Tomorrow Belongs To Me

Tomorrow Belongs To Me.

On Sunday I went to the Paramount theater to see the stage play, “Cabaret,” and the story left me thinking.

The play’s setting is Germany in the 1930s. Like many stage plays there are stories woven into other stories. The story that struck me the most was not interpersonal; it was historical.

Germany had lost World War I in 1918, and the country was devastated by the cost of the war, a decimated generation, and a 33 billion dollar reparation ordered by the Treaty of Versailles. Because of these factors the country experienced hyperinflation until the mid-1920s. The inflation was so great that it took a wheelbarrow of German Marks to buy a single loaf of bread. Returning soldiers from the war felt that the government had sold them out, average citizens were disillusioned. Unemployment was high; food was scarce. Times were very tough.

Germany had been a prosperous country before the war. Highly industrial and well known for its universities, culture, and manufacturing prowess. Postwar Germans remembered the glory days, as they lived their current lives in deprivation. There was a general sense of discontent, anger, and a desire to blame. Blame the current government, blame the allies, blame minorities.

It was in this setting that Hitler came to power. His message was tailored to resonate with the populous. He promised a return to a great and powerful Germany. He blamed Germany’s hardships on groups that were perceived different, and not part of the mainstream. He scapegoated the Weimar Republic, which was the current German government.

“Cabaret’s” story beings before the Nazi’s rise to power, and much of it is set in the metaphorical Kit Kat Club. The Kit Kat Club was a place to escape reality and fulfill any erotic fantasy. Headliners, showgirls, and even the club’s waiters could be procured using the “modern” telephones that were on every guest’s table. In some ways, the Kit Kat Club mirrored aspects of Berlin during that period. The Berlin of the late 1920s and early 1930s was not only known as a center for music, film, and the humanities, but also as a free and wild destination.

As the play’s storyline progresses the plot shifts from the apathetic “anything goes” attitude of the Kit Kat Club to the Pan-Germanistic views of the Nazis. The promise of change and a return to greatness convinces common Germans to step in line and to embrace Hitler and his political party. This plot shift demarcated in the play by the stirring pseudo-anthem, “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”

A once powerful country, weakened by economic turmoil. A country that had been in a world leadership position by its economic and technological might, now struggling for survival. A people once prosperous, now suffering without jobs or a hope of a future. A potential leader with a promises to make Germany great again. A political party that pledged to get rid of individuals who were different, who didn’t belong because they were not part of the mainstream. A promise to take care of Germany and Germans, at any cost. The rhetoric that was all too irresistible to citizens who was sick of their current politicians and politics. The change happened one step at a time. The abhorrent became normalized. Actions justified, gazes averted. Freedoms eliminated by fostering fear. People eliminated by instilling prejudice. One step at a time.

But that was the 1930s.

Birthdays, Love, And Sugar-Free Cake

Birthdays, Love, And Sugar-Free Cake
Sugar-free birthday cake

Many years ago I was standing in a very long line. It was the condolence line of my cousin’s husband’s wake. He was only 50-something, tragically killed by a very malignant cancer. Dee’s husband, John, was a successful realtor and a larger than life figure. He was a very large man, with an equally large and jovial personality. He was an extrovert who seemed to know everyone in the western suburbs of Chicago. People liked him.

We waited well over an hour to offer our condolences to my cousin, as the number of mourners was so large that they were overflowing into the parking lot. I stood in line making small talk to the people around me; I was struck with many emotions. Naturally, I was devastated for my cousin and her family. I also felt bad for her deceased husband who was finally starting to reap the rewards of a life of hard work. Ashamedly, I also was feeling sorry for myself.

I have said in other posts that I am relatively shy and an introvert. I form very deep connections with people, but the actual number of connections is small. As I stood in line, I imagined what my wake would look like. Instead of a room overflowing with people I imagined a room of empty chairs. I viewed my worth in what services that I could do for others. I felt that when I was no longer able to provide a service, I would be forgotten, like dust in the wind.

