Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM, Part Two

THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM,
Part Two
   
    

"I know that the purpose of life is to understand and be in the present moment with the people you love. It's just that simple." Jane Seymour



 
Last week I wrote about having our views of the Roman Coliseum obstructed by tourists wielding selfie sticks and cameras. I lamented that the hoopla in recording an event can eclipse the event itself and disrupt the deeper meaning of the moment.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn't limited to famous locations in faraway places; it has a bloated, oversized cousin right here in America.
If you've attended any end-of-school-year function lately, like a play, concert, sporting event, awards ceremony, recital, or "graduation," you know what I'm talking about: the mobs of parents and grandparents armed with video cameras, iPads, and smartphones capturing their precious darling's "magic moment" for social media.
Apparently it no longer "counts" for a child to perform in a concert, receive an award, play in a game, or "graduate" unless the event is recorded and posted on the internet for all the world to see. The result of this urgent need for video and photographs is swarms of pushy adults hell-bent on staking out the best vantage spot for their cameras, with little concern for obstructing the view or interrupting the enjoyment of the rest of the audience.
[I use the term "graduation" in quotes because I find it bizarre that every step of little Johnny's or Tiffany's educational progression, from preschool to kindergarten to elementary school to middle school, must now include a "graduation" ceremony complete with obligatory cap and gown, diploma, and the whole "Pomp-and-Circumstance" nine   yards that used to be reserved for high school and college. Spare me! A four-year-old doesn't need to be feted because he or she made it through preschool and now gets to go to kindergarten. But I digress.]
A thoughtful and well-intentioned mother recently confided in me that, somewhere in the middle of filming her middle-school-age son's THIRD end-of-year band concert, she asked herself why she couldn't just sit down, stop recording, and actually listen to the performance. Why couldn't she allow herself to turn off the camera and relish this remarkable occasion of her son and his friends making beautiful music together? Why, indeed?
This modern malady manifests itself in other settings as well. Another example is the current generation of marriage proposals, judging from what I see online.
To me, a proposal should be a sweet and affectionate (and genuine) conversation between two people in love to determine whether to spend their lives together. Done right, it could be one of the couple's most cherished personal memories. But sadly, in front of cameras, it becomes instead a façade of the real event, a staged and extravagant charade, another salvo in the social media arms race.
Once again, the event itself is overshadowed and distorted by the documentation of the event. The deeper meaning of the moment is lost. Forever.

Folks, turn off the cameras and step away. We are robbing ourselves of the ability to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now. We are forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and happiness of simply being there with the people we love the most. That's a high price to pay for 15 minutes of internet fame.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM, Part One

THE SELFIE STICK VS. THE ROMAN COLISEUM,
Part One
 
 
"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it." Thich Nhat Hanh


 
 
The first historical site we visited when we landed in Italy was the Roman Coliseum. We expected to be overwhelmed with the scale of this 2,000 year old masterpiece and the many centuries of our collective history that we'd feel in those stones. What we didn't expect was to fly 5,113 miles and then be swarmed, literally swarmed, by crowds of pushy vendors hawking - not souvenirs - but SELFIE STICKS! Nor were we prepared, once inside, for every view to be obstructed by dozens of sightseers wielding their cameras atop those ubiquitous shafts.
All of Italy wasn't like that, but it does seem that the essence of modern tourism is no longer about being there, marveling at the amazing sights and sounds and tastes of faraway places. No, modern tourism now requires BEING SEEN in those faraway places. That requires photographs of oneself with those famous sites in the background, which, in turn, creates the compelling need for selfie sticks.
Pity the poor tourist who arrives in one of those famous places without selfie stick in hand. Once they realize the gravity of their plight, they have no choice but to buy some cheaply-made selfie stick at extortionate prices from one of those hordes of vendors buzzing around the entrances to every attraction in the world. To do otherwise would totally ruin the whole trip!
Somewhere along the way we have lost the sheer joy of simply being there.
I remember, not many years ago, sitting with my children in the early morning light on the top steps of the Grand Pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen-Itza, Mexico, and being awestruck with the magnificent setting.



