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How WordPress Taught Me About Myself

Dear reader, I believe that everything we do in some ways connects to other aspects of who we are. We show our true selves in our everyday actions.  Things that seem unrelated are often related if you look closely enough.

In this post, I explore how the process of building web pages has also taught me about how I relate to people. This is less of a stretch than you may think.  Let’s start…

My adventure in creating websites started around 15 years ago and was directed more by need than want.  In those days I was a partner/owner of a medium sized psychiatric practice. With my two partners, I had built the practice into a thriving enterprise.

Most of our business was generated from former clients and referring professionals.  However, we knew that we needed a website, as it was becoming a common instrument that new clients used to find their next care provider.

I come from a blue-collar background, which inherently makes me a do-it-yourselfer and cost-conscious. I was already heavily invested in creating marketing and advertising materials for the practice and had been doing everything from brochure design (remember paper?) to head shots of the staff.

It was only logical that I build the website.  To hire someone to design even a simple one would have cost thousands of dollars, as well as countless hours of committee work to write copy, and approve design concepts. I felt that I had the potential to do the necessary tasks: photography, copy creation, design, deployment.  However, there was a problem, I had never designed a webpage, I had never taken a computer course, and I had never written a single line of HTML. In hindsight building a complex website was an insane thought. People spend years learning this stuff. What was I thinking?

Naturally, it was a massive project that was complicated by the fact that I had to learn everything on the fly. Initially, I tried to go the easy route by using the hosting company’s template-based web designer.  I wrote two entire versions of the clinic website with that program, but it just couldn’t handle a site as complex as the one the I envisioned. I recall spending an entire Saturday trying to upload a few more pages to the site, only to have it repeatedly crash.  Finally, I realized that I would have to go beyond the limitations of this easy software and use something more sophisticated. That moment was sickening to me, as it meant that not only would I have to learn an entirely new software package, but I would have to recreate every single page of the website again.

This process was occuring in my almost non-existent “spare time.”  I created extra working time by removing needed sleeping time. I know my partners had no idea of the hours that I put in. They assumed that I was able to build a site during my lunch break. For months most of my evenings and weekends were spent staring at a computer screen. Sure, my lack of knowledge made easy things more difficult, but there was also the reality that I was wearing all of the creative hats. It was overwhelming.

The more sophisticated software that I settled on was from a British company called Serif. It was graphically based and similar to the page layout programs that I had used for paper publications.  The familiarity offered me a small degree of confidence. However, building an interactive multimedia website is very different from placing photos and print on a physical page.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and created seven redesigns of the clinic site over ten years.  It wasn’t too long before friends started to ask me if I could help their small businesses and build a website for them. This is how I became a web designer/content creator.

In 2015 my friend, Tom, asked me if I would write some copy for his small business website.  He had paid someone to do the total creation of the site, and he wasn’t pleased with it. “I don’t think that the website represents me very well.”  He told me. “Sure,” I said. I was eager to repay a favor that he had recently done for me.

Tom is a smart and creative guy who has a sense of style.  Initially, I thought that he was overly critical of his site.  I assumed that a professional would know all of the tricks to creating a visually appealing and engaging experience. It was then that I looked at the web pages. His site was an example of “you don’t always get when you pay for.”  Cluttered, poorly written, lousy clipart, encyclopedia length boring content that was likely copied from elsewhere. It was not good.

“Tom, why don’t you let me build a new site for you?”  The words came out of my mouth without thought. “I can’t let you do that, I don’t want to take advantage of you,” Tom replied.  Suddenly, I found myself convincing him that it was OK, and a good idea.

Like most projects, it was much more complicated and time-consuming than I initially thought. Despite being a lot of work, it was fun and I felt good helping my friend. I was proud of the way the new website turned out. Simple, clean, beautiful!

Fast forward to 2018.  Tom had been doing some marketing research and decided that his site would be more searchable if it was created using the WordPress PHP format instead of the simple HTML of the site that I wrote.  He even found someone willing to port my created content to a shiny new WordPress site. So, what did I do? I took a look at the prototype site and saw a different vision. Once again I was asking my friend if he would mind if I would make some “adjustments.” Some of this may be grandiosity, some reality. I know Tom very well, and I have some understanding of his business. Two pieces of knowledge that his WordPress colleague didn’t possess.