I now discount that belief, but I do think that some residual effects partially fuel my desire to find a second career now that I am retiring. I am a Spiritual person, and I believe that God is active in my life when I allow Him to be. I just celebrated my 65th birthday, and He has been showing me the genuine connections that I do have with people.

He has been allowing me to see that my worth transcends my ability to do things for others. My worth is based on my intrinsic self. The essence of who I am as a person. My strengths, but also my flaws. I am an imperfect person who is always trying to be perfect. The last few days have reminded me that people care about me, warts and all.

Sunday morning my siblings gathered for breakfast at Butterfield’s restaurant. They shared memories of me as they wished me a happy birthday. Later that afternoon my wife and kids went on a photo taking excursion with me. They sat for hours in the car as we drove to Woodstock, IL. No one complained. Sunday night my daughter Kathryn called from Arizona and wished me a happy birthday. Monday I saw my oldest daughter Anne, her partner Chris, and my grandkids. They happily sang along when the waiters at Giordano’s pizza belted out “Happy Birthday To You.”

My friend Tom says he doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays. Despite this Tom was at my house at 5 AM on my actual birthday day bringing me my morning coffee. He drove in the pouring rain to The Palace in Chicago and bought me breakfast. Afterwards, we took the long way home which allowed us to observe the various and ever-changing neighborhoods of Chicago. I love doing stuff like that. After the neighborhood drive, I was taken on a tour of Berland’s House of Tools. Berland’s is the ultimate toy store for power tools. I love power tools, and Tom has been promising to take me there for over a year. Up and down the aisles we went as he explained to me the various saws, drills, and presses. More coffee, more activities, more conversation; there was even an interesting photography project for me to shoot added into the mix. It is a good thing that Tom doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays; I was completely overwhelmed by his non-celebrating!

My daughter Grace arrived home from school at 4 PM and immediately started to bake me a sugar-free birthday cake, despite the fact that she was overloaded with homework. My son volunteered to clean up the baking mess. My wife came home from work and made me a homemade dinner of cornflake chicken, mac and cheese, and grilled asparagus. As we sat at the dinner table my family, each told me something that they loved about me.

Add to all of this cards, ecards, emails, text messages, phone calls, and Facebook birthday greetings. I was overwhelmed, and I am still basking in the glow of feeling very much loved and cared for.

I keep striving to be significant. God keeps telling me that I am significant. I am significant because I am who I am. Unique not only because of my talents but also because of my many imperfections. Lovable because of both. It is easy for me to love, I am slowly (but surely) allowing myself to be love. It feels pretty darn good.

My Passion For Photography

My Passion For Photography

My birthday was approaching, and Julie and the kids asked me what I wanted to do. Since I ask for the same activity every year, my response wasn’t surprising to them. “I want to go somewhat and take some pictures.”

The day before our adventure I sat with my two youngest and searched, “Interesting towns in Illinois.” A list of 15 popped up, but most were over a 3 hours drive away. Woodstock was a little over an hour from our house, a reasonable drive. It seemed like the likely choice.

I charged my camera’s batteries and picked out a lens. Off we went.

Dear reader, my wife used to get annoyed with my constant picture taking. “Stay in the present, not behind the lens,” she would scold me in her best psychologist voice. But she understands me now. When I am wandering around, I usually drift off somewhere else in my head. A camera focuses me. I have to pay attention to my environment. I have to stay alert, as I am looking for anything that could make an interesting picture. I need to be on and not drifting away. But taking pictures always takes more time than just sightseeing. On my birthday my family gives me their time as a gift. They avoid making sighs and other sounds of displeasure when I suddenly stop in the middle of a street and raise my camera to my eye. Sometimes, one of them may even hold my camera bag.

I have always loved taking pictures. In the 1990s I jumped on the video bandwagon and had a whole desk full of editing equipment. Title makers, time base correctors, monitors. All connected with a sea of cables. When technology advanced, I converted to digital editing, building my video workstations to save money.

