19 September 2018 : What Stories Do You Have to Tell? Tell Them.

(I’ve started publishing stories on Medium as a way to both generate interest in my writing and income. If you use Medium, please consider connecting to the article below via this link and giving me a round of applause. Thanks!! –Andy)

If you are ever feeling out of sorts, alone or untouched, try telling the story of something that has touched you.

In the book “The Power of Kindness,” author Piero Ferrucci talks about how human beings are able to “resonate” with other human beings. I love this concept. He tells us that the ability is with us from birth, but if it doesn’t develop sufficiently we are in trouble. Me, I think the ability can be cultivated at any time in our lives. It’s certainly easier when we are younger, before we’ve had years of not resonating or not resonating well. But the ability is always there inside us, waiting to be tapped. I think the means is through storytelling. If you are ever feeling out of sorts, alone or untouched, try telling the story of something that has touched you.

A few years back, I developed a class for teenagers on the subject of empathy. I wasn’t at all sure how many students would be interested. And since the classes that get scheduled at the school I worked, Puget Sound Community School in Seattle, are determined by student interest, I honestly wasn’t sure if this class would make the cut. Typically, more than 75 classes are offered to the students for each of the school’s main three terms, and the maximum any student can attend is around 20.

I told the story of visiting my newborn daughter Ella in Children’s Hospital.

When I pitched the empathy class, I told the story of visiting my newborn daughter Ella in Children’s Hospital one Saturday morning in early 1997, she having been admitted (along with my wife, Melinda) because of a possible case of meningitis. Ella was about 2 weeks old. The day before, we had taken her to the doctor because of a high fever and the doctor ordered us to the emergency room. There, Ella experienced a spinal tap, during which the nurse’s assistant passed out and Melinda had to step in and hold still the crying/screaming baby Ella while the doctor inserted a needle into her spinal cord to get a fluid sample. Fearing meningitis, the doctors hospitalized Ella and treated her as if she had the illness while the fluid was tested over a period of three days. Melinda stayed with Ella while I was at home with her older sister, Chloe, then 3 years-old.

So early that Saturday, with my mom having come to watch Chloe, I arrived at Children’s Hospital to be with Ella & Melinda. At that time of day they have a special entrance for parents. I entered there and took the elevator to the Intensive Care Unit, where Ella was being watched. Exiting the elevator I encountered one of the most moving scenes of my life – a young boy playing with a remote control car. 8 o’clock, Saturday morning, playing like little boys all over the world, down the hospital hall came this pajama-clad boy directing his car, remote control in hand. Keeping up next to him was his father, pushing the IV cart, making sure it stayed attached to his little boy’s arm. It was so poignant that it took my breath away. A little boy just being a little boy on a Saturday morning. And a dad just being a dad, doing what he needed to do so his boy could play.

I told that story to the students during my class pitch. Lots of students prioritized the class after that. It made it on the schedule.

The purpose? To provide professional photographs to parents of their terminally ill children before they died.

I’m not sure if the class ever matched the story that I think sold it, but it was a great class. The second week I brought in photographer Lynette Johnson as a guest speaker (side note – Lynette was one of the photographers at the Bill & Melinda Gates wedding). Several years previously, when I first heard of her, she was trying to start a nonprofit organization. The purpose? To provide professional photographs to parents of their terminally ill children before they died. Yeah. Kind of hits you right there, doesn’t it? Lynette succeeded in starting her nonprofit and has since been featured in People Magazine and on the TV show “Today.” She calls her nonprofit Soulumination and they’ve since expanded their services. They now take professional portraits, at no charge, of terminally ill parents so their children will have photos to help remember them. Yeah, that’s all. Lynette told the students why she started the nonprofit, tearing up each time she told the story of one of the children she has photographed.

Two weeks after introducing the students to Lynette, I took them off campus to meet a couple in their 90’s who live in the same retirement community as my parents. Both had lost their spouses and finding the other, they thought it made sense to share an apartment rather than pay for two. But the conservative retirement home wouldn’t allow this unless they married. So they got married. As it turns out, we learned the woman was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when it was bombed. What stories these two people had to tell a group of teenagers!

