Blind Courage

When We're Relentless

Hell bent. Obsessed. Dedicated. Driven2. Fullsizeoutput_85d

I admire those who simply MUST do X (and X is a good or decent thing) and ensure they do X even when barriers make doing X hard or near impossible. Case in point. David Sedaris' commitment (obsession) with racking up huge numbers of steps  on his Fitbit.

And by huge, I've learned that Sedaris routinely gets thirty thousand, forthy thousand, even sixty thousand steps in a day. He's even walked 20 miles in one day. And he loves beating the total daily step numbers of his Fibit pals. 

I first heard about his walking habit a few years ago in a New Yorker story. Then Bill and I saw Sedaris perform and he talked about it there. While getting him to sign a book, I told him I also used a Fitbit. He signed it accordingly (see pic).

That was when Sedaris could walk through his neighborhood in Normandy (or wherever he was). Then the covid crisis occurred. This recent story from the NYT shares how David got his steps in while being home-bound and restricted in NYC. At first, he walked around his apartment for hours each day. Then, when it was allowed, he started walking the New York City streets while wearing a mask.

That's dedication! That's grit! It might be a few other things, but I admire his resolve.

But this isn't a story about steps; it's about discovering something that is important enough that we become unstoppable. What would you put in that category and how might you like the targets of your grit and determination to change?

If you made one small change in the right direction, I bet it would make a big difference. Like the Butterfly Effect. 

For me, I need to get a more assertive hold on my various health issues. I have an appointment with my oncologist in a few hours and it's time to be decisive. I've been dinking around the corners and welcoming delays and inaction (some of it covid related, sure). But this is something that is keeping me zoned out and inactive. Barriers be damned. I'm ready to get this surgery over with and re-health back up to whatever my new normal can be. I've got some projects waiting for my focus and concentration (which is low right now).

Is there something that you could recommit to that would help put things on a clearer track forward


Misadventure: Making Thyme for What Matters

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One of the ways I experiment with making my life more misadventurous is to go against my type and strengths and try something that falls into the category of "things I usually botch." Often fabulously and flamboyantly botch.

Today's story is about a wee thyme plant (pictured above).

I'm a hit and miss gardener. Not much in the way of good instincts, but I've learned a few things that seem to work for me. As a result, we tend to have a decent herb garden each year. If you've read my stuff for a while, you know that my husband Bill does all the cooking. The herb garden is my contribution to our food preparation. And placing pick up orders. 

I decided to broaden the narrow list of things I managed not to @%$* up by one or two but knew I'd need to find a coach or take a class. Not read a book. Have you read gardening books? Most are far too detailed and so boring they make better sleep aids than skill builders. No offense to gardening book writers out there (but, come on...).

I found and decided to take Ron Finley's gardening class on Masterclass. He calls himself the "Gangster Gardener," and was the perfect teacher for me because he cut to the chase and gave practical, doable advice. He talked action, not science. 

One of his lessons was on propagation - making new plants from other plants. Propagation is a 301 level gardening class, and my capabilities had proven to be 101 at best. But Ron made me think I could do it.

I had a dead thyme plant that had been undone by Lexington's cold and wet winter and spring. Poor thing. I had cleared it out of its planter and was about to throw it in the compost bin (another thing Ron taught me to do). I looked at the ugly mess on my planting bench. Was it really all and completely dead?

I decided to try propagating a part of the brown, brittle herb plant. I cut it down to the base and separated a small piece that felt less dead. I stuck the new creation in the corner of one my raised beds. I vowed to talk to it every day to encourage my creation to spring to life.

At first, it did not look promising. The wee twig/plant just sat there. But then, weeks later, I saw a tiny green leaf. And then another. And although I've never really had motherly instincts related to humans babies, I found myself proud of my little creation. I starting planning for when it would grow up big and strong and change our culinary world.

Ron had been right.

Propagation is the slow way to go, though, and after three months my wee thyme plant is still just two inches tall. During this same timeframe, I've managed to plant and kill a dozen other herbs and vegetables (the confidence I gained from taking Ron's class might've gone to my head). 

So while home grown tomatoes, broccoli and melons will not be featured on the Haneberg dining table this year, we will have, in time, very special thyme.

