Breaking the fourth wall

4th-wall“Oh, you’ve gotten tickets for the inauguration…what a thrill. I’m so happy for you.”

These words were not said to me, nor do I think that they ever will be directed towards me, for you see, I voted for Mr. Trump, now President-elect. Even as I pen this blog, I have some trepidation. Those colleagues and friends, for whom I have only the greatest respect, will  judge me harshly. I have some confidence that their high regard for me will lessen, in some instances, substantially. Forget that I have the benefit of my own personal interaction with the man, as my guide, they will not want to hear that, nor will it affect their opinion of me, or of him or those other 60+ million people who voted for him.

The words in the opening sentence of this blog, reflected my actual delight that a good, intelligent, well respected colleague of mine obtained tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration. She was deliriously happy, and I was happy for her. I had my own feelings toward the man, but that did not get in the way of my realization that millions of intelligent people placed their faith and hope in him and his capacity to deliver hope and change. My candidate did not win. I was disappointed. As an advocate for rule of law around the world, it did not elude me that like charity, belief in the the rule of law and the orderly of transfer of power, “starts at home.” And so, with my long list of reservations, I demonstrated publicly and privately, respect for the man we have called Mr. President these last eight years.

Now the scene switches. The tables have turned. It is I who am not only decidedly not deplorable, but a thoughtful and intelligent person, also hoping for change. I watch with quiet contentment as my preferred candidate begins to make his way to the White House. As a resident of the east coast, there are few places where one can publicly display the pleasure at that prospect.  Make no mistake, I am disappointed  that I will likely not see a woman be President of the United States in my lifetime. But, I am equally determined never to vote along any line, party, race or gender, simply to break a ceiling or other metaphorical barrier.

Speaking of barriers, comes the perfect segue to the title of this blog:  The fourth wall…a dramatic convention often used in pantomime or children’s theater, rarely broken without artistic purpose. Once a tool  used to “heighten the comedic tone of a show” last week’s fourth wall break in the Broadway show Hamilton instead  reflects something of a tragic milestone for democracy. Recognizing the futility of discourse on the subject, I leave you with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion-‘
‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.”

Waiting and waiting…. for Godot and the future to unfold.

It’s been six or seven years since I saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen  in Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot in London. I don’t quite remember now what I thought of the play at the time (though I did like it). As I skim and review its lines for this post, it occurs to me that much of the double-entendre may have been missed in the viewing, now caught in the reading. For sure, there is one thing that I did not seize upon when I saw the play–the singular concept of waiting. Recent events have me thinking about how much of the present is lost to waiting for some event yet to occur. And, with that thought, I returned to the play script to see if there was a message there missed by me during my first exposure to it.

In the last 24 hours,  during  conversations with a handful of people fairly close to me, the following were being awaited:   word from a college admissions office, commitment from a venture capitalist, a reply a text after a first date, bar exam results, a grant award, a layoff notice and the arrival of a newborn. But what really struck me was how the present was being forfeited to the wait. In the words of Estragon, recoiling before Pozzo,  “That’s to say . . . you understand . . . the dusk . . . the strain . . . waiting . . .” Every person, without exception,  was straining under the pressure of the wait.

Where there was once capacity in “slower moving times” to enjoy the present, knowing the future would unfold in the eventuality, the present seems to have been lost to anticipation, forfeited to the wait. My grandmother used to say: “Everything comes to those who wait.” We were conditioned to think of waiting as something possibly to be valued. But now,  like Estragon and Vladimir,  people are waiting–day after day,  with blind obedience to some messenger from the future, that commands, it will come and they should agonizingly wait for it.

Please don’t think that this perspective comes from some Polly Anna of a writer who herself has nothing looming in the future. Indeed my future holds a ball that will drop, which while not my own, is nevertheless heavy and sad and will affect me deeply. But living in the present, for me means not waiting agonizingly for Godot to come by the tree near where I reside–but to go out and about, living  life.  Perhaps I will bump into my Godot as I bumble along –and by bumble I mean take it by the tail and whirl it as hard and fast as I can.  As for waiting for this or that, I will deal with whatever it is…no sooner than I have to, no later than I am required to.

And, yes there I go ending another sentence with a preposition.

 

 

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Human Rights: To say is not to do.