Video was interesting, but in the early 2000s I rediscovered photography, and I never looked back. Video is like reading a novel; photography is like reading a poem. A single picture can tell an entire story. It can inspire, repel, make you happy, sad, or even cry. Like the different genres of literature, there are genres in photography. Each requires a different skill set, but all are unified by a common language. That language is the language of light.

I find the creative aspect of photography the most rewarding. However, I also enjoy the gadgets and the photo tweaking. It is exciting for me to return home and upload my images to the large screen of my computer monitor. Sometimes I’m pleased, other times less so. No matter what I always learn a little bit more each time I go out and shoot.

There is also a joy in capturing something that is evident but likely ignored by the people around you. An emotion, a scene, an event. I have done professional photography through the years, but I get a different kind of pleasure shooting for the joy of creating something personal and uniquely mine.

So there I was in Woodstock, Illinois. Wandering the streets of its prosaic downtown, camera at the ready. I clicked here and pointed there; soon it was time to head home. The trip symbolic of many things: Seeing new sights, being creative, spending time with my family, improving a skill.

In many ways, my photography interest is symbolic of my life. The combination of creativity and technology is irresistible to me. When I take pictures, I am once again taught that most joy comes from simple things. It is a lesson that repeats over and over in my life.

I Need To Reflect And Listen

It Is Difficult For Me To Inconvenience Others

It’s 2 PM on Tuesday, and I get a text reminder from my daughter, Grace. “Don’t forget that you are picking me up after school. You need to be on time.” I respond, “I know, I’ll be there at 3:30.” I then receive a screenshot of an earlier text message with the time 3:10 circled. This level of insistent confirmation is not typical for Grace, and it signifies how important it is for me to pick her up exactly at 3:10. I respond, “I’ll be there.”

Once home she only has minutes to change into more formal attire; I drive her to a swanky benefit where she will be one of the speakers.

I return home to put on a suit coat and tie and return to the benefit about an hour later. There is my little girl, once the toddler who was afraid to go down a flight of stairs. There is my high school student standing in a receiving line smiling and talking to shakers and movers. The mayor, the superintendent of schools, the head of the park district, the list goes on. Soon she is speaking to the entire group, recounting stories and statistics on the benefits of positive role models for teens, and the intrinsic importance of connection with others. My pride in her is overflowing as she answers questions from the audience with the authority and humor of a seasoned pro.

My role is very minor, as a guest of the event. I don’t enjoy attending formal functions. As an introvert, even this limited part tends to exhaust me.

However, dear reader, you would never know that I was an introvert at the event. I am social and engaging. I go up to people I don’t know, introduced myself, and start conversations. Such behaviors are not natural for me, but long before I became a psychiatrist, I was an observer of human behavior. I know what to do, and how to do it. After many benefits, professional meetings, cocktail parties, and other such events, I can pull it off, but it is an energy draining effort.

The event brings to the forefront one of the main issues that I continue to deal with as I try to transition from my doctor position, where people came to me, to a position where I have to go to people.

My issue isn’t making superficial contact with someone; it is my inability to ask them for something. Time to talk to me, a moment to allow me to take their picture. This is difficult for me to do.

As a problem solver, I know that there are some patch fixes. Having a wingman with me makes it easier to engage someone on a deeper level. Using an intermediary person as a go-between could be useful. However, I have a way to go.

Wednesday night, Valentine’s Day, I am sitting across the table from my wife, Julie. We are at Pepe’s, an inexpensive Mexican restaurant that we like. I tell her that I’m disappointed with myself for not making the progress that I had hoped to make. “I just don’t know what to do or how to do it.” I discuss with her my difficulty with inconveniencing others. How I don’t want to bother people with my demands. She suggests that I talk to our pastor, as he is the consummate connector. It is a great idea, but it would require me asking him for help. I chuckle to myself. I put the idea on the “likely possible” list. I tell her that I still feel that I need to do something that will have a greater impact in this world. As I start to process what I’m saying we both explore my life. When I try to do grand things they are marginally successful. It is clear that I have made the biggest impact when I am interacting one to one with someone. This is the case not only in my professional life but also in my personal life. I reflect.

Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my friend’s Tom’s office working on a project. After about an hour he asks me if I want to go to Harner’s restaurant for breakfast. At the restaurant, I talk to Tom about my dilemma. “Tom, I want to change the world, but I seem to be a one on one type of guy.” Tom listens. I start to reminisce how in the early days of our friendship I tried to help him with his home remodeling website. Tom and I are great at bouncing ideas off one another, and I remember how much I enjoyed learning about the construction business as we redesigned his web pages. Another one to one interaction with someone. An interaction where both parties continue to benefit. I reflect.

Tomorrow I’ll meet with my siblings for breakfast. I have already been in contact with several of them about the get-together. We are looking forward to seeing each other and sharing our lives.

Later in the day my wife and kids have agreed to go with me on a photo road trip. We will travel to Woodstock, Illinois, about 1 hour away. They have promised to be patient with me and to not complain about my constant stops to shoot pictures. I’m am excited about the adventure and the company. I reflect.

My birthday is in a few day; it will be one of those big milestone ones. Dear reader, I am in a period of transition. I continue to wait for my “big inspiration,” but I am starting to see a different path. Perhaps my next direction will be on a smaller scale. I am trying to be still, quiet and to listen. I hope this will cause me to gain greater clarity. I’m trying to look at my past and learn from both my successes and my failures.

Life is interesting. Every day I face a new reality sculpted by the experience from the days before. Perhaps it will be my children who will be the ones with the big ideas. One foot in front of the other. I reflect.

Grace giving her talk.
I need to be quiet and listen.

Why We Should Create Paths, Not Barriers.

It would have taken minutes to clear the sidewalk.
Why We Should Create Paths, Not Barriers.

On my walk today I came upon the above scene. Someone had plowed their driveway, and the excess snow had formed two high barriers obstructing the sidewalk.  The snow had turned into solid ice, and it was directly blocking my path.

Was the snow left by the home’s owner, or was it left by a plowing service?  It doesn’t matter, the result was the same. The individual’s needs were being met but at the expense of the greater good.  The driveway was clean and open.  The family had access to their garage.  Their car could be protected from the elements.  It didn’t seem to matter that they were creating a potentially dangerous situation for anyone using the sidewalk.

I had two choices; I could trudge through the snow of the parkway, or risk stepping over the mounds of ice.  I choose the later, slipping along the way. The event made me think.  In the US we are proud to be individuals.  We strive to be independent.  We celebrate free thinking.  We honor those who we think are successful and powerful. In many ways, our country became great because of our entrepreneurial spirit. We read case studies of prominent business moguls.  We recount rags to riches stories.  We admire billionaires.

People become successful in a variety of ways.  Unfortunately, sometimes it is at the unnecessary expense of others. In this subgroup, there are those who enjoy being in a position where they can make someone else’s life difficult.  There are others who simply don’t care; as long as their objective is met the impact on those around them is inconsequential.

This self-centered focus occurs beyond corporate America. We see it in politicians who place their needs, or the needs of a small but influential group, before the overall good. We also see it in self-centered relationships where the individual’s objective is to always win and never to yield or compromise.

In most cases, it is better to think about the total impact of any decision, and to balance that decision based that thought.  In the short term, the individual’s gain may be smaller by such a stance, but the overall gain will be greater.  As humans, we must be aware of how our actions impact others. When that is not the case it creates unnecessary problems that not only hurt others, but often can come back and negatively affect us.  

Removing the excess snow from the sidewalk would have taken a minute or two.  A slight inconvenience that pales in comparison to the inconvenience of leaving the snow on the sidewalk. In my life, I want to create paths, not leave barriers, for those around me. I know that in the end we will both benefit.


