Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Amusement in Absurd Conversations

When caring for someone with Alzheimers or Dementia, you learn  that conversation is a lot like an improv exercise in theatre. You can’t control what the other person is going to say or do. You simply say “Yes, and” then go with the flow no matter where the absurdity takes you. As a care giver you can let it bother you, or you can choose in to the amusement.

Our daughter, Taylor, is working and writing for a company in the UK that provides web applications that help Dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities called Storii Care. The following is a post she wrote on their blog that I’m reposting here with her permission.

Confessions of a Carer: Finding Amusement in Absurd Conversations

I used to work as a CNA in the dementia unit of a long-term care home, located in a small town in Iowa. 

I haven’t worked as a nurses aide for many years now, but have continued to be around people with dementia both personally and professionally. 

If you are reading this, you probably already know that having a conversation with someone in the later stages of dementia can be completely nonsensical. In the moment, inside their mind, they are often in a completely different time and place than you. 

The fact that I sort of delight in having these wacky conversations feels like something I must confess (as opposed to simply telling you), because I am fully aware that the confusion and distress that someone may be experiencing in their mind is real and concerning. It is sad when someone endures the loss of their memory and grows increasingly disoriented from reality. There is no doubt about that. There is a time and place for indulging in illogical chat and there is a time and place for redirecting. One has to know when to make that judgement call. 

But, why not meet people where they’re at? That’s all I’m saying. It can be refreshing. Even fun. Especially if you have a flair for the dramatic arts. 

Scene I

Case in point…one time working as a CNA, I passed by the TV room where Lois beckoned me to come over. 

When will the valet bring the car around?

The valet? You see, this is like being in an improv scene where the situation and your identity is provided only through prompts. 

You car should be here shortly, ma’am. 

Oh, wonderful. Thank you, sweetie. And the luggage? Will they bring the luggage down?

Ah, it appears we are in a hotel. 

Yes, I will make sure every item is loaded in the vehicle for you. 

Even the two horse saddles?

Horse saddles?! Alright, then…

It might be a tight squeeze, but we will do our best to make it fit. 

Yes, Gerald spent a pretty penny on those, you know.

Oh, that Gerald. Has to have the best of them, doesn’t he? 

She touches my arm. 

Isn’t that the truth? 

Then Lois chuckled and turned toward the TV, seemingly happy to know everything was in order and would be just fine. 

Scene II

Another time, a different resident approached me. 

Excuse me, could I ask you something?

Sure, what can I do for you? 

She brings my head down so that she can whisper in my ear. 

Do you happen to have any sanitary pads? You see, I’ve just gotten my period. 

There is absolutely no way this 82 year-old woman is still getting a visit from Aunt Flo, but I go along with it.  

Don’t worry, dear. I have some in my purse. I’ll just go grab you one. Would you like some ibuprofen as well?  

She nods and winks at me, mouthing a silent “thank you”. Sisterhood.

I come back with a pad and she stuffs it in her cardigan pocket with the stealth of covert ops mission. 

Later, when I went into her room to start the bedtime routine, I found the pad open and stuck to her nightstand with an oatmeal raisin cookie lying on top. Well, you know, I’m glad she found a use for it. 

A New Perspective 

Sure, these exchanges are illogical. However, at the time, I was invited into someone else’s present reality. Even though it involved being a bit off the wall on my part, the result is that these women stopped worrying. Their demeanors shifted. All was right once again. Who wouldn’t find a little joy in that? 

Building up life stories is such a large part of what care staff focus on in senior homes. When the opportunity presents itself, perhaps you can be part of a resident’s life story by acting out a scene with them. You both might like it.

AuthorBio: Taylor Vander Well heads up Best Practice + Communication for StoriiCare. She lives in Edinburgh, UK with her partner and son. 

First Words to My Grandson

My dear grandson,

These are my first official words to you. The first of what I hope will be long and enjoyable correspondence between the two of us as you journey through this life.

