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

Copy of Untitled

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. 

======

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.


Taking on a Big Challenge - the Navy Seal's 40% Rule

Untitled design (8) copy 4

To live a more misadventurous life, I need to do more things that challenge me and inspire me to play full out. These challenges could be physical, mental, intellectual, analytical or something else. 

Right now, I'm focused on taking on a physical challenge because the I've suffered from fatigue and lethargy for months and I've lost a good bit of my physical strength. If I wanted to, I could make make some pretty good excuses (health conditions and prescriptions) but going down that soul-sucking road would not be a good use of my time however true it might be.

Here's the mindset I think will be more helpful - I'm much stronger and more capable than I think.

Have you heard of the Navy Seal 40% rule? It basically goes like this. When you think you've done all you can, and you feel like you need to quit, you've only used 40% of your strength and capacity. There's a good discussion of this on the Age of Obsolete blog.

No this is not a scientifically researched number. Whether it's really 40%, 50%, or 30%, I believe that we quit - or feel ready to quit - well before we have to. I reflected on times in my life that I proved this to be true. Here are two vivid and relatable examples:

In 2009, I walked the very hilly Flying Pig half-marathon (Cincinnati) while carrying an extra 80-90 pounds of excess weight. It took me 4 1/2 hours to walk the 13.1 miles and I felt like quitting hundreds of times. There was a mental aspect to this challenge too, because I was keenly aware that I looked much heavier than nearly everyone and I imagined that people were looking at me with pity or scorn (I was embarrassed). I also felt pressure during the second half of the walk to stay a block or two ahead of the sweep cars closing the course and picking up those who'd not be permitted to finish. I made it! And truth be told, I was probably capable of going farther.

In 2014, I completed the 2-day MS 150, a 150-mile charity bike ride from Houston (flat) to Austin (not flat). We'd trained every weekend for several months, and while I was pretty strong, I was still carrying a ton of extra weight. Not so problematic on flat roads, but the hills on the second day were killer. Pain management became an even bigger challenge than the hills. It took everything I had plus more to finish near the end of the pack.

In both of these examples, I got to the end by pushing through barriers and finding a deep determination I didn't know I had. I did it in spite of myself. Sadly, I can remember many more times when I gave up too soon. When I quit at 40%. Those are regrets I have learned from.

My current state of strength and fitness is far lower than it was in 2009 or 2014, so I'm at a different starting point. That's OK.

But the process I need to use is roughly the same. Set a big and inspiring goal anchored by promises and commitments. Rearrange life and habits to move in that direction. Do small and directionally correct things every day to manifest the goal. Go until I want to stop, then go a bit more. Make big requests, when needed. 

I'm tired of being tired and weak and am ready to begin a new misadventure focused on becoming strong again. There will be many misadventures along the way that I will surely relish and remember. 

I'll share more about my thinking and plan over the next two weeks. If you want to challenge yourself in a bigger way, please share your goal in the comments so I can cheer you on.


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?


Our impact on nature - the small things.

FledglingI don't know about you, but I get pretty nervous when faced with a new-to-me mother nature situation. Last week, I was watering the plants in the back yard and two adult cardinals started chirping at me. They seemed upset, not that I speak cardinal. I realized that the large hydrangea bush had a wee fledgling in it. 

Their fledgling.

The little bird hopped around and tried to fly. It flew into the wooden fence on the other side of our yard, which is just 15 feet away. I shut off the water and moved away but watch. I didn't know if I should DO something.  My first instinct (generally wrong) was that yes, I need to get the little bird back up into the big tree from where it presumably fell.

I grabbed a rake and wrapped a towel around the end, so it would be a soft perch. Somehow I thought that if I extended the rake, the little bird-brained cardinal would realize I was here to help it and jump onto my express ride back into the tree.

You know that didn't happen. The parents got closer and pitched a fit. They looked ready to dive bomb me. The little bird kept trying to fly away but could only get a few feet off the ground.

The moral to this story is: Google before you do anything. 

A quick search confirmed the error of my initial approach. Leave the bird unless something bigger is about to eat it. The parents will continue to feel the fledgling while it is learning to fly. It will never return to the nest.

For three days I kept checking to see if the bird was still in our back yard and alive. Because we have a very small yard surrounded by an 8-foot fence, I worried the fledgling didn't have enough space to get aloft. I worried the parents would give up if the bird did not learn quickly enough. I worried some other creature would kill it.

After the three days, there was no sign of the fledgling. Dead or alive. A promising sign was that the parents were gone too. 

I choose to believe that the baby cardinal made it out and is an accomplished flying machine, versus that it was consumed whole by something else.

Did I impact its chances? Am I a big dummy? Probably. You likely know how fledglings work and what to do. 

Every first offer a tiny adventure (or misadventure) and it's fun explore and learn about how other creatures live. 

Now, if someone could just tell me whether I've killed my chances of getting broccoli from my broccoli plants if their leaves are filled with holes and no broccoli-the-vegetable looking shoots are shooting? 