Dear reader, you are reading this post on my WordPress blog site that I created several years ago.  It was a straightforward creation that involved a few mouse clicks. I set it up with no knowledge of WordPress in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Tom’s site is a very complicated bonafide website that is loaded with all sorts of content. I was telling him that I could improve his site and I didn’t even know how to modify a single page in WordPress.  Why do I do such crazy things?

As you know by now when I don’t understand my behavior I ponder and try to figure it out.  This is what I came up with:

I love learning new things, and I love intellectual challenges.  Despite being slow going, there is a genuine thrill when I figure out even a small aspect of a new puzzle. Knowledge is my cocaine.

I have pride issues.  I put a lot of energy and effort creating content for his original website.  I want my work in a setting that adds to it and doesn’t detract from it.

I show that I care about someone by doing things for them.  Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

I want to justify Tom’s friendship with me.  I want to give him a good “return” on his investment in our connection.  This realization was a surprise. In reality, I know that Tom connects with me as much for my imperfections as my strengths.  I don’t need to prove my value to him, and I honestly feel that he would like me just as much if all we did was to hang out with each other. In fact, Tom is also a helper who is more comfortable taking care of, rather than being taken care of.

This need to be valuable to my friend stems back to a time in my life when I felt that I had little value. The, “I am not worth anything,” part of my life. This likely is also a reason why I did all of the extra work for my former clinic. It was a way to prove that I was worthy of my fellow doctor’s time and attention.

I am a protector. I have a strong maternal side to my personality. When I feel close to someone, I am constantly trying to make sure that they are safe and that their needs are met. I can guarantee that my friend does not need my protection. He is physically stronger than I am and has survived most of his life without my sage interventions. Luckily, Tom seems to understand my motives and tolerates my actions. He is happiest when his business is thriving. I want to make sure that his website does as much as it can do to help his business thrive. For whatever reason, I think I hold the key to making his website the best that it can be.

Conversely, my protective trait drives an immediate family member crazy. They view it as me trying to control them.  In reality, I’m just trying to make sure that they have everything that they need. However, I do understand their annoyance, and I have tried to modify my behavior.

These are some of the reasons that I came up with, but that is enough writing for today. Hopefully, this post will get you thinking about how the unrelated parts of your life that are actually related to each other.  Connect the dots and learn just a little bit more about yourself! Have a great day.

WordPress as an insight oriented therapist?

 

Snow On April 9th

The ramping volume of my clock radio wakes me.

The voice on the other end announces snow.

I sit up to clear my mind from the fog of sleep.

I stumble into the bathroom to ready myself for the day.

Coffee, an apple, peanut butter.

On coat, on scarf, on hat, on gloves.

I walk among the quiet of predawn.

Time to think, time to pray, time to meditate.

The sharp snow stings my face.

Snow in April?  Neither expected nor surprised.

A blanket of white, clean and crisp.

I marvel at the beauty.

I am grateful for the day.

Snow makes the path anew.
The downtown ready just for me.

 

Twenty Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Acceptance

Twenty Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Acceptance.

I want what I want when I want it, and I live in a world where that is possible. Eat a steak at 3 AM? Sure, there is a 24-hour restaurant nearby. Buy a pair of shoes on a Sunday evening? No problem, I can even order them from my iPhone. Watch a TV show that I missed? Easy, I’ll just stream it from my smart TV.

I live in an instant gratification world, and so it is easy to think that my wish is everyone’s command. Living in such a self-absorbed space can make me feel special, but it can also make me insensitive to the needs of others. In such an on-demand world it isn’t difficult to imagine that my relationships are also supposed to give me what I want when I want it.

Naturally, I should choose good relationships that I am compatible. However, a relationship involves two individuals, not one. The second party also has needs and wants, and some of those may be contrary to my wishes.When deciding on forming a relationship, it is crucial for me to be willing to accept the person, “as is.” It is not their responsibility to become a chameleon for me.

