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Monday, January 28, 2013

Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Welsh Poet
1914 - 1953

On Monday, January 21, my fifty-year-old brother-in-law died of cancer.  He did not go gentle into that good night.  I met Francisco when he was 12.  During the last four years, I spent hundreds of hours talking with him either on the phone or in person.  His wife divorced him and he seemed lost.  The first year he took what my wife and I called his Buddha walk.  He moved from the home of one sister to another.  He would take small jobs to give him some money before he pulled up roots and moved on.  When he finally arrived in our home, we almost did not recognize him.  He was truly lost.  During his two month stay with us, his spirit was restored and refreshed.  

When we said goodbye, we knew he was off on a new adventure.  He and a partner were going to open a restaurant.  That adventure lasted ten months.  On business trips to Texas over the next three years, I would have dinner with him and listen to the stories of his latest business venture.

For me, the way Francisco lived his life is like Dylan Thomas expressed in his poem — "do not go gentle into that good night."  Francisco attacked life with a passion.  He seized life by the throat and demanded that it give up its jewels.  But life had its own ideas and financial success elluded him to the end.  Francisco's greatest skill was his ability to sell anything to anyone.  He would quit a job one day and within 14 days would have a new one.  He was never afraid to walk up to a stranger and introduce himself.  He had a knack for meeting people when he needed them.  

In July, 2012, Francisco was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his kidney.  The cancer had spread beyond the kidney and the doctors said surgery was out of the question.  At the time, Francisco was in the midst of his latest business venture and he moved ahead full throttle.  Not even cancer and the possibility of death were going to get in his way.  Francisco chose not to go gentle into that good night.  He chose instead to rage against the light — to battle until his last breath. 

Creative Practice
What is your approach to life?  Have you seized it by the throat?  Or are you whimpering in a corner, afraid to look life in the eye?  What is your approach to your art?  Do you seize it by the throat and demand that it give up its secrets?  Or do you sneak upon it in the middle of the night and hope to catch it sleeping?

This week seize life by the throat.  Do something that you have been wanting to do but were afraid.  Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage against the light.

About the Poet
The writing shed of Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas wrote the poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, about his father, David John Thomas.  Born in Wales, Thomas had bronchitis and asthma in his childhood.  He was 19 when he published several of his most famous poems, including And death shall have no dominion.  His first book of poems was published when he was 20.  Dylan's father died from pneumonia in December 1952.  His sister died of liver cancer early in 1953.  Dylan died on November 9, 1953 from pneumonia.  He was in New York to read his poetry.

The poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, is a villanelle which is nineteen line poetic form that consists of 5 tercets and one quatrain.  The poem has two refrains and two repeating rhymes.  Here is the complete poem.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, to late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see the blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Here is a reading of the poem with pictures of Dylan Thomas.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Stan Musial

"When a pitcher is throwing a spitball, don't worry and don't complain, just hit the dry side like I do."

— Stan Musial
American Baseball Player
1920 - 2013

When life throws you a spitball, don't complain.  Find a way to hit a home run.  

In the small town in central Illinois where I grew up, people were either St. Louis Cardinal fans or Chicago Cub fans.  I, for some unknown reason, chose the Cardinals and one my heroes was Stan the Man Musial.  Only after I became a Cardinal fan did my father tell me that he was also a Cardinal fan.  In the course of raising and supporting a family, he did not have time for baseball.  My interest revitalized his interest.

Like Musial and my father, I was left-handed.  I still remember vividly playing one of my first games of baseball.  We did not have enough players, so batters could only hit to certain fields.  Right-hand batters could only hit to left field and left-hand hitters could only hit to right field.  When I came up to bat, they asked if I was a lefty or a righty.  I said a lefty.  The players all shifted to the right side of the diamond.  I stepped into the batter's box as a right-hand hitter.  Everyone was upset because they had to shift back to the left side of the field.  I learned that day that while I throw with my left hand I batted right-handed.

Baseball was my sport of choice until I discovered basketball and volleyball.  I dreamed of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.  In Little League, I played the outfield and was a good defensive player.  One of my favorite moments was making a diving catch.  Unlike my father and Stan Musial, I was not a strong hitter.  Both my father and Musial could hit home runs.  When I did get a hit, it was usually a single.  My last season in Little League was spent at first base.  I had wanted to pitch but the adults made a rule that 12 years olds could not pitch that year.