This misadventure has been a circuitous but resounding success (she says with her fingers crossed behind her back hoping not to jinx herself given that much can go wrong in matters involving outdoor gardening). 

What new against-type-and-strength skill shall I try next?


Progress: This could be messy (expect and embrace this).

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Just a short and reflective post today. It's Friday, June 19th - Juneteenth. And while I've known for many years the top line meaning of Juneteenth, I'm glad that my awareness is deepening regarding its modern-day significance.

Today I'm thinking about several big challenges. Racial bias and inequality. Increasing divisiveness. And a terrible pandemic very much affected by this inequality and divisiveness. And there are other challenges that pain me, disturb me, and worry me.

On this blog, I write about misadventures - those times we play full out to handle surprises and barriers. When we tap into strengths we might not remember we possessed. I often apply this idea to fun things - travel or personal goals - like biking across America. 

I think we'll need to offer the same type of grit help to make our town/state/country/society/world better. And like other misadventure stories we'll recall years from now, it will be the full-out efforts we gave and the positive impact we had on others that we'll relish. 

It's ok that things will be messy and unpredictable. That's how progress happens. Human systems are chaotic and trying to predict outcomes when many individuals and circumstances are at play is not a good use of time. Forward movement is highly dependent on, and sensitive to, each of our small actions. It's the butterfly effect in action.

And it's the journey and keeping it moving on a directionally correct path that will serve us best.

Here's to messy progress wherever it is needed most. And here's to each of us figuring out the small and large ways we can best contribute to progress.


Make an Impossible Promise; Bring it to Fruition

Not sure if you're like me, but I break promises I make to myself way more than I fail to follow through on promises I make to others. This is pretty natural, I think.

It therefore makes some sense that if we want to up our chances for follow through, we should make more external commitments.

AND! If you want to amp up the misadventure-quotient (that's a measurable thing*), you can make a commitment to do something, or achieve something, or create something, that seems impossible at the moment that you make the promise. And extra credit if the commitment has teeth - skin in the game - like enrolling in your first marathon, or entering a story writing contest, or putting something at risk if you don't follow through.

Here's a recent example. I've been wanting to create a space where active writers worked together. A cool, enriching, tricked-out workspace filled with literary creatives. This was a tricky idea because most writers don't make very much money and can't afford market-rate office space. Coworking spaces are nothing new, but they're filled mostly with tech workers because they work for companies who can afford the space rental. It was also unlikely to succeed because I was relatively new to Lexington, KY and had not yet developed my writer network. 

Had I started by creating a business plan, with financials and outlined all the barriers, it never would've happened. Instead, I tried the back-assward (technical term) approach.

First, secure the space. I asked the owner of a coworking space to show me some rockin' corner unit space. I told him I wanted that space. It was going to be pretty expensive.

Second, find a couple of writers who love the idea. I then started meeting with a few writers to share the concept and recruit partners. I was lucky to get a recommendation to contact two writers who were at the time barely acquaintances. BUT! We clicked and they loved the idea. They were in.

Three, do the stuff most people do first. When all where all in, we went back and figured out all the things that needed to happen to make this idea a real thing. 

And it's a reality and I'm now the proud board chair for our legit nonprofit org., the Lexington Writer's Room.  We've had some major challenges (covid!) but have created something truly special and better than the impossible vision I imagined. It's 650sqft of literary productivity wonderland, completed with snacks and a high-speed printer. Our member writers are delightful and talented. 

I'm quite sure this would've never come to fruition had I approached the idea using a methodical and logical route. I got BACK to that approach, but not before I was in too deep to wimp out.

Promise, then Figure it Out

Personally, I'm just not motivated or disciplined enough to do things in the correct order. But if I put enough skin in the game, I somehow tap into my ability to make the impossible possible (perhaps this goes back to the 40% rule I blogged about earlier?).

Give this a try and tell me about it. I'm cooking up my next big promise now...

*Not measurable, but you'll feel the power of it.


Misadventure - The Night STING Spat on Me.

I thought I'd share the story of a one-night misadventure that happened when I was in my twenties. Slightly embarrassing for sure and kind of magical. It was a time I played full out to mixed and debatable results. 