Feel the resonance? If so, did experiencing this resonance change how you were feeling? Pay attention to this. What stories do you have to tell?

Tell them.

16 August 2018 : Compassion Games 2018

I got a call yesterday from Jon Ramer, founder of the Compassion Games. Not only did he want to update me about his recent marriage to Sommer Albertsen (now Sommer Ramer), he wanted to ask if I’d be willing to get back involved with next month’s installment of the games.

You might know that I started working with Jon on the games back in 2012 when he got the project started. I created a game called the Secret Agent of Compassion that involved sending out missions each morning (daily encouragements to do something kind and compassionate) through 2015, and since then have served in an advisory capacity. Jon is looking to return to the more simple format I favor so he reached out. I’m hopeful my artist friend Fish Astronaut can create some new images. If not, I’ll make use of some from the past.

To see an archive of the past missions and to learn more about the overall project, I’ve got a Secret Agent of Compassion website you can check out. Facebook users can “like” and “follow” the secret agent page.

This year, the games start on September 8th and continue for 16 days, ending on the 23rd. Sign up to have the missions delivered to your email inbox here.

15 July 2018 : Peace Wave Summit

Peace Wave Summit Interview

Last week I participated in the Peace Wave Summit on Facebook, having been invited by Jon Ramer, the founder of the Compassion Games. Over three days, Jon and his partner Sommer Albertsen presented interviews with social innovators. I was honored to be included as one of 21 people so invited.

Through tomorrow, access to all 21 interviews, including mine, is available for free via this link. You’ll see I was interview #19. After that, you’ll have to become a patron of the Compassion Games to have access, which is a way to show your ongoing support for Jon’s and Sommer’s work. I’ll be setting up something similar for Kind Living later this summer or early in the fall, something that I hope will initially cover the expenses I incur running Kind Living and ultimately lead to some regular income for Melinda, Fish Astronaut (the Kind Living illustrator), and me.

On a separate note, Melinda and I have arrived in California. We should be moving into our apartment in Berkeley on or about August 1. Right now, we’re at the home of my brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Deb, in El Granada on the coast. On Tuesday we head over to Melinda’s cousin Tracy’s house in Redwood City. More soon, I promise.

Last thing – Please think about joining in on the 10 weeks of kindness themes I’m promoting this summer, mainly on Facebook. If you’re not a Facebook user, you can get the themes via email each Sunday via the Kind Living blog. This week’s theme is to surprise someone. Note the sign-up link at the bottom of the post.

1 June 2018 : Peace on Earth, 2030

(“Do You Think it’s Possible to Create Peace on Earth by 2030?” I was asked this question this week by Jon Ramer, the founder of the Compassion Games. In response, I wrote this short essay.)

I’d like to respectfully suggest that there may be a clearer way to get to the point of this question, a way that acknowledges that to the rabbit who is hunted by the hawk there will never be peace on Earth. A way that understands that if we truly are interested in peace, we need to recognize that as humans we are connected to the rabbit AND to the hawk, AND to the fact that the hawk hunting the rabbit is part of a natural cycle of balance. In other words, I don’t think peace on Earth will be defined as the lamb laying down with the lion.

As written, I think the question also presupposes that world peace is an end result rather than the unfolding of a process. As as end, I think we are tempted to treat world peace as the solving of a problem, the lack of world peace. I think any time we reduce complex issues to that of problems needing to be solved, we are bound to think in absolute solutions: i.e. – THIS is how we achieve peace on Earth. I think this is how fundamentalism and dictators gain power. Ironically, this approach is the opposite of peace on Earth although it could lead to no more war. For instance, had Hitler’s “Final Solution” prevailed, one might have argued that peace on Earth had been achieved when in actuality all that would have happened was a global dictatorship.

So I think a clearer approach is to consider peace on Earth as a process to experience. In this way, the question you are asking may be more along the lines of, “Do I think the Earth will be a more peaceful place in 2030 than it is in 2018?” To that question, I can easily answer yes, provided I dedicate myself to being more peaceful in my interactions – with others and with myself – over the next 12 years. I understand that may appear to make your question too simple, that what you are really wanting is something more global than individualistic. But I am of the mind that every time I choose a peaceful response over a violent one, even in my self-talk, I am acting globally by setting off a chain of peace that impacts everything. So in me being more peaceful, I will help create a reality that makes it easier for others to be more peaceful. Others do that for me and for others, too, outside of anyone’s conscious awareness. As such, it becomes a conspiracy, a word that really means breathing together, of peace. And even if all I take is one conscious breath of and for peace, even if that’s all you do, that’s fine, but we can do even more than that if we so choose. Just take the first step, take the first breath. Then take the second.