So what does this all have to do with creativity and the arts.  First, being a great baseball player is more about art than science.  A great player has to practice the fundamentals daily  much like artists and writers.  Creative leaders are often on the receiving end of a spitball.  How we handle the spitballs that are thrown our way says a lot about who we are.  Do we make the best of what life gives us or do we grumble and complain?

Who are your childhood heroes?  Who did you aspire to be like?  Our heroes say a lot about us — who we are and who we want to become.  Our heroes help create our values.

Creative Practice
Select a childhood hero and write a poem or short story that involves your hero.  Paint your hero into a picture.  Tell your friends what your childhood hero meant to you.  Identify the lessons that your hero taught you.  Read a biography or autobiography of hero.

Biography of Stan Musial
Stanislaw Franciszek Musial was born in Donora, PA on November 21, 1920.  He died this past Saturday, January 19, 2013 at the age of 92.  He signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938 and made his major league debut on September 17, 1941.  In Musial's first full season in 1942, the Cardinals won the World Series.  They repeated as World Series champions in 1944 and 1946.  He missed the 1945 season because he was serving in the U.S. Navy.

Stan the Man Musial won seven National League batting titles and was named the Most Valuable Player three times.  He hit 475 home runs in his career that lasted until September 29, 1963.  His lifetime batting average was .331. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and considered to be one of the greatest hitter in baseball.

Musial was married to Lillian Labash for almost 72 years.  They had four children, 11 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

Watch this brief video of Stan Musial.

I wrote this story-poem a few years ago and I share it now in memory of Stan Musial.

Family Dreams

I reach inside my pocket
and find a tattered picture
from my childhood. My
mother is holding me in
her arms. My father has
his arm around my mother
and is looking down at me
with a big grin on his face.
I look like I had been crying —
my eyes are puffy, my cheeks
tear-stained. I found this
picture in my mother’s dresser
drawer last week. My younger
sister and I were going through
mom’s belongings — sorting
out what we wanted to keep
and what we would throw
away. My mother died one
day short of her eighty-fifth
birthday, ten years after my
father shot himself. He could
not accept the fact that he had
cancer and did not want to
live through the pain of dying.
So he shot himself with an old
army revolver that he kept
hidden in the closet. The revolver
was a souvenir from his days
in World War II. He had
landed at the beaches of Normandy
and somehow dodged the German
bullets. Mom and dad did not meet
until after he had returned from
the front with his left leg missing.
He had stepped on a mine and
was lucky to be alive. My mother
was a nurse in the hospital
where my father was recuperating.
She said that it was love at first
sight. She had found her
soulmate. For him, love
took awhile to bloom. He
was so angry that he had
lost a leg that he could think
of nothing else. He was
angry at his father who did
not stop him from volunteering
to fight. He was angry at
the Germans who started
the bloody war. He was
angry at the officer who sent
him out on patrol. He was
angry at the French for their
weaknesses. Mom was the healing
salve that helped dad get over
his pain. She healed his heart
and patched up pieces of his
soul. When he proposed, she
said yes without hesitation.
They were married for fifty
years. He worked as an
accountant for a large construction
company. Mom worked at
the local hospital, patching
up the sick. I came along
about three years after they
were married. Mom often
told me that I was the apple
of my father’s eye. My father
had been fitted with a wooden
leg and after work he would
invite me out into the backyard
to play catch. He loved
baseball and before the war
had dreamed of playing
professionally for the St. Louis
Cardinals. He transferred his
dreams to me. I practiced day
and night and took up the mantle
of his hopes. I saw myself as
a pitcher with a powerful
fastball. A car accident my senior
year put an end to my career and
caused a riff between my father
and me. His dream had died
a second time. We fought a lot
in those years. Nothing I did
seemed to please him. My hair
was too long. My grades not good
enough. When I dropped out
of college, he threw me out
of the house. Called me a bum
and said that I would never
amount to anything. Mom was
the one who kept us from tearing
each other apart limb by limb.
She would calm him down and
scold him for getting so upset.
Said it wasn’t good for his blood
pressure. And she put the screws
to me too. Telling me I shouldn’t
treat my father that way. He
deserved better. He had given
his life for his country and his
family. She said I should show him
some respect. And not pick
a fight with him. Something
in the way she said it made
me feel ashamed. She would
take the anger right out of me.
I finally did finish my degree
in engineering and got a decent
job. My mother and father
were so proud when I received
my diploma. A few years later
I married my high school
sweetheart. It wasn’t until
Timmy was born that the riff
between my father and me
finally healed for good. He
loved my son probably as much
as he love me. When Timmy
was old enough, my dad would
take him outside to play catch.
His dream of a baseball player
in the family was reborn in my
son. I cautioned him not to get
disappointed again. Dreams
have a way of not working out
the way you imagine them. But
he didn’t listen. He talked of
Timmy playing for the Cardinals.
And he filled Timmy with stories
of heroic exploits by former stars.
He created a pantheon of heroes
in the kid’s mind. And Timmy
was a natural. Better than I ever
was. I tried to prevent my son
from getting caught up in his
grandfather’s dream. But he
didn’t listen. Reminded me
of myself in that regard. My
father never got to see Timmy
play in the majors. The cancer
scorched his flesh and drove
him to suicide. Five years
later Timmy played in his first
major league game. He started
at second base for the Chicago
Cubs. I am sure Dad was
watching from heaven and
telling the angels that Timmy
was his grandson. Strange how
life turns out sometimes. I stuff
the picture back in my pocket.

