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Special Gifts

Several years ago, my daughter-in-law, Michelle, suggested that for inter family giving we buy no more presents in favor of exchanging homemade gift. What a great idea! Since that time we have specialized in giving gifts of our own creation. I have received the most wonderful gifts ranging from handmade soaps and candles, to lots of yummy food.

But even more special than receiving great gifts is giving gifts. Strangely, all of us seem to anticipate others’ opening the gifts we have made more than opening the gifts we are to receive.

My wife is a seamstress and makes clothes for the granddaughters and their dolls. She has also created beautiful quilts for the daughters in law. Both Daughters in law are accomplished cooks and we receive jars of jam and other canned goodies, as well as cookies and candy. My son makes wonderfully diverse and creative gifts. One year we got sock monsters. Last year we each got an artfully decorated walking stick.

My talents don’t run toward making things, but I have become reasonably adept with a camera and Photoshop. Look for a calendar or other photo gift from the grandfather.   

We open our family gifts on Christmas Eve, and I can’t wait to see my gifts opened. I also can’t wait to see what surprises are waiting for me. I know one thing though. There is nothing anyone could buy in any store at any price that I would rather have.


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Life’s Little Gifts

Published on December 3, 2012 by in Uncategorized

Sometimes it’s not the big events that have the most meaning, but the little things.  A couple of years ago, Rebecca and I were privileged to spend three days in St. Petersburg, Russia. We saw all kinds of palaces, churches, and museums but my happiest memory involves a porta-potty, and an honest woman.

I believe we were in the Church Over the Spilled Blood,

Church Over the Spilled Blood

when typically, I developed a very strong, very urgent need to empty my bladder. There were no facilities in the church so I made my way outside. There on a raised platform were two porta-potties, one on each side of a booth where a woman was collecting a fee to use them.  I believe the cost was 5o kopeks, it may have been less, but it wasn’t more. 50 kopeks is about $.02. The smallest coin I had was one Euro, roughly equivalent to one dollar. I handed in the Euro coin and rushed into the porta-potty. Ah, sweet relief.

When I was finished I left and began to walk away. Suddenly everyone was shouting at me. I turned around to discover the woman accepting the money wanted to give me my change.

As I said we saw many things in St. Petersburg. But ultimately it was not the artwork, the gold, the tapestry, but a very human moment that gave me my fondest memory.

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Cherish Life

Sixteen years ago tomorrow, November 15, 1996, while performing with Topeka Civic Theatre’s Laughing Matters Comedy Company, I suffered a heart attack. I never lost consciousness, and I can still remember the emergency room doctor saying, “Get him to the cath lab, stat!” As they rolled me away, I said goodbye to my wife and sons, and realized I might never see them again. A very sobering thought.  

As I recall facing death, I begin thinking of all the things I would have missed had I not survived. I would never have known my three lovely granddaughters. I would never have started the Senior Class Improv Company. I would never have worked at the University of Kansas Public Management Center or the University of Kansas Medical Center, and never have met all the wonderful students I had there. I am so grateful to be alive; to be aware.

 Of course not all of the memories are happy. There have also been illnesses, heartbreak, and loss. But, even  pain is evidence of life — of self awareness, and it is a precious gift.

Last year, I met my Masters of Public Health Class at the University of Kansas Medical Center on November 15th and took a moment to share my thoughts about the value of life with them. The next day I received this email from a student:  “I wanted to thank you for bringing a personal touch to the last class session by sharing your wisdom regarding the value of life after experiencing a near fatal heart attack.  To me, that information is more valuable than the didactic class content.” Wow! Affirming huh?

All this started me thinking about Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Upon returning from the dead to experience just one more day, Emily says: “I can’t! I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” Later she asks” “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?” Upon returning to the dead Emily says: “That’s all human beings are! Just blind people.”

So here is my wish for everyone who runs across this blog: Slow down. Look at people. Try your best to realize life while you live it — every, every minute.

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Dare to be Average

Published on November 5, 2012 by in Uncategorized

Have you ever watched an improv company and wondered how they always say the right thing at the right time? They don’t.  As a matter of fact if they tried to be clever, or funny every time they opened their mouth they would just stand there. Improv works because improv actors have learned to trust themselves, and present whatever line comes to mind, realizing that something is better than nothing.

One of the hardest things to teach novice improv performers is that they don’t have the time to be perfect. They have to learn to accept the first thing that comes to mind even if it’s dumb.

This is my second post based on Patricia Madson’s Improv Wisdom. Her fifth maxim is “be average.” Often what we perceive as a need to be perfect is really grounded in self doubt. We can’t accept that what we have to offer, while it seems ordinary to us may be a revelation to others. Accept that your contribution is valuable even if, or perhaps, especially since, it is from you. You are valuable and your ordinary thoughts are also valuable.

The quest for perfection can lead not only to inaction and paralysis; it can also lead to substandard performance. Madson relates the story of Trey Junkin, long snapper for the National Football League’s New York Giants. In the 2003 NFC playoff game he fumbled the snap on what could have been the winning field goal. He was quoted as saying, “I tried to make a perfect snap when all I need to do was make a good one.” If he had just snapped the ball normally, he wouldn’t have fumbled.

I often see this need for perfection in my students in the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Kansas Medical School. They delay submitting a paper until the last minute as they strive for perfection. Often they bombard me and my teaching assistant with last minute questions about minutia as they wrestle with self doubt which is labeled as a quest for perfection.

