Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I ran into an old acquaintance several weeks ago. It was a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and I was at one of those open houses given by a friend. My friend admits to killing two birds with one stone – to celebrate the new house with friends and to get through a huge number of social obligations before the beginning of the holiday madness season set in. You’ve all been to one of these parties. You know the host and anywhere from as few as a handful to as many as most of the people attending. You get to catch up with people you may not have seen in a while, share some laughs with good friends, and even meet one or two new and interesting people.

This old acquaintance, though, was a bit different. She’s someone I knew a long time ago, and haven’t seen or interacted with in years. When we first met, around 20 or so years ago, I didn’t like her. How’s that for blunt? I’m not going to dress it up and try to make myself sound better. I didn’t like her. I thought she was superior and arrogant, and more than a little mean. What did I base this on? Her non-verbal behaviors, the tone of her voice, the manner in which she carried herself. More basic than that, it was instinct.

We didn’t interact much in our acquaintance. We operated in different circles so the times when we met up were quite few and far between. But the behaviors never really changed. The first time we met I recall this woman almost quite literally looking down her nose at me. I remember it because the visual was so vivid that I remember thinking “so this is what that looks like.” To be fair to her, perhaps she has reason to be arrogant and superior. I am willing to submit that she may certainly be smarter or more educated than I. Perhaps she’s a morally better person, using her time and energy in ways that benefit others. Maybe she’s gifted with a more giving nature, more patience, more consideration. All that may be true, and yet when I met up with her again at this party, my assessment remained the same.

Some of you might be thinking about the power of the first impression, and perhaps that’s what’s influencing me here. Some of you may be thinking that I’m the one who has the issue, not her. Maybe. Yet when I watched this woman interact at this open house, I saw those same qualities in her that I experienced when I first met her. And, when we briefly spoke, this time the superiority and arrogance were all too plain to see. After she walked away, a friend who had been standing with us and did not know this woman actually said, “Ouch! What’s her deal?”

I don’t know what her deal is. And I realized that it isn’t even the important lesson here. The important lesson for me was ‘instinct’ and being willing to trust your own. I’ve attempted over time to change my opinion of this person because I have friends who really like her. The logic is that if these people that I like and respect, actually like this other person – well, then, she must be okay. The problem must be my judgment, right? No. My judgment is valid and my opinion has merit. Yet, I’ve been doubting my instincts.

When I think it through, I realize that there have been a lot of times when I have chosen that path. My ‘gut’ told me one thing, yet I talked myself out of it. Why? Others’ opinions, ‘logic’, take your pick. The point is I haven’t trusted myself and I’m learning that THAT is the real mistake. When I look back even casually, I can see that the bigger ‘mistakes’ in my life have resulted from not following my gut instincts, from taking other peoples’ truth as being more true than my own, or their knowledge or opinion as being better than my own. But the reality is your gut, if you follow it, rarely points you in the wrong direction. It tells you what is true, what is right, what is logical. The trick is learning to trust it and having the courage to follow it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


There’s something special about having a friend that has known you most of your life. My ‘oldest’ friend and I have been friends since age 12 – we met in 7th grade. I know some people who can claim ‘older’ friends than that. One of my friends can claim a friend from 6 months (55 years) – she actually has the photo of the two of them at that age lying side by side to prove it. I’ve done the math to know how many years Barb and I have been friends but have no need to make that information public. Those of you who know my age can do the math yourselves and keep quiet about it.

Barb came on a business trip. She manages an Arts facility and is Director of Community Involvement in our hometown. She came for the opportunity to meet arts professionals here – network, learn, grow – as well as visit a variety of facilities to see what she might take home and implement. The plus side was staying at my house instead of a hotel and getting to play in the off times.

Those of you who know my home town know that there is a limit to the variety of ‘ethnic’ cuisine available in restaurants. Here in Minneapolis Barb got to indulge her passion for new and different foods – Malaysian, Afghani, Vietnamese. She also got to make visits to the Sculpture Garden – modern art in its element – Juxtapostion – urban art created by teens – the Cathedral of St. Paul – classical architecture and classically beautiful sculpture, paintings, and iron work. It was a great week.