With that said, a good relationship can involve compromise and change. If I care about someone, I should be willing to alter my behavior as long as that change isn’t contrary to my beliefs or my sense of self. The same is correct about my relationship. I have the right to tell my relationship when something is bothering me about their actions or behaviors. However, they are the ones to decide if they are willing to change their actions, not me.

I realize that unrealistic or one-sided expectations can foretell the demise of my relationships. I need to avoid the “This person is great, but they will need to change (fill in the blank) if they are to going to have a relationship with me,” scenario. Likewise, I will not form a relationship with someone with the idea that I will “fix” them. I know that when I accept my relationships for who they are, we both will be happier. However, I do have a right to be treated as an equal, and my feelings do matter.

I understand that many relationships end because one party demands that the other change in ways that they are not ready or able to change. I also understand that poor relationships can continue to worsen because the participants are unwilling to alter their behaviors when doing so would be beneficial to them and their relationship.

I have to accept that I can only control my actions in a relationship. At times individual needs will not allow us to move our relationship forward. Because of this some of my relationships will end. I accept that not all relationships will last forever. However, by being rationally accepting and not being overly critical of my relationship, I am likely to be rewarded by the benefits that such a connection yields.

A good relationship respects the needs of both parties.

Day Seventy-Two, And Waiting.

Day Seventy-Two, And Waiting.

Today is day seventy-two. Seventy-two days, almost two and one-half months. Day seventy-two and I’m still not sure where I’m heading. I don’t know what I should have expected, perhaps nothing. Instead of clarity, my future seems to be more cloudy. Maybe my expectations were too high. That wouldn’t be a surprise.

My change took place on January 1st of this year. I moved from a five day work week to a three day one. Two more open days a week, a four day weekend every week. Now, seventy-two days later I am left wondering where the time goes. Friday evening starts, I turn around, and it is Tuesday night. I had so many plans.

To be fair to myself, I am doing some of the things that I had planned. To be honest with myself I’m not doing them to the degree that I had hoped. To be brutally honest my efforts have not convinced me that I have a hidden talent that will propel me into a new career.

I am not sure if my expectations are realistic, as everyone around me is telling me to take it easy and to be easier on myself. I am writing more, I am expanding my photography skills, I have done some house organization, and I’m even playing the guitar a little more. All of these activities at about a third of the level that I had hoped to do them, but I am doing them.

So what is the problem? To be honest, the problem isn’t that different from the problem that I had when I assessed my progress about a month ago. The problem is that I lack direction. I do not have a singular purpose; I am still scattered. I am still sampling this and that, hoping for inspiration to strike. The lightning bolt has not arrived.

On a day to day basis my writing style changes, as do my interests. I have been doing some architectural photography for a friend, and I find myself consumed by learning this new type of photography. I like being consumed by an interest. Is this a “next step” or just a passing interest? I find that I really enjoy working with small businesses. I tend to see things from a different angle. Is this a “next step” for just a passing interest?

I like writing about my philosophy of life. I want to distill a lifetime of experience into simple paragraphs. I like writing slogans for life. Is this a “next step” or just a passing interest?

I want to travel to beautiful landscapes, small towns, real farms. I want to connect with people and write about them. I want to inspire other people with what I write. However, fear stands in my way. This fear is on many levels.

I have a fear that I would be disloyal to my family if I go away for a few weeks or even a few days. I have concerns about “wasting” family money on such a self-centered adventure.

I have a fear of reaching out to people and asking them for help. Dear reader, I have no evidence that this fear is rational, and I am confident that it is based in my childhood. Time and time again when I reach out to people they are not only receptive, but they seem happy about our connection. It is maddening that I am so influenced by childhood trauma. It is infuriating that I let these fears control me and that it takes so much effort for me to break free of them. I guarantee to you that I have been actively working on correcting this issue, but it has been a two step forward, one step backward process. I am convinced that this old dog can learn a few new tricks. Convinced, yet not sure.

I wonder what my next step should be. Should I plan a short non-family trip as a first stage of desensitization? Should I talk to friends and family and specifically ask them for help? Should I meet with my pastor, who is a shaker and mover, and ask for his advice? Should I continue doing what I’m currently doing and wait for an opportunity to present itself?

