voice made me think of what it was like to be young and live down the street with Eddie and Samson. It gives me a moment of pause to think of all of the people I knew and the ones I know now and how lucky I feel to have been where I have and where I’m at today.

I like to think we are all of us full of dreams, spirit and wonder. It is, however, when we take the time to be vulnerable, take risks and bear our hearts that we make real magic happen.

blooms

Posted in personal

Locker room talk

Everything was going fantastic. One of the best days so far in what was turning out to be a perfect week. The marketing had begun for a talk I’m doing for a local tech group. I got some awesome projects lined up and even more amazing people to work with through these endeavors. My team had gone out to a pretty good restaurant for lunch where I learned more about  the African American gentleman and the two Indian women, one of them my boss. I remember feeling how lucky I am to be on such a diverse team of smart people in technology who are passionate about business, tech, movies and family.

The weather was warm and the sun was out, furthering the illusion that Winter was coming to an end in Columbus Ohio. Walking outside I chose to skip the department happy hour in favor of going to the Y and donning my, now dangerously in need of washing, running clothes. Even the run was great. While I’m building back up to longer distances to prepare for another race this one felt strong. Like I could just keep going for a half marathon or longer. I think mindset has a lot to do with that.

The fly in the ointment however was back in the locker room as I was drying off. I was shoving my running shorts, with a grimace, into my take home and wash in acid bag when I heard “fuck that Jew!” I was kind of shocked but no where near this guy. His anger was palpable as he bellowed against some individual whom he thought had maligned the YMCA organization by having a financial stake in it. That he was, somehow, “cutting my dick in half” or “just fucking me.” His anger smelled worse than my running shorts.

What made me curious though was that he proclaimed that he was a Christian. That he was not, in fact, “anti Jew.” Websters defines anti-semitism as “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” So contrary to how this individual wants to portray himself, he was in fact an excellent representative of this hateful group of people… and as far away from Christian beliefs as possible.

It made me think of the phrase “locker room talk.” I’d like to think that we live in a culture that honors everyone as free thinking individuals with rights, families, goals, hopes and dreams. The reality however is, well, something else. While I didn’t interrupt the hostile guy in the isle across from me I knew I’d write this in protest. There is no room for hate in any form of dialogue. Be it while wearing a suit, jeans and a t-shirt or buck naked towling off with a buddy after a workout.

While he was motivated by his anger… hate is hate. That’s the thing that we need to change. Really root out like a cancer and replace it with understanding, compassion, (for God’s sake) etiquette, and hopefully some laughter.

And now I need to get back to my awesome week with great people who I look to for inspiration, hope and friendship. It’s also chest & triceps day so I will be back to the Y over lunch … hopefully I can run into someone and have a conversation about something positive to counter balance the negativity oozing out of the locker room.

lockerroom

Posted in personal

February… from the rear view mirror

While I did better this year than I did last year Winter always sucks the air out of me. It’s like I know it’s coming and I keep busy, line up cool projects, listen to great music and connect with awesome people but there’s always that emptiness in the dark parts of the months. I’m happy that my schedule included more weight lifting and a return to protein powders, amino acids and ZMA but my running routing took a hit. Less because of the added weight training and more because of the emotional imbalance. The funny part about that is that it’s running that really helps me to keep on the positive side of feelings when I’m running 10 to 15 miles a week than not. And with another long race coming up at the end of May it’s time to refocus on that goal. But hey, that’s why I signed up i the first place. Challenge or not, it’s a target to hit.

So here’s to running shoes and March.

February

Posted in general, personal

No one wins a nuclear war

Even the air seems hot these days. It’s as if 2017 came electrified along political lines pushing people further apart from one another. Following is a recount of three situations I experienced that make me give pause while thinking about these as communication failures and the hope that things can be different if we work to improve things.

I have a high school friend who was one of the forward thinking alternative straight guys who befriended me in our home town. Our friendship was pivotal to me as a young teen desperate to find some bits of self-respect as I was struggling to come out. He of course “dated” every one of my female friends, and broke a lot of hearts along the way, but he was who he was.

