Passions

Passion is one universal key to what moves the world forward, yet our passions are the part of us that doesn’t require approval from others.  In fact, the search for prestige through work often gets in the way of our passion.  As Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham notes, “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”  I think of passion as that which takes you out of your daily life, that lets you feel closest to your truest self.  Graham describes it as “what doesn’t seem like work to you?” even if it is your life’s work.

These insights led me to consider what we could learn about each other if we truly understood the passions that let us feel closest to our truest self. Passions may be simple things. I can wander around the desks in our part of the office and make guesses about the passions of my colleagues.  Sports cut across gender, geography, and type (Kansas Jayhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Nationals, the Cornell Big Red).  Some passions I know because of conversations through the years (such as our colleague who collects guitars like most of us would collect baseball caps…and yes, I do have Guitar Acquisition Syndrome envy).  We have one colleague who goes over the top with Christmas decorations, and now has a “~320 days until Christmas” sign hanging by her cubicle. Another colleague paints landscapes in his spare time. We have colleagues who take their vacations to help others in developing nations. From the staff spotlights in our office e-newsletter, I know that I can look around and see colleagues who have passions for choral music, extreme sports, food (cooking and eating), and travel.  Other passions are much more ingrained with our jobs, such as the individual who always liked math, turning that passion into programming and research work “that doesn’t feel like work.”  I have a feeling that one colleague who collects old political buttons does so with the professional eye of a collections manager.

What intrigues me is how passions define us, how we can use those passions to help  inspire our work and what passions teach us about each other. Passions are a way we tell stories about ourselves and to ourselves. We are a country that needs to understand each other in more profound ways.  Telling stories—and listening to stories—of passions is a way to build that understanding.  We can do it as individuals. We can also do that in our jobs.  And we can do that as a nation. A blogger I read on a regular basis has a passion for story-telling, and he makes the point that telling stories of passions, with passion, changed how we understand the history of what might otherwise be considered a “minor” Founding Father in Alexander Hamilton.  That happened even in the face of hundreds of statistics that tell us that we are losing our connection to our past:

Stage of Hamilton

Stage of “Hamilton: An American Musical” which looks like a period-appropriate tavern

“Hamilton has had a particular impact on young people. That’s the staggering part. After 200-plus years, Alexander Hamilton is hip with the kids? How did that happen? How did Lin Manuel-Miranda and the cast of Hamilton spark teenagers’ dormant passion for history?

The answer – and it is a universal answer for anyone trying to inspire passion — is simply this: great storytelling. What Miranda did, through brilliant song-writing talent and classic Broadway theatrics, was make Hamilton’s story relatable and rebellious and fun and tragic, all those things that we so often miss in history….So much of the way history is told makes it feel bland — dates and places and all that — and this a common complaint. But we would argue that what hurts history more is the appearance of inevitability. Nothing hurts a story more than inevitability. You know the colonists won the war. You know that Hamilton helped found our nation. You know that he died in a duel.

So how can you make it feel vibrant? How can you tell these stories so that people can see and feel how unlikely an Alexander Hamilton really was, how close the colonists came to losing the Revolutionary War, how impossibly courageous decisions by deeply flawed men who often hated each other, minute by minute, made the United States of America?

This is the challenge – to help people walk among the weeds at Antietam and feel the desperation of normal people, to see the tombstone in Charles Town of the woman who lost seven sons in the Revolutionary War and carry her pain…These are stories of passion. These are stories that, when told well, can still inspire passion….In many ways, what (Lin-Manuel Miranda) did was not new at all. He pulled Hamilton from the staid pages of elementary school history books and made him flesh and blood, reminding us that the Founding Fathers were not featureless men simply destined to start a new nation. They were reckless, brilliant, flawed, brave, hypocritical, and extraordinary dreamers. History, so often, goes for the head. Lin-Manuel Miranda went for the heart.”

