Fine Wine and Memoir



With the recent move, I have let my blogging responsibilities slip.  I will be back with regular blogs later this week, but I thought I would point you to my guest blog on Kathy Pooler’s lovely website, Memoir Writer’s Journey.  My subject is memoir writing, and the notion that a good memoir, like fine wine, requires aging.

Illusion of Control – Feline Version


IMG_6206After 16 years, Calliope and I are about to be separated. I will miss our morning breakfast routine, a time when she talks constantly, and has an unerring instinct for being in the middle of the path from the kitchen table to the coffee pot or the refrigerator.  Her hope is that Kent or I will massage her belly or her head with a foot (be it shod or bare).  We do, of course, and have gotten quite adept at balancing on one foot while the other slides across her fur.

Our first meeting was a moment of perfect serendipity. 

A flower shop is not the kind of place you go if you want to adopt a cat.  But there, tucked among the seedlings at the Plantshed at Broadway and 96th Street in New York City, was a six-week old handful of white and tan fur, mewing in the thin, reedy and high-pitched sound I associated with a calliope.  She was cute, no doubt about it. But when I looked into her hazel eyes, I was hooked.  Without a second thought, I tucked her into my bag along with several exotic plants for my terrace and off we went.  

Our parting is an equally amazing piece of serendipity.  Kent and I are moving into an apartment building that will not allow pets, and for months we’ve agonized over what to do about Calliope.  She is too old for the adoption agencies to want her. And since she’s never spent a night anywhere except this house in more than thirteen years, I was sure any move would be intolerably traumatic.  Given her age, I couldn’t justify putting off decisions we had to make because of our age, but neither could I justify putting a still healthy and beautiful animal to sleep for my convenience. 

And then, when I didn’t think I had any more tears left, we sold our house to a wonderful family of five that wants to keep Calliope.  I know they will love her — as I write she is sleeping happily on one of the unwashed tee-shirts they delivered a few days ago, so she could adjust to their smell while Kent and I were still with her. And it seems that we can come and visit her from time to time, at least for a while.    

Control is a much over-rated phenomenon. Despite all my planning and organizing, Calliope came into my life on her terms and she is leaving that way as well.  No way I could ever have planned any of this.  Serendipity?  Luck?  Who knows, but it sure wasn’t control.  

Failure is Your Friend


ht_charlie_whittmack_ll_110715_wgOne of the key concepts in the MBA short course that I teach on “Managing Career Risk” is that failure plays a critical role in building a career that is ultimately satisfying in both the professional and personal realms.

I have framed this idea a number of ways over the years. Making mistakes is how you learn what not to do again. Failure lies not in making a mistake, but in refusing to try again. Failure is never fatal, just as success is never final. Failure is, in fact, a form of success as long as you are able to learn from it.

But those aphorisms are just words.  As I noted in my last blog on Teaching as a Map, what makes them come alive is a personal story of growing through failure to success.  

And come alive they did when Charlie Wittmack, an athlete who thrives on pushing the boundaries of his physical capacity, came to class and shared his 2010 struggle to complete all three legs of what he calls a “world triathlon”—a 10,000 mile journey that included swimming the Thames and the English Channel, cycling from France to Nepal, and summiting Mt. Everest.   

What made his story so compelling was his recognition, from the start, that he was attempting to do what most people considered to be impossible … his recognition that everyone expected him to fail.  

Ultimately, he completed all three legs of the triathlon.  But several times, along the journey, it seemed that he would fail. Perhaps the worst came when he collapsed from altitude sickness as he cycled up to the highest mountain pass in Tibet. But each “failure” left him closer to his goal than anyone ever imagined he would get. Each failure taught him lessons he could—and did—use in his next attempt.  Each failure left him that much closer to the goal he wanted to reach.

The point, I think, of Charlie’s story is not just that failure is your friend, but that if you think big enough, you can’t fail … you just get closer and closer to success.


Letting Go – Part II


IMG_7809Standing on a ledge in Bryce Canyon in Utah, it was not immediately obvious that “letting go” was the appropriate metaphor for this slender pine tree clinging tenaciously to an eroding soil bed. Indeed, it might seem that this lonesome sapling is a vestige of an arboreal species in an ecosystem long gone.  

But from another perspective, it strikes me as the perfect metaphor for letting go of outmoded and dysfunctional strategies for coping. It is so easy to just keep doing things the way we have always done them, even when they no longer work very well.  

That would certainly be the case for many of the trees in Bryce.  If the tree in the photo to the right had clung to the familiar notion that a tree should have its roots below ground and its base firmly attached to the soil, it would have disappeared down into the ravine years ago.  

But here we have a tree that has “learned” a new way of doing things.  It still has a trunk and relies on a root system that reaches into the ground and sends nutrients up the core to its branches.  But its roots are exceptionally strong and hardy enough to do double duty, both feeding the tree and holding it up.

I will try to remember my tree the next time I am struggling with something that just isn’t working.  Slow down.  Take a deep breath.  And look for another way.