We parted ways as our lives unfolded only to reconnect when his mom passed away in 2016. It was then that I discovered that he had become xenophobic, somewhat racist and disturbingly conspiracy theorist. As the months during the 2016 election cycle ground along wearing everyone’s nerves raw and shredded I noticed that he had a habit of doing what looked like internet trolling. Now it should be said that I had a failure of character here as well. I struck up a private conversation with him after Trump was elected. I was somewhat unhinged along with much of the left leaning Nation. My tone could have been more reserved to say the least. I apologized of course.

Still, as the weeks and months went on he became more and more troll like on social media with me. Some public threads topping 30 plus interactions. These were not just on my feeds but on other folks feeds as well. It was as if he was looking for a platform to speak from across many places to spread some sort of personal dictate that he was right and all others were wrong. Most of them leaving me dumbfounded with how pro-gun, anti-Muslim and Hispanic, conspiracy theorist and so on… I can’t remember what the thread was but there was one point where I had had enough. I blocked him.

Another friend of mine was someone who was close to us for a while in the late 90’s and early part of the 01’s. We both knew he was kind of a bully but he had a good heart… and happens to be handsome which has its own sort of magnetism I guess. We had treated he and mutual friend out to a night at the movies a month or so after my heart attack in 2015. I was eager to get back to normal life, while at the same time, just beginning to realize that I was about to go through the stages of grief. I can’t remember the movie but I do remember him driving us in his SUV at break neck speeds while shouting at other drivers and smoking, after I asked him not to for my own health reasons. It was one of those rides you were just happy to get out of the car safely afterwards.

We went back to our loft after the show and had a couple beers which ended up being a very bad idea. As our guest proselytized about the weakness of the poor and disadvantaged the conversation turned personal. My cardiac anger is quite possibly what triggered a non-characteristic moment where I put on my verbal boxing gloves and brought up a parallel situation to what he was arguing with my in laws. They worked hard all their lives. They were an exemplary role model for what a good and caring family should be as part of one of Columbus’ best families who were involved in charity work and high profile religious affiliations.

They eventually retired and enjoyed a brief moment of being well off. At least in the sense that they could enjoy going out on the town with their adult children and their spouses. Treating us to some of the things they enjoyed most. A good time together. Laughter, cocktails, food and stories. Unfortunately, those days came to a careening halt when the Dot Com bubble burst. They didn’t have the luxury of a good financial adviser. It devastated their retirement funds.

While my guest was railing against people who make bad choices and how they are personally responsible for the consequences I saw, and still do, an opportunity for compassion. These are real people. Not the abstract, and imaginary construct of the “welfare mom.” These were my in laws. The homeless guy I spoke to on the AHA Support Network who is struggling with heart disease. The mother whose husband suffered a stroke and she suddenly found her income chopped by 2 two thirds while becoming his caregiver.

So my dander was up and I let him have it. Like my earlier conversation with my hometown friend it was not particularly graceful and all he ended up taking away from this was that I was the one being unreasonable for “not respecting his opinion.”

It was many months later that I responded to a meme he had posted decrying the “hypocrisy” of feminists who support Muslims. I think I made some offhanded comment expressing how amazed I was that he was the type of person that would, on the one hand, write off an entire culture while at the same time not truly support the idea of feminism. Unfortunately it pissed him off so much that he blocked me mid conversation about this and our tiff over “welfare mom’s” and “personal responsibility.”

Lastly there was a guy who I used to hang out with who resurfaced on my social feed with climate denialist propaganda. He posted this as credible info that I should consider. When I presented to him the fact that the source was already a known Koch brothers paid for initiative to discredit actual scientific information unanimously accepted by real professionals well… he ignored it as if I had said something in another language. That it was me that had been “indoctrinated” by credible media. Whereupon he provided more sources like conspiracy theory web sites, pod casts and Breitbart style “media” outlets. In a moment where I just didn’t want to expose myself to his dangerous and backwards ideologies… I blocked him.