Passions big and small make us who we are. Working with passion and telling our stories with passion can help us bring the past into the present for today’s and future generations.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Lenten Litany

Central Tower of the Washington National Cathedral

At yesterday’s service on the First Sunday in Lent at the Washington National Cathedral, Andrew — a tenor in the men’s choir — was the soloist for the Lenten Litany.  This particular version of the litany was arranged by Canon Michael McCarthy, the Director of Music at the National Cathedral.

It is a moving seven minutes of music, to help bring the faithful into an observance of the holy season of Lent.  The solo begins around the 13 minute mark.

With blessings for whatever practice you bring to the season.

More to come…

DJB

The Best Words of Winter

Spring Training

Credit: SpringTrainingCountdown.com

 

Pitchers and catchers report today. With those words, the end of winter is in sight.  SpringTrainingCountdown.com no longer has a daily tracker at the top of its site.  The baseball writers climb out of their caves.  Play ball, indeed!

More to come…

DJB

Hope and Redemption

This Wednesday features a coming together of events that cannot be a coincidence.  For those who believe in romance, the 14th of February is, of course, Valentine’s Day.  On the same day, Christian believers — especially of the liturgical persuasion — will observe Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent leading up to Easter.  And for those like Annie Savoy* and me who worship at the Church of Baseball, February 14th is when, as spring training begins, we hear those magical words “pitchers and catchers report” that take ever-optimistic fans into flights of fancy about the prospects for their favorite team.

I’m going with the thought that this particular February 14th is a harmonic convergence of Hope and Redemption.

I was thinking of those two themes and how much impact they can have on our lives as I’ve been reading  Ron Chernow’s new biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  Chernow is one of the few historians who, through deep scholarship and powerful writing, can drive the country toward a full reappraisal of a historical figure’s life and impact.  David McCullough’s works on Truman and John Adams come immediately to mind as examples of this type of national reassessment, but Chernow has also worked his magic in the past with Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. He does so again with this biography of Grant.

Grant

Grant by Ron Chernow

The historical stereotype of U.S. Grant — especially if you grew up in the South — is of a failed businessman and drunkard who stumbled into military success in the Civil War by butchering his men in frontal assaults against the much greater military strategist, Robert E. Lee.  The South finally had to succumb due to the North’s overwhelming forces and resources.  Then, the story continues, Grant’s two terms as president were deeply mired in scandal, where ruffians stole anything that wasn’t nailed down (figuratively) from the federal government.  In 1,074 pages, Chernow not only destroys these stereotypes, but he paints a picture of a complex individual, both very wise and at the same time incredibly naïve, who played an outsized role in saving the Union during the war and in protecting African Americans and their rights during the years of Reconstruction.  He was an unassuming underdog who, according to one of his generals, “talked less and thought more than any one in the service.” When President Lincoln made Grant commander over all the Union armies in 1864, this quiet strategic sense came to the forefront in ways not always appreciated.  He was, in fact, the war’s most brilliant tactician and strategist who — in the words of General William Sherman — coordinated armies across an entire continent while Lee was focused on one small state.  The pleasant surprise of the book for me is Chernow’s description of  Grant’s role as president during a difficult expansionist and unregulated period in the nation’s history.  The South was in utter chaos when he assumed the presidency, yet Grant’s focus and convictions broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan through “legislation, military force, and prosecution” and his support for African American equality through the policies of Reconstruction has not been widely recognized.  Most Americans don’t understand this entire period of our history and its lasting impact today, which is one reason we have battles in the 21st century over Confederate memorials.

There is hope in this story, hopefulness that demands things of us, just as it demanded things of Grant as he dared to hope for the future of his country. The personal redemption of Grant from his period of failed businesses and binge drinking is also key to the story.  However, the ongoing redemption of Grant’s reputation remains important to all of us today, as we seek to understand our true history — the full American story — and how we have yet to face the unfinished business of race, emancipation and equality.