As I write this, I am aware of another obstacle. I love having the bits of unstructured time that I am now experiencing. I love the ability to write in present tense one day, and past tense the next. I love learning new things, like my recent stint with architectural photography. If I become hyper-focused on a project, I will need to give up those things. Personal growth over the greater good, could this be stopping me?

Day 72, the clock it ticking. Dear reader, I’ll keep you updated.

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom.

My original plan had me walking Tuesday morning at 5 AM.  My friend Tom was going to pick me up at 7:30 AM and take me to do a photoshoot of a recent remodel job that he completed. Monday night I received a text message from Tom, “Can you help me with my computer?  I’ll take you to breakfast.” “Sure,” I replied. An adventure with Tom trumps walking.

At 4:50 AM Tom pulled up in front of my house.  I put my coat on and headed out the door. Once inside the cabin of the car I was greeted by a friendly hello and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee.  We headed into the city meeting rush hour traffic. I was grateful that Tom was driving; traffic makes me crazy.

At our favorite breakfast joint, The Palace, Tom chided me to order “Something decent  this time.” I have been making an effort to be conservative in my ordering, and this unannounced change had clearly been picked up by him.  I went with a veggie omelet. Tom pulled out his MacBook Pro and I fiddled with it and solved his technical problem. I have never had a computer class, but I seem to have an ability to understand computers.  Sometimes the answers to a computer problem will literally flash in front of me. I guess this talent would be classified under the category that my wife refers to as my autistic brain.

Off to the suburbs and the photoshoot.  Tom had several appointments Tuesday morning and so I shot solo.

The remodel consisted of a kitchen and two bathrooms.  He had put a lot of thought and energy into the project and was rightly proud of the outcome. He wanted me to digitally capture when he was seeing for his portfolio.  

Dear reader, there are few architectural shoots that are more difficult than a bathroom.  Consumers see glossy photos in advertisements, but they don’t realize that these images can be bathroom “sets,” and not the real thing.  When a pro shoots a real bathroom the room is sometimes partially deconstructed to allow for proper shooting angles.

Bathrooms are small, and to give photos the illusion of a larger space it is necessary to use a wide angle lens along with a camera capable of using such a lens to its greatest advantage. Wide angle lenses add a tremendous amount of distortion to an image. Objects towards the corners of the lens spread out and tilt in very unnatural ways.

Lighting is difficult when shooting a bathroom, a flash has to be carefully directed to avoid washing out closeby surfaces. Even using existing lighting presents its own problems of unwanted reflection and exposure blowouts.

Reflective surfaces, like mirrors and glass shower doors, are everywhere.  It isn’t considered professional to see a photographer in the mirror of a finished photograph! Doors open into spaces, blocking the room view.  The list of issues goes on and on.

When we view a bathroom in person we are able to take in the whole experience. Our brain makes a composite image out of many scanned images. Unwanted objects are filtered out, holes are filled in.   The camera can only see the room one section at a time which highlights, not hides, flaws.

Door removal and room modification were (obviously) not an option, the best I could do was to try to emphasize creativity, rather than absolute accuracy.

I mounted a borrowed 16-35 mm L series lens on a Canon 5D and positioned myself in the room looking for the best angles… I started shooting. High shots, low shots, inside shots, outside shots, this angle, that angle… click, click click.  A quick scan of the camera’s LCD screen to make sure I was in focus. Another scan to make sure that I wasn’t being reflected in the glass shower door. Click, click, click. It took me hours to shoot the two remodeled baths and the kitchen.

When I arrived back home I loaded the images into my computer.  A tweak in the overall contrast, a little more exposure here, better white balance there, and so it went.  I have some perspective correction tools that reduced some of the most egregious optical distortions, but I’m am hardly a Photoshop expert.  I don’t have the ability to create a geometrically accurate image, or the ability to perfectly clone out imperfections. Even so, I spent the rest of the day tweaking photos.