I remember, not many years ago, going up in the elevator in the Eiffel Tower - the EIFFEL TOWER, for heaven's sake - and pinching myself that I was actually in Paris.





I remember, not many years ago, seeing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and having a hard time catching my breath at the grandeur of the jungle and the rainbows and so much water cascading down from every direction.



This stunningly gorgeous world is so full of so many amazing places that deserve to be savored and relished for themselves, not merely used as a backdrop for yet another selfie.

I fear that our selfie culture is quickly robbing us of the ability to appreciate beauty, creativity, and historical context. In just a few short years, we have begun to lose the ability to be in the moment. I worry that our capacity to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now, is slipping away from us.

In our quest for "likes" and "views" and "followers" and other measures of social media fame, we are forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and happiness of simply being there.
To be continued.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - What do you mean, I have to share my big day?

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I HAVE TO SHARE
MY BIG DAY?
   
    

"You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake." Bob Hope 


 

Whenever a certain occasion like a wedding or a milestone birthday is designated as "your day," there is a human tendency to get possessive and develop a very self-centered set of expectations. An example is the whole "Bridezilla" phenomenon, in which a lovely, caring, and unselfish young woman turns into a screaming witch because "this is MY DAY and it's ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!!!"
On May 14 I celebrate THE BIG 6-5. That means I qualify for Medicare and have official "senior" status. But this year, May 14 is also Mother's Day. Go figure. The one and only time in my whole entire life when I turn 65, it's no longer just MY DAY. No, this year, I have to share MY DAY with every mother on the planet.
When I realized this, for a brief moment the egocentric part of me started imagining being relegated to second fiddle on my day of days. I pictured my children and grandchildren calling and my wife answering the phone. I saw myself waiting for her to hand me the phone so I could receive their joyous birthday wishes, but NOOOOOO! They were calling to wish their "Mama" or their "YoYo" a Happy Mother's Day. After they talked to her she would gently remind them that it was also my birthday and almost as an afterthought, they'd say "Oh, yeah, let me speak to him too."
Fortunately this self-inflicted pity party lasted about five seconds. I quickly came to my senses and realized that nothing would be more appropriate than to celebrate my birthday on Mother's Day. After all, there are no birthdays without mothers.
In particular I will commemorate three Farnsworth mothers who are among the most noble women I know.
I wouldn't even have a birthday to celebrate if it weren't for Gracie Mae's sacrifice in giving birth to me and launching me on my earthly journey, even in the midst of her long and unsuccessful battle with throat cancer.
I probably wouldn't have made it past my teenage years if Elaine hadn't agreed to mother me and an entire brood of additional children besides her own when she married my widowed father when I was 9. She raised 12 of us, and it is not true that things are cheaper by the dozen, nor is there less work or heartache.
And I would never have experienced the profound joy of parenthood without Marcie's willingness to bring six beautiful and intelligent Farnsworth babies into the world and to build together a home where love and kindness are expressed in word and deed.
The truth is I am delighted to share my 65th birthday with these three strong, selfless, and sterling women. I have basked in their kindness and been nurtured by their love during every one of my 23,741 days of life. I am grateful to have been molded by their tender and patient teaching, and protected by their wise counsel. Thank you, Gracie Mae, Elaine, and Marcie.
And I thank every mother everywhere for your love and sacrifice. You are literally the link between heaven and earth, bringing spirits from their home above to their new home on earth. You are the heart and soul of every child who has ever lived.

Since I'll never be a mother myself, I could have no greater honor than to share my birthday with all the wonderful mothers of the world. Perhaps I'll pretend that I'm an honorary mother for that one day. Now that would really make MY DAY.


Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - It Starts with the Right Question

IT STARTS WITH THE RIGHT QUESTION    
 





"You can tell whether a man 
is clever by his answers. You
can tell whether a man is
wise by his questions."
Naguib Mahfouz
         



So here's a question to consider: What kinds of occasions trigger for you the need to review and renew your personal or professional strategic thinking?

For me it's a milestone anniversary or birthday or a get-away-from-it-all vacation. Since I just finished a wonderful vacation with my wife and since my 65th birthday is fast approaching ("Hello, Medicare"), I find myself in the middle of my own strategic reassessment, wondering if I should tweak my life plans for the next five years.

The key step for me in this process is finding the right question to repeatedly ask myself. My friend Nancy Kline teaches that "The human mind thinks best in the presence of a question." Tony Robbins says that "Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers." Finding the right question immediately transforms the quality of my thinking.
Until I find a question that really speaks to my heart, I tend to flounder and feel muddled and disjointed during this reevaluation process. It feels like trying to run in waist-deep water. But once I find it, all sorts of wonderful thinking falls into place for me. I can take that question with me on my walks in the woods. I can ponder it as I drive to my next appointment. I can share it with my wife and glean her wise counsel. The question takes on a life of its own as it breathes life into my reflections.
As luck would have it, in the middle of my muddle, I had an opportunity last week for a Time to Think Thinking Session with Nancy Kline.  This allowed me to think aloud about my challenges and opportunities for the next five years with the aid of an attentive listener. After a bit of slipping and sliding and what felt like aimless blabbering about my present state of confusion, all of a sudden my mind found solid footing when it landed upon this question:
How do I measure my life at this stage of my life?
This question is perfect for me. It reminds me that I need standards and targets with which to gauge my progress, otherwise I tend to get lazy or lackadaisical. It makes it clear that these benchmarks are personal to me, not for anyone else. It helps me identify what matters most going forward, and allows for the possibility that these guidelines might be slightly different from previous yardsticks.

How do I measure my life at this stage of my life?
Using this question to spur my thinking works like magic for me. It helps me see my future more clearly. It helps me move potential obstacles out of my path. It fills me with the energy of real possibilities.
The process is ongoing at the moment. I don't have all the answers yet, but I do have the question. In a very short time, it will lead me to a strategic vision for the next five years of my life and my work.

So, what is YOUR question, the one that will open YOUR thinking to the right answers for YOU? Good strategic thinking starts with the right question.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Europe in a Wheelchair

EUROPE IN A WHEELCHAIR  
 
    
"I have a disability, yes that's true, but all that really means is I may have to take a slightly different path than you." Robert Hensel

 
 