All this blocking. Turning people off like channels on a TV. It makes me worry, I mean seriously ponder here, the consequences of when celebrities like Trump publicly attack our government watchdog of the press to the US Court System, the third pillar of our government, as inaccurate, or worse, “the enemy of the people.” If we continue to find ourselves listening to a polarized set of information, we will continue to live in a culture and climate where no one compromises, listens, understands or feels empathy.

That’s just it too. Most of us feel passionate about our core beliefs. So where and how do we meet again in the middle? I am reminded by a recent post by Collin Wright titled “Thoughts on Conflict.” Mr. Wright points out the difference between informed and uniformed opinions, that social issues are more akin to marathons than sprints and to take note of how the other person feels.

So I’m searching for a better way to communicate with my climate denialist friend, the conspiracy theorists, the personally offensive folks who are anti Muslim, Hispanic or African American. I can hold my own in an argument but I continue to wish for better outcomes that don’t end communication in conflict. I’d much rather we’d found common ground instead and tried, actually tried, to help one another come to a better understanding. One less hateful, ugly and closed off than what the current American mood has to offer the World.

Collin Wright said “if you want to build a better world, you have to focus on winning in the right way. I think most people would agree that even if one side isn’t completely wiped from the planet, there’s still no real winner in a nuclear war.” His words definitely struck a chord within me given my three failed interactions above. I’m still looking for that conversation where two people meet halfway and do something good. Like he says, we have to constantly look ahead. All that is required is a little hope, kindness and patience to be present and mindful while we push ahead against the backward motion we are experiencing Nationally.

fight

Posted in personal

Schools of diet thought

There’s a lot of confusion about diet’s. There are 1000’s of different types of diets for weight loss, cross fit, running, ageless beauty, health and performance. Diets for heart disease are no exception however, several schools of thought seem dominant. I am currently writing a post about my year and a half long journey toward achieving a total cholesterol of 93 with a great HDL to LDL ratio in the process. The main thing I learned was the distinction between diet and lifestyle. Like my dad said, “it’s not what you do every now and then, it’s what you do everyday.”

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Posted in food, general, personal

2017 AIDS Walk Central Ohio for Tom

I was working on the High School paper back in my senior year in 1986 when I first heard about “gay cancer.” This was just after I had gone to a retreat with some of my peers and had my first kiss with another guy after we’d walked off together into the heavily wooded snow covered landscape. We nearly froze to death for a moment of privacy. I think I played the Beatle’s “Norwegian Wood” for months after that.

 

Gay Cancer gave way to HIV/AIDS as I progressed through college joining groups like ACTUP! It was a time period dominated by death and fear. This fear put a chill on what should have been a freely open creative sexual explosion for all of us. Instead it chilled and dampened all that as we heard of our fathers generation being decimated in no short order and watched our peers contract the disease and wither away.

 

We were left with far too few guides as young men. But I was lucky to have two. One named Nick Felt and another named Tom Johnson. These guys were best friends having met in the early 70’s on the OSU campus. They’d gone through everything young men go experience together dreams, delusions, heartbreaks and adventures. When I met them at the age of 22 they were in their late 30’s. Together they helped me to navigate part of my young life as a gay man. Gave me comfort and guidance almost like older brothers if not parents in a way.

 

Tom ran ashore of his career and ended up underemployed for the latter part of his life while at the same time having been confirmed to have HIV. Without the benefit of today’s drugs, health insurance or a good job he began to steadily fold in on himself. It was heart breaking to watch and I’ll never forget the way that Nick struggled with him as a friend through all of this.

 

As a heart attack survivor myself my mantra for why I run is “I run because someday I won’t be able to… but today is not that day.”

 

I am running the 2017 Dr. Robert J. Fass Memorial AIDS Walk Central Ohio for Tom. I’m also running to support the idea that we should not be afraid to have sex. No one should be afraid to experience life in all sorts of infinite embraces. Believe me, life is short… make love and have fun together. Or as my old friend Rob Wagner, another buddy of mine who had HIV, said to me when I was struggling with depression in my early 30’s “go outside and look up at the sky and feel the sun beating down on your shoulders and know that everything will be OK.”

aidswalk

Posted in general, personal

On losing my shirt and meditation

There’s a difference between chemically peaceful and having inner peace. I found this out over the course of an unusual year. This is my story of how I realized part of the puzzle of fighting heart disease includes meditation, prayer for some, and how I threw my late 40′s etiquette, and my shirt, to the wind.