Lately my work has taken me to examining the roots of some basic human rights concepts, among them, freedoms–freedom of assembly, freedom of speech–freedom to be the person you are, to explore your passions, and express yourself in the myriad of ways that humans do, without arbitrary restraint.

What strikes me is how basic the concept of freedom is, and how far back efforts by persons, leaders or political movements have gone to restrict it. My readings have late are focused on  the ancient Persian Empire in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Then, and even  before in the glory days of Babylonia, the concept of freedom, represented in the cuneiform word or phrase “ama-gi” found expression.

It is said that the word and concept of freedom first appears in written form when the new king, upon ama-giinvestiture (or thereafter, as an annual gracious ritual) would grant a form of amnesty to young males in servitude for unpaid taxes to the king, granting them “ama-gi” –permission to “return to mother.” The phrase eventually evolved into the concept of one being set “free,” thus, the very early iteration of freedom as we know it today.

What is striking about working in human rights in this century is the utter failure of modern day leaders to recognize freedom as an entitlement, an essential part of humanity–something individuals have sought and valued for  thousands of years.  As far back as we can tell, people eschewed servitude and honored those who saved them from it.

Assuming that many of today’s leaders are literate and have some basic understanding of history, leads one to wonder if they aren’t truly delusional, somehow believing that eventually they will escape the fate that all human kind faces:  Dust.  Perhaps they have never visited a museum and found themselves in the company of a “great” Pharaoh resting in a temperature controlled glass case being  gawked at by the masses–and those were the good guys.

Climbing the hill to get the world to recognize basic human rights is presumably  a challenge that was met long ago, now embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).   Incredibly, in 2014 with several thousand years of civilized societies under our belt, there is  still an inordinately large number of persons who dictate to others what they can or should do with their lives, following an agenda that eschews every morsel of basic  human rights as we know it.

One would have thought that with all the technological and scientific advances, collective mankind would have figured out a mechanism to identify and remove those who  fail to honor basic human rights. Quite the opposite. In fact, there are wolves among those charged with guarding the hen house. Consider carefully the countries which have been selected as caretakers of human rights by selection to the UN Human Rights Council.

Were Klout  to give  the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights a score,  it would be low, very low.  If the document  is to be anything more than words on paper paying lip service to an aspiration, there have to be real consequences to those who derogate it.  To that end, there is some encouragement in the fact that a petition is currently in circulation that calls for the  removal from the United Nations Human Rights Council to say is not to docertain countries with dismal human rights records.

To those who stand up to tyranny, your voices are being heard. Do not give up. You are asking for nothing less than to live the precious few years we all have on this planet as the human being, with all your frailties and strengths, motivated by the hope of leaving a mark or legacy on the planet that represents the best humanity has to offer. We are with you. Your struggle is our struggle.  And to those working in the human rights arena be guided by this:  To say is not to do.

About Inspirational Quotes

 

sight of the shore blog quote

When one thinks “Inspirational quotes” an image of sunrises or sunsets, waves washing upon a shore come to mind, with particularly succinct pieces of wisdom nestled in the scene as if writ by the hands of the almighty.  In the “old days” these made their way into posters that decorated dorm rooms. Now they find their way into facebook updates encouraging you to “share” when they show up in one’s newsfeed.

Among those oft quoted (usually, but not always, men) are such notables as Twain, Churchill and Einstein. The best inspirational quotes, however, I think are those that have withstood the test of time. In this category, the winner by far are the “Chinese Proverbs.”  These are two of my favorites:

Those who say it cannot be done
should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Talk doesn’t cook rice… four words that really say it all.

In the early days of my having founded an organization that was going to be heavily dependent upon inspiring individuals to reach deep into their pockets and donate,  I embarked on the exercise to find that inspirational phrase that was so visceral as to trigger the reader  to volunteer to head off to Africa or, better yet, write a check.  There were also times when the going was so tough, I turned to the Chinese proverbs for a bit of inspirational lift from periodic disappointments. rocky sea blog

Blog 1 Quote

I know many of you are intellectuals, scholarly and tend not to find too much literary merit in a quote or anything that in ten words or less takes the place of reading the book. To you I suggest that in life there are sometimes complexities that require something very straightforward and utterly simple, to plug a hole in life’s dike. In those moments, I have looked to the wisdom of one of history’s innovators, leaders or authors for inspirational lift.

never give in blogA blog is by its very nature the epitome of sharing, and the author assumes, correctly or incorrectly, that the information shared is interesting, worthwhile, funny, instructional or maybe even  inspirational. The quotes pictured here were most assuringly  not authored by me but they were among those that did in fact inspire me. As an aside, I think you will agree that in wrapping them in pictures from my phone I have managed to create several images that would fit nicely into the genre of cheesy poster art, not to mention, fare well in any competition matched against your every day Facebook fodder. 

