Persistent Time

Continued from a previous post

It was too easy.

The intense moment of exhilaration passed, leading to saner thoughts. Reason, not emotion.

Perhaps I had only delayed their meeting, not prevented it altogether. Return to 2019 and see what family history said? Certainly, but if you’re already at the store you don’t go home to see if there’s something else on your shopping list.

city-streetThis version of wandering the store to see if I’d forgotten eggs or cheese meant following one of my erstwhile grandparents.

He had seen me. She had not.

Rushing through the crowd as rudely as I’d pretended to be to my grandfather, I saw her. May as well follow her to be sure.

Up East Lane toward Main she moved in and out of sight, the crowds from the train station being thicker here. The crowds dispersed at Main Street, walking east or west or climbing into carriages or sparkling automobiles. Once we crossed Main Street she and I were virtually alone. She turned left on Oak Lane, as I’d assumed she would.

Before we got to the grand Victorian at the corner of Oak and Third, she stopped, whirled, and came back my direction. Since she had no reason to know who I was, I simply continued walking, and made as if to pass her, tipping my grubby cap as she approached.

“Why are you following me?” Her voice was loud in the empty street.

I tried to step past, tried to remain calm. This was not what I’d expected.

“Why should I follow you, madame? I’m simply enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, and we happened to be going the same direction. I apologize if I startled you.”

I took another step. She blocked my way.

“You were at the station. I saw you accost that man. Now you’re following me. I ask again, why?”

Time for action, not words. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my arm. I put my hand on her wrist, trying to gently pull it from my own, but her grip was stronger than I’d expected.

“Take your hands off her, you thug.”

Surprised, I let go and turned to face the speaker, whose voice I recognized, of course. My grandmother covered her mouth with her free hand. A tiny squeal escaped past her fingers.

My grandfather, for the second time that day, punched me square in the face. This time it was hard enough to knock me down, bloodying my face. By the time I got up and cleared my vision, they were gone.

So that’s how you want to play it, eh, Time? I accept the challenge.

I set out to prevent my grandparents’ marriage, even if it killed me.

And I Didn’t Disappear

sharp shoeIt was reckless, but I had nothing left to lose, and if I was right, everything to gain.

As he stepped off the train, I accosted him, rudely.

“You’ve trodden on my shoe, sir.”

He stepped back, knowing well he’d done no such thing.

“I’m most sorry sir.”

As he made to pass by, I stepped in front of him.

“It was freshly polished.”

I’d moved from inconvenience to annoyance, meaning, he took notice of me as a person, not only a noise in his way. Looking down, he could tell my shoes hadn’t been polished in a very long time.

“That is difficult to believe, sir. Let me pass.”

I pushed.

“You’ll pay the tuppence to have them shined again.”

“Tuppence? If you paid a ha’penny for that shine you were diddled. I, on the other hand, will not be.”

“Pay, sir. Or shall I call a constable?”

“Step aside. Let me pass. I have business to attend to, fool.”

Of course, I didn’t step aside, and of course, he drew back his fist and hit me, hard, in the face.

I knew my grandfather’s temper. I knew my grandmother’s eventual abhorrence of it. I knew that if she saw it, from just over there where she awaited her prospective (but not anymore) husband, she would leave the station and never look back, as she’d always told me after his unmourned death.

What I didn’t know, when I shifted painfully through the ether of time from early 2019 to the date of their meeting in 1937, was whether preventing their meeting would, in fact, alter my physical existence as one of their progeny.

As I said, nothing to lose.

But now, knowing what I know, everything to gain.

Expectations Are Reality So Know What You’re Delivering

Just spent a frustrating hour on the phone with AT&T. Normally, they’re just fine. We’ve had our cell service through them for years, and everything has been simple and obvious and working.

Sunday, I called to order a new line and a new iPhone. They let me choose a new number I liked.

It was easy; too easy . . .

