Stagefright is a Form of Narcissism

Stagefright incapacitates many people

Stagefright is an interesting phenomenon. It’s a fear that has nothing to do with death or pain. It’s that feeling of unbearable anxiety prior to stepping up to the microphone. The moment you do, it’s usually already passed. Over a lifetime of performing I have met people who could play the constellations out of the universe when supported by stellar back up musicians, yet flop horribly when put in front of an audience as a solo act. The best guitar player that ever came out of Holland, my mentor Jan Akkerman, was a God when he played with his various bands (The Hunters, Brainbox and later the worldfamous Focus), but alone on stage he froze into a mumbling, apologetic idiot.

I had an interesting conversation with another guitarist about “stagefright” recently. He said he never experienced it, because he felt he was playing mostly for himself.
Although it’s been a while since I experienced it, ( I don’t perform nearly enough) I think most of us who performed though, have experienced it at some point… perhaps when we were first starting out…

With the Season starting up again for American Idol and America’s Got Talent we will witness once again a boatload of participants who will sweat blood and tears while shaking in their boots, especially with crazy boy Steven Tyler in the judge line-up. To avoid this, they can only approach the chance to perform as an opportunity.

While those who haven’t played out yet, might get scared just “thinking” about performing in front of a group of people, the reality is that if performance of any kind and talent is in your dream, you will adjust your life to do just that: perform.

So I started pondering stagefright and realized that there is really a set of different kinds of fears at play.  Most of them are interrelated.

There is

1. The Fear of the Unknown.

I remember my very first gig, which was actually in the church at my high school, in the time when churches first turned to popular musicians to attract more bodies in the seats of the Sunday morning services. I was nervous because I was 15 and I just didn’t know what to expect!I was a blues rocker after all, playing in the domain of God and getting paid for it.

I guess at that time I learned that the only solution is just to take action towards the fear — get out there and play.  Any irrational fear will dissipate upon taking action in the direction of it.
And yes, stagefright is an irrational fear because there’s really no danger – nothing to be afraid of in the form of bodily injury, except for making a fool of yourself.

There is also

2. The Fear of sounding bad

This can range from worrying about making mistakes, being sloppy, having a bad voice, or maybe the crowd won’t like your songs, or the equipment doesn’t operate properly, or a guitar is out of tune. Especially in outdoor venues, humidity or cold can play havoc with your tuning.

I think the only remedy is here is to simply be prepared. Practice your set thoroughly, and don’t try to play something you need more practice on or
try to play beyond your abilities.

3. The Fear of playing in front of a crowd

Of course this is actually fearing that you’re being judged by an audience. This, I’m afraid to say, comes from taking yourself too seriously. Relax.
Learn to have fun and just enjoy the experience for what it is. Who cares if you make a mistake or two? I don’t. If you have it, you will get where you will allow it to take you. If you only have love but no talent, enjoy the experience or become a member of a Karaoke Club. My band used to have a roadie who traveled around Europe with us just to be connected to the music experience. He once told me: “This is as close as I’ll ever get to being a Rock Star.”

4. Fear of not being good enough

For this, let go of self judgement.  Who cares if you’re not as good as the next guy?  Comparing yourself to others is just pridefulness. I remember the first time I saw 16 year old Joe Bonamassa, who was recently crowned Billboard’s No. 1 Guitarist in the world I had been playing off and on for almost 30 years and this kid blew me away. Initially I wanted to smack my guitar into pieces or at least never touch it again. But that’s not what music is. If music has you by the …., giving in to playing or singing will make your life so much richer

Just accept that others might be more skilled than you or less skilled than you and be ok with it.
Decide that you’re going to play with confidence at whatever skill level you’re at. Prodigy talent such as Bonamassa or this new British kid in Nashville – Sol Philcox, is impossible to match yourself against and at its highest purpose, music is NOT a competition. Guitar dueling may be fun, but I take Pinkfloyd’s Dave Gilmour over any shredder, at any time.
It’s a way of expressing and sharing our energy and I believe everyone has something to offer.

5. Fear of expressing yourself.

Know yourself and look inside to determine if there is something blocking you from expressing yourself on stage.
Who you are on the stage of life and as a person is pretty much who you are on stage.
Any form of art is, or at least should be, about bringing what’s inside of you, out into the world. Everything else is fake.

Many of us carry around emotional baggage — low self esteem, fear of life, guilt, etc. picked up along the way of growing up. Best advice: just accept where you are and work towards yourself in general and where you want to be.

Try to think of stage fright in a positive way. Fear is your friend. It makes your reflexes sharper. It heightens your energy, adds a sparkle to your eye, and color to your cheeks. When you are nervous about performing you are more conscious of your posture and breathing. With all those good side effects you will actually look healthier and more physically attractive.
Also make sure your opening is so well rehearsed, it comes spontaneously.