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?

 


Zen Cats and the Hum of the Machine Redux

Untitled design (8) copy 2

I first noticed the Zen cats many years ago in Seattle and have seen them in Cincinnati, Houston, and now Lexington. They're everywhere and I enjoy imagining what's going on inside these felines' heads as they pause to take in the day. 

Have you noticed that outdoor cats sit in Zen-like poses the hour before sunset? They look like they are contemplating their world and soaking in the rhythms of the day. We have been walking Hazel, the dog at this time of day recently and we often pass several Zen cats within one block. They sit, crouch and lie still and never flinch when our big goofy pointer-mix walks by. Seems like such a peaceful way to usher in the night.

Do you ever do this? The cat thing, not the Hazel thing. I have.

The hum of our workspace - even for indie workers - is provocative and evocative. We click and clack as we process the day. The air compressor whirs, printer rollers jerk and push, emails ping, and keystrokes tap out a staccato melody. People moving in and out of rooms generate wind and sometimes drama. Coffee brewing beckons the weary eyes and minds. Drawers that open and close are symbols of our progress. Chairs creak. People adjust paper stacks. White board markers glide and squeak. Sighs and yawns wave through the workplace.

The morning crescendos toward the lunchtime intermission. Then a lull. Then the sounds of hope and relief.

I love the day's music. And when it's done I sit still like a Zen cat, taking in and making meaning of the day. Time is a fuzzy thing and I am sometimes lonely in it. Separate, observing from the outside. It's a privilege to take in and exhale out each tiny detail of life.

I once had an Apache guide tell me that pow wows were important because the earth needs to hear its people’s songs. Our homes and workspaces have songs, too. If you've worked in more than one company, you may have noticed striking differences in how workplaces sound – the cadences, the diversity and types of noises, the overall melody and tune of the place.

You might be thinking that I'm being a bit anthropomorphic. That the cats are just relaxing before their evening hunt.

Perhaps. Does it matter if it helps?

I choose to be my version of a Zen cat every now and then because it's relaxing, stimulating, spooky, and peaceful at the same time. I also think it's a good idea to not get excited by every goofy dog that walks by. Dale Carnegie was quoted as saying that 99% of our worries don't come true. The Zen cats get this, I think.


Micro-Misadventures - Your Daily Wee Dose of Full Engagement

Untitled design (8) copy

I'm digging this new hack. Life is big and heavy - especially NOW - but we can find the time and energy for micro-misadventures. Even me (drugged up on hormones and oral chemo).

What's a micro-misadventure?

Five to thirty minutes of delicious mischievousness that has the following qualities:

  • You're quite interested and engaged to do this (hardest part for me).
  • High potential that things will go way wrong. In other words, this is not something you already know how to do and do every day.
  • It's a new or slightly new. Some aspect of this action is unknown to you.

Here's a brainstorm of potential MMs - these are my ideas, your results will vary. The point is to be deliberate and to seek at least one MM each day. Start with right now. 

  • Play You Tube Yoga Class Russian Roulette - search for 30-minute ______ (chair, standing, dancing, crazy) yoga class and select the fifth one you find.
  • Paint something in the house a bright color.
  • Try something (legal) that is known to have psychoactive properties.
  • Sit outside, select a bird that's making some noise, and practice mimicking it's call. 
  • Go live on Facebook right now and talk about something that is fascinating you at the moment. Invite input or support.
  • Offer to do something new for someone that you've never done before. Like cutting their hair, sewing a shirt, making a happy hour cocktail with different ingredients than you've used before.
  • Bake something for you've never baked before (basically anything).
  • Die your hair a weird color.
  • Re-plant a plant so that it is happier.
  • Take a ten minute walk and photograph everything _______(round, blue, spiky, gorgeous). Post on Instagram; explain your selections.

What do you think? Make your list and use it to have micro-misadventures throughout the week. Report back!

 


How to Have a More Misadventurous Life: And Why You Should

Welcome to my new weblog!

I hope you'll find this a welcome place for entertainment, inspiration, or to plan your great day or week.

Why this blog?

Most people love stories with twists, near misses, conflict, and flawed heroes—in fiction and real life.

Whether we’re chatting it up at a family reunion, reconnecting with a friend, or reflecting on our lives, the stories we recall are often those where things went seriously sideways.  The times we nearly failed or did something we didn’t know was possible. We triumphed, or quasi-triumphed, through grit and a healthy dose of devil-may-care attitude. We played full out.

Why now?

Reflecting on crazy but true stories can be fun, but we have the opportunity to look forward and be more deliberate about the stories we choose to play a starring role in. By learning and practicing several life hacks, we can live a more misadventurous life.

Why me?

I want to have a more misadventurous life and I'd love to help you generate more memorable stories, too. And it's fun to write about this stuff! Better than documenting the health benefits of flossing our teeth...hehehe.