This past Sunday our house was filled with women who had gathered to celebrate your mother and your impending arrival in three weeks time. I spent the day before helping Grandma Wendy cooking, cleaning, decorating, and running errands to make sure that the stage was set for the occasion. As the women began to arrive I sequestered myself in the basement to be at Grandma’s beck-and-call should she need help with anything.

I was originally going to entitle this blog post Estrogen Overload as I experienced the humor of being the only male in the house with 20 females. I even used that term as I joked with some of the ladies late in the afternoon. It’s something I’m familiar with having raised two daughters and no sons. I’m quite used to being alone in the company of women.

Suddenly, it struck me that I wasn’t the only male in the room for once. There you were comfortably nestled inside your mother’s womb. Nevertheless, you were very much present. You were the very reason for the celebration. You and me with all the ladies. I smiled to myself at the very thought of it.

So, here are my first words to you, my grandson. Take a good look at these women surrounding you (I only wish we’d gotten more photos of all the ladies who were there and a photo of the entire group). Look at your adorable mother. Grandma Wendy and Grandma Brenda were there. There were three great-grandmothers and a great-great-grandmother present to celebrate you. There’s your cousin Emma, your great-aunt Jody, and your great-aunts Suzanna and Brooke who, amazingly, are younger than your Aunt Madison (I’m going to have so much fun helping you sort out all of this loving, mixed-up mess of a wonderful family). Then there are all the wonderful friends that were there along with family. These are amazing women. They have stories to tell and lessons to teach.

Much of human history has not been kind to our female counterparts. They have been treated like objects, servants, property, and second-class citizens because males have dictated it, encouraged it, and allowed it to be so. It is one of many sad realities of life that you’ll see and experience as you make your own way on your own path. But you will have the opportunity to make a difference simply in your thoughts, your choices, your words, and your actions.

Listen to grandpa. Hear me. Honor these women and all they represent. As a male you will find that much about females will seem mysterious to the point of frustration. There will be moments you’ll  be tempted to be dismissive, patronizing, and demeaning. Along your life journey you will be tempted to place women into two separate buckets in your mind: women to love and honor and women to diminish and objectify. You can’t have it both ways. When you embrace the latter you negate the former. I pray you will have the wisdom to resist these temptations. Someday, I’ve got a few things to share with you about the tragic foolishness of not doing so.

Respect women, all women, in the fullness of their being: body, mind and spirit. Respect the girls you grow up with, the woman you meet in a bar, the woman you work with, the woman you date, and the woman who is a stranger.  Respect them just as you respect the women in these photos. Respect women for all the ways they are different from us guys. Respect their strength. Respect their knowledge. Respect their spirit, ability, courage, and their passion. Learn their stories.  Embrace their wisdom. Love them well.

These women will make you a better man. This, I know from experience.

Thanks for being with me on Sunday. I’m sure it’s the first of many afternoons that you and I will share surrounded and outnumbered in the company of amazing women. I’ll teach you how to groan about it in manly fashion (and then secretly enjoy the heck out of it). I’m overjoyed to have your company.

Love you, little man.

Grandpa Tom

Three Heroes: Bob Dylan

This is the third and final post in a challenge I had been given by a good friend in my local gathering of Jesus followers. The assignment was to list three personal “heroes.” For the sake of this exercise, the heroes had to be persons (dead or alive) I did not know personally and Jesus could not be listed among the three. In previous posts I named Winston Churchill and Miles Davis. As chance would have it, I have pictures of all three (among others) taped to my well-worn paperback Bible (see featured image).

I’ve been waiting on this last installment about Bob Dylan. I’m not sure why. I thought it a bit of synchronicity that last week Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I thought it apt that he should receive it for the body of his lyrical writing. It is his lyrics that have inspired me in life, in faith, and in my own creative journey. It is also classic Dylan that he has refused to acknowledge the honor. Both of these facts are part of the reason he’s one of my heroes. So the timing of this post now seems right.