… more … “Expectations Are Reality So Know What You’re Delivering”

Practical Advice from ‘Why Business People Speak Like Idiots’ by Brian Fugere (An Actionable Books summary)

“Bull has become the language of business.”

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, page 2

Every single one of us can tell the difference between human communication and business communication—when we’re reading. For some reason, when we’re writing, we lose our minds.

The best books on change are written, not by folks who never had to learn, but by those who’ve “been there” and wish they hadn’t done that. Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky – authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots – all worked at Deloitte Consulting, committing the very crimes outlined in this book when one day they woke up and smelled the, er, aroma of what they were saying in their professional writing. After creating software (called Bullfighter) to help them monitor their own writing, they gathered what they learned, verified their thinking with a little informal research, and identified the four main reasons business people speak like idiots—and how not to.

Fugere and company describe four “traps” that business people can fall into with their writing. In each case, they speak to how someone falls into the trap, give examples, and offer clear advice on how to avoid the trap in the future. In case the title of the book doesn’t make this obvious, every lesson is delivered with humour in clear, simple language.

Why business people speak like idiots is a fun read; educational without being too dense.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘Why Business People Speak Like Idiots’ by Brian Fugere (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘Turning Pro’ by Steven Pressfield (An Actionable Books summary)

“Turning pro is not for everyone. We have to be a little crazy to do it, or even to want to. In many ways the passage chooses us; we don’t choose it. We simply have no alternative.”

Turning Pro, page 5

Steven Pressfield knows more about suffering than I do. If you’ve ever tried to create something, you know what that means, but I’ll spell it out for anyone who’s confused.

Everything worth doing is art. The obvious stuff – writing, painting, sculpting – is art, certainly.

There’s another kind of art though, and it exists in your business, in your life.

If you’re trying to do something with real meaning, something not quite orthodox, you have felt what traditional artists feel every day: Resistance.

In Pressfield’s earlier book, The War of Art, he detailed what Resistance is, and how to combat it. It was originally titled The Writer’s Life so it’s no surprise that it’s slanted toward those who share Pressfield’s profession. But as a man of broad vision, he knows that we all face Resistance, what Seth Godin calls the lizard brain. When we try to do something important, the voice in the back of our head tries to stop us.

In many cases, it wins. Even those of us who’ve read and re-read The War of Art until it’s worn have succumbed to Resistance.

We needed more than awareness. We needed a tool, a path, a flashlight.

Turning Pro is a flashlight on the path.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘Turning Pro’ by Steven Pressfield (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman (An Actionable Books summary)

“Every significant choice we make in life carries with it some uncertainty.”

Thinking Fast and Slow, page 270

It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence and impact Daniel Kahneman has had on today’s thinkers. His TED profile says, in part, “Widely regarded as the world’s most influential living psychologist, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel in Economics for his pioneering work in behavioral economics — exploring the irrational ways we make decisions about risk.” The list of books which are a direct or nearly direct result of his writing would be enormous. Even a partial list of his literary children and grandchildren here at Actionable Books is impressive: Drive, Freakonomics, How We Decide, The Luck Factor, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Outliers, Predictably Irrational, Uncertainty, The War of Art, Who Moved My Cheese?, A Whole New Mind.

Kahneman’s work, alone or with longtime collaborator Amos Tversky, is foundational to our understanding of ourselves. Credited with creating behavioural economics, the science of why we don’t make sense when we think about money, he won the Nobel Prize in 2002. The prize is not awarded posthumously, so Tversky is not officially listed as a recipient, yet Kahneman considers it a joint prize shared with his friend Amos. His love and admiration for his collaborator and friend is evident throughout the book. I suspect it prompted the book’s premise, our Golden Egg.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘The Progress Principle’ by Teresa Amabile (An Actionable Books summary)

“When we surveyed hundreds of managers around the world…95 percent of these leaders fundamentally misunderstood the most important source of motivation…the conventional rules miss the fundamental act of good management: managing for progress.”