Hope is not easy. Redemption is not always around the corner.  As in Grant’s case, it may take over a century.  Yet hope that demands things that despair does not can help bring us — as individuals and as a nation — to a redemption we may not clearly understand but desperately need.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

*You’ll have to watch Bull Durham if you don’t understand the reference.  And if you do, this will be your reminder that it is time to watch it again!

 

Our Best Picture Quest Begins Anew

As we have done almost every year since 2012, Candice and I are on a quest to see as many of the “Best Picture” nominees as possible prior to the Academy Awards show on March 4th.  Last year we were on a roll…and then life intervened, and we only saw four of the nine nominees.  This year we’ll have to get them all in this month, as Candice will be otherwise occupied with hip replacement surgery on March 1st.  So to get ahead of the game, we saw four pictures in four nights last weekend (and into Monday).

Film Reel

Our wonderful American Film Institute Silver Theatre here in Silver Spring has been showing five of the Best Picture nominees, so it was easy to go two blocks and drop in for a movie.  All four that we’ve seen were excellent, each in its own way.  Here’s our initial take (from two highly unqualified movie critics).

We both loved The Post, as much for what it says about the importance of a free press as for the quality of the film, although that was very high.  It moves along at a quick pace, the ensemble acting is very good, and Meryl Streep is terrific as Katherine Graham. This is also a love letter to old-style newspaper production.  (The views of the presses at work are worth the price of the film.) You should go see this one to remind yourself why democracy matters, and how easy it can be to lose it (as if you don’t already know that in 2018).

The very next night we saw Phantom Thread, which is a luscious film for the senses.  Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible — as always — as the designer whose desire for order and perfection runs into love after he meets a waitress who refuses to fit into his mold.  The pace is as slow as The Post’s is quick, but that’s okay.  This won’t win the Best Picture award, but it is a movie worth seeing.  We both enjoyed it a great deal.

For our third movie, we took in Lady Bird, the coming-of-age movie that introduced us to Saoirse Ronan in the title role where she is a deserving nominee for Best Actress.  As with many such movies, it can be difficult to watch at times as teenagers move through those difficult years.  The views of Sacramento throughout the film helped you move, along with Lady Bird, from thinking of the town as the “Midwest of California” to the point at the end of the film where every turn is magical.  Again, I don’t think this will win the award, but we enjoyed the movie (as did our Claire).

Finally, we saw a film that I believe could very much be in the running to get the award:  The Shape of WaterThis story from the Cold War era and how the mute janitor Elisa (played with power by Sally Hawkins) finds out about the top secret project in her lab, kept us entranced throughout.  Octavia Spencer — from last year’s wonderful Hidden Figures — is a joy any time she is on the screen.  We didn’t know what to expect going into this film, and halfway through, we still weren’t sure where it was headed, but in the end it was very satisfying.

So there are our first four.  We’re going to try to catch three or more over the upcoming holiday weekend, so keep reading (and watching).  As always, comments on your favorites are always welcome.

More to come…

DJB

“Response-able”

I admit to being one who feels that February is the longest month of the year.  When that feeling begins to take hold, I remember that I can fight back. Respond.  Be proactive.  Habit #1 in Stephen Covey’s best-seller about the seven habits of highly effective people is to be proactive.  It is about taking responsibility for your life.

“You can’t keep blaming everything on your parents or grandparents. Proactive people recognize that they are “response-able.” They don’t blame genetics, circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. They know they choose their behavior. Reactive people, on the other hand, are often affected by their physical environment. They find external sources to blame for their behavior. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and performance, and they blame the weather. All of these external forces act as stimuli that we respond to. Between the stimulus and the response is your greatest power — you have the freedom to choose your response.” (emphasis added)

February

February

Yesterday’s weather in the DC region captured February perfectly for me.  Dark, cold and damp with a wintery mix that lasted all day. But instead of hunkering down, I chose to brave the elements to go see Lady Bird, in the annual quest Candice and I have to watch as many of the best picture nominees as possible.  I chose not to watch the Super Bowl.  We all have choices, and I have to remember — all 28 days of the month — that I have the freedom to be able to respond to outside stimuli or conditions. That’s the key to responsibility. There is much more in our lives that we control than perhaps we’ll admit to ourselves.  A recent blog entitled You Are In Control of Most Things in Your Life, So Start Acting Like It got much of this right.