I became a follower of Jesus in the spring of 1981. Within months of that life-changing decision I was in a record store and happened upon Bob Dylan’s album Slow Train Comin’. I still remember the moment. It was a record store on University Avenue in Des Moines near Drake University. I am the youngest of four siblings and my older brothers (seven years my senior) were audiophiles with an extensive collection of LPs. Following in their footsteps, I had cut my musical teeth early on rock classics and had a fairly diverse musical palette for my age. I knew Bob Dylan from Like a Rolling Stone and Rainy Day Women. When I happened upon Slow Train Comin’ I was both surprised and intrigued by the reports I’d heard regarding Dylan’s own newly discovered faith. His lyrics and music resonated with my own spiritual journey.

I devoured the tracks on Slow Train Comin’ and then moved on to the heavy gospel of his next album, Saved followed by the very different musical and lyrical takes on Shot of Love and Infidels. There was something altogether different in Dylan’s music and lyrics compared to the other “Christian” music I was exposed to in those years. No offense intended to Christian artists of that day, but the music always repeated what was commercially popular at the moment and the lyrics were simple and cookie-cutter. Dylan on the other hand, was altogether different.

I found Dylan’s lyrics to have a depth and honesty that stood in stark contrast to other music I was listening to. His music wasn’t canned. It didn’t sound like everything else. It was brutal in its forthright transparency and I identified with the raw feelings of confession, faith, doubt, struggle, and determination that were being communicated. I was challenged by references I didn’t understand and metaphors that pushed the envelope of my knowledge.

My love and appreciation for Dylan’s lyrics led me to delve deeper into his past. I went back to the beginning and followed the path of his musical journey. I fell in love with his earlier music and gained an even deeper appreciation for the artistry of his lyrics.

As time went on it was fascinating for me to watch Dylan shun the Christian and religious labels to which the press, the Christian record industry, and others tried to pigeon-hole him. It was reported the he left the faith. He was branded a heretic by the religious press to whom he refused subservience. The mainstream press and music industry welcomed him back as a backslider who got the religious stuff out of his system.

I didn’t pay much attention to what the press said. I just kept listening to his music, to the lyrics that poured out of him, in which I found the honest musings of a fellow wayfarer trying to figure things out. In his lyrics I continued to find faith, doubt, honesty, struggle, love, and pain that mirrored my own experience. All of it was communicated in words and metaphors that never ceased to challenge and inspire me.

So, why do I consider Bob Dylan a personal hero?

First, he seems always to avoid being labeled or confined by others’ expectations. The institutional church and evangelical Christians are subtly and successfully manipulative in pressuring followers into a prescribed box of what they deem acceptable. I watched as Dylan simply refused the label, and refused to be placed inside someone else’s box. Not just in his so-called “religious” years but throughout his entire life. He’s not done the same thing to the literati elite on the Nobel committee. God has given me a very individualist spirit and Dylan’s example gave me an example to follow, a freedom to be the person and the artist God created me to be, even if it doesn’t meet others expectations of what I should do or be. I’m okay being me even if it does not fit neatly in the box prescribed by my family, friends or some other constituency.

Second, Dylan’s lyrical artistry wanders all over the map. You name it and he references it. He’s an explorer in the expansive sense. He references the religious, historic, artistic, scientific, personal, and literary. He draws on life in its abundant diversity in all of his artistic expression. As someone with a sometimes embarrassing repository of trivial knowledge (Wendy to me: How can you possibly know that?! Answer: I don’t know how I know it. I just do.) I love that Dylan makes art out of the arcane. He pulls together seemingly disparate references and expresses something meaningful, powerful and creative out of them. I get that. I creatively want to be like that.

Finally, and much like Miles Davis (and Picasso and Van Gogh and Woody Allen), Bob Dylan has ceaselessly pushed into new things lyrically and artistically. He’s a creative wellspring. He doesn’t rest. He doesn’t stop exploring and expressing. It just keeps pouring out of him. I love that he is a visual artist as well as a musical artist. He’s never been afraid to explore a different medium. Some of his albums feel entirely experimental. He explores the old and the new. He plays. Dylan inspires me to never be afraid to try new things, push into new areas, embrace and experiment with what was, what is, and fearlessly forge ahead.

Project Postscript….