And most importantly, whether you perform in front of a classroom of 15, or in a stadium in front of 50,000 people, make sure to temporarily set aside any negativity you might have and just express the best energy you can.

Note: Also remember this advice when we call on you later this year in an effort to find good local talent to play on the stages of the Amelia Island Blues Festival.

Reminder of an Evening at the Cold Night Shelter

Ile de France in Paris is creation of art

Last night we volunteered to stay the evening shift at the local Cold Night Shelter. I think it’s something everyone who is in need of a swift kick into reality should do. Nothing special, nothing to brag about among your peers, just a clean, cool look at what your live could be if you just walked through the “wrong” sliding glass door. Don’t make a mistake by thinking it can’t happen to you. I am sure that’s what some of the people there thought at one point too.
While I was writing the story about the the leak in the Alaskan Pipeline and the maverick attitude of oil companies playing with our environment and our livelihood, I had the desperate need today to write about something more positive; something that makes life a lot more enjoyable, even though we often overlook the most simple expressions.

So today, instead of warning you about the direction our lifestyle and society is taking I want to let you in on my passions for the arts. Human Arts for me include architecture, painting, sculptures, writing and music. Most of all music. I got the music bug as a grade school kid singing a song called “Banjo Boy” by a Danish Duo named Jan & Kjeld in the bus on a school trip. when I got an “overwhelming” applause after the song ended a capella, I gave the bus driver his microphone back and was sold for life. Even though I grew up in the heart of the most liberating society, especially in the sixties, in Amsterdam, I never had the urge to enhance my musical hallucinations with drugs. The only thing I needed to get to fly Eight Miles High, was some Pink Floyd, Vanilla Fudge or the baseline riff of “In a Gadda da Vida” (in the Garden of Eden) in my ears and I would sing chorus with my friend Barry Hay of Golden Earring; No more Speed I’m almost there in their evergreen “Radar Love.”

Next to art as in painting and sculpturing, music is one of the most positive things about life itself. The aesthetic expression incorporated in music and art gives importance to the human race. As I see aesthetics as a division of philosophy, art can actually make philosophy…concrete. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then art can visually describe the way you see the world. Poetry and songwriting most often describe the way you think the world is, or should be. And a good sense of aesthetics is as important as having a well-developed intellect, in my opinion. Come to think of it, they kind of require each other’s company to fully appreciate.

Even if some people, too many actually, consider music something for their spare time at best and art a metaphysical expression of a doomed mind seeking relief from the demons that live in their head, real artists throughout history have always appreciated the creation of beauty first and foremost.

Humans have always placed a high value on aesthetics, even in the worst of times. There’s plenty of evidence the hunter-gatherers of prehistory took time out of their fight for survival to create art, and that has continued throughout history and continues today. Actually today’s major travel destinations include places like Machu Picchu in the Andes mountains and Capadoccia in Greece, for their creative beauty and lifestyle of the ancient. Our pursuit of beauty is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human. One of the main purposes of being wealthy is to be able to live in an aesthetic environment. The reason notorious misers like Hetty Greene are considered so shameful and bent is that they didn’t have a clue what to do with their money; they confuse the means – money – with the end: an aesthetic life.
Warren Buffet, the Oracle, is almost in that class; an idiot savant in general, he at least appears to have no sense of aesthetics. On the other hand, some of the poorest people in the world strive to be as beautiful as they can, and to own what small pieces of beauty they can afford; and this alone makes them worthy of respect.

I saw a couple of people like that last night in the cold night homeless shelter. It was a glimpse in their eyes; an easy recognition that life is not only about material things.

Edit Piaf with to the left Georges Moustaki

To the left of Edith Piaf is young Georges Moustaki

As a 15 year old boy, I hitch hiked one summer to Paris. My parents and the rest of my siblings had taken of for an Italian history and beach vacation and I had decided to stay home and practice with my new band. After 10 days I got the urge to go to Paris (hey I told you I grew up in Holland; we thought differently about a 15 year old hitch hiking to a foreign country.) Guitar on my back I arrived in Paris and slept under the bridges with the clochards. No I didn’t have to, as we had plenty of relatives living in the City of Lights. I was fluent in the language so there was no problem of miscommunication. I wanted to learn and experience the beauty of the city the Romans called Lutetia, I physically wanted to put my foot down ot Point Zero in front of the Notre Dame and feel the history while being surrounded by beauty. I also saw it through the eyes of my friends under the bridges, where the Rivers Seine and Marne meet at Ile de France. I played guitar in Montmartre’s Place du Tertre with Georges Moustaki, a cosmopolitan spirit who had written the fabulous “Milord” for Edith Piaf.