 
We were warned beforehand that "doing Europe" in a wheelchair would be a challenge. "There's no Americans with Disabilities Act there," they said. Ancient ruins, medieval castles, and Renaissance cathedrals just weren't built for the mobility impaired, nor were the cobblestone streets and piazzas. Facing these obstacles would be difficult both for the rider and for the pusher, we were told. While new construction is often handicap-friendly, anything older than five years in Italy and Portugal isn't likely to easily accommodate an American-size wheelchair.
Undaunted, we opted to adopt author Shane E. Bryan's attitude as we contemplated our trip:
"I do not have a disability, I have a gift! Others may see it as a disability, but I see it as a challenge. This challenge is a gift because I have to become stronger to get around it, and smarter to figure out how to use it; others should be so lucky."
We decided up front that we wouldn't stay home, but we would cheerfully do as much as we could do and not worry about what we couldn't do. We took Stephen Hawking's counsel to heart:
"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit as well as physically."
I studied travel guides and videos extensively to see where we could go and where we couldn't go. Some places we wanted to see - like Pompeii - seemed to not work at all for a wheelchair tourist. Some places we wanted to stay - like the 12th Century castle in Óbidos, Portugal, now a swanky hotel - were totally inaccessible to us. Some activities we wanted to tackle - like a semi-private tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum - cancelled our reservation when they learned we had a wheelchair because it's impossible for a wheelchair to come into the Sistine Chapel via the regular path.
So we found other options. When we were dropped from the semi-private tour, we found a private guide who could bring us to the Sistine Chapel the back way, through the Vatican Museum. In lieu of the Óbidos castle, we booked a stay at a 5-Star hotel built in a 15th Century fortress on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and had one of the best meals of our lives at their Michelin-rated restaurant. We avoided the water taxis in Venice and took a larger boat tour to three enchanting islands in the nearby lagoon. There were a few places where Marcie read a book while I explored an ancient castle, but mostly we did things we could do together.
Because there is so much to see and do in Italy and Portugal and so little time (2½ weeks), we had no trouble filling our itinerary with tons of stuff within our realm of possibility. In fact, by narrowing down the choices somewhat, our "limitation" actually made planning a lot easier.
We did encounter some challenges during our journey. For example, many of the handicap entrances to historic building were out of the way and difficult to reach. Several elevators were so narrow that Marcie had to stand up in them while I folded her chair so it would fit. Some of the Italian hill towns severely tested both of us, challenging my physical strength pushing the chair going up and her courage staying in the chair coming back down.
We determined to laugh and take all these obstacles in stride. We remembered another piece of sage guidance from Stephen Hawking:
"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well."
Perhaps because of our smiles (and my wife's can charm almost anyone anywhere), we met kind and helpful people everywhere, like the policeman in Sintra, Portugal, who commandeered a handicapped parking space for us near the Castelo da Pena; or the handsome band of teenage boys who pushed the chair for us up the last hundred yards of steep hill in San Gimignano, Italy; or the thoughtful staff of the Douro River cruise boat who arranged our own private table on the main deck so we didn't have to go downstairs to the dining room.
We came across modern buildings in which the handicap bathrooms are far better than those found in the states. We learned that most museums and historic areas offer free admission to those in wheelchairs. We found the views from a wheelchair to be every bit as beautiful as from any other vantage point. We discovered that we could be as happy as we made up our minds to be, even with a wheelchair.

So what's my advice? GO! Figure out what you can do and don't worry about the rest. Get past your "limitations" and savor every opportunity. We can truthfully say our experience was wonderful in every way.

Wednesday Wisdom - Hidden Gems Amongst the Crown Jewels

HIDDEN GEMS AMONGST THE CROWN JEWELS 
    

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!" Mae West 
   
When you're seeing first-hand the grandeur of the Coliseum, the artistry of the Sistine Chapel; the majesty of St. Peter's Basilica; the stunning magnificence of Michelangelo's David or Botticelli's The Birth of Venus; the opulence of Venice's Grand Canal; the unrivaled beauty of Siena's Duomo (yes, even better than Florence's Duomo, IMHO); or the grand mountaintop summer palaces of the Portuguese kings in Sintra, there is a danger of your senses becoming overloaded and jaded to everything else around you. 

After two weeks in Europe, Marcie and I weren't expecting to be impressed when our driver dropped us off at the São Bento Train Station in Porto, Portugal, early one morning to begin a rail and boat tour of the Douro River Valley. Yes, we'd heard that our time on the river would be breathtaking - which it was - but we never imagined we'd discover an unforgettable gem before we even got on the train.

  
The São Bento Train Station in Porto, Portugal

Porto is more a working-class city than a tourist attraction. While the São Bento train station is lovely from the outside, we were blown away by the interior, which is an unpretentious but absolutely gorgeous work of art. We later learned that it was completed in 1903 and is considered by many travelers as one of the world's most beautiful train stations.





The walls in the front hall are covered with more than 20,000 of Portugal's finest "azulejos," the exquisite hand-painted blue tiles for which the country is famous. Those on the ends of the building depict great events in Portugal's rich history and those on the sides show delightful scenes of everyday life in the Portuguese countryside. Above the tiles, forming a crown molding around the entire room, are brightly-colored tiles that illustrate the progression of transportation from Roman times to the 20th Century.