My family has been having a lot of conversations over the past few years about the nine Enneagram personality types and how each of our “types” affect our lives and relationships. I happen to be a Type 4: The Individualist, and when I look through the institute’s list of examples of Type 4s, would you know it, but two of my three “heroes” from this project are there.

enneagram-type-4-examples

Five, no SIX, Things I Learned from “Star Trek Beyond”

1. Given the similarities between Krall and the Green Goblin, what the Federation really needed to defeat Krall was your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. Could have saved a lot of lives and resources (I’m just sayin’).
Green Goblin Krall
2. An old Federation Starship can apparently be hot-wired from beneath the conn console, though the original crew must not have grown up in the right ‘hood and/or was never taught the trick.
3. If a Federation Starship is lost in deep space, they can at least fulfill the Prime Directive by becoming a decent pirate radio station.
4. Really bad rock n’ roll is, indeed, ruinous in ways we never imagined. When our parents told us it would “rot our brains” they were, apparently, just scratching the surface.
Destructive Rock n Roll
5. The U.S.S. Enterprise has more lives than your average, proverbial cat. At what point do Federation tax-payers revolt?! “How many times to we have to rebuild this thing?!!!” And, at what point does the Federation decide that sending the (seventh) multi-trillion dollar Enterprise into the Nebula, out of contact of civilization, for a sketchy, unsubstantiated rescue mission of a small, unidentified crew of alien beings is NOT a great use of resources?!
6. The Federation has no lack of naive, altruistic young people willing to lay down their lives needlessly. Seriously, the Enterprise takes more damage and incurs more loss of life (of non-Bridge personnel) than a 1970 Ford Pinto with a suitcase of wired C4 in the back hatch. Why would you accept an assignment on the Enterprise unless you’re assigned to the bridge? Captain Kirk and the bridge crew always beat Spock’s (unemotionally) stated, impossible odds but the eternal throng of “Red-shirted Engineer’s Mate #6” and his compatriots never do. But they STILL find beautiful young people willing to fill the crew.
Ford Pinto Flames
(Considering both #5 and #6, maybe the future really does belong to Hillary and the liberals. Sorry, Donald.)

Three Heroes: Miles Davis

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise. They’d been working on it as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was requested that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I figured this lends itself to a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have had photos of these three gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible for many years. [see featured image of this post]

The first hero I blogged about was Winston Churchill.
Today… it’s Miles Davis

Those who have followed my blog for any length of time may not be surprised to see Miles Davis’ name on my list. I reference the famous jazz trumpeter on a fairly regular basis and I even posted a review of his biography a number of years ago. Nevertheless, it seems a bit incongruent for this Iowa white boy with little musical ability and strong spiritual priorities to find the heroic in a gifted, conflicted black musician whose demons and appetites led to tragic places. It may not seem an obvious choice.

My exposure to Miles began with a Christmas gift. In fourth grade I began taking drum lessons at Woodlawn elementary school. That year my brothers gave me a couple of record albums to inspire my budding, percussive aspirations. One album was Buddy Rich. The other was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. For those who are not familiar with jazz, it is perhaps the best known jazz album of all time, and for good reason. It sparked a love affair with jazz.

In high school I continued to love jazz music. While my friends at Hoover High School were listening to Def Leppard, The Police, and Journey I was home listening to a wide selection of jazz from Weather Report to Grover Washington Jr. to Chuck Mangione. But, while many of my jazz favorites were flirtations and brief love affairs, I began to realize that Kind of Blue somehow became the true love that always hearkened me back. There was something about Miles that sunk deep in my soul.

Through my post-college years and into my 30s I lost my way creatively in many ways. When I lost my way creatively I unknowingly wandered from the person God created me to be. Unfulfilled, confused, and life-less, the disconnect led me to chase after passions into dark places. By grace, I found the artist’s way back. I began to reclaim my birthright as a child of the Creator.