For instance, you asking me the question contributes to the Earth being a more peaceful place. You’re thinking about peace and I’m thinking about peace, more than either of us would be if you hadn’t asked the question. Having peace elevated in my mind, I’ll be more likely to let the driver on the crowded highway merge during rush hour. She’ll be touched by the gesture and be more peaceful with her child once she gets home. The child, touched by his mother’s peacefulness, will be more peaceful with the dog. Indeed, it’s the Butterfly Effect.

So as I see it, part of my role, today, tomorrow, in the next 12 years (and beyond), is to not only cultivate and practice peace, it’s to promote peace. And my way of promoting peace, what I try to do through Kind Living, is to help people recognize and celebrate what I call ordinary kindness. These are the kinds (pun intended) of things that people do all the time every day – hold open the elevator door, greet the grocery store clerk, smile at the bus driver, etc. What is needed is to elevate our individual and collective awareness of these acts. This is hard these days, what with so much division and partisanship. We are being tempted to choose sides all the times, which is an anti-peace movement. At the most simple level, your job, my job, as promoters of peace is to look around and notice these ordinary things, contribute more, tell someone else about them. The more awareness we bring to these ordinary acts of kindness, the more of them happen. The more that happen, the more that happen, you know?

Remember that great children’s song by Malvina Reynolds called “Magic Penny?” with the chorus, “Love is something if you give it away you end up having more”? Practiced first individually, then within communities, then municipalities, then within countries, then globally, that’s peace on Earth.

15 May 2018 : Renewable Energy (our house is on the market)

I think a big part of living a life that consistently moves you forward is tapping into personal sources of renewable energy. By that, I mean engaging in actions and material goods positively, causing your source of energy to expand naturally without taking away from something else. The energy I’m talking about is not necessarily measured financially, although it often can be, as illustrated by earning interest on a savings account or getting a dividend for owning shares in a company.

This idea really hit home for me on Monday when a good friend asked if I was sad Melinda and I were selling the home we’ve lived in for 20 years, the place where we raised our kids. On one hand, yes, it’s certainly emotional to be closing such an important chapter of our lives. But what I recognized is that while it is emotional, sad is not how I’m feeling. I’m actually excited to be starting this next phase of my life. The energy gained for what we’ve done these last 20 years is at its peak, meaning making this change now will propel us forward in the most positive way, generating more positive energy. To stay, due to nostalgia, laziness, or some other factor, would start taking from the energy.

Thinking this way reminded me of when I decided to sell my hockey card collection back in 1992. This collection was an incredibly important part of my childhood, with individual cards having individual stories. You could say they had built up a lot of positive energy for me. Because of this, Melinda and others were worried that I would regret selling the cards, that I would miss their presence in my life. Married and with a baby on the way, I realized back then that the cards had a new purpose. Although I didn’t have the words for it, the cards had an energy that could be renewed, transformed if you will, as the down payment on a house. As such, I have never regretted selling them, not even for a second.

Put simply, the energy of the hockey card collection, with all its history and meaning, renewed as our first house in 1993. And our first house, where Chloe and Ella each celebrated their first birthdays and is the place where PSCS got started, renewed as our current house in 1998. Now our current house, with all the positive energy generated by Melinda’s upgrades, is renewing and even guiding us into the next phase of our lives, that as older adults with grown children. Certainly, we’re lucky that this energy renewal benefits us financially, as can be seen in the listing.

It’s even energizing to imagine what’s coming next.