The Naperville Snowpoclypse, The Aftermath

The news channels buzzed for days. Colleges and school closed. I arranged to work from home, and my wife rescheduled to delay her workday. The snowpocalypse was upon us, and then it was gone.

There is a strange excitement that happens when you inject a small element of danger into a situation. The operative word is “small” as real danger brings with it panic and anxiety.

Our snowstorm was well predicted, and it was easy to plan. The entire family was together in the safety of our home. We had shelter, food, and a good internet connection. I elected to walk in the morning, but I had all of the necessary gear to do it. The kids were in communication with their friends via various group chats. Julie was able to talk to her patients on the phone.

I worked from my basement video studio instead of driving to Rockford. This involved some planning and the problem solving of some technical issues. Planning and problem solving, things that I am expert! My plans worked out well, and I was able to connect to both campuses via my video link.

Last night the weather had cleared enough so I could drive my son Will to his friend Joe’s house. My friend Tom asked me to come over and help him refinish his kitchen table. The roads were a bit slippery, but nothing that an experienced driver couldn’t handle. I had the fun of playing with his high-end power tools, as we sipped tea and swapped stories.

Yes, the Snowpocalypse made us change things up a bit, but the crisis was more akin to a Disney adventure ride rather than a disaster. We were fortunate to be able to arrange our lives, but I’m sure there was some tragedy that happened during the storm. There always is.

Huge piles of snow created by plows and blowers.
Crews work in pre-dawn to clear the sidewalks.

This morning I woke early, dressed and headed out for my walk. I meandered and viewed huge piles of snow created by plows and snow blowers. As I approached my downtown, I could see crews busily getting sidewalks ready. It will be business as usual in a few short hours. Computer, phone, and a book at the ready, I sit in Starbucks sipping coffee and typing this post. A post reflecting on the adventure of the Snowpocalypse; as I type I am grateful that it was just an event, nothing more.

Starbucks coffee, computer, book and a view.

Life is what we make of it. I like to avoid disasters. I am not a crisis-oriented person. In the case of the Snowpocalypse, a little thought turned a storm into an exciting adventure ride.


The Snowpocalypse, Decision Making, Risk Taking.

The Snowpocalypse, Decision Making , Risk Taking.

The weather channel was reporting a potential disaster as Thursday approached.  A snow storm was coming.  They called it “The Snowpocalypse.”

“Heavy snowfall could make travel difficult to impossible, Winter Storm Warning issued.”

The snowfall would occur during the night and the AM rush hour on Friday morning. You may recall that I retired from my private practice in January of this year.  However, I still work three days a week with the underserved in a town about 90 miles away from my home. Two of those days I provide services via a video link, but on Fridays, I drive to Rockford Illinois and provide services face to face.

I decided to walk this morning, despite un-shoveled sidewalks.  Initially, it didn’t seem too bad, but after a few blocks I started to feel the strain.  It was like I was hiking in a swimming pool.I arrived at my Starbucks and chatted with the barista and the one other patron who was brave enough to come out on this snowy day. As I type this my calves ache.  Soon I will need to return back home and ready myself for the day. I am already exhausted.

I love snow on trees.
The river looked beautiful.

I had to make a decision yesterday. I felt that it would likely be unsafe to drive to Rockford. I could take the day off, but that would inconvenience many. I could use my Cisco Telepresence video system to provide services by video, but one site that I go to in person does not have this capability.  

By 1 PM Thursday I was in contact with the nurse manager of that site, and soon I was contacting IT in between my patients.  Crap, the stress of complex multi-tasking.  It has never been a strong suit of mine. The original technical solution that I came up with was inadequate for my needs. By the end of the workday it was decided to try a different video platform to reach that campus. That conference system is now in place, but not tested. I guess I’ll find if it works soon enough.