Fortunately we had the time to savor this hidden gem of a workaday public building before our train carried us away to view scenery as delightful as Tuscany's. Fortunately we weren't so star-struck by other "grander" sights that we failed to notice this unassuming masterpiece.      

These so-called "lesser lights" were as essential to our enjoyment of our vacation as the blockbusters. For every Venice and its Grand Canal, there was a colorful fishing village of Burano, with friendly people, brightly colored houses, and its own Pisa-like leaning bell tower.
The main square on the island of Burano in the Venetian Lagoon.


For every Florence and its Galeria Uffizi, there was a charming Tuscan village of Pienza with its humble church, grand views, and Via Dell' Amore ("Lover's Lane").

   

 
For every Palácio da Pena perched on a rugged and regal mountaintop in Sintra, Portugal, there was an Óbidos with its more-modest castle and its 12th century walls that completely encase the village and stand a full 45 feet tall.



 
The history books say that when 13th-century Portuguese Queen Isabel passed through Óbidos and marveled at its beauty, her husband King Denis I simply gave it to her. For centuries after, the kings of Portugal followed suit, presenting the picturesque little town to their queens as a wedding gift. It is now known as the wedding capital of Portugal. 

  

This trip reminded Marcie and me that the world is made of much more than Five Star Attractions and E-Ticket Rides. Sometimes the less acclaimed settings and experiences are just as wonderful as the prima donas, if we'll just slow down enough to spot them and savor them.
Life is much richer when it is a mixture of super-star moments together with more modest but equally important and equally beautiful day-to-day discoveries and celebrations. We're grateful our time in Italy and Portugal was chock-full of both.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Seeing the World Differently

SEEING THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY  
       
 
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust



The Pena Castle in Sintra, Portugal


Marcie and I just returned from 2½ glorious weeks in Italy and Portugal, a trip that has been on our bucket list for quite some time. It was by far our longest vacation ever. We designed our own itinerary and made our own arrangements, with the aid of a superb travel agent. We had no children or traveling companions, just the two of us. We love being together and that left us free to fully soak up these two grand and colorful cultures.

During our adventure we experienced far too much to adequately describe here, even with pictures, but some highlights include: castles, cathedrals, country villas, art, museums, music, food, friendly people, great weather, orchards, gardens, forests, new discoveries (like eating barnacles - delicious!), beaches, mountains, canals, the Tuscany countryside, walled and hilltop towns, Douro River cruise, romance, extraordinary beauty everywhere. (Look me up on Facebook if you want to see more.)



The fishing village of Burano, Italy



One of the most valuable things travel affords me is the opportunity to experience the world afresh, with a new perspective and through a new set of eyes. Seeing how others live today and how they lived millennia ago changes the way I see my own life. I return from a foreign visit alive with creativity, because "a new set of eyes brings a day full of possibilities." (Mama Deb) Stepping away from my daily routines - and even out of my comfort zone - frees me to re-think what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, and why.
Another result of travel is that the essence of the places I visit becomes woven into the blood and sinew of my being. Being there changes me. What I see and hear and smell and feel and taste on foreign soil transforms me into a more informed and understanding person, leaving me more compassionate, humble, tolerant, flexible, and grateful. It is true, as Anita Desai writes, that "wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow." I feel I am now a bit Italian and a bit Portuguese, yet no less American than before.



The Alhambra Room in the Palacio da Bolsa in Porto, Portugal




When I was growing up on a small dairy farm in Fruitland, New Mexico, our family of 14 didn't travel much at all. There were simply too many people, too little money, and too few occasions to escape the urgency of milking cows twice a day. Maybe that's why in my later years I cherish every opportunity I have to visit other countries. This most recent expedition changed me in profound ways: I have a new set of eyes and a new heart. Having seen more of the rest of the world, I now see my own world differently.