I found myself chemically peaceful, with the help of a valium drip, as they wheeled me out of heart surgery on April 2 2015. Oddly enough it was the same day I was supposed to run my first 5k since I was a teen. My parents, spouse and best friend were all nervous but patiently waiting for me in the post op room. It was dad who said something that still rings in my head today. “Everything before today is now behind you. Today is the first day of a new start.”

Cardiac rehab introduced all sorts of ideas including stress management. This of course lead to research into the subject where I discovered meditation is one of the prescribed treatments for cardiac anxiety/depression. Right around the same time I was challenging myself to take the chance I was given, by surviving, to get back to my running goals. It was while running where I found my  first moments of peace. A handful of times on the trails drenched in sweat, listening to music, at times crying, wearing just my split shorts shades and shoes. Breathing steady and alive… it felt like what my dad said. A new start with no history to hold me back.

As the months went on I accomplished more than my original set of goal races… I started doing half marathons and training for a full after a 20 mile race in October 2016. Yet even with all these good feelings and the great physical shape I ended up achieving, my head kept pulling me back. I had two initial panic attacks that brought me to the ER between 2015 and 2016. That’s a small number compared to some folks but it was enough to put anxiety as a problem on my radar.

So I decided to give meditation a chance… again. It reminded me of the sense of peace I felt while running which prompted me to redouble my efforts of looking within. I’m not a spiritual person by nature and only recently more open with my feelings. So my bias against sitting on a floor pillow and listening to my breath rubbed me the wrong way… to say the least. I started reading some meditation books along with downloading a couple mobile apps to help me through some guided meditations. It was halting and very frustrating at first. But as time went on I began to get the hang of it and was eventually able to manage daily meditations totaling 10 minutes at a pop.

Today I am able to use the same breathing techniques on the go during a busy day when I need to stop from going to my normal Five Alarm emotional reaction when my head points me in a negative direction. I’m not always successful… but I am more calm these days as a result.

Eventually I started going to some local meditation classes, some of them Buddhist groups which work well for me because it is more of a philosophy than religion. It was during these sessions where I learned more about other people who were looking for the same thing I was. Inner peace.

My heart attack introduced unfamiliar fears to me. Cardiac anxiety and depression. While these were new to me I believe heart disease also showed me that I have had an anxiety issue all my life. It propelled me through the first, second and third parts of my career. Always on the go, making lists, facing every problem with the wild conviction that I could solve it no matter what it cost emotionally. Relocating to Texas, which was both good and bad, for a company I enjoyed but was not true to my values. You know… life and the choices we think we make because we have to and such.

As a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network I’ve spoken with so many other men and women of various ages who are facing the same problem I am. While I’m not a doctor, I understand that anxiety and depression are separate risk factors which can put you more more statistically likely for a second heart attack. With as hard as I’ve worked on my diet, my body and my medication routines I knew that I had to follow what Dr Ornish and my cardiac rehab team told me about initially.

Stress management.

I’ve been practicing meditation for around half a year now and as I said before my skills are getting better. There was this moment when I was being guided through a session and the narrator told me that “it’s OK to have 1000 thoughts per minute, simply see them and refocus your attention on your breath.” What she told me then was that this is the actual process of meditation. It’s not sitting, breathing and reaching a state of stillness… it’s allowing yourself to acknowledge and then dismiss your thoughts and have just a few peaceful moments. Free from anxiety. Free from depression. Free from, as my dad said, everything that came before. Free like I feel while running in a warm summer rain storm at a hard pace with my shirt off happy to be alive on a wooded path in Central Ohio.

My practice.

I read about “the elevator mediation for kids” last year which walks you through an easy way to do a body scan. This is one of my first lines of defense when I have a severe bout of cardiac anxiety. I ask my body if it’s experiencing symptoms. But most of the time I use it to learn how it feels to simply be in my body… what it feels like in that moment. Then to let those feelings go. You get better at it over time.