During those beautiful early days I learned that a brute with no sense of beauty, nor appreciation for it, can barely be called human.
Really good art distills an intense experience or emotion that you bury deep in your backpack for a life of understanding and appreciation.
Food and shelter as I witnessed once again last night, are essential, of course, but art is also essential – if you don’t have any beauty in your life, what’s the point?

A Practical Approach to Terror and Terrorism

Was it FDR or Churchill who said:"We have nothing to fear but fear itself"?

Getting the last parts of my Holiday Season discussions out of the way, I found this magnificent article from my new favorite informant on Global Politics, called STRATFOR. Since irony is reportedly a big NO NO in 2011 trend predictions I felt it would be good to have an American point of view on the very real threats posed by terrorism, versus the growing loss of freedom the US as a Society has been suffering since 911, rather than giving you my US transplanted opinion, as I have been arguing over the holidays.

Scott Stewart does actually a beautiful job in explaining why terrorism at this point in the game does not need a real act of violence to claim victory. Just the mere mention or misguided effort is enough to terrorize a nation that has not learned yet that giving in to terrorists is akin to dying a slow and painful mental death.

Separating Terror from Terrorism

By Scott Stewart

On Dec. 15, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent a joint bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies expressing their concern that terrorists may attack a large public gathering in a major U.S. metropolitan area during the 2010 holiday season. That concern was echoed by contacts at the FBI and elsewhere who told STRATFOR they were almost certain there was going to be a terrorist attack launched against the United States over Christmas.

Certainly, attacks during the December holiday season are not unusual. There is a history of such attacks, from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, and the thwarted millennium attacks in December 1999 and January 2000 to the post-9/11 airliner attacks by shoe bomber Richard Reid on Dec. 22, 2001, and by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Dec. 25, 2009. Some of these plots have even stemmed from the grassroots. In December 2006, Derrick Shareef was arrested while planning an attack he hoped to launch against an Illinois shopping mall on Dec. 22.

Mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas have also been repeatedly targeted by jihadist groups and lone wolves. In addition to past attacks and plots directed against the subway systems in major cities such as Madrid, London, New York and Washington, 2010 saw failed attacks against the crowds in New York’s Times Square on May 1 and in Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on Nov. 26.

With this history, it is understandable that the FBI and the DHS would be concerned about such an attack this year and issue a warning to local and state law enforcement agencies in the United States. This American warning also comes on the heels of similar alerts in Europe, warnings punctuated by the Dec. 11 suicide attack in Stockholm.
So far, the 2010 holiday season has been free from terrorist attacks, but as evidenced by all the warnings and concern, this season has not been free from the fear of such attacks, the psychological impact known as “terror.” In light of these recent developments, it seems appropriate discuss the closely related phenomena of terrorism and terror.

Propaganda of the Deed
Nineteenth-century anarchists promoted what they called the “propaganda of the deed,” that is, the use of violence as a symbolic action to make a larger point, such as inspiring the masses to undertake revolutionary action. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, modern terrorist organizations began to conduct operations designed to serve as terrorist theater, an undertaking greatly aided by the advent and spread of broadcast media. Examples of attacks designed to grab international media attention are the September 1972 kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the December 1975 raid on OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Aircraft hijackings followed suit, changing from relatively brief endeavors to long, drawn-out and dramatic media events often spanning multiple continents.

Today, the proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and the Internet have allowed the media to broadcast such attacks live and in their entirety. This development allowed vast numbers of people to watch live as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and as teams of gunmen ran amok in Mumbai in November 2008.
This exposure not only allows people to be informed about unfolding events, it also permits them to become secondary victims of the violence they have watched unfold before them. As the word indicates, the intent of “terrorism” is to create terror in a targeted audience, and the media allow that audience to become far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of a terrorist attack. I am not a psychologist, but even I can understand that on 9/11, watching the second aircraft strike the South Tower, seeing people leap to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center Towers in order to escape the ensuing fire and then watching the towers collapse live on television had a profound impact on many people. A large portion of the United State was, in effect, victimized, as were a large number of people living abroad, judging from the statements of foreign citizens and leaders in the wake of 9/11 that “We are all Americans.”

During that time, people across the globe became fearful, and almost everyone was certain that spectacular attacks beyond those involving the four aircraft hijacked that morning were inevitable — clearly, many people were shaken to their core by the attacks. A similar, though smaller, impact was seen in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. People across India were fearful of being attacked by teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen, and concern spread around the world about Mumbai-style terrorism. Indeed, this concern was so great that we felt compelled to write an analysis emphasizing that the tactics employed in Mumbai were not new and that, while such operations could kill people, the approach would be less successful in the United States and Europe than it was in Mumbai.