It was during that journey that I hearkened back, once again, to my true love – Kind of Blue. It was then that he began to emerge as an artistic hero. I began to listen to more of Miles’ music. We were now on a journey together. Miles Ahead and Birth of the Cool were added to the list and I began to hear his own artistry evolving through the chronology of recordings. I loved the way he both honored the genius of a classic like Porgy and Bess while layering it with his own artistry. Sketches of Spain made all sorts of artistic connections for me to Picasso and Hemingway and I began to appreciate Miles’ own artistic journeys and explorations. He seemed to fill the well of his soul and music with input from such a broad, rich diversity of sources. I got that. I identified with that. It stoked my creativity and inspired me. Miles Davis, through his music, became a pied piper, a mentor, and a muse for my own creative journey.

As I learned more about Miles the man, I was fascinated. Like many artistic geniuses, he seems to have been a complex person. I don’t think he was particularly easy to be around. Unlike Winston Churchill, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed his company over dinner. Yet, even in his frailties, struggles, and failures I found myself identifying with that basic struggle those of us with artistic temperament have to create something beautiful amidst the ugliness of your own humanity .

Miles was a man of intense passions that he struggled to control. He faced and fought his own personal demons. Temporary victories gave way to repeated defeat. His soul carried scars. He hurt those he loved most. I get that, too.

Perhaps the greatest reason that Miles has become a creative hero to me is the fearless way he opened himself creatively to everything. I have twice posted on his theme “there are no wrong notes.” He was fearless in attempting new things, pushing the envelope, absorbing what others were doing and then weaving it into his own work. He wasn’t afraid to re-invent himself, push into places no one expected him to go, and where few seemed to understand. He was willing to try, to dare, and to explore new horizons. And, as he got older it seems that he never stopped. I hope that I might reflect even a small fraction of that spirit of creation.

 

Three Heroes: Winston Churchill

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise that they’d been working on as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was asked that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, and it lends itself to a a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have photos of these gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible (see the featured image of this post).

Today… it’s Winston Churchill.

The more I’ve learned about Churchill over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate and admire him. Here are a few of the reasons off the top of my head:

Churchill steadfastly held to what he believed to be right. After World War I, when the nations were high on the notion that it was “the war to end all wars,” a young Churchill believed that greatest deterrent to another war was Britain’s strong defense. When the Chamberlain administration was bent on appeasing Hitler and holding that the upstart German dictator didn’t pose a threat to Britain, it was Churchill who was willing to be the loudest, loneliest voice of warning. Churchill reminds me of the strength and character required to stand firm for what you know is right.

Churchill understood, perhaps better than any 20th statesman, the power of words and oratory. He was a master at crafting a speech and delivering it for powerful and memorable effect. During the dark days of World War II when frightened Britons huddled in the dark of night as German bombers rained terror from the skies, it was Churchill’s words that shored up their resolve and inspired their courageous defiance. I am sometimes complimented for my speaking abilities, but Churchill reminds me how much I have yet to learn (and the inspiration to keep working at it).

Churchill was an artist. When he wasn’t changing the course of human history and saving the free world from tyranny, he was outside in nature, in front of a canvas, with a brush in his hand. He reminds me that one can make a living at business or politics while still making a life with art.

churchill painting bw

Churchill struggled. He didn’t have a particularly happy childhood or home life. He had financial struggles. He had major, public failures. He was the object of ridicule and scorn. And, he never let it stop him.

Churchill enjoyed life. The biographies I’ve read of the statesman make it clear that he enjoyed  good company, good cigars, good Scotch, and good discourse. I would love to have enjoyed a long meal, good drink, and an after dinner stogie with the man as we discussed a plethora of topics.

In the person of Winston Churchill I find a cocktail of character, conviction, creativity, leadership, communication, and life. It is a mix that I would love to emulate in my own journey.

Reflections on 10 Years of Blogging

Today is my 10th anniversary blogging. On March 26th, 2006 I set up a free blog in three easy steps and wrote the following simple post:

It’s sunday morning and the house is getting ready for church. Why is it that the whole household can be up, ready and out the door by 8:00 Monday thru Friday, but  on Sunday you can’t make it to church on time by 11:00? <sigh> One of life’s little mysteries.