Yesterday’s workday ended and I drove to our local teen center to pick up two of my kids.  They volunteer there, mentoring younger teens. They were jubilant as they entered my car as school had been canceled for Friday. We collectively decided to not cook dinner and went to Portillo’s instead.  An Italian beef for me, extra juicy with sweet peppers.  

“Should we get some emergency food supplies?” I asked.  “Yes!” they both responded.  The plan was to turn the storm into an adventure.  A trip to the grocer followed and we grabbed our personal essentials: peanut butter for me, applesauce for Will, and Gracie made sure we had enough Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  We prepared for anything.

Supplies for the snowpocalypse.

Did I make the right decision by staying home?  My decision will inconvenience some people, but I will be able to provide services without putting my life at risk.  Yet, I wonder if I reacted too strongly to the weather warnings.  It is likely that I could have driven to Rockford, but I’ll never know that now.  I played it safe and made a decision that provided an assured outcome, rather than a riskier but possibly better outcome.  I am not a risk taker.

My decision making about the snowstorm typifies my general stance in life.  I have tended to choose less risky choices, which I then modify to maximize their potential.  It has worked pretty well for me, but I sometimes wonder if I would have accomplished more in my life if I was more of a risk taker.  Now that I am retiring I want to take some risks, but I’m having trouble knowing how to break my lifelong pattern. I  have made a few inroads, but they have been limited.

I wish I had spent more time in my life honing some of my other skills.  I would like to be a better photographer, a better writer, more creative, more innovative.  I still have a burning desire to do more, accomplish more, think beyond the norm, make change, correct social prejudice, leave the world just a tiny bit better.  But when the metaphorical snow storm strikes I fall back on my old safe patterns. I know fear blocks me breaking through in some of the areas that I need to change the most.

What will my next step be?  I talk to my wife about some aspects of it.  I talk to my kids about some aspects of it.  I talk to my friend Tom about some aspects of it.  The general my goal is the same, but the specifics are different in each conversation.  I want to grow personally.  I want to rid myself of past baggage.  I want to be productive and creative.  I want to be a force of some sort. I do not want a life focused on self-indulgence.

One foot in front of the other.  Ever moving forward.  However, sometimes feeling like I’m trudging through deep snow in the process.

Y2K, Yacktraxs, And Thinking Ahead

Y2K, Yacktraxs, And Thinking Ahead

I woke up a bit later this morning. My alarm went off at the right time, but I kept on hitting the snooze bar. Yesterday was the Super Bowl, and I stayed up to watch it. Dear reader, I’m not much of spectator sports viewer. I usually get bored with the Super Bowl and drift away to other interest. However, yesterday’s game was exciting, and I got caught up in the excitement. The game ended, and I was still wide awake. Alas.

My morning time was routine. I cleaned up, dressed, and headed downstairs. Coffee and a light breakfast. Then a good morning, treat, and an ear scratch for the cat. Next a quick scan of my email and an even quicker scan of Facebook. Lastly, a “good morning” text message to my friend, Tom. I consider Tom part of my family, and so such a habit seems appropriate.

I checked my Apple Watch, and it registered a -4 degrees F. Crap, not only cold but yesterday’s light snow had probably turned the sidewalks to an ice rink, walking could be treacherous. But, dear reader, there are no emergencies for those who are prepared.

If you have been following me on this blog, you know that I love to problem solve, and I’m a bit OCD. Overall, these qualities have benefited my family and me. They like to tease me about my backups and backup plans, but they are the first to benefit from them when things go awry. However, there have been times when I have gone (how shall I say this) a bit overboard. The most notable example was Y2K.

If you don’t recall it Y2K it was the day when the world was supposed to end. Older microprocessors were theorized to malfunction as the calendar moved from 1999 to 2000. Many of these older chips were in mission-critical applications, like nuclear power plant control systems.