Terror Magnifiers
These theatrical attacks have a strangehold over the human imagination and can create a unique sense of terror that dwarfs the normal reaction to natural disasters that are many times greater in magnitude. For example, in the 2004 Asian tsunami, more than 227,000 people died, while fewer than 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet the 9/11 attacks produced not only a sense of terror but also a geopolitical reaction that has exerted a profound and unparalleled impact upon world events over the past decade. Terrorism clearly can have a powerful impact on the human psyche — so much so that even the threat of a potential attack can cause fear and apprehension, as seen by the reaction to the recent spate of warnings about attacks occurring over the holidays.

As noted above, the media serve as a magnifier of this anxiety and terror. Television news, whether broadcast on the airwaves or over the Internet, allows people to remotely and vicariously experience a terrorist event, and this is reinforced by the print media. While part of this magnification is due merely to the nature of television as a medium and the 24-hour news cycle, bad reporting and misunderstanding can also help build hype and terror. For example, when Mexican drug cartels began placing small explosive devices in vehicles in Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Victoria this past year, the media hysterically reported that the cartels were using car bombs. Clearly, the journalists failed to appreciate the significant tactical and operational differences between a small bomb placed in a car and the far larger and more deadly vehicle-borne explosive device.

The traditional news media are not alone in the role of terror magnifier. The Internet has also become an increasingly effective conduit for panic and alarm. From breathless (and false) claims in 2005 that al Qaeda had pre-positioned nuclear weapons in the United States and was preparing to attack nine U.S. cities and kill 4 million Americans in an operation called “American Hiroshima” to claims in 2010 that Mexican drug cartels were still smuggling nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden, a great deal of fearmongering can spread over the Internet. Website operators who earn advertising revenue based on the number of unique visitors who read the stories featured on their sites have an obvious financial incentive for publishing outlandish and startling terrorism claims. The Internet also has produced a wide array of other startling revelations, including the oft-recycled e-mail chain stating that an Israeli counterterrorism expert has predicted al Qaeda will attack six, seven or eight U.S. cities simultaneously “within the next 90 days.” This e-mail was first circulated in 2005 and has been periodically re-circulated over the past five years. Although it is an old, false prediction, it still creates fear every time it is circulated.

Sometimes a government can act as a terror magnifier. Whether it is the American DHS raising the threat level to red or the head of the French internal intelligence service stating that the threat of terrorism in that country has never been higher, such warnings can produce widespread public concern. As we’ve noted elsewhere, there are a number of reasons for such warnings, from trying to pre-empt a terrorist attack when there is incomplete intelligence to a genuine concern for the safety of citizens in the face of a known threat to less altruistic motives such as political gain or bureaucratic maneuvering (when an agency wants to protect itself from blame in case there is an attack). As seen by the public reaction to the many warnings in the wake of 9/11, including recommendations that citizens purchase plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves from chemical and biological attack, such warnings can produce immediate panic, although, over time, as threats and warnings prove to be unfounded, this panic can turn into threat fatigue.

Those seeking to terrorize can and do use these magnifiers to produce terror without having to go to the trouble of conducting attacks. The empty threats made by bin Laden and his inner circle that they were preparing an attack larger than 9/11 — threats propagated by the Internet, picked up by the media and then reacted to by governments — are prime historical examples of this.
In recent weeks, we saw a case where panic was caused by a similar confluence of events. In October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued the second edition of Inspire, its English-language magazine. As we discussed in our analysis of the magazine, its Open Source Jihad section pointed out a number of ways that attacks could be conducted by grassroots jihadists living in the West. In addition to the suggestion that an attacker could weld butcher knives onto the bumper of a pickup truck and drive it through a crowd, or use a gun as attackers did in Little Rock and at Fort Hood, another method briefly mentioned was that grassroots operatives could use ricin or cyanide in attacks. In response, the DHS decided to investigate further and even went to the trouble of briefing corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries on the potential threat. CBS news picked up the story and ran an exclusive report compete with a scary poison logo superimposed over photos of a hotel, a dinner buffet and an American flag. The report made no mention of the fact that the AQAP article paid far less attention to the ricin and cyanide suggestion than it did to what it called the “ultimate mowing machine,” the pickup with butcher knives, or even the more practical — and far more likely — armed assault.
This was a prime example of terror magnifiers working with AQAP to produce fear.

Separation
Groups such as al Qaeda clearly recognize the difference between terrorist attacks and terror. This is seen not only in the use of empty threats to sow terror but also in the way terrorist groups claim success for failed attacks. For example, AQAP declared the failed Christmas Day 2009 “underwear” bombing to be a success due to the effect it had on the air-transportation system. In a special edition of Inspire magazine published in November following the failed attack against cargo aircraft, AQAP trumpeted the operation as a success, citing the fear, disruption and expense that resulted. AQAP claimed the cargo bomb plot and the Christmas Day plot were part of what it called “Operation Hemorrhage,” an effort to cause economic damage and fear and not necessarily kill large numbers of people.