That was the beginning of my journey. Ten years and 3,412 blog posts later, I’m still going. I am not, by most people in the blogosphere’s standards, the definition of success. I haven’t made a fortune. My number of subscribers remains very meager. I have about 240 subscribers through WordPress and a reach that extends to a couple thousand people through Facebook and Twitter. On a typical day my blog gets about 150-200 views.

On this 10th anniversary I’ve been looking back and reflecting on what I’ve learned in my blogging experience. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Know your motivation. My blog has always had a very simple motivation. I just want to write about my life journey. I want to record my thoughts and experiences on different subjects. I want to share what’s going on with family and friends. As time has gone on I realize that my blog serves as a diary and a record. It will be an accessible archive for children, grandchildren and future generations of my experiences and my heartfelt thoughts. I have come to accept that my blog will never generate tons of subscribers simply because not that many people know me or are interested in my vacation pictures.
  • Know your content focus. Your motivation determines your content. The vast majority of my posts over the past decade have been my chapter-a-day posts. If I was really trying to establish my blog as an inspirational of devotional blog I would center my blog on those posts and reserve my personal journal, theatre, and photography posts elsewhere. My motivation, however, is for my blog to be a repository of my personal thoughts and experiences. My chapter-a-day posts are simply a record of my thoughts in my own daily quiet time. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or market myself as an author. I’m just sharing my daily, personal thoughts after reading a chapter of the Bible. My blog is a wide-angle lens on my life and it includes all kinds of different posts. A blogging expert would tell me that my wide range limits my audience, but my motivation has never been to build a big audience. I just want to express myself.
  • Just write. According to a NYTimes article, 95% of blogs are abandoned. I’ve known many who have started a blog, but after a post or two they walk away from it just like the Ab Cruncher they purchased ten years ago and used twice. I would argue that most people stop blogging because they aren’t really motivated, they struggle to know what they want to say. I think many people get discouraged that the world does not beat a path to their URL. Blogging requires a certain amount of fortitude. You’re going to write a lot of crap that no one wants to read. Keep writing. Post regularly. Be content with a few followers. The first six years of my blog I averaged about 15-20 views a day. It’s only in the past few years that it’s grown ten-fold. I’ve come to accept that blogging is about the journey, not the destination.
  • You never know what’s going to resonate. I have written a lot of really great posts, at least I thought they were profound. Virtually no one reads them. They never “get legs.” Then, I’ll post a random thought hastily typed and with little consideration and it will start to generate all sorts of traffic. I’ve given up trying to judge or prognosticate.
  • The rewards are not what I thought they’d be. I will confess that I, like most aspiring bloggers, have pipe dreams of my blog becoming wildly popular. I regularly talk myself off that ledge and laugh at myself. I then remind myself of everything I’ve written in this post thus far. The rewards I’ve reaped from my blogging journey are not what I expected, but I consider them to be priceless:
    • I’ve become a better writer. When I go back and read some of my chapter-a-day posts from the early years I regularly cringe. They were so short. The thoughts are undeveloped. Ugh! The contrast, however, serves to remind me that writing 3,412 posts is going to make me a better writer. I value that.
    • I’ve met some really great people. From my early blogging mentor, Mike Sansone, to people like Terry, Samantha, Jonathan, Michael, and David. My blog has opened up opportunities at relationships and networking I might otherwise have never had.
    • I have built an online personal reference source. What year was it that we took that trip to Cooperstown? Do you remember what year we performed Much Ado About Nothing? My blog makes it much easier to find definitive answers. Trivial, perhaps, but I value it.
    • I’m leaving a legacy. Those most close to me, my family and my friends, will have a record of my life experiences and my thoughts that will live beyond me. I sometimes think of my love of family history and how much I wish I had a journal of my great-great-grandfather to learn what life was like for him, what he thought, and what he felt. Perhaps I will have a great-great grandson or granddaughter who will appreciate my little blog. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives.
    • I occasionally make a difference in someone’s day. Every once in a while I’ll get a message or an e-mail saying something like, “Thanks. I needed your post today.” Rarely do I get to know how or why. It’s nice to know, though. I’m grateful when people tell me, and it helps motivate me to keep going.