Managing Change and Transition …Put one foot In front of the other (and don’t look back).

In life we learn through literature that there is big stuff and small stuff, as in “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  There are things that are key, critical–that go to the coreImage. In the “small stuff” column we find the discretionary, optional and elective.  Among the “core” things in life, and possibly one of the most critical one can master on this planet, are transitions. The ability to transition from point A to B, or to put in its simplest terms, to move on. 

You’ve heard often about the person who “doesn’t handle transitions well.”  At the same time, we’ve all witnessed people who have faced seemingly overwhelming odds, yet have managed to reinvent themselves, transition and emerge no worse for the wear.

As I scoured the web for visuals that represented transitions–it was interesting how many aspects of life involve transitions. That was only matched by the realization that the person who hasn’t mastered transitions, or the ability to finesse one gracefully,  likely faces an uphill climb over and over again. Transitioning affects us all, more or less, depending upon our circumstances.  The spectrum in which it presents is broad: in or out of a relationship, quitting or leaving a job, losing a loved one, going to school, leaving school, changing school, moving out of one house and into another, divorce, retirement or other fundamental passage.

In an earlier post, I wrote about people plagued by inertia–but I may have to stand corrected. It may not be so much the inertia, but a fundamental inability to manage change that is at the root of the paralysis. I didn’t spend much if any time reading or studying Kierkegaard in my years studying philosophy, but this “inspirational” quote seems to get to the heart of the matter.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Moving-On-in-Life-QuotesAt a relatively young age, I was confronted more than once with some of life’s  “fundamental passages.”  In later years, but well before adulthood arrived, I was exposed to adults who represented both extremes on the transition scale. On the one hand a parent who was entrenched in past recriminations and regrets , on the other hand a grandparent, who at the drop of a hat, could transition into a new plan if any part of the present was presenting an obstacle, literally and figuratively, to where she wanted to be or where she wanted to go.

Perhaps the exposure to these two approaches, paired with the several transitions I was exposed to at so early an age as to think them natural,  is what influenced me and my outlook on life. Whatever the source, that outlook has served me well. Confronting passages and transitions without paralyzing fear, regret or apprehension and harnessing the ability to manage expectations grows confidence in one’s own wings. Confidence prevents the kind of procrastination that is responsible for so many of life’s missed opportunities.  Good timing then, often mistaken by onlookers as “good luck,” generates positive outcomes.

But this process, and it is a process, requires conscious thought–no bumbling about, being buffeted by the “slings and arrows” of life.  It requires that one acquire a penchant for flexibility, adaptability, willingness to consider change and acquire a zest for the anticipation that transitions generate. In the end there are two types of people, those who become fluent in the art of transition and change and those who are simply, sadly, stuck in the past or the memory of it.

Like any one of a number of habits one might want to kick, I suggest this as a first step in learning how to transition gracefully:untitled

When you find yourself looking backwards, standing still, frozen in your steps or seized with apprehension–in words that aren’t mine, but have a simplicity I love: 

Put one foot in front of the other…and, I might add,  don’t look back.

If it helps, whistle the tune below, or in the manner of Jimmy Fallon,  grab a bunch of muppets and sing your way through the transition.

Either way you’ll be off to something of a start.

What’s it all about Alfie?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song past the second line, but find myself on not infrequent occasions muttering or humming the tune’s first lines. If you need a refresher…here’s how it starts:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give…

There are those among us who have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to become completely absorbed in the day to day trivialities of life. You know who you are. You’re the ones who when you leave work, joining the throngs of people in mass exit heading home towards parking lots or public transit, wonder if it isn’t reminiscent of the ants we marvel at in summer, all marching along in concert to support the colony.

You are the ones who have conversations with yourself, while trying to convince a colleague, group or client of the value of a particular course of action and the long and short term beneficial consequences.