As we’ve noted before, practitioners of terrorism lose a great deal of their ability to create terror if the people they are trying to terrorize adopt the proper mindset. A critical part of this mindset is placing terrorism in perspective. Terrorist attacks are going to continue to happen because there are a wide variety of militant groups and individuals who seek to use violence as a means of influencing a government — either their own or someone else’s.

There have been several waves of terrorism over the past century, but it has been a fairly constant phenomenon, especially over the past few decades. While the flavors of terror may vary from Marxist and nationalist strains to Shiite Islamist to jihadist, it is certain that even if al Qaeda and its jihadist spawn were somehow magically eradicated tomorrow, the problem of terrorism would persist.

Terrorist attacks are also relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, from a pickup to a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have been quite successful in foiling attacks over the past couple of years, there are a large number of vulnerable targets in the open societies of the West, and Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything — not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This all means that some terrorist attacks will invariably succeed.

How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way that the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks, which caused the United States to invade Afghanistan (and arguably Iraq) were far more successful than bin Laden and company could ever have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, where the British went back to work as unusual the next day, were seen as less successful.

In the final analysis, the world is a dangerous place. Everyone is going to die, and some people are certain to die in a manner that is brutal or painful. In 2001, more than 42,000 people died from car crashes in the United States and hundreds of thousands of Americans died from heart disease and cancer. The 9/11 attacks were the bloodiest terrorist attacks in world history, and yet even those historic attacks resulted in the deaths of fewer than 3,000 people, a number that pales in comparison to deaths by other causes. This is in no way meant to trivialize those who died on 9/11, or the loss their families suffered, but merely to point out that lots of people die every day and that their families are affected, too.

If the public will take a cue from groups like AQAP, it too can separate terrorism from terror. Recognizing that terrorist attacks, like car crashes and cancer and natural disasters, are a part of the human condition permits individuals and families to practice situational awareness and take prudent measures to prepare for such contingencies without becoming vicarious victims. This separation will help deny the practitioners of terrorism and terror the ability to magnify their reach and power.

“Separating Terror from Terrorism is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”

The Christmas Blue Bell

Special Ornaments to are passed on over a lifetime

Buried in the Christmas and New Year’s emails came this following story by Judith Harris with the question if we would be interested in publishing it. After reading it, it rang a bell on so many levels that I have to share it with you as it deals with gracefully accepting the changes of time. When we moved to Amelia Island now almost 5 years ago, we had at least 10 storage containers filled with Christmas items collected over the years, each with special memories. Last year, when our last one got married and moved out, my wife divided all the memorabilia among the kids and at least 8 storage containers left the garage. The memories were bittersweet. Here is Judith’s story which undoubtedly will find recognition with many people on our island.

The Christmas Blue Bell

By: Judith Harris

No, my Christmas Blue Bell is not a new species of flowering plant that blooms here on Amelia Island. It is a musical bell covered in blue velvet that has been in my possession since 1967. I purchased it while visiting St. Thomas when I was a young woman. Like me, the bell is now showing its age.  The gold-braided trim has fallen away, and the lush blue velvet has faded to a pale fabric with an occasional tear, sag and wrinkle. The music box within must have rusted solid because the bell no longer plays its charming tune, the title of which I have long ago forgotten.

Each Christmas as I gently unwrap this bit of memorabilia and set it out on the coffee table, I reminisce about all the Christmases the bell and I have shared with friends, family, and most especially; the children and grandchildren who delighted in it when it was still able to sing out it’s song, or played with it when it had become just a silent novelty.

We moved here to this Paradise Island 7 years ago and each Christmas I give away a few of my treasures to our children. As time passes, I notice that I am decorating less and less. I don’t know if it’s because there are not enough hours in a day for me to accomplish all the things I wish to do, or if it’s because I now accomplish things at a slower pace. Maybe it’s a little bit of each. This year I parted with my precious Blue Christmas Bell.

Darian, our oldest grandson, was thrilled to receive it. He’s the only one of our grandsons who actually enjoyed the music box before it rusted itself solid. In my mind’s eye, I can still see him toddling around the house with the bell held close to his little ear. There was a happy twinkle in his eye and a sweet broad smile on his cherub lips. He never tired of winding and listening to the music. His other favorite thing to do was to take Baby Jesus out of his manger and hide him in a decorative brass object that with a bit of imagination could have passed as a replica of Aladdin’s Lamp.