21 April 2018 : Digitizing Old Photos

As part of my personal downsizing project, a major undertaking I’ve started in preparation for selling the house, I’ve been digitizing old photos. Some of the best have come from a photo album Chloe started when she was 5 years-old or so. She had this simple little kid camera that looked like plastic binoculars, allowing the child photographer to hold the camera up to their eyes like wearing a mask. I think the camera took 110 film. Anyway, most of the photos in this book were taken by Chloe with this camera. The photo above of Ella sitting on her changing table in 1998 may be my favorite. Her expression, the cockeyed light above, and Melinda standing there with a hair dryer (which was used to dry the body before putting a diaper back on). It’s a classic.

Then there’s the photo below of Chloe herself. I have a recollection of her hurting herself somehow and me trying to cheer her up by using her camera to take her picture. I’m not sure it worked…

25 March 2018 : Our Third 27

27 years ago…

Having both been born in 1963 (in May, no less), Melinda and I were 27 years-old when we got married in 1990. That makes 1963-1990 our first 27, which we basically did not spend together.

Last year, 2017, Melinda and I both turned 54 (in May, no less), making 1990-2017 our second 27, during which we pretty much spent every day together. We also raised two children to adulthood and created a school, among a couple of other things.

So here we are, Melinda and I, having entered our third 27, 2017-2044. And as was true for the previous two 27’s, we expect this one to be remarkable for its uniqueness. It began last June when Melinda stepped down from PSCS, an action that is being replicated by me at the end of June this year.

So what’s next?

Melinda said something to me recently that really resonated. She said, “We followed a dream of yours for 24 years (PSCS). Now it’s time to follow one of mine.” What she wants to do is sell our Seattle house and buy a fixer-upper, probably in California. She says she has at least one more remodel in her. Sounds reasonable to me.

What will I do? Help Melinda remodel, do some writing, promote kindness… We aren’t financially set to not have an income so we’ll need to figure that out. I’m of a mind to do what we did when we started PSCS. We had a new mortgage, a baby, student loans, and no savings. We quit our jobs and threw our weight into starting PSCS. The universe responded and PSCS succeeded, helping us grow as adults while raising our kids.

In other words, I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good story or two to tell in 2044.

29 January 2018: Words, Handshakes & Saying Goodbye to My Father-in-Law

I’ve received many things over the years from my father-in-law, his kindness, sense of humor, respect, love, charm, and joy in his granddaughters among them. I have seen these in his eyes and I swear the depth grew deeper as the years passed.

My favorite sweater first belonged to Dwight, my father-in-law.

Writing today, I’m finding that these things are hard to represent in a blog post intended to honor my relationship with him and the depth of his loss in my life. Besides, I’m pretty sure words don’t exist that would put the feelings in print. Maybe it’s more a man thing, and maybe the best poets have figured it out. I’m not much of a poet and hiding behind the “man shield” has never been my thing. Still, for me at least, some things I best experience wordlessly, not necessarily silently but meditatively. As connected and dependent as we all are, these things simply belong to me alone. Such has been my relationship with Dwight, my father-in-law, who peacefully passed from his body early Saturday morning.

I’ve been thinking about this since saying goodbye to him on Friday night. He was unconscious in what became his deathbed. I had a strong desire to shake his hand before leaving, what had been our tradition while the many women and girls around us shared a bisous (kisses on each cheek). Michele, Melinda and Brenda were getting ready to go, and the feeling in the room was this very well could be the last time any of us would see him alive (it was). But Dwight’s hands were under the covers and I didn’t want to disturb him. Besides, I had shaken his hand on Thursday and he had recognized me in that moment. Did I need to do it again? Was I taking time away from his wife and daughters? I leaned in and said the two words that had been resonating in my mind for days, “Thank you.”

Our “Heart and Soul” duet is more poignant.

Words are a fascinating thing to experience at times like these. I suppose we all struggle to express ourselves – to the one dying, to ourselves, to the grieving family. What do we have but words to say? As you’d expect, Michele and the rest of us are receiving an outpouring of support and warmth from extended family and friends. It is supremely thoughtful and meaningful, and much of it comes in the form of words.

Of the words I’ve had the privilege of reading, the most touching to me have been coming in French from our friends in France, people we call our French family. To best understand them, I’ve put them in Google’s language translator. I’m not entirely sure what makes them so touching, if it’s the somewhat awkward nature of the translations, or if it has to do with how messages of condolence are shared in France. Maybe I’m accustomed to how condolence sounds in native English and these translations give a fresh spin. Maybe it has to do with how much my connection to France and our French family means to me. Maybe it doesn’t really matter.

