"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Friday, November 25, 2016

Still Proud

On Tuesday, November 8th, I was an AMERICAN. On Wednesday morning, November 9th, I was still an AMERICAN. Nothing really has changed.

Over the past several months leading up to Tuesday's elections, I have seen a hideous and vicious divisiveness among friends, family, and the American people in general. And now the hate continues with angry protests and demonstrations. Never before have I witnessed such hate and abusiveness between supporters of political candidates in our country.

Its time to stop. The competition is over. No matter which side we're on about the result, we, as a nation need to accept it, reunite and become again what makes America great. ONE NATION ...INDIVISIBLE. 

Let's come back together now, folks. It is our unification that makes us great, our right to choose, and our right to have a voice -- no matter who is in the White House.

On November 11th, we recognize Veterans Day, honoring those who serve to protect the American Dream. If nothing else, the recent election proved that the American Dream is, in fact, a reality and anything is possible. Eleven years ago (almost to the day) I retired from a nearly 25-year career in the Navy and Navy Reserve protecting that American Dream and our rights to pursue it. I was then, and still am today, proud to have served the greatest nation in the world.

The uniform still fits and I am still proud to be an AMERICAN.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What I Remember

I will never forget 9/11/2001, nor will anyone else who lived through it. But I choose not to remember it for the fear, the pain, the horror and the anger that dominated the emotions of the day and remain so predominant 15 years later. I choose not to remember it for the deaths of friends, family, and shipmates. Nor for the destruction and devastation to our way of life. I choose not to remember it for the loss of our freedoms, or the violation of our prior sense of safety.  

Yes, all of those feelings, emotions, and memories remain and are still strong today.

But what I choose to remember 9/11 for are the acts of heroism and selflessness – aboard Flight 93, at the Pentagon, in New York and across the nation. For the sense of unity, community and togetherness that emerged from the wreckage. I choose to remember 9/11 for the resolve of a nation, our determination to recover and our dedication to rebuilding. Not just rebuilding the Pentagon or in New York, but rebuilding our communities, our neighborhoods, our society, our economy, and our security.

I will never forget how neighbors became friends, communities bonded, and the American spirit became stronger. Remembering seeing the American flag on every porch still brings tears to my eyes.  
I was in the Navy Reserve then, and had just started on what was initially supposed to be my annual two weeks of active duty. Enroute to the Navy installation at Anacostia, I listened in confusion to the bizarre radio reports of a plane hitting the first of the towers of the World Trade Center. Shortly afterward, I found myself on lockdown at the base, and then ultimately, at the Pentagon.
Military members have always had an intense esprit de corps, but that day in particular I saw a coming together in brotherhood and purpose beyond that which I had only previously seen in war zones.
I am proud to be an American, I am proud to have served, and ...
I will never forget.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It's Laugh at Work Week!

Every April 1st the world begins a week-long celebration of the importance of humor – Laugh at Work Week!

While some may sneer at the concept of levity at work, humor is actually a crucial element. Historically, one of the most respected members of the royal court was the court jester. They had no rank, yet were beyond reproach. Their official role was to use their wit to help diffuse tense situations at the royal court. In Medieval Europe, jesters were very involved with affairs of state. He was usually allowed to speak his mind freely, while everyone else had to wait for the monarch's permission to speak.

Often, the jester would use his chance at free speech to criticize the monarch openly, where no one else could. Thus, a function of the jester was to act as a critic, and many stories exist to support the fact that kings did indeed pay heed to the criticism of the court jester. The jester's ability to speak freely also came into play when tense matters were being discussed. Quite frequently the jester would diffuse heated discussions by inserting humorous statements, thereby avoiding any unnecessary confrontations.

Many leaders have recognized this important fact as well:  President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.

Share your stories about workplaces you've experienced where humor was prevalent -- or not. Over the next week, I'll be sharing several examples from both ends of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, enjoy the couple of jokes here. And while you’re yucking it up at work, if somebody gives you a dirty look, stick your tongue out and give them raspberries. Tell them you’re channeling great leaders, like Ike!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Don't let time slip away!

As we go through life, we encounter people who leave remarkable impressions on us. Nothing is better in life than meeting friendly, warm-hearted people.

But life goes on and sometimes we lose touch with these kindred souls.

Many years ago, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a young, talented musician on Maryland's Eastern Shore. As warm and friendly off stage as he was gifted on stage, we hit it off immediately with Michael Tracey White whose band was performing in local night clubs in Ocean City.

Although we were only in town for a few days, from the first night we met, we wound up hanging out with Michael every night. And, of course, dancing the night away to his swing and rockabilly tunes. At the time, he had just put out an song dedicated to the recently deceased Dale Earnhardt and donated the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That was the kind of person he was.

Funny brief side bar, my wife, Bonnie, actually met Michael first. He was performing poolside at the hotel and she was soaking her sore foot in the cool pool water at the hotel while I was working at a convention in town. Her foot had been bothering her for days, but apparently not enough to keep from dancing. Turns out her foot was broken from tripping in a field nearly two weeks prior, but didn't know it. Michael teased her fiercely about it when he found out.

While we maintained contact for a few years, unfortunately, we ultimately lost contact as  work and other obligations in life made it inconvenient to stay in touch.

Earlier this week we learned that Michael Tracey White had died. While we are extremely  saddened by this news, we are mortified to find that his death was 10 years ago!

How could it have been 10 years?