Last year we gifted “Aladdin’s Magic Lamp” to Darian. Baby Jesus went to our dear second born grandson William. It was also one of his favorites. The Jesus Baby was purchased in Jerusalem, was hand carved from Olive Tree wood, was used by William for teething and is now missing a left foot. William’s little brother Michael is our darling third born grandson and has not yet picked his treasures. I am sure at some point he will decide which items are his favorites. The same is true for our littlest angel grandson Alex, who is last but certainly not least. Grandpa and I have received many blessing in this life, but none can compare to our most precious grandsons that our daughters have brought into our lives.

Christmas is now over and I am sitting here keeping warm in my cozy kitchen, watching the cold wind pummeling my Queen Palm, and the sad frost bitten branches of my drooping Hibiscus as they sway to and fro. I guess Jack Frost decided he wanted to come south to help us ring in the New Year. We heard that there were snow flurries in Jacksonville. Hopefully the snow will find it’s way to us this evening. Wouldn’t it be magical to see snow flurries dancing in the moonlit sky over the ocean?

Of course, Christmas could have been more perfect if our dear children had been with us, but that was not meant to be.  They live in Maryland and we no longer want them making the trip at this time of year. We can’t travel to be with them because my health prevents me from exposing myself to the cold northern air. [I have been remaining in-doors during these unseasonably cold Amelia Island days.]

Skype to the Holiday Rescue

However, thanks to modern technology, we were able to share Christmas with our family by visiting on the computer with SKYPE.  Heaven should bless the folks who created SKYPE, it is a wondrous invention. It’s the next best thing to actually being together in person and we all enjoy it immensely.  Grandpa and I were able to share in all the family fun without setting a foot out of our house.  Santa was good to everyone, including us, and we all had a great time together.

I like taking a few minutes every year to jot down a few after Christmas thoughts. Sometimes I light a candle and sip tea. Sometimes I dim the lights and turn on all the Christmas trees around the room and pour a glass of wine. This time I am bundled warm in my kitchen, drinking hot coffee as I watch the cold west wind torturing my poor palm trees. It’s a pleasant habit, reminiscing about all the blessings of the Holiday and memories of past pleasures.

Yes, for sure I am an old fashioned sentimentalist, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am going to be real serious about CPM

Nature is only about Critical Production Mode

The first thing we people do every year is make a new list of “resolutions”. Well not necessarily new, as most of us repeat the list we have put together over the years with maybe a small addition of the current flavor of the day. We’ll try for for about 3 weeks to eat a bit healthier, walk or exercise a bit, set new professional or income goals, spend some more time with loved ones, quit this or that bad habit and if you’re really adventurously full of yourself, you’ll actually take a piece of paper, write it all down and share it with someone in the hope that they will keep you on the straight and narrow to your goals. By the time Spring comes around we have all but forgotten about them and often pass the feeling of failure off to “time or circumstances weren’t right”.

Well I got news, if you can handle the truth; life doesn’t happen that way, because it always gets in the way of the best laid plans, often because these plans are too ambitious and require for you to become a different person. I overheard a conversation at last night’s New Year’s Eve party where two young couples were discussing the fact that you first have to be happy with yourself before you can enter a happy relationship. Even though I have learned over a lifetime that there are exceptions to this rule, the generality of it is absolutely correct.

I took me years to understand that, until several years ago I went to a seminar where a true Internet Marketing Expert by the name of Alex Mandossian spent an hour explaining the concept of CPM – Criticial Production Mode and the life changing essence.

The simplicity of the concept is mindblowing: spend at least your first thirty minutes every morning on your highest priority goal. Never mind what that goal is, spend the first 30 minutes every day on accomplishing it.
If it’s exercise, a walk, swimming, cycling, don’t take a shower before you have done it. If it is working on a lifelong dream of creating something, spend the first 30 minutes on it. It’s a minimum of 3.5 hours a week or 175 hours over the year (I give you two weeks off). That is quite a lot of time to set real change in motion.

However there is a huge BUT attached to CPM…you cannot be distracted or disturbed from it. You CANNOT let anybody interrupt your process of accomplishment. Period. CPM is sanctity. Now when I talk or write about the accomplishments and necessities of a Critical Production Mode, I get a lot of people explaining that their life’s rhythm does not allow for a CPM. There are the kids that need to get ready to go to school or there is that early morning meeting or briefing, or the car needs to go to the garage or the doctor’s appointment could only be made at an early hour, or I have to fly out of town – valid reasons to interrupt a an early morning ritual, but not a valid reason to not do it. Those can be accepted excuses for breaking the CPM routine, but there are plenty of occasions during that same day to catch up on your 30 minutes.

If I seriously want to accomplish something I go with Nike’s “Just Do It”. And armed with the knowledge that there is always ” that road to hell that is paved with good intentions”, I moved my Critical Production Mode out of the danger zone of interruption: I get up 30 minutes earlier! Well to be fair, my CPM is now about 2 hours.
Yet by the time the world around me wakes up, I already walk around with a sense of accomplishment.