Part of the fun was seeing your city through the eyes of someone new. It causes you to think about what you really have to offer and what the highlights are that an out-of-towner should visit. But the best part of the visit is spending time with someone who has known you for, almost, forever. There’s something so easy about being with someone with whom you have such history. For one thing, there is the verbal shorthand – being able to reference events and people and with just a comment have decades worth of history understood.

More than that is the ease of not having to explain yourself. This was made evident when I introduced Barb to one of my friends here in the cities. We were having a general discussion about relationships and Barb made a comment about her upbringing and her family relationships impacting her in her current relationship choices. My other friend asked the logical ‘how’ question and Barb and I just looked at each other. I knew exactly what she meant – but how do you explain the six years of junior high and high school family dynamics to someone in 5 minutes or less? It just can’t be done – at least not in a way that would ever compare to the knowledge that comes from experiencing those things together.

During that same discussion my friend asked me something. The same struggle ensued. This is a friend who I am very close with, someone with whom I share deep feelings and reveal very personal information. I feel she knows me well, yet she knows me only in the context of the past 5 years. Barb knows me from childhood. The depth of that knowledge is not something that can be acquired overnight and the ease of understanding is not something that can be replicated.

Probably the best part of this old friendship is its security and comfort. This is a person who knows me at a core level. She understands my origins; she’s lived through my mistakes and disasters as well as my successes. She can ask me the hard questions and hold me accountable for the answers in ways that others cannot. She can bluntly say that what she is hearing from me is crap – and then ask me why I feel the need to dish it. She loves me and accepts me for who I am – really – as opposed to who I might want her to see. That’s a friendship to keep. That’s a friendship to cherish.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I have, often, the attention span of a gnat. I admit to this failing. I have had it all my life and it has gotten worse with age. I will go from one room to another, intent on a task and in the 3 seconds it takes me to walk the 10 feet from point A to point B I have forgotten why I was going there. I know I went for something and, at least in my mind, something significant, so I stand and try to remember what I came for. Sometimes I must actually walk back to where I was and re-trace my actions for it to come to me. Pathetic, I know.

To counter this tendency, I make lists. I have made lists for years – since my Freshman year in college. While in High School, I had a built in list – my mother. She could always be counted on to remind me of what needed to be done or to ask what had or had not been done, thus accomplishing the same thing. Things got done.

Then I went to college a thousand miles from home and life became much more complex. There was no Mom to remind or ask. There was me – and only me. My roommates had their own lives and their own obligations. It took only a couple of instances of neglected assignments or forgotten tests or dates to make me realize that a system was necessary. Thus, the lists.

I love my lists. There’s something about them that is so secure. You write things down, you do those things, you cross them off your list. It’s reliable, it’s simple, and it’s oh so rewarding. Looking at that list of completed tasks and chores at the end of the day you see just where your time has been spent. It’s a concrete record of exactly what you have accomplished. It is proof of productivity. It is evidence of industry. I love my lists.

I also hate my lists. They stare at me from the counter or the desk, beckoning me. They remind – yes. They also taunt. They also accuse. There’s something so controlling about them – so rigid. They’re like that nagging voice in your head reminding you of your failings and shortcomings – look at all the work you didn’t get done, look how much you have left to do, look at all the things you should be doing instead of doing what you are. On a given day, the list can suck the life right out of you. I hate the lists.

The truth is the lists are, I suppose, the proverbial double-edged sword - like so many other things in life. The trick is perhaps not the list itself but in what you put on the list. It’s easy to fill the list with minutiae, with things that are perhaps immediate or even, seemingly, urgent but things that are maybe not so important. And in my enthusiasm for accomplishing the list, sometimes a whole lot of nothing gets done. So maybe the new goal is for an edited list and the discernment to be able to create one - one that contains what is important – and the recognition and acceptance that sometimes what is important takes a little longer to accomplish. Maybe the number of items checked off the list at the end of the day might be smaller, but hopefully they’ll be more significant.