Thanks to those of you who follow along on this journey. Thanks to those who stop by now and then. Thanks especially to Wendy and Kevin R. who regularly discuss, respond, and encourage. Here’s to the next decade!

Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

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Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.

Profound Impact. Memories of a Mentor.

In the early hours this past Monday morning my friend Chuck finished his earthly journey. Chuck had a profound impact on my life and I can safely say that I have been forever changed by his influence over the past 35 years. He was an employer, teacher, mentor, counselor, benefactor, and friend. Our relationship serves as an example of how much one person can influence another, and God has taught me innumerable lessons through it.

I met Chuck when I was 15. I had been cast in a role of Heartland Productions film, Face in the Mirror, and Chuck was an executive for the company in the marketing department. Chuck was gifted by God with a particular charisma that drew people to him and I’ve always marveled at it. I still remember seeing him on the set and wanting to know who he was. Eventually we met and I was surprised when he seemed to take a particular interest in me. I had just made a decision to follow Jesus earlier that year and Chuck wanted to learn more about my story. We made plans to meet and talk.

When the film was released, Chuck asked me to help with a few marketing efforts. That led to him offering me an after school job cleaning and repairing 35mm films, which then led to him asking if I’d like to do a weekly bible study at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday mornings in his office. For two years Chuck taught me to study God’s Message, to memorize it, and he instilled in me an appreciation for spiritual discipline. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t write my chapter-a-day blog posts if it weren’t for Chuck planting the seeds of spiritual discipline in me on those early Tuesday mornings back in the early 1980s.

One of the other lessons that came from our relationship in those early years was not one I believe Chuck necessarily intended. Our strengths have their corollary weaknesses and, despite a protege’s penchant for placing mentors on a pedestal,  I learned over time that Chuck was a driver. He had his own ideas about that paths I should take in life. He pushed me in multiple ways. He pushed hard. In fact, Chuck once confessed to me that he’d thought he’d pushed me harder than any one he’d ever mentored. Things broke.

For a number of years Chuck and I did not communicate. I went to college, got married, and had children. It had been about six years when I made contact with Chuck again. We got together and talked about our falling out and the years of silence between us. We admitted our mutual failings, expressed our mutual forgiveness and our relationship resumed.

It was a year or so later that I found myself suddenly in need of a job. When Chuck learned of this he asked to meet with me immediately. Years earlier he’d left the production company where he worked during my high school years. He and his wife, Charleen, started a management consulting firm under their name, c wenger group. Chuck said he thought he might have full time work for me in 6-12 months. He promised me that if I would take a step of faith to start with them part time, he  would commit to trying to build an opportunity for me with the group. I took the step of faith. Things moved even faster than expected. Within just a month or two there was plenty of work for me to do. That was 21 years ago.

I entered a new phase of Chuck’s mentoring. This time it was not as a young spiritual sojourner but as a young businessman. The group was small at that point. In those early years our semi-monthly staff meetings were at the Wenger’s kitchen table with Chuck, Charleen, Scott (a fellow colleague from the Heartland Production days, who had already been working with the group for a few years), and me. Chuck and I traveled together on business a lot in those early years. We worked together, served together, and prayed together. We spent countless hours together on the road. The group grew and Chuck journeyed beside me and continued to mentor me during those tumultuous years when a young man confronts his demons and learns what it means to be a man.

Scott Tom Chuck in Israel - 1

It wasn’t all work. Chuck, Scott and I also served at BSF together. We sailed Lake Superior together with our colleagues. The three of us journeyed to Israel together. Chuck and I spent time together at his place in Florida, and I have so many fond memories of late nights on his deck overlooking the Intercostal waterway enjoying good wine, great cigars, laughter, and conversation that was enjoyable, challenging and inspiring.

The journey was not without its share of challenges. One of the greatest lessons I took from our relationship over the years was the perseverance required through life’s ups and downs. When you do business on a daily basis with another person it tends to reveal both strengths and blind spots, sometimes in unexpected ways. Chuck and I had strong similarities and marked disparities. We often brought out the best in each other and at times struggled intensely with each other’s weaknesses. Yet there was always between us love, admiration and appreciation built on our mutual faith in and devotion to Jesus.