You are the one who, while walking down the street curiously observing your fellow man, queries yourself if you are indeed the only one thinking about, “what its all about,”– for you are sure everyone seems quite absorbed in the task of getting somewhere, going somewhere, doing something, none of which  include being perplexed about their state of being.

Do you sometimes think, in 50 years most of the people I’m looking at will not be on this planet and wonder if this thought has occurred to them? I do, with more regularity than I’d like to admit, and in those moments, this e e cummings’ quote comes to mind:

little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

How apropos is it then, that as I write, this ad appears in my inbox, imploring me to get the “big picture” into my life. I chuckle. For some the “big picture” refers to a  large screen TV, nothing more, nothing less.

big picture2So today, I leave you with this: try a little Socratic scrutiny in your life. What’s your deal?  How do you see “the big picture?”  If it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I do believe that is the case, then consider  periodically pressing your personal pause button.  Purvey the landscape of your life, the people in it that you value, the values that you espouse and consider whether they are all in sync.

If after reading this you happen to pass me on the street, no need to say hello, just nod. I’ll get it. Despite all the warnings my kids give me about not making eye contact with strangers, I’m likely to return the nod with a deeply satisfying, but polite and appropriately reserved smile.    So, go ahead, make my day.

On the Eve of New Year’s Eve: This Year’s Resolution

12-30-2013 11-25-40 AMThis is the time of year, when for a a few short days, sometimes weeks, “time,”  philosophically speaking, assumes its rightful place in peoples’ lives.  In a  Dickensian sort of way, we are  aware of present, past and future, if only briefly.  As the calendar runs up to January 1st,  many will reconnoiter and with uncustomary resoluteness, propose a change or action that should occur in the year ahead to improve the quality of their lot.

As we get older and with the passage of time,   the New Year Resolutions begin to overlap with Bucket Lists.   There are nuanced differences between the two, even as they begin to merge. Whereas the New Year’s Resolution is supposed to connote positive change or direction and thusly generate action, the Bucket List involves recognition that the window for wishing and hoping is narrowing. The Bucket List  generates action–in a “speak now or forever (no metaphor intended) hold your peace” sort of way.

paraprosdokianYou will not be surprised to learn that America’s number one New Year’s resolution this year is to “lose weight.”  I think for many of us, weight loss is  a perennially welcome guest. But, for some, and I am among them, the time has arrived when it does not top either the Bucket or New Year’s Resolution list.  As I write, I am reminded of a Erma Bombeck quote and book title, written  when she looked back on her life and, referring to her own tug of war with weight, if given a mulligan-life option she might have elected for “Less cottage cheese and more ice cream.”

While verifying the sourcing of that quote,   I came across a word I had never before encountered:  paraprosdokian. Its has classical roots, but not classical origins and apparently it hasn’t yet appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. No matter, I like it and what it stands for:

“A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of the sentence. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.”

Apparently Winston Churchill was adept at it: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.” Here are a few other examples:

  • War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  • If the enemy is in range, so are you.

Google the term and you can read and enjoy dozens of examples of paraprosdokian phrases.  But, beware, while they are delightful to read, they are harder to create than one might imagine. Inspired by the new addition to my vocabulary, on this eve of New Year’s eve, I am inclined to view life metaphorically through the paraprosdokian lens.  To do this, you merely substitute the word “my life” for “sentence.” The definition, rewritten, looks like this:

“A paraprosdokian is an approach to life  in which the latter part of one’s life  is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes a person to re-frame or re-interpret the first part of one’s life.”

You’ve heard of 12 steps? This involves 3.

Step 1: The First Part
Everything until now falls neatly into the category of the expected–a life I’ve grown accustomed to living, a persona I’ve come to know well, a past I’m certain I recognize.

Step 2: The Surprise
Resolve to  create for myself a context that makes room for the surprising and unexpected, so much so, that it…

Step 3: The re-frame
…causes me to take a second look at life up to today, seeing it in a new and different way–paving the way for the future to change the past without changing the past, just changing how it looks to me in retrospect.

I had a wonderful aunt who often said, “if you can’t change something, change the way you look at it.” A paraprosdokian approach to life does that for you. Making room for the unexpected and surprises in one’s life, will at the very least oblige you cast off  the morsels of intractability that sometimes creep in as we mature.

