Sunday, June 28, 2009

Live like a kid

It's been a VERY long week (and it's really not over... even though we are just about to enter a new week). My apologies for not posting anything.

That being said, I keep forgetting that I've posted things in other places that I can always share on this blog.... so here's one I put on my FB page late last month. :)


I'm sure almost everyone has heard the Robert Fulghum poem, "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten."

I was thinking of that poem this evening as I watched my kindergartner play at the park. I decided to jot down notes as I watched him approach kids he'd never met before... forming instant bonds.

And I came to the conclusion that six-year-olds are seriously underrated.


"All I Really Need to Know I'm Learning from My Kindergartner"

Talk to people you don't know, you may find a best friend.

Never pass a swing without taking a ride.

Splash in a puddle simply because it's there.

Laughing is good. Do it when you're happy, and even when you aren't.

Make art using anything you can find. Create the extraordinary out of the ordinary.

Sing for no reason.

Play outside as long as you can.

Question injustice.

Greet loved ones as though you've missed them forever.

Love fearlessly and fiercely.

Ignore the regular trail and create your own.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Enjoy the ride.

"Once you stop learning... you stop living."

The above phrase has been floating through my head the past couple of weeks. And I couldn't figure out why until I reunited with an old friend of mine this week.

Before I talk about what we discussed, I think it's important to explain how I met this particular person.

In August 2003, my son and I boarded a plane to visit my mother in North Carolina. My son was around six months old, and was actually a pretty good air traveler at that point (much better than when he reached the age of two). ;)

We sat next to a very kind looking man. I have to admit I was a little preoccupied with the kiddo, so didn't really chat. Until something very unusual happened.

As we taxied out to the runway, the plane pulled over to the side and stopped, and the pilot turned off the engines. His voice came over the PA system.

"Um, this is going to sound a bit unusual, but our flight is on hold right now because of storms over Cincinnati." (We had a scheduled layover in Ohio.) "What's really strange is that it's not the storm system itself that's holding us up--- it's the fact that lightning has struck the runway. So workers are now checking for damage, and will let us know soon if we have clearance to take off."

I've been flying regularly since I was a child--- a result of divorced parents who lived in different states. I've never heard of lightning striking a runway. I'm sure it happens, but it had never happened to delay one of my flights.

I became a little worried about my son. He had fallen asleep when the plane started to move. When the plane stopped, though... he was wide awake. The man next to me looked over at him, and started up a conversation about his own grandchildren. My son beamed at him.

We moved from talking about family to discussing work. He told me he was a theology professor. I told him I was a TV journalist. We started to discuss --- you got it --- good news and the power of good news. :) I had always wanted to report more of it, and he had always wanted to see more of it.

He told me he spent much of his time traveling all over the world, and he sees good news happening on a regular basis.

So it turns out the lightning had a purpose. We had plenty of time to talk about our passion for good news. Much more time than we would have had otherwise. Once we were up in the air, the trip wasn't that long.

We emailed each other a few times after that trip, but lost touch eventually. I moved to another state and took one more news job before I decided I had to leave the business.

I wandered aimlessly for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. I started my good news blog, but found myself unable to keep it up regularly. Then something happened to remind me about the importance of good news. :)

Last year, one of my co-anchors at my last station took some time off from work to make a trip to China. He was there to observe a forum of theological experts. Right before he headed home, he happened to strike up a conversation with one of the participants while they were on a train going through rural China. It was 4am and they appeared to be the only two people in the 45-member party who couldn't sleep. They decided to go to the dining car to chat. The conversation moved to news. And good news. And the theologian happened to mention the name of a reporter he once talked to on a plane, one he had really admired because of her passion for good news.

My colleague told me later he about fell out of his chair.

Names and notes were exchanged. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from my former co-anchor asking about having lunch to talk about how things were going. At that lunch, he handed me a note.

And now, a year after reading that note... I found myself sitting in the same restaurant I sat in when I first read that note, with the person who'd written it. :)

Anyway, this person is really special. He has had so many powerful experiences around the world.... and has so many great stories... I could listen to him for hours.