Initially, I didn’t think much about Y2K, but I work in Chicagoland’s techno-corridor, and I treat a lot of smart people from places like the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Motorola, Lucent, and Tellabs. In 1998 some of them started to warn me about the potential catastrophe ahead. One even gave me information about a safe site on a farm established by him and some of his cohorts.

I started to think, worry and plan. I bought non-perishable food, flashlights, and a 55-gallon drum for water. After all, I had a wife and kids to worry about. I even went so far as to study and obtain an Amateur radio license so I could help if there were a national emergency. To be honest, I did a bit more than that. I taught myself Morse code and studied the theory and practice of Amateur radio. In less than a year, I obtained a Technician grade license, then a General license, and finally the top Amateur Extra license. Complete overkill, but I didn’t want to leave a stone unturned.

Y2K came and went without much ado. My family still makes fun of the 55-gallon drum sitting in our basement. This time I was happy that I was wrong.

Fast forward today. I am determined to walk in the mornings. I know it is easy for me to make excuses to stay in bed. I know that one key to success is to maintain a plan, in this case, to walk in the morning whenever feasibly possible. I know that there will be obstacles that will prevent me from carrying out this plan. I understand that the majority of those obstacles are surmountable. In the case of walking outdoors, the obstacles will mostly be weather-related.

Dear reader, I have a good umbrella, waterproof shoes, boots, hats, scarfs, a rain jacket, a down coat. I thought that I was ready for anything until a few weeks ago when it misted right at the freezing point and turned my several mile walk back from Starbucks into a frozen nightmare. That morning there were over 100 motor vehicle accidents due to the ice. I was afraid that I would be following their same path but as a pedestrian. Every step was challenging. I had not anticipated ice as a potential obstacle. This was a new problem to solve.

The solution came in the form Yaktraxs, spikelike gadgets that are snow tires for your shoes. They stretch onto the soles of your shoes to provide extra traction and safety.

This morning they were stretched to my size 12s. I walked to Starbucks with reasonable confidence and returned the same way. One more problem solved; one more obstacle removed.

Dear reader, it is unlikely that you care about my shoe accessories. But that is not why I am writing this post. As a doctor, I am fortunate to be allowed into my patient’s lives. I have some patients who are impulsive and reactive. They often don’t plan their actions, and instead, hope for the best. They do what feels good at the moment, without looking past the immediate gratification that they hope to obtain. When things go awry they stress and scramble. They often have to rely on others to bail them out. This impulsive pattern usually repeats itself in many areas of their lives causing significant issues that range from problems in their finances to problems in their relationships. They are not thinking about Y2K or potential icy sidewalks.

It doesn’t take much to spend a moment to pause and think. The majority of problems can be avoided with just a little common sense. For most life situations it isn’t necessary to get an Amateur Extra radio license, but it is a wouldn’t hurt to have a working flashlight and a few cans of beans on a top shelf. In other words, even a little planning can make the difference between a good and poor outcome. Life can sometimes be difficult, and as humans, we need to do the things that we can to make it easier for ourselves. If you often find yourself regretting a quick decision or impulse, think of me and my Yaktraxs, but I would sincerely appreciate it if you forget about the 55-gallon water drum in my basement. I already have my kids to remind me of that!

Yaktraxs on my size 12s.

Elvis, Sun Records, And How To Change The World

Elvis, Sun Records, And How To Change The World

We found a parking space off Union Avenue, and I got out of the car.  The weather was cold and icy; for some reason, I thought Memphis would be warm in January.  The neighborhood was nondescript. I was excited, and a bit bemused. I had no idea what to expect. By outward appearances, I gauged that I shouldn’t expect much.

We walked up the side of the building, and I ask my friend Tom to take my picture in front of the building’s facade. I wanted to look back at the image when I had more time.  Certainly, there would be aspects of the building that would make it special. I just had to study it a bit harder.