That's what made us realize that it had been more than 13 since we'd last seen each other!  What a tragedy that we let this kind and caring friend simply drift out of our lives.

Michael died at the horribly young age of only 39 from a ruptured blood vessel in his throat. I cant even imagine the horror.

We spent Thursday evening reading decade-old tributes to Michael and were not surprised to find so many people who's lives he had made such a positive impact on. Friends and fellow musicians even gathered five years later to remember Michael in a tribute show. Want to know more about Michael? Read this article about that tribute event.

Yesterday, we happened to see a Facebook post from the daughter of another inspiring man that we met about eight years ago. She had just finished restoring and adding to a mural her father had painted in Hawaii. Her father was Ron Artis, an incredible artist who painted more than 900 murals around Hawaii and across the States.

On our first and only visit to Hawaii in 2008, my wife and I were drawn to some amazing blues music coming from a smallish home and studio on the North Shore of Oahu.  We entered between displays of beautifully handpainted surfboards and found Ron and his 11 children having a jam session in a room full of dozens of instruments. Afterward we chatted with Ron and several of the kids for hours about how his whole family believed in the power and beauty of music and art. We were immediately enamored by this deeply religious, extraordinarily talented and loving family.

Over the years, we thought of them often and had sporadic contact with his elder children via social media. Somehow, we missed the notice of Ron's death -- back in 2011!

How could we have been so oblivious?

Our encounter with both of these individuals were brief but exceptionally memorable. We had every good intention of staying in contact and continuing to build on those budding friendships, but somehow time got away from us. We don't know where those relationship could have gone, if we'd ever become lifelong friends. But the saddest part is that, because we let the opportunities slip away, we never had the chance to find out.

I have known way too many people, especially those who had advanced into senior leadership positions, who let their job and "responsibilities" supersede maintaining relationships and personal friendships. There was suddenly no time for casual get togethers. They'd miss important milestones or occasions in the lives of their friends. And ultimately lost touch.

We had always sworn not to let that happen to us. This week we realized that we failed.

Take a lesson from this.

Don't let everyday life get in the way of what life is really all about. 
Spend time with the wonderful people in your life, and appreciate every moment we get to share with them.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pure at Heart: Lessons from The Wolfman

Many people know what a fan I am of the old classic “horror” movies, but of course, those of us most familiar with them know that they weren’t horror at all. They were love stories. Stories of drama, tragedy, and heroism. Tales of loneliness and abandonment, and hope and salvation. But we’ll get into that more deeply another time.

For now, on the occasion of what would have been Lon Chaney Jr.’s 110th birthday, I’d like to briefly honor this iconic actor with a brief recap of what I learned from him.
Son of silent film superstar, Lon Chaney Sr., who was known as the man of 1000 faces for his amazingly creative make-up techniques, Lon Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps. He was the only actor to have ever portrayed all four of the traditional iconic movie “monsters” of the 1930s and 40s. He played Dracula in Son of Dracula, the Frankenstein monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, and wrapped up in bandages to be the Mummy in the final three movies of that series.
But the role he is most popular for is the Wolfman. 

 Chaney was the ONLY actor to portray this role in any movie of that era. Because of the pathos he brought to the character, Universal Studios and the fans wouldn’t even consider another actor for role.

The persona of Larry Talbot is a warm, likeable tradesman unaffected by being the son of an aristocrat. Trying to save the life of a young woman being attacked by a wolf, Talbot is bitten and ultimately falls victim to the curse of the werewolf.
“Even a man who is pure at heart
and says his prayer by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the Autumn moon is bright.”

On each and every night of the full moon, no matter what he does to prevent it, Talbot transforms into an uncontrollable half-man, half-beast with a vicious instinct to kill. Each and every time, his remorse is palpable. His human self is mortified and horrified by his ferocity and savagery in his werewolf form. He spends his every human moment seeking a cure, or even his own death so as to put an end to the horror.    
I grew up watching these movies on late night TV as a kid in the 60s. While I loved all the monsters, the Wolfman held a special attraction.  As a matter of fact, my first Halloween memory is as a four year old insisting to my mother and father that I wanted to dress as the Wolfman and that it wasn’t too scary for me.  I put the costume on, ran down the hall to scare my mother and in doing so ran past the mirror and scared my own self.

What drew me to the Wolfman was Larry Talbot’s honesty, gentleness and sense of responsibility. He reinforced the same lessons that I was learning from my father – to always strive to do whatever is right.

Talbot was a tradesman who was good with his hands, and able to do many things. And he was always seeking to learn something new. Again, these lessons were exactly what I was learning from dad. By the way, my dad had a bit of a resemblance to Chaney in body shape and facial structure – at least to my child’s eyes. Chaney and my father represented all the good things a man should be.
Fortunately, my father was not a werewolf.  After all, I had seen him during a full moon and although we Italian men are perpetually in need of a shave, dad never got hairier or grew fangs and bit people’s jugular veins. I was comforted by the knowledge that there were no wolves in Brooklyn, so dad would likely never get bitten by one.  
Instead of being afraid of the Wolfman, I felt sorry for him. Had he not been bitten, he too could have had a happy family like ours.
So I learned compassion for those less fortunate, and I also learned the importance of trust.
Of course I knew the Wolfman wasn’t real. I read about it in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. To become the Wolfman, Chaney sat through nine grueling hours of having someone glue real yak hair onto his face. That is dedication! Yet another lesson about devoting yourself to whatever you are passionate about.  
So Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaney. And thank you for teaching me some of the most important lessons I learned in life.