And so, 2014’s  New Year’s Resolution might look like this: Resolving to  make room for being surprised with the unexpected in 2014 in a way that casts the past in a new light, provides continued purpose going forward and rewards me with the kind of unpredicted delight one feels when a good comedian leads you down the path that ends with a chuckle, or better yet, a belly laugh.  Yes, more belly laughs in 2014.

The Essence of The Christmas Tree

It has been written that for Hegel “essence” describes “how you come to the Notion, to the “key” to understanding something which, once arrived at, is the basis for all analysis of and “logical thinking” about the thing.”  For Kant, it was the thing “in and of itself.” After 40 years on the planet in contemplation and study of essence, being and rose colored glasses, I believe I managed to arriveOld Saybrook-20131224-00715 at understanding the concept when conjuring up of the christmas tree pictured here. The tree did it. It got me there–to understanding the essence of being.

The Back Story:
Work and other preoccupations kept me from having the opportunity to fulfill the annual ritual of wandering deep in the tree farm to find that perfect Concolor tree, with long lemony scented needles (which almost never shed). There are strict parameters to trees in my home:  not too tall, not too short– recognizing that the measure of small is anything that is shorter than I.

This year the ritual did not happen. There would be no  tree in our living room this Christmas. On Christmas eve with children traveling far to come home, the negative gravitas of that decision  began to weigh heavily. By noon on Christmas eve, when the first installment of visitors left, my options were reducing exponentially with each passing hour, possibly in direct inverse proportion to my anxiety over the decision.  We headed out to survey the options. The two local nurseries were, not surprisingly, out of trees. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw those trees loaded on trucks from Canada in August. I did not want one of those.

Art is important to me and every home since my first had few blank walls. On her first visit to our home years ago, a neighbor remarked “this place looks like a museum.”  I have an aversion for crowded public places. For this reason I have always enjoyed having a handsomely populated home library and well adorned walls. This indulgence is one that suits my idiosyncrasies concerning libraries and museums. Which brings me to the large blank wall in my small living room.

treeAdmittedly I had some inspiration. Somewhere along the way I managed to collect an image of a two dimensional tree made of twigs. It apparently struck me as I saved it to my hard drive. Now I was facing a blank wall, only a two hours remaining before the first child arrived home, and a fireplace mantel, that while out of the ordinary beautiful, was not  a substitute home for Christmas presents accustomed to sitting under a tree.  We were in the car, and though I ruefully glanced at  the  empty tree lot,  I proceeded on to CVS resolved to pick up two dozen clear “hooks” and convert an empty wall into a “tree.”  A  few minutes later, I was pulling into the driveway, threw the car into park,  scrambled into the wooded area adjoining the driveway to gather a half dozen long boughs that had been cut from a downed tree the winter before.

I laid them out on the living room floor—imagined the configuration that would best approximate a  “tree,” marked where my partner needed to make the trim cuts, grabbed the box of “favorite odds” ornaments from the attic and a string of lights. A large star-fish topped off the work which was assembled with the help of dark brown English twine  brought back from one of my London jaunts that I knew at the time, would someday come in handy. That day had arrived, and sooner than I thought.

The base was formed by (an empty) beautifully wrapped square box which was soon joined by the other presents. I plugged in the string of lights and there it was: The Christmas Tree, and really, a fairly perfect tree too.

Later in the evening  I sat with my daughter in the living room gazing at “the tree.” My analysis: it provided the function of “housing” the gifts below. The lights twinkled. The oddity of the ornaments, all favorites for one reason or another, allowed me to savor each one in a way the traditional tree did not. An early gift from my daughter of an ornament made by trafficking victims from NOMI, an organization that serves victims of trafficking was added to it—and fit in perfectly. It meant something–a gift from a child that recognized her mom’s work and something that was important to me. The Starfish atop it was personal too—starfish have always been in our Christmas trees, a symbol of our life these last many years living near the water. It was balanced. It was beguiling. I had managed to capture the essence of The Christmas Tree, without having one—and that I suppose is what Hegel and Kant were all about—capturing the essence.

I was startled. For the first time I had a truly deep sense of the essence of a thing, which was more amorphous than I had ever imagined and yet more real than anything I could have envisioned.  That assortment of sticks from the woods, strategically placed and ordinarily combined, generated a spot where we would sit, smile, giggle, share and realize in a very real and deep way, what this holiday is really all about.