So for the New Year, you may try to set your personal sights on something you have always wanted to accomplish and than create the production mode that does not distract. Contrary to popular belief it takes 6 weeks, not 18 days, to form a habit, simply because it takes that long for your environment to catch on with the new circumstance. Critical Production Mode is serious, but it works. And it works best if you start out the day with it. Just get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful, because that is distraction.

If you start today, you’ll be a pro by Valentine’s Day and have truly accomplished a meaningful change. Personally I have 3 manuscripts that saw first daylight in 1994/1995. I think it’s time to include them in my CPM for the finishing touch.

Have a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous and Spiritual 2011 and never forget that true happiness comes from creativity and helping others.

A Personal Coming of Age Story

You need a strong compass for those times when the signs are pointing in the wrong direction.

With the new year coming, I thought this personal story of mine nothing less than appropriate. It’s about change, opportunity and all the little decisions – that be they small are nonetheless difficult to make – that everyone has to make at some point. I will always contend, only you can know what is best for you and your situation, and thinking a situation all the way through will help tremendously in avoiding negative circumstances. Having said that, the following story is a little glimpse into a recent decision my husband and I had to make.

It all started with a decision that had already been made, actually. My husband, Eddie, and I recently had decided to pursue a rather advantageous career path. The change was risky and included an abrupt move to a far-away city, a hasty series of resume-building sessions and professional networking. Last but not least, the new plan would most likely have meant a large decrease in pay for both of us, which would mean uncertain financial circumstances – something that fortunately neither of us have had to deal  with before. With all odds against us, we were still 200% certain that we were doing the right thing and that change, especially this type of change, was right for us.

Just when we thought we had everything figured out, life dealt us a wild card.

After our lengthy and thorough discussions, and after all our efforts and energy we had put into our move from this Sunshine State to the mountain tops, we got a heavy dose of what life’s road blocks are really like, or what to us looked like one anyway. The last day of work before the holidays, Eddie went in and found out he’s getting a promotion.

Despite our plans, I was ecstatic to hear that Eddie’s was getting a promotion. It meant that he was gaining well-deserved respect from his company, his hard work was paying off and that we would have some newly found savings to use while planning out the move. I was thrilled to say the least. Nonetheless, the promotion would mean harder work for Eddie, more responsibility, more exposure and interaction with clients who more often than not find something to complain about, but it would also mean an increase in pay – something we had long looked forward to.

Be that as it may, there was no way we would let money stand between us and our dreams. We weren’t convinced that the move wasn’t the right thing for us at this time in our lives.

Me Climbing Machu Picchu. It was a long hike, but well worth the effort.

We thought we needed to pursue our dreams from the heart while we’re still young. Pursuing our dreams meant doing whatever it takes, despite financial hardship. Philosophically, we had everything under control. We didn’t mind getting a decrease in pay;  we aren’t that used to that much stuff anyway. As far as moving away from family. Well, many people do that and everything always seemed to turn out okay. These were pieces of our thought process that led us to believe that our dreams were more important than money. We still very much believe that, but there was one detrimental mistake we were making.

After we found out about the promotion, Eddie and I confided in a close friend who happens to be quite a bit older than us. I’ll refer to him as ‘Mark’ for simplicity’s sake and to respect his privacy. We needed advice about one of the most important decision one could make – follow your dreams or settle with the hand you’ve been dealt? Since our view of the world is rather confined by our age and thus by our limited experience in confronting negative circumstances, Mark’s advice was sure to humble us and give great perspective to our current situation. Fortunately for us, it did just that.

The first thing Mark hashed out was our thinking process. Everything doesn’t necessarily have to boil down to pursuing our dreams or making money. He taught us that our dreams could simply be pursued from a different angle, through a different mindset, and with less financial tension than our original plan involved.

What humbled us the most wasn’t actually advice at all, but rather a self-reflective question. Mark asked us something that would truly resonate with us, “Why go and move to an unfamiliar town to try to prove yourselves to an unspoken number of people you don’t know and who don’t know your potential, when you can stay right here, where the people you know know your potential and are more than happy to support your dreams?” We were silent with awe, obviously.

He went on, “You can stay right here, work your way up your current career path’s ladder of success while simultaneously financing your business dream on the side until that one day comes when you’re truly ready to cross over and make that difficult decision to leave your job for your true passion. You don’t have to start from the dirt bottom. You can keep the job you have, provide for your family now and slowly pursue your dream while never losing sight of what’s truly important – family and stability.”