The Progress Principle, pages 3 & 10

The husband-and-wife team of Amabile and Kramer have studied creativity for more than 35 years. Along the way, they have challenged some long-held assumptions about how we work, how we create.

During a year-long study involving over 120,000 work events reported as they happened, they noticed a pattern: what mattered most in any work environment, no matter the worker’s basic personality or position in the company, progress, however small, was the greatest indicator of their happiness and performance.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘The Progress Principle’ by Teresa Amabile (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (An Actionable Books summary)

“[J]ust as our brains shape us, we can shape our brains.”

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, page 8

For as long as I’ve known him, my friend T has had an odd mannerism. When I’d walk up to him in a group, he’d give me a blank glance and say nothing. When I’d join the conversation, he’d suddenly blurt, “Joel! Hey, how are you?” as if he’d just seen me.

In reality, that was when he’d first recognized me.

T can’t tell the difference between two faces any more than you can tell the difference between two sheets of paper. Until he identifies people by some other means, he doesn’t know, can’t know, who they are.

This creates challenges. When T goes to the airport to pick his wife up after visiting her mother, he has to ensure that he’s “picking up” the right woman, because he can’t recognize her. After a certain incident involving a woman wearing a coat exactly like one his wife owns, he’s learned to be circumspect when approaching women at airports.

Prosopagnosia is the fancy name for face-blindness. It’s one of many neurological conditions which Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has learned can be addressed with carefully crafted mental exercises which literally change the brain.

When T finally thought to mention this to me just over a year ago, I was floored. I have seen him accomplish amazing feats of recognition due entirely to amazing coping strategies. He spent his entire childhood learning how to recognize people. He was 18 before he realized that most people have a system in their brain which makes it the most natural thing in the world.

The two halves of that story, T’s coping strategies and my failure to recognize his condition, are the two GEMs below. Each side of the coin has a lesson.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘Priceless’ by William Poundstone (An Actionable Books summary)

“The same psychological tricks apply whether you’re setting a price for text messages or toilet paper or airline tickets.”

Priceless, page 7

This is not a book about coming up with prices, it’s about understanding them. More accurately, it’s about our fundamental misunderstanding of what prices even mean.

Poundstone frequently references Dan Ariely, Kahneman and Tversky, Richard Thaler, and others who will be familiar to those of you who like to read about how our brains work – and how they often don’t.

A series of short (2-5 page) treatises which build and focus as you move through the book, he begins with our cluelessness about prices, gives us some psychological grounding, shows us good and bad pricing in action, and gives us greater awareness of our limitations and how to shore them up.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘Priceless’ by William Poundstone (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘Imagine’ by Jonah Lehrer (An Actionable Books summary)

“[B]ecause we finally understand what creativity is, we can begin to construct a taxonomy of it, outlining the conditions under which each particular mental strategy is ideal.”

Imagine, page XVIII

How does creativity work? The very question is audacious.

We see two types of problem-solving: inch by inch, gaining ground on a solution, or the flash of insight, unforeseen. All arts, all acts of human creation are prone to this division.

Understanding that creativity is not centered in one portion of our brain, in a single specialized process, but a variety of sometimes unrelated processes, is vital to unlocking its keys.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘Imagine’ by Jonah Lehrer (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘The Luck Factor’ by Dr. Richard Wiseman (An Actionable Books summary)

“Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead,
it is a state of mind―a way of thinking and behaving.”

The Luck Factor, page 165

We all know someone whose card is always drawn in the raffle, who gets tickets to the hot show, whose car never breaks down and whose marriage is bliss.

And we know their opposites, too.

Whether superstitious or not, most folks believe that luck is a mysterious force of the universe. Either mostly good things happen to you as you go through life, or mostly bad things happen. That’s true, as far as it goes.

But most of us believe there’s nothing we can do about it. And Dr. Richard Wiseman is here to tell you that’s wrong.