The first French message came from Joël Barron, father to Frédérique and Annabelle, Dwight’s French daughters and his best French friend. Here is how Google translated it:

It is with emotion and sadness to see a friend like Dwight disappear. Annabelle, Frédérique, and I associate ourselves with your pain and this passage to beyond. I ask you to convey to Michele all my support in this event. Dwight and Michele and my wife Monique (in heaven) were great friends of heart … Parents with great values, who have passed on many things to my family whether in the joys and sorrows of life. Life goes on supporting each other, Dwight does not suffer anymore, we will not forget it … I renew all my friendship to Michele and all your family. My sincere condolences.

Dwight’s 83rd birthday, September 25th, 2017.

The second came from Isabelle Boudeau and was signed by her father Michel and her sister Brigitte. These are the sisters and father of my good friend, Laurent, who happens to be Frédérique’s husband and who also spent significant time with Dwight over the years:

It was with great sadness that we learned of Dwight’s death. We keep an excellent memory of him and we think very strongly of you and Michèle and all your family. The disappearance, the separation from a loved one, is difficult to accept, to live. You must keep in mind all that he has transmitted to you, his joy of life, his good mood, his sense of relationships …. and learn to communicate differently with him. We offer you our most sincere and heartfelt condolences. We kiss you, all 3.

Indeed, it is my task now to learn to communicate differently with Dwight. I won’t have his actual hand to shake anymore. And while this makes me profoundly sad, doing so successfully is what will keep Dwight present in my life.

27 December 2017 : Songwriting

Years ago, in my early 20’s, I took out an ad in a long-gone Seattle area music magazine called The Rocket to find a songwriting partner. It was a fertile time in my life in that I had an easy-going job and little responsibility. A girlfriend had recently broken up with me, something that can generate a lot of angsty, post-adolescent song lyrics. I got a couple of replies, including one that yielded several meetings with a young singer about my age. We wrote several songs together, including one that he told me some relative of his started playing in a band in Europe. I never really knew where that went…

Anyway, our partnership ended when my job was lost to technology and I moved from Seattle to start college. I kept writing song lyrics on and off for years, though. And a couple of years ago I reached out via an online site to Seattle-area musicians looking for a lyricist. Again, I got a couple of replies. And again, one yielded a couple of rough demos of some song lyrics I wrote while in college.

Like before, other things took precedence and the potential songwriting partnership drifted away before it could solidify. Then today, while cleaning up some email, I found one of the demos. I listened to it for the first time in two years and found it kind of engaging, reminding me that this itch for my creativity still wants to be scratched.

The song is called “Not to Prepared to Lose.” I wrote the original lyric in 1985 and it’s been sitting in a notebook with dozens of other songs, some pretty horrible and others with some potential merit, since. My co-writer is Bob Kopatich. He wrote the music and is doing the singing and guitar playing. He changed a couple of lines to suit his phrasing and his understanding of the song.

Take a listen:

The image I’ve used here is a “Wordle,” or word cloud, created of the song lyrics.

2 December 2017 : Compassion Curriculum

As part of my professional life as a state-certified educator, I’m required to participate in ongoing professional development. For as long as I’ve been an educator, the requirement has been for me to earn 150 clock hours every five years. To earn clock hours, I have to pay to take classes that are qualified to grant me the hours. Interestingly, in the last month the requirement was reduced to 100 clock hours earned every five years.

It used to be that to earn clock hours I had to be in classes. So back in the early days of PSCS, I spent part of my summers sitting in classes at places like the University of Washington. Over the last 10-15 years, with the growth of the Internet, I’ve been able to take classes online. Some of these allow me to adapt the class to my purposes, which ends up being so much more convenient.

For instance, I just completed an online class on the importance of bringing compassion to the classroom. Obviously, that’s a subject near and dear to me, one of which I have a fair amount of experience. I chatted with the teacher of the class about my experience in the subject and he agreed to let me adapt some of the work I’ve done for the Compassion Games into a curriculum designed for elementary school students.

If you are interested, you can find my final project here.