Something he told me really resonated with me. He loves to travel around the world because he's always learning something new. There's so much out there to explore... why would we limit ourselves to just one location, one way of life, one way of thinking....? He pointed out that so many people out there believe that once they are able to get their big house in the suburbs, their 2.2 kids, and their high-paying job--- their lives will be set. They honestly believe that once they get those things, they will not need to go any further than that.

But his philosophy is different. He believes life isn't necessarily about
accomplishing goals. It's all about the journey.

So many of us have been taught to believe that once we make enough money... once we get the right house... once we find the right job... once we find the right partner.... our lives will be complete. And we'll live happily ever after.

And yet, how many stories do we hear about people who have those things-- who still are not satisfied?

Some just live with the underlying feeling that something is missing. Others start doing other things to stir things up a bit.... drink a little too much, or cheat on their spouses, or embezzle from their companies.

Life is a journey. It is a constant challenge to grow and evolve and change our lives for the better.

Right after we are born, we strive to learn as much as we can about the world around us... how to smile, how to talk, how to walk, etc. Once we achieve those goals, we set new ones. Eventually we move from the basics and start to learn things that help us understand our world better--- things like literature, philosophy, science.

At some point, though... we grow tired. We have so much going on in our lives that we get to a point where we just want to survive, much less grow. But there's always a nagging voice in the back of our head telling us.... "there has to be more than this."

That's because there
is. Much more.

Of course, not all of us can drop everything and travel around the world ;).... but there are always opportunities to learn new things. You don't have to start big. Take up a new hobby. Sign up for a community college class. Buy art supplies and create something new. Plant a garden.

Life doesn't stop when we accomplish our goals--- why should we? Why stop learning and growing and creating...?

I'd like to thank my friend for reminding me of something I've always believed--- but had forgotten. Once you stop learning... you do, in fact, stop living. And that's where the ennui comes in.

At the risk of sounding like a Nissan commercial from the 90's: life is a journey. Never stop moving forward. And enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Wisdom of Seuss

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” ~~ Dr. Seuss

I have a collection of quotes I love. Today this one jumped out at me.

I've always thought everyone should live their lives this way. :)

It's been a long week (yes, I realize it's only Tuesday) so unfortunately I don't have more to add at this time. But I hope everyone will remember Dr. Seuss' words of wisdom.

More later. ;)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Change of Heart

Another good news story from my previous blog.... one that happened last year.

This is brought to us by a dear friend of mine (Jim Douglas, the reporter who wrote the original story), and it brought tears to my eyes. In a good way.

Jami McElrath has inoperable cancer. Like many terminally ill patients, she's been working hard to collect mementos for her children so they will have things they can physically hold onto to remember her after she passes away.

Among those mementos... she's been taking photos she wants to put in a scrapbook.

During a family trip to Texas, Jami's camera was stolen from her car while her family ate in a restaurant. The camera was loaded with photos of the trip, including their time at Six Flags amusement park.

As if that weren't enough, the camera also had extra sentimental value. It had belonged to her father, who died of a heart attack two years before.

Jami told her heart-wrenching story to Jim, who works at WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas.

"I just want my camera back," she told Jim in the story. "I just want those memories back."

Part of her plea also included this heartwarming message of hope: "People are good," she said. "That's what I'm saying. I don't think this person who took my camera is out to hurt people. I think they have a desperate situation they're in."

A few days after the story aired, Jim received a phone call from a man who didn't want to identify himself. He told Jim to look behind a red car in the station's parking lot. He also added that he felt bad about the incident.

Needless to say, Jim found the camera. He and a news crew traveled to Oklahoma to return it to Jami, who burst into tears. She had some words for the man who took it.

"Whoever you are, thank you so much," she said. "Thank you for having a conscience and bringing it back. I can't tell you what it means to me."

I love this story for so many reasons. I love it for the obvious reasons--- and one that's probably not so obvious. I love the fact that she had hope and positive feelings in her heart... even though her heart was broken. This is one of those stories that reminds me that the more love you send out into the world, the more it will return to you.