Charleen died in the late 1990s, and Chuck chose to retire at the end of 2004. Scott and I took over as owners of c wenger group in January 2005. Chuck remained on as Chairman of our advisory board and continued to provide wise counsel to the end. I feel perpetually honored that Scott and I were entrusted with leading the company he and Char began.

Each of our life journeys are affected by others. A few years ago I took the time to recount all of the ways Chuck made a profound impact on my life. I thanked Chuck for each one. This week, as I process my own grief at his passing, I find myself recounting all of them again, and thanking God for each one, and for Chuck. I hope that I influence a few lives a just a fraction of the ways Chuck influenced mine.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s early Thanksgiving morning. As usual, I’m up before the ladies. In a couple of hours the house will be bustling with preparations. For now, it is so quiet that my increasingly deaf ears can hear the wind and rain hitting the house.

It’s a very different holiday this year. In that past 15 months my mom and dad were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and cancer, respectively. This summer they moved into a retirement community. We have so much for which to be thankful despite present circumstances. Medication has slowed progress of mom’s illness. While dad’s cancer will require ceaseless cycles of oral chemotherapy, tests show that the cancerous proteins in his blood are now held at bay. They are in a wonderful retirement community filled with warm and enjoyable new friends. We are so thankful.

It has been a huge year of transition. Madison, sadly, will be flying the friendly skies today and is unable to join us. She has been working tirelessly and will graduate from UCCS in a few weeks. Taylor returned from Scotland with a master’s degree and diligently continues the job search. Suzanna is kicking it in her first year of college. Wendy and I sold a house, built a house, and moved. We’ve been more intentional with our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and stepped down from leadership in the community theatre. There has been so much movement on everyone’s respective life journeys.

All that said, I find my heart struggling to find equilibrium in the pre-dawn hours of this Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for everyone being relatively healthy and happy, yet I acknowledge the intense and painful struggle required for some of us to be able to report that. I am grateful for the blessing of family to be together, and still feel the heartache of missing family I have not seen for far too long. I am giving thanks for our wonderful new home where 16 of us can gather comfortably, and at the same time grieve the passing of family traditions that have been woven into the tapestry of our lives for so many years.

Yesterday I read about the relatively unknown story of Squanto. The native American who became a miraculous life-line to the Pilgrims in that first year in America had actually been abducted and sold as a slave in Europe. Given his freedom by Catholic friars in Spain, he lived in London for a time. He found his way back to America on a trading ship, agreeing to provide his interpretation skills in the new world in exchange for passage. When he returned, however, he found his tribe had been wiped out, likely by disease. He found his way home only to find himself alone in the world.

When Squanto wandered into the Pilgrim’s camp, he was uniquely prepared to help them. He had lived in London longer than some of the Pilgrims. He spoke their language. He understood their ways. He was uniquely qualified to teach them the skills they would need to survive the American wilderness. The Pilgrims had been through hell on their voyage and that first deathly winter. They were unprepared for life in the new world. Having lived through enslavement and a decade of struggle to get home, Squanto needed a tribe and a family. Having lived through the struggle of voyage and a terrible year of death, the Pilgrims needed someone to teach them how to survive in the New World and to communicate with their new neighbors. How miraculous that they found one another.

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about that first Thanksgiving. I find it fascinating that the gratitude for both Pilgrim and Native came at the end of a period of incredible challenges, struggles, defeats, and transition in their respective life journeys. And yet, they stopped to feast and offer God thanks in the midst of it all. They’d found each other, and in one another they’d found God’s gift of hope. It seems oddly familiar this year.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen. The rattling of pans has begun, and it’s time for me to start preparations for the feast and for family. Thanks to all who join me on this blogging journey and who, from time to time, take a moment to read my early morning rambling and meandering of heart. I’m grateful for you.

It’s time to roast a turkey. Blessings to you all.