Now inside, I buy my ticket.  In front of me is a gift shop formatted as a 1950s diner.  I wandered around, as my tour is scheduled 20 minutes in the future.  Old vinyl records, boxed CD sets, and t-shirts.  To the right is a soda fountain complete with real glass bottles of Coca-Cola. So far a store with a theme, nothing more.

Our guide gathers us like a small herd. We crowd as she motions us up the stairs to a museum of sorts.  Photos, ancient recording devices, the control panel from an old radio station.  She starts.  She talks about Sam Phillips.  How he was an engineer at a local radio station but gave it up to start a little business.  She talks about Marion Keisker, Sam’s secretary, who was more of a business partner than her title would suggest. We listen to her recitation interspersed with sounds clips of early recordings.  I start to feel it.  I start to get it.

We move down narrow stairs and into another space.  Now we are in the actual Sun Records studio.  A small front office with a desk welcomes us.  Then a larger room paneled with acoustic tiles and anchored by a dull beige floor.  Photographs on the wall remind us of the importance of this nondescript space.

Sam Phillips had an idea.  He wanted to record the music that he liked.  He wanted to record the music that moved him.  He was outside of the mainstream in the 1950s, a time dominated by giant corporate record companies.  Sam would cut a personal record for a few dollars.  He would travel out into the field to record a speech for a small fee.  He needed to pay the rent.  His mission was to record the blues, an entire genre almost completely ignored by the mainstream. BB King, Junior Parker, Rufus Thomas. Jackie Brenston created what is considered the first rock-and-roll record in Sam’s Sun Studio.

And then there were the singers who were able to bridge the gap to a wider and richer white audience.  Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and others. They began their recording careers in that little studio.  Each taking a piece of history and making it their own.

I stood on the old worn floor, I looked at the aged acoustic tiles on the walls and ceiling, I saw the “X’s” designating where the performers should stand for optimum acoustic balance.  At the end of the tour our guide brought out an old Shure vocal microphone.  It was one of 5 that the studio owned, and so it most certainly was used by every major performer who recorded there.  “If anyone wants to take a photo with this famous mic, feel free to do so.”  I was third in line.

The building was nondescript.  The actual studio was small, simple, and a bit seedy. Mr. Phillips goal was to record a form of music that was under-represented. His goal was to make a living. There was nothing special about his studio or equipment.  He wasn’t a prophet or a visionary.  But his actions transformed music, impacted culture and likely contributed to the emerging power of teens and young adults. That power extended to the protests of the Vietnam Era.  That power extends to this very day.

It is foolish to disregard the power of the few.  It is foolish to think that change can only occur when money, position, or establishment are involved.  It is often the opposite when it comes to change.  The person with a vision or passion.  The group that questions the establishment. The whistleblower who is willing to risk all to bring injustice to light.   

When we feel powerless, we become powerless.  Unfortunately, it is easier to feel powerless than it is to believe in yourself.

Dear reader, people told me that I was supposed to do great things.  In the end, I just became a country doctor.  I still feel that my story isn’t over.  I feel that there is more ahead.  This feeling may just be my grandiosity.  Ego, to fuel me forward during this transitory part of my life.  But, I do feel it.  My direction remains obfuscated. I don’t think that I’m destined to change the world. I am not Mahatma Gandhi, I am not even Sam Phillips. I just know that there is more for me to do. I can still contribute to the greater world.  I accept that my contribution may be small, perhaps tiny. A life that only uses resources and takes from others without contributing has little meaning. I plow forward. Right, left, right, left.  One foot in front of the other I stumble forward.

Dear reader, do you have a passion? Do you see injustice around you? Are you moving the world in a more positive direction, no matter how small that movement may be? I am not a preacher, and I am not qualified to preach to you. I am not a judge, and I am not qualified to judge you.  I am just an old doctor who tends to think too much.  Think with me. Perhaps the answers will come not only for me but also for you.

Hamming it up with a mic used by the likes of Elvis and Johnny Cash.
Standing in front of Sun Studio.
WHBQ the Memphis station that played the first Elvis record.