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In the late 80s, Sting was in reinvention mode. The former lead singer of The Police launched his solo recording career. He played pseudo jazzy music, dedicated himself to daily yoga practice, and starred in a Broadway Play called the Three Penny Opera.

I was a big Sting fan.

So I was thrilled when I saw that the Three Penny Opera would be playing at the National Theater (Theater of the Presidents!) in my home town of Washington DC. I called the ticket office and blew all the credit I had left on my Visa Card to get two front row seats.

Front row! Sting from the front row! I wanted to be close to Sting, to look directly into his eyes, to feel his breath, to get the full sense of him and to see his new and improved physical flexibility.

I asked a guy I had been dating on and off to go with me and was surprised when he agreed because he was way out of my league and I had anticipated the subtle brush off for weeks. David was classy, dressed impeccably, drank expensive Martinis, always had money, and drove a red Alpha Romero convertible. I, on the other hand, was bumblingly eccentric, a bit soft in physique, dressed using the Garanimals method, and traveled by subway to the puny efficiency apartment I couldn't afford. He told me that I had that “je ne sais quoi” and but I figured my sais quoi would one day become just ne ordinary.

I bought a fancy black dress and stilettos not made for walking so that I could look the part of an elegant theatre aficionado. We enjoyed a lovely dinner before the show and then took our seats ready to see Sting dance and sing.

And see we did! My first row spot brought me within two feet of him. Every slide of his hips and every facial expression was vivid and seemed just for me. We were connecting.

Something else just for me… Did you know that it takes a lot of air to sing Broadway songs? It does, and I know this because in addition to enjoying Sting’s theatrical performance, I became the landing spot for his spit. Especially during his dramatic rendition of Mack the Knife, which apparently requires a lot of projection.

I was in heaven. Spit is personal shit.

After the show, David and I went for post-theater martinis two doors down at the Occidental Bar in the Willard hotel. This was to be a civilized ending to a lovely evening in this most historic watering hole (Nazis! Cuban Missile Crisis!). The dim lighting, bespoke suited men, and thickly perfumed air was intoxicating. The gin was too, especially since I couldn’t hold my liquor, was on my third, and ate very little at dinner because I was afraid of popping the zipper on my new dress which I intended to return the next day due to the fact that I could not afford it.

I gazed out the window of the bar and saw a group of people walking toward The Mall (THE Mall, not a mall). Looking closer, I saw Sting in the middle of the group. “Fuck!” I yelled loud enough so that everyone in the bar turned toward me. And then I ran in my heels across the bar, down the steps, though the lobby, out the exit, and onto Pennsylvania Avenue after Sting.

Running.

Oh my god!

Running.

Where are they?

Running.

Sting! Sting!

Out of breath, ankles buckling.

Sting, where are you?

I couldn't believe I'd lost them and I spun around for several blocks like a drunk hummingbird on crack. My chance to find and reconnect with Sting was slipping from my grasp. How could this be?

After a couple of iffy encounters with other drunks on the street who – in all fairness to them – helped me stand back up after I fell to my knees because the adrenaline that had kept me upright was wearing off, I made my way back to the Occidental Bar and told David that what had happened was that I had a sudden and really bad charley horse and needed to run it off and but that he did not need to worry because I was fine. He bought it, smiled, and ordered another round. Je ne sais quoi indeed.

I am pretty sure it was Sting I ran after.


Ask Catalytic Questions; Make Big Things Happen #breakthroughs

Untitled design (8) copy 3Strictly speaking, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. Although they participate in reactions, catalysts are neither consumed by nor incorporated into the products of the reactions. There is just as much catalyst at the end of the reaction as there was at the beginning. Catalysts will not cause reactions to occur, but they will help reactions that would have occurred without them to proceed more quickly or at lower temperatures. In most cases only small amounts of catalysts are needed to increase reaction rates.

Catalysts work by providing easier ways for reactions to occur. In technical terms, they provide alternative reaction paths with lower activation energies.  Every chemical reaction has a certain threshold, known as its activation energy that must be exceeded in order for the reaction to occur. A catalyst does not lower the activation energy of a reaction, but instead provides an alternative that produces the same results with a lower threshold. A good analogy is a bridge over a valley. Without the bridge, it might be possible to cross the valley by driving down one twisting road and then back up another. A bridge allows the valley to be crossed more quickly and with less energy. It does not reduce the amount of energy needed to drive down one side and up the other, but instead offers an alternate way to achieve the same results while using less energy.