“When you start really thinking about what you do control, you start to realize that the circumstances aren’t the question. The question is: what are you going to do now?

Because you control what you read. You control what you put into your body. You control how you respond to the people around you, and you control who you allow into your life. You control how you respond to injustice. You control the job applications you do or don’t send. You control how much time you spend online.

You control your hygiene and style and whether or not you exercise. You control what kind of treatment you will tolerate. You control what you’ll do at work today. You control whether or not you try. You control whether or not you try again. You control when you decide it’s time to “give up.” You control whether or not you learn from your mistakes, you control whether you see breakups as punishments or opportunities to find someone better. You control what you post online. You control who you follow. You control what you write down. You control not what you think, but what you believe.

You control how you treat the people closest to you. You control whether or not you schedule your time and set reminders. You control the tidiness of your home. You control whether you learn to cook. You control not always how much money you have, but whether or not you manage it….You control whether or not you become the person you always wanted to be.

You control what you say. You control what you do with feedback – and everything is feedback. You control the big picture, even if you don’t control the road bumps along the way. You control whether or not you go get help, even if you don’t heal overnight. You control your self-image, even if you disagree with how others see you. You control what you think is possible, by virtue of going out and seeing what is. You control your sphere of influence.

What you don’t control is other people, but you don’t need to. All of the things that build real meaning, and true happiness, like purpose, and community, and self-image, and grit, and resilience, and love? That’s self-generated. That’s all on you.”

Recognizing that you are in control of most things in your life seems to be a good thing to remember as we start into February…the longest month.

Have a good week.

DJB

Super Bowl Rant IV

NFL Brain Diagram via SportsPickle.com

If it is the first Sunday in February, it must be time for my annual Super Bowl rant.  Let’s call it Rant IV, given that Rants I, II, and III have already played out here on the virtual pages of More to Come….

In past posts, I’ve given you 13 reasons why I won’t be watching the Super Bowl. (And yes, reason #10 is these stupid and pretentious Roman numerals.) Of course, #11 from last year holds true-to-form again this year (and most years):

“11.  It’s the damn Patriots.  Again.  Is there anyone more insufferable in sports than Bill Belichick/Tom Brady? (Wait, I’ll answer that.  Maybe Coach K. But that’s another post. And I know that Belichick and Brady are actually two people, but I’ve grouped them as one because they synch their grating to perfection.)  They push rules up to the line and over, and then act like their sainthood has been challenged when they are caught.  I hate Roger Goodell – he of the $40 million+ salary as a nonprofit executive (seriously) – but even I don’t wish for a Patriots victory so he has to eat crow and give them the trophy the year two years in a row after Deflategate.”

I will say that at least the game isn’t on FOX this year, as I’m not sure the world would survive the Adulation of Donald Trump that would be sure to overwhelm the pregame festivities.  I notice that the president is turning down the opportunity for the traditional interview in the pregame show.  Just as well.  We can use 8 hours away from alternative facts and fake news.

So let’s add another reason I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year:

“14. Brett Favre:  “When I see little children playing football I cringe.”  In a Washington Post story two days ago, football legend Brett Favre said:

“I cringe…when I see video, or I’m driving and I see little kids out playing, and they’re all decked out in their football gear and the helmet looks like it’s three times bigger than they are. It’s kind of funny, but it’s not as funny now as it was years ago, because of what we know now. I just cringe seeing a fragile little boy get tackled and the people ooh and ahh and they just don’t know. Or they don’t care. It’s just so scary.”

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

The only good thing about the Super Bowl?  It means that pitchers and catchers report in ten days.

Winter bad. Baseball good.

More to come…

DJB