I have a personal story that also reinforces this belief, but I'll share it some other time. I want this post to be about Jami.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Living with Procrastination

If any of you get the OnDemand service on Comcast cable, I highly suggest going to "The Cutting Edge" section, and checking out some of the 'school scare films' on "Something Weird." Depending on how old you are, you may have seen some of these films in school growing up. My personal favorite is a variation on the classic "Duck and Cover," which offers you "lifesaving tips" on how to survive an atomic bomb blast.

My favorite gem from that film: "the instant you hear the air raid sirens, take cover under whatever you can find. A table, a doorway--- even a picnic blanket or a newspaper can provide some protection against an atomic blast!" (Here, the film shows a family enjoying a lovely picnic in the park when a bright light flashes and they cover themselves with their lifesaving blanket.)


They rotate the films every couple of weeks or so... so over the past several months I've seen other great "how to" films from the 1940's and 50's--- such as how to make friends (the lesson here: force yourself to be like everyone else--- suppress those pesky feelings of individuality....!), the importance of personal hygiene (a film for new recruits in the military--- did you know that foot powder can solve a whole slew of problems????), and a 60's film about the dangers of LSD (which--- honestly, was more of an ad for LSD than a scare film.... I don't think the "squares" back then 'got it').

One film I saw recently was about a girl named Mary who was the ultimate procrastinator. She was appointed by her classmates to organize the school dance, much to the chagrin of one boy who said she never did things on time and other students always paid for it. Well, you can guess what happened... Mary failed to let other students' mothers know days ahead of time which foods they needed to make for the party, she put off buying the decorations until the day before (the local store was out of what she needed), and she showed up late to the decorating party (because she was out looking for other decorations). The last scene shows the other students putting up their measly few rolls of streamers in disgust while Mary sits alone in the corner, obviously realizing that her life was now ruined--- all because of her
procrastinative ways.

I don't mean to make light of procrastination. I used to be Mary. When I was in seventh grade I was in an accelerated math course. Instead of making us hand in assignments on a regular basis, the teacher left it up to us to get the work done... and just hand it all in at the end of the semester (I still don't understand the benefits of this--- all of you teachers out there... would you really want a huge pile of papers to grade at the end of the semester?).

Well, since I was Mary--- you can guess what happened. I didn't do my assignments in a regular and timely fashion. I think I started off the semester by getting a half dozen assignments out of the way immediately... then everything else went on the back burner, because according to my seventh grade reasoning I was AHEAD at that point, right? If I could complete six assignments in one sitting, surely the rest would be a breeze.


The NIGHT before the assignments were due, I decided to tackle the other--- oh, 40-50 assignments I had for the rest of the semester. I was up all night. And my mother had very little sympathy for me the next day (shocker!) when I begged to be able to go in and turn in my assignments and then come home to sleep.

The good news is, I learned my lesson. I made a decision right then and there that I never wanted to pull another all-
nighter (at least not for schoolwork). And I never did after that.

But even though I now make my deadlines 99.9999% of the time, I still struggle with procrastination every once in a while. Unfortunately, I'm also a perfectionist. And as a perfectionist, I still beat myself up over leaving things until the last minute. Yet I keep doing it. So, I've decided to apply my new mindset (changing my perspective and looking at things differently) to this issue.

I've decided I need to make procrastination work for me.

A lot of life experiences have led up to this point. When I was in TV, I discovered that no matter how much time I had to put a story together--- whether it was ten minutes or five hours--- I always finished right at the deadline. It wasn't a matter of procrastination in TV--- it was just the way the business worked (we were always in a rush). But what's interesting is that some of those stories I slapped together in ten minutes were better than the ones I had more time to spend on.

I'm going to try to look at that as a sign that I actually thrive under pressure (how's that for spin?).