Catalytic questions, then, are questions that provoke alternative reactions and easier ways forward. You might not know if a question is going to be catalytic, but you can practice asking more provocative questions and will find that some energize the discussion and enable new or better paths forward. 

During a 1999 flight from New Mexico to Sienna, Italy, I asked my husband the following: "If you could be any place, doing any kind of work, where would you be and what would you be doing?" This question ended up catalytic because it encouraged Bill to express goals he'd not shared, and this started a conversation that five weeks later resulted in us moving to Seattle where Bill started his own company. BAM!

The catalyst does not have to be so life changing to be powerful. Consider these questions, which could be catalytic for some in some circumstances:

Think about what you pull into the most these days. The activity or topic that energizes you. What adjustments could you make to increase the time you spend doing this activity?

Who would you like me to connect you with? (or, let me tell you about Sally...would you like me to connect the two of you?)?

Evangelists are passionate, loyal, and dedicated fans jacked up on caffeine. What would you hope your evangelists do?

In the scheme of things, does this really matter? If you stopped, what would happen?

If you had all the courage in the world, what would you do or ask for?

Embedded in catalytic questions is a deep and authentic curiosity. This is the key, because when we're engrossed in a conversation and curious, we inquire about more relevant topics.

It's fun to ask questions that end up being catalytic. We should all strive to help those we care for move forward more easily. And there's no reason we can't ask ourselves catalytic questions.

What's the question that would open up new possibilities for you?


Does it take courage to dance alone? Or something else?

Disco

Twenty-two year old Lisa was a loner, just like the fifty-six year old version is today. Even so, this young lady loved disco music and dancing. Even more, she loved participating in disco-dance competitions. She and her partner (just a partner, not someone she was dating) won a few at the ABC Liquors lounges in the Tampa Bay area where they both attended college.  A hundred bucks split two ways was a decent haul for two near broke young adults. ABC Liquors was what we might refer to as a Tier B or C place - low hanging fruit with less competition from good dancers because the good dancers went to nicer places.

There were a few Tier A discotheques in town, too. They had dance contests, too. Young Lisa entered several but never won at a Tier A place.  Why? Were they not good enough? There was no THEY at Tier A spots. Lisa chose to enter these contests by herself. No dance partner. Just Lisa, in the middle of the small carved out area on the dance floor all by herself. Everyone's eyes on her.

Lisa was a good dancer. Not to a level worthy of being featured on a reality TV show, but good. She had a touch for the underlying rhythms of each song and loved the hard thumping songs by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, and Adam Ant.

She never won when she danced alone. Even so, she kept entering.

I don't quite understand what motivated Lisa to do this, and I don't specifically remember how she felt before during or after her solo dance performances. I remember high highs and low lows. I do remember one specific low low. After not winning, Lisa went out to the parking lot where she'd parked her piece of shit Honda 120 motorcycle. She'd left her helmet hanging upside down on the bike and it had rained. She poured out the water that had pooled in the helmet and then put it on. Water squished out from the soaked foam that lined the inside. A metaphor for the evening?

It takes a lot of...something... courage, ego, determination... something... to enter a dance contest in a crowded Tier A lounge. And double of that to enter it alone. Maybe zest, or zeal, or challenge. Remember, she was a loner, so the motivation was not to be seen or noticed. Like the older version, disco Lisa preferred to fade into the background unless something or someone in particular intrigued her. Then her movements and communication were clear, direct and focused. Dancing in front of a few hundred people was far too shotgun an approach for socialization to be the motivator.

I'm pretty sure that the key to understanding why Lisa danced alone lies in the high highs and low lows. Being humiliated, embarrassed, and a loser is not so bad as failing to play full out. Full out. Complete self-expression.

I'd like to tap back into my twenty-two year old self every now and then. Be so inspired by the potential to play full out that I risk complete failure.

My exploration of misadventures began well before my twenties, but my confidences and courage peaked during this time.

What did your younger self do that amazes you today?