I have always prided myself on being an opportunist. So, it was very eye-opening to realize I hadn’t noticed the opportunity standing on our doorstep. Staying didn’t have to mean ditching our dreams; it could mean the opportunity to approach our dream indirectly, by funding our business idea with the raise. Of course Eddie had immediately agreed to the new position, and we had said nothing to let on about our original decision being unfazed by the promotion. So, we were set to go with our new found perspective.

Eddie and Me Christmas 2010

Thanks to Mark and his ability to articulate his wholesome understanding of life, you won’t be seeing Eddie and me making the said mistake of putting the cart before the horse any time soon. And since our original plan had all to do with small business development and working from the bottom up, Mark’s advice was spot on and very much appreciated. So, for us, for now, we will be staying put, right here in sunny Amelia Island, left to pursue our dreams from a wiser standpoint.

I know it may sound like a sad story, with headlines reading, “Young Couple Trades in Dreams for Money,” but it’s really not. It’s the beginning of a long tale of two lovers; It’s an interesting turning point in the life of a young married couple; It’s a life lesson well learned – the ‘easy’ way, for once. Whatever you choose to call it, to me, it’s anything but sad.

We are still committed to pursuing our dreams. However, where there once was ambition, fervor and ideals, there now lie the realities of economic stability, business networking and patience. Some may call this a coming of age story. I would probably agree with that. This is probably the first of many coming-of-age moments in our lives, but we will still always remain hopeful and optimistic.

In time, we will see what comes of our decision to stay put. If we have done the right thing, we will reap what we have sowed. If not, no harm done, really. We will still have the economical means to pursue a new dream. Maybe start a little family. Who knows. Perhaps our next great opportunity is staring us right in the face, and we don’t even know it.

A Christmas Tale…of sorts

And don't forget your friends

The following tales are not necessarily Christmas stories, but the first one explains much of what Baby Jesus had to face when he was born as it puts life in front of us and explains about the choices we make. It came to me via Ion Yah Mindreci whose philosophy is that you can get pretty much everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they need.

The second story came from Pam Slim about her dad, a man after my own heart.

A carrot, an egg and coffee beans

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things had turned so hard for her. She said she did not know how she was going to make it and was ready to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as soon one problem was solved, a new one arose.
The mother looked at her daughter and took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high heat. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first one she 
placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last one she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil; without saying A word.

After about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. 
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the daughter said.
Her mother brought her closer to the countertop with the three pots and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she looked at the hard-boiled egg. 
 
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma and then asked, “What does it mean, 
mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water.
Each had reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its 
liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened. Both hard used the boiling water to become something different.
The ground coffee beans however did something unique: they had changed the water and now used the water in a different manner by giving it taste, aroma and color.

The Mother looked at her daughter and asked: “Which are you?”
“When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? 
Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?” 
 
Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity you wilt 
and become soft and lose your strength? 
 
Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? 
Does your shell still looks the same on the outside, but on the inside you are 
bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart? 
 
Or are you like the coffee bean?

The bean that actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, you elevate yourself to another level?  Now you need to decide what you want to be; a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest 
future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you learn and let go of your past failures and heartaches.

May you wish this Christmas  to have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

Christmas Evening 1956

My Dad was leaving the office of his first job as reporter/photographer/sports editor/weatherman at the Roseville Press-Tribune, driving his 1954 Mercury Sedan to his parent’s farm house for dinner.
It was bitter cold outside.

He had a freshly-cut $25 bonus check in his pocket, a fortune for his $57.50 weekly salary.
He was going 40 or 50 miles an hour down the road just outside of Roseville when he saw a couple huddled by the side of the road, hitchhiking. The woman was clutching a small bundle that he realized when he sped past was a baby.

About a thousand yards after passing them, he pulled off the side of the road, hung a u-turn, and went back to get them.
They climbed in his warm car gratefully, and snuggled against the back seat.

“Where are you going?” my Dad asked.
“To Oregon,” the father said. “They are still picking fruit up there, so we are going to get some work.”

My Dad looked out the windshield at the frigid night, and started the car back down the road.
He pulled in the parking lot of a bowling alley where he knew the owner.  “Stay here for a second, I will be right back,” he said.
He went inside and cashed his bonus check at the bar.

He got back in the car, and drove to the Greyhound station, where he purchased two one-way bus tickets to Portland. The tickets came to just about $25.
With some spare bills in his pocket, he got some food at the snack bar and brought it to the couple.
The mother was overwhelmed with emotion.
He waved goodbye, and drove to his parent’s house with a good feeling in his heart.
“Although that $25 was a lot of money at the time, I didn’t really need it,” he told me years later. “I was on my way home to a warm house and big Christmas Eve dinner.”

Merry Christmas from all of us!

May you receive the help you need just when you need it the most,

and may you give help at the moment in which it is most needed.

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