With the assistance of Stephen Levine and the guided meditations in his book “Guided meditations, explorations and healings” I worked through some of the basic themes I’ve heard so far. I found his writing particularly comforting because he dealt with death and acceptance all his life professionally. And as part of being a survivor, we are pressed to ask the question of “how long?” The thing these basic meditations taught me is that this is the wrong question. We can turn heart disease back on itself by learning to experience and accept the moments we have today. Just like a cancer or MS patient is forced to do. We are all of us facing the same challenges. In the end life is like a meditation. It just is. All we have to do is acknowledge it and be present while it’s happening.

Again, after I accepted the idea that meditation would actually teach me something I gave myself up to using a great mobile app called Calm. There are others out there of course but this one had a free version and I loved the feature it offered of nature sounds. I’m particularly fond of listening to rain sounds because it reminds me of camping in the woods as a late teen one summer by myself. It just seems to relax me. There are other background tracks offered like ocean, wind and forest sounds among others, this just happens to be my favorite. The guided mediations are really great though. Slow, easy to follow and makes you feel like you have a coach with you.

What about prayer? Research suggests that this practice activates the same mechanisms that meditation does. So whatever flavor you practice, prayer can help you to physiologically combat heart disease.

We know that physical exercise makes our hearts stronger. New research is pointing to the effects of stress having the ability to cancel out the benefits of my healthy diet changes. With what we know about heart disease and how unrelenting it is, arming ourselves with the tools we need only strengthens our fight… and in the case of mediation or prayer, enriches our experience while we are living.

Meditation has a lot in common with running. You get better at it the more you practice. And, like running, it’s actually enjoyable once you let down your guard and open your heart and mind to yourself… and then let both go, like a shirt, on a hot August afternoon while running across the Statehouse lawn.

August-Run-Ohio-Statehouse

Posted in personal, running

First group meditation

I’ve usually thought about meditation in terms of patchouli drenched, granola eating and poncho wearing hobbies for the celebrity folks who attend Burning Man. Possibly as an excuse for taking a nap. So it took me some effort to get over my prejudice in 2016 as I was newly vested in the health benefits of learning how to meditate.

So I read some meditation books, downloaded a couple apps, got a meditation pillow and dug out an oil lantern to help me focus. It was a frustratingly halting process because I was treating it with both my earlier prejudice and then as an exercise class with a definitive beginning and ending with measurable data points between. All that was missing was Strava for meditation.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I continued through to 2017 I became a little better, and more open, to the process of sitting down and letting my mind scatter in seemingly 5000 different directions while listening to these guided meditations on Calm. It started to click though when I learned that the process of distraction is actually the practice of meditation itself. Realizing it and coming back to something like listening to your breathing is the very thing that helps us to improve in all those ways that meditation advocates proffer up like improved concentration, lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety and increased concentration.

Today however I had a chance to hike up to Yoga on High and participate in an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. It made my old bias bristle a bit but I stuck with it. It was a room full of women of all ages and two guys. The instructor brought out a yoga roll then prepared to make “beds” for the students. I mean this thing was like total heavy duty nap worthy stuff. As she instructed us to lie back into the rig she guided the room along this really sedate tonal wave of relaxation. I knew we were all getting relaxed when the guy next to me started snoring and the ladies to my other side began breathing more deeply.

The whole experience left me with this deep feeling of rest. As if I had taken a pretty solid power nap but with the benefit of this meditative relaxation. It was also pretty cool to have that experience as a group of folks going for the same thing for different reasons.

Whatever the outcome of my current meditation track… I’m enjoying the exploration and hopeful for the benefits.

meditationmeditation

meditationmeditation

Posted in general, personal

Activity

  • Cool down run
    On June 24, 2017 9:01 am rode 3.40 mi. during 00:33:33 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Pets Without Parents 5k
    On June 24, 2017 8:30 am rode 3.10 mi. during 00:29:15 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Morning Walk
    On June 24, 2017 7:35 am rode 1.90 mi. during 00:32:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight Training
    On June 23, 2017 6:52 am rode 0.00 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On June 22, 2017 5:00 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On June 21, 2017 5:00 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:20:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.