In the end, I felt OK with the results.  They were a little better than the last bathroom photoshoot that I did.  Hopefully, the next bathroom shoot will be a little better than this one. Although challenging, my project was also exciting.  I pushed myself to think differently, I became more proficient, not only with the photography but also the post-production work. I forced myself to use my own standard as a reference point.  That standard was not perfection.

Dear reader, I believe that last Tuesday’s photo shoot was actually a metaphor for how I approach life and its problems. If I have a problem I tend to believe that there is a solution to it.  I think about the potential issues and plan accordingly. I explore my solution specific strengths and weaknesses. I focus on potential pitfalls and possible workarounds for them. I face the problem and try to learn from both my successes and failures.  I correct my course as needed. I establish what is an acceptable outcome. Perfection does not exist, acceptable is the way to go.

I am not claiming that this method is the only reasonable one, but it generally has worked for me.  When I talk to some of my patients I can see how their problem solving is ineffective and at times causes them unnecessary stress and grief. Some people adopt the impulsive “ask forgiveness” model.  Some plan so obsessively that they never get around to tackling the task at hand. Some use the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” option. Some feel that any outcome other than 100% is a failure, so they do nothing. Some utilize the, “It is not my fault, it’s your fault,” philosophy. None of these are congruent with happy life.

We are creatures of habit, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt and change.  If you are unhappy with the way that your life is going explore what you can do to change it.  Be reasonable and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t blame others, become your own force of change. Sometimes the slogan, “Life is what you make it,” can be true.

Bathroom detail shot.
A beautiful bathroom.
Interesting angles.
A wonderful roll-in shower.
Bathroom detail shot.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Cheers

Whom Do I Love?

The word love is a word that has tremendous meaning and significance, and at the same time, it is so overused that it has no meaning or significance.  We think we know what love is, but how can that be the case when it means nothing? Love is a conundrum.

People would tell my parents that I was kind as a child.  I believe that statement was, and is, true.  But kindness isn’t love.

As humans, we announce to the world that “We are in love!” An emotion so powerful that it takes rational thinking away.  But being in love isn’t love.

I love pizza.  But pizza isn’t love.

Dear reader, when I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t love.  I cared about people.  I tried to be a good person.  I tried to do the right thing.  But, I didn’t love. Like many of my deficits, I accepted this imperfection and moved on with my life.

Over time I became more aware of who I was, and it was then that I started to understand why I couldn’t love. I discovered that my inability to love was based on a personal decision.  The decision determined in my subconscious. It was decided by me but without my conscious awareness. You see dear reader, to allow myself to truly love someone would make me vulnerable.  I could become subject to someone’s control. I could be hurt.  I could be manipulated.  I could be used. I saw love as a weakness, not a strength, and there was no room for weakness in my life.  I would not let anyone get close enough to me to have access to my soft underbelly.

In the place where love should have resided there was a hollow spot. It was in an area deep inside of me.  A region occupied by other deficits.  My lack of spirituality, my feelings of personal shame, my fear of being different. A zone well protected, and well hidden from others.  In my young life, I emphasized my strengths and buried my weaknesses.  It was the most efficient way to move forward.

Such a strategy can only carry one so far, and so I started to fill those empty spot.  Slowly and carefully for most, except for the love deficit.

I regained my ability to love in one day.  That day was January 27, 1983.  The day that my first child, Anne,  was born.  Something that was completely unnatural and foreign to me became completely natural and familiar.  The ability to love was always inside of me.  It was just hidden so deeply that I had no awareness of it.

I now love freely.  I celebrate my vulnerability.  I view my ability to love as a strength, not a weakness.

So what is love? The best definition that I have found was written by a tentmaker in a letter a long time ago.  It follows:

Love is Patient

Love is Kind

Love Does Not Envy

Love Does Not Boast

Love is Not Proud

Love is Not Rude

Love is Not Self-Seeking

Love is Not Easily Angered

Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

Love Does Not Delight in Lies But Rejoices With the Truth

Love Always Protects

Love Always Trusts

Love Always Perseveres

Love Never Fails

I am imperfect in my ability to love, but I ever strive to closer approximate this standard.  So, whom do I love? Those whom I love know it by my intent and actions.