I also see this in my improv comedy company, as an actor is frozen trying to come up with something clever or creative rather than accepting that whatever she says will be at least adequate and may, in fact be very clever and creative.

Trust yourself. Accept yourself.  What you consider average is certain to be better than inaction while you seek perfection.

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Just Show UP

Published on October 26, 2012 by in Uncategorized

When I attended the Applied Improvisation Network’s World Conference in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Madson, retired director of Stanford University’s theater department. She so inspired me I bought a copy of her book, Improv Wisdom. (You should too.) My next several blog posts are going to feature lessons I learned from this marvelous work.  Today’s is based on her third maxim, “just show up.”

She writes:

“How often we avoid showing up for the things we need to do in life. Procrastination, laziness, fears – it’s easy to find a reason for not going . . . Prerequisites such as motivation, desire, and warm, fuzzy feelings aren’t necessary. It is a con to imagine you must have these to get going.”

When I read these words, it made me think of an important project I had been working on. It was very important and somewhat out of my comfort zone. I had started it, and it had sat, unfinished and waiting, in a file in my computer, waiting for. . . I don’t know what. Inspiration?

Improvisers don’t have the luxury of waiting. When you have to go on stage, you have to go on stage. If you wait for inspiration, or until you are sure you can do something clever, you won’t go on. Just show up and do it.

OK Patricia. I did it. I put your book down, went to my office, opened the dreaded project that had been waiting for weeks, and produced a quality work in just under two hours!

What are you waiting for? What unfinished or even un-started project is waiting for inspiration or the “right moment,” or a warm, fuzzy feeling? Just show up and, (much as I hate quoting Larry the Cable Guy) Git  ‘er done.

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Words of Wisdom

Published on October 17, 2012 by in Uncategorized

When a stranger or casual acquaintance ask how you are, they are just being polite. They don’t really want to know.

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Great moments in sport

Published on October 16, 2012 by in Uncategorized

The best moments in sport are not made by famous athletes, they are made by ordinary people. Like me:

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How to avoid saying things you will later regret

Published on October 11, 2012 by in Uncategorized

If you’re like me, you have often said something that you regretted saying, sometimes right away, and sometimes much later when you reflect on it.

Have you ever been embarrassed when someone you didn’t think was listening heard what you said? Perhaps it was a bit of gossip, or an off-color joke.

Here are two suggestions to help you avoid saying things you will regret:

The first is fairly simple: Never say anything that requires you to check to see who is listening. This should take care of all gossip, inappropriate humor, or racial or ethnic slurs. If you have to check who’s listening. Just don’t say it.

The second suggestion is a little harder to accomplish. While it is simple in concept, it may be harder to achieve in practice:

Always know what you hope to accomplish by saying what you are about to say.

Suppose you are angry with a checkout person who short changed you. What will you accomplish by yelling at her? Will she be less likely to short change someone else? How will you be better off if you strike back?

Suppose you and your partner are arguing? What will you gain by a sarcastic remark? Will your partner be more or less likely to see your view?

Suppose someone says something truly stupid. What will you accomplish by pointing it out to them? Will it make them less likely to say something stupid again? Will it hurt them? What benefit is it to you to hurt someone?

Follow these two rules, and you will certainly say fewer things you will later regret saying.

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The meaning of “yes”

Just got back from a wonderful conference of the Applied Improvisation Network. Met a lot of great people and learned a lot of good stuff.

One of the things I learned was that to our clients our jargon is, well, jargon. Sue Walden  reminded us that our clients may not understand our jargon any better than we understand other professions’ jargon. She drew an appreciative laugh when she talked about the time her computer screen asked he if she wanted to “rip” or “burn.”

In improvisation, our mantra is “yes, and.” We promote it as the most important value in improv based training, but what exactly does it mean? Some clients may be concerned when they think the “yes” in “yes, and” means they have to agree with anything anyone says.

But that’s not the case. For us the “yes” in “yes, and” means not necessarily agreement, but acceptance. We accept what is offered, we don’t reject it out of hand. When we say “yes” meaning acceptance, we accept not only the idea offered, but the person offering it. For us, “yes” means I accept your idea, I accept you, I value your input. “Yes” begins an exchange, “and” carries it forward.

YES, AND! A powerful tool even more powerful when you understand the jargon.

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Laugh to learn relearned.

Published on August 31, 2012 by in Uncategorized

Last night I taught an Englilsh as a Second Language class at Vida, because it was me teaching and because laughter is literally a part of my name, we laughed a lot. This experience reinforced a couple of lessons for me.

First, laughter is an important learning tool. Because we laughed a lot, everyone was relaxed and we made great progress;

Second, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you are going to laugh, and make laughter a part of what you do, you’d better be prepared to laugh at yourself. Last night, I met Rosa for the first time. She was an absolute joy. She sat in the very front row and was prepared to laugh and laugh a lot. She had one of those wonderful infectious laughs that seemed to generate somewhere in her innermost being.

Rosa is obviously expecting a baby, and as a part of our lesson I asked her when her baby is due.

“January 24th,” she replied in pretty good English, then,

 “When is your due?” she asked glancing at my rather ample midsection. The she, I and the entire class enjoyed a moment of uproarious laughter.

Next Thursday can’t come soon enough!

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