Likewise, I find that when I put off doing something, I tend to get a lot of other things done in the meantime. For instance, if I know I have to write a difficult email I will stay away from my computer and instead put away dishes, clean up the living room, mow the lawn... you get the idea. And the whole time I'm doing these things, I'm thinking about what I'm going to say in the email. So... by the time I sit down at my computer, I've not only decided how to handle it, but I've got a cleaner house and a tidier lawn as well.

And of course, since I thrive under pressure (see above) the email comes out a lot better later than it would if I'd spent the last three hours at my computer.

I know... it's a reach. But it's better than beating myself up for not sitting down until the last minute to write that email. ;)

I know this exact process won't work for everyone. But here's my point:
nobody's perfect. We all want to be, but sometimes life prevents us from living up to our own high standards. If you are trying to reach a summit--- there could be several paths that lead up to it--- and it really doesn't matter which one you take... as long as you get there.

I would love to be that person who starts things as soon as they are given to me. But the conclusion I've reached is that starting earlier (in my case) doesn't really help. I get things done in the time they need to be done. And they usually turn out really well. In fact, looking back at several projects--- I can honestly say I wouldn't change a thing... even if I'd had more time. So there's no point in me beating myself up for not starting sooner.

Now I want to make my own school scare film called: "Making Procrastination Work for You."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Music in the Key of Grey

One of the things I mentioned in my initial post (The Importance of Grey) was how wonderful it can feel to be surprised... especially when you have one expectation and discover so much more.

I'm hardly ever surprised by what children can accomplish. Honestly, if they had slightly better coping skills (which comes with age--- er--- sometimes) I would want them to run the world. I'm constantly learning things from my son. On a daily basis.

Still, there are those children out there who truly go beyond any expectations. Like Sungha Jung. I don't know his exact age, but I know when he played in this video he was ten or younger. And he gives professional guitarists a run for their money.

Enjoy. :)
(BTW, many thanks to my friend Stu for introducing me to Sungha's videos) :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Learning to Fly Again

I like to know how things work. Which is one of the reasons I ended up going into journalism.

I want to figure out the ins and outs of each situation, so I can look at it from all angles and come to my own conclusions. Likewise, if I discover I'm really passionate about something, I will spend endless hours trying to find out as much as I can about it.

As long as I can remember, I've been this way about flight. To this day, every time I hear a plane overhead I pause for a moment to watch it glide across the sky. I love to watch shows on the National Geographic and Discovery Channels about the history and manufacture of various planes--- both commercial and military. When I was a reporter, I always joked the only reason I decided to go into the business was so I could have a shot at flying with the Blue Angels--- and that I would retire soon after. I finally got that awesome, unbelievable chance and it was everything I thought it would be (BTW, I left the business a year later -- but that's another story for another time). ;-)

Also--- at the risk of revealing just how much of an aviation nerd I am--- I always listen to the cockpit conversations when I'm on airplanes that offer the option. There's just something fascinating about the way air traffic controllers guide aircraft through the sky.

I've heard some really interesting conversations over the years... like the time I was in a 767 approaching the runway for a landing at LAX. About 100 feet off the ground, the air traffic controller said quickly, yet calmly, "[airline & flight number] heavy, abort landing and head [direction heading here]." Instantly, you could feel the thrust of the engines as the pilot hit the throttle and the plane soared back up into the sky.

The explanation came seconds later, "Sorry about that [airline & flight number], we had another aircraft enter the end of the runway as you approached." It was interesting to hear the news before others on the plane did (the pilot made an announcement soon after to explain).

More recently, I was tuned into the cockpit while my plane was still sitting at the gate. The pilot got on the radio and asked if we were cleared to leave the gate. The ground traffic controller responded with, "[airline & flight number] I will check on that. We weren't expecting a request for a few minutes... you guys must be efficient." The pilot came back with, "I doubt that. That would imply we were adequately paid and happy to be here." They both laughed.

That instantly made me pause. I know I would LOVE to be able to fly for a living.

At least, I *think* I would. It's hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

A few years after I left college, I had a job that many people would LOVE to have. I was a TV reporter in one of the best cities in the country.