Luck, it turns out, can be changed. It can be controlled. Luck is a skill you can learn and a tool you can apply in business, in life.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘The Luck Factor’ by Dr. Richard Wiseman (An Actionable Books summary)”

Practical Advice from ‘How We Decide’ by Jonah Lehrer (An Actionable Books summary)

“The first step to making better decisions is to . . . honestly assess our flaws and talents, our strengths and shortcomings.”

How We Decide, page 259

We’d all love to think that logic and reason are the foundation of our choices. Gotta keep those emotions in check when we’re making life’s big choices. After all, when we’re buying a house or car, choosing a life partner, deciding what to eat or whether or not to have children, we want to make the best choice possible. Pure logic, we assume, leads to the best choices.

We’re wrong.

How We Decide uses the latest scientific research to explain brand new understanding about how our brain works. This information is vital to better decision making.

Here’s what you’ll learn: … more … “Practical Advice from ‘How We Decide’ by Jonah Lehrer (An Actionable Books summary)”

Why Doing the Right Thing is Hard

My column on why I’m losing weight struck an unpleasant chord with some folks when I first published it. It’s common to hear stories of people trying unsuccessfully, sometimes for years, to lose weight.

Another angle on the same issue: When your income gets an unexpected and temporary boost, through a bonus at work or a project you hadn’t expected, do you bank the money, or reward yourself with a new toy or dinner out?

We experience it every single day of our lives: even though we know what’s good for us, day after day we do what’s fun, what’s easy, instead of what’s healthy and rational and good for our future self.

Do you ever stop to wonder why?

red thoughts
… more … “Why Doing the Right Thing is Hard”

You Can’t Hit What You Don’t Aim For

Engaging in what might euphemistically be called a “lively” conversation often gets the better of me. Someone makes a statement I find patently ridiculous, and I feel the need to educate them.

As I’m writing, I can already envision their response, to which I’m already formulating my rebuttal.

My what? So, I’m already assuming they’re going to argue with me? Well, if that’s my attitude, it’s no wonder what I wrote garners an angry response.

taking aim
… more … “You Can’t Hit What You Don’t Aim For”

Don’t Silence the Voice in Your Head, Replace It

the voicesWe all have ’em, the voices in our head that tell us we’re not good enough, whatever words they use to say it. We’d all love to silence the voices.

You can’t.

But there’s still hope.
… more … “Don’t Silence the Voice in Your Head, Replace It”

The Balancing Act in Your Brain

Your brain is a battlefield. Two warring forces wage a constant struggle for dominance.

Okay, they’re more like a couple teenagers fighting over who gets the window seat on a long drive. Chances are, you keep giving the same kid the window seat.

And putting the other kid in the trunk.

balancing act
… more … “The Balancing Act in Your Brain”

A Second Chance for First Impressions

We all know the cliché: “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Opinions formed during the first moments of a relationship are usually long-lasting. This leads to all sorts of social manipulation to make a good impression: dressing your best, smiling a lot, leaning forward in your chair, all that stuff the job-hunting websites write about.

Recent science teaches us that’s less effective than the advice your mom always used to give you: “Just relax and be yourself!”

Why do first impressions matter? Do we have any control over them?

surprise: not the best first impression
… more … “A Second Chance for First Impressions”

Primed for Icebergs

Some months ago the Megan Elizabeth Morris of Upmarket approached me about writing an article about gratitude — always a worthy subject, and certainly connected to finding why. It was the November issue of another Squidoo magazine, connected inextricably to Thanksgiving.

Why I didn’t write that article is the point of this one.

primed for icebergs … more … “Primed for Icebergs”

Time is . . . Memory?

Fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs was a prolific writer, publishing nearly 70 novels in his 75 years. Burroughs was the creator of Tarzan, a much better series of books than the video representations and popular culture would lead you to believe. He also wrote the story of John Carter of Mars which is finally coming out of the obscurity it never deserved. He wrote seven different science fiction adventure series besides numerous western and historical fictions. His work revels in experimentation, with the question, “What if things were very different from what we believe them to be?”

time is . . . memory? … more … “Time is . . . Memory?”