And yet, I was not happy. To the extent that I would see transportation workers holding the "SLOW" sign on the side of the road, and wish that I were in their place and they were in mine (that's not a joke--- I really thought that).

The reasons behind my unhappiness will take up an entire blog post, so I won't get into it right now. But it was one of the most trying experiences of my life. To the point where I would come home in tears on an almost daily basis. I almost felt guilty when people would find out I was on TV and say, "wow! That must be a cool job!" And I would have to somehow force myself to smile and give a little nod, "it has its ups and downs."

So when I was sitting on the plane, I had some empathy for the pilot.

But since I love flight so much, I was still curious. In fact--- at that point I wish I had had a microphone built in to my headphones so I could ask the pilot a question (can you imagine passengers having access to the cockpit radio???? A frightening thought...LOL).

My question was simple:

Why did you decide to take up flying?

I wouldn't have been asking in a snide way. I sincerely wanted to hear why he was drawn to flight in the first place. It's not exactly easy to become a commercial airline pilot... it's not one of those jobs you just stumble into.

Since I wasn't able to ask him, I can only guess what he would have said. But I'm assuming that it would have been along the lines of, "because I loved it."

It's interesting the way our perceptions change over time. And how disconnected we become.

Today I am a media trainer (which means that I teach people how to talk to the media). At least once a week, I run into someone who is under considerable stress because of work. We go through some of the training, and it's clear this person is distracted and unhappy.

When we sit down for a mock interview to practice the techniques I've taught, I start out by asking him/her typical questions a reporter might ask. If it's clear the person is still distracted, I throw in a surprise question:

What is the best thing about your job?

It always throws the person a bit... there's always a pause. But the eventual answer always comes from the heart. And you can see that person start to re-connect with their passion. It's really cool to watch. :-)

So if I could sit down with my younger self right now, I would ask myself why I got involved in journalism.

Just like I had no idea what the pilot would say, I'm not sure what my own answer would have been (a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then). But I'd like to think that at least for a moment, I would have been able to reconnect myself to something I'd lost.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Power of Good News

"It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals." ~~ Charles Kuralt

Not feeling so hot today (under the weather), and reading the news is making me feel worse. News outlets I really used to enjoy are focusing a little too much on "Jon and Kate" these days.

Don't get me started.

Anyway, I decided to pull out a good news story I once talked about on another blog. I started the blog with the intention of highlighting stories of hope--- stories that honor and celebrate people who do the right thing. I eventually had to give it up because it was getting harder and harder to find good news. Not because it's not happening--- but because no one is reporting it. Right now, the economy, GM's demise (ahem, excuse me.... "rebirth"), and apparently Jon and Kate :p trump those types of stories.

Every once in a while, I'll re-post one of those stories here. Because I think we could all use a pick-me-up every once in a while. ;)

Saved by a Stranger

A little girl needed a miracle.

Sarah Dickman lives with a genetic disease called juvenile nephronophthisis. The disease slowly destroys the kidneys, and can take the life of a child before he or she reaches the age of 15.

At the age of eight, Sarah already needed a new kidney. Doctors placed on dialysis and the Atlanta girl's condition was getting worse by the day.

Neither of her parents were a good match. Sarah’s name was already on a national waiting list, but no matches had been determined. So as a last ditch effort, her parents put up flyers around their community. They knew there was little chance of finding a suitable donor that way. But they wanted to give their little girl every chance they could.

34-year-old Laura Bolan saw the flyer at the elementary school where Sarah and two of Laura’s children attend class. Her heart melted when she saw the girl’s smiling face.

Laura noted that she had the same blood type as the little girl. She talked to her own family, and called the Dickmans later that night.

Two people called in about the flyer, but Laura was the better match. And she didn’t even hesitate. As she told a reporter, “It breaks your heart to know there's a little girl sick out there who you could help."

The two underwent successful surgery in February.

Sarah’s parents say they are not only eternally indebted to Laura, they also plan to pay the favor forward. Her father, Joe became a living donor as a result of the sacrifice a stranger made for his child... knowing he might one day have the same opportunity to save a life.
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