— Harley King
© 2008 by Harley King

Monday, January 14, 2013

Henri Nouwen

"Solitude is the furnace of transformation."

 Henri Nouwen
Dutch Priest & Writer
1932 - 1996

In my mind, solitude and silence are very closely linked.  Silence means to be without sound.  Yet, unless we are deaf, we rarely will be able to find silence in this world.  Even in the forest late at night, one will hear sound.  What we can do is limit the types of sound we hear.  I can remove urban sounds by traveling to the country.  I can turn off the radio or the television.  I can choose what sounds I want to hear. 

Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of being alone and without human contact.  There still will be noise and sound.  We can be alone in our own homes, during a walk through a park, or driving a automobile, but sound will also be there, including the sound of our own thoughts.

As creative leaders, we must learn to manage, encourage and harness both silence and solitude if we are going to be successful.  When I write, I try to limit the sounds that I hear. I don't play music as some do.  I don't listen to TV.  I have learned to write in public and to block out the white noise.  I also need solitude, particularly from loved ones.  It is very hard for me to write with my wife in the same room.  I can write in a mall because I have more space.

Creative Practice
Evaluate the role silence and solitude play in your life.  Look for ways to add more solitude.    Learn to cut out some of the noise that follows you.  Add 15 minutes more of solitude to your life.  Then attempt to spend 2 minutes in solitude and eliminate the noise of your own thoughts.

The Return of the Prodigal Son
by Rembrandt (1665)
Write a poem about silence or solitude.  Paint a picture of solitude or silence.  Evoke the sound of solitude in your music.

About the Writer
Henri Nouwen was ordained as a priest in 1957 and completed a degree in psychology in 1963.  He came to the United States in 1964 and taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard.  He wrote 40 books on spirituality.  His most famous book is The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers and Sons which was published in 1992.  He wrote the book in response to the painting, the Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt.  He traveled to Russia to observe the painting at the Hermitage Museum.

Watch this short video about Henri Nouwen.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"I am a composer.... I neither can nor ought to bury the talent for composition with which God in his goodness has so richly endowed me."

— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
German Composer
1756 - 1791

We all have talents.  Sometimes we are not even aware of the talents we have.  We are so busy listening to the voices of others that we don't hear our own voice.  We are so busy trying to figure out what we need to do with our lives that we don't hear that small voice within pointing us in the direction we need to go.  Some people bury their talents beneath the demands and expectations of society.  Others think their talent is not important and they envy the talents and richness of the lives of others.

Learn to recognize and appreciate the talents you have been given.  Learn to encourage and use the talents that are yours.  Be proud of who you are and who you are becoming.  

Creative Practice:
Make a list of your talents that you know.  What comes easy for you?  What do you enjoy doing?  Ask friends and family what they think are some of your talents?  They may see things that you can't.  After you have compiled your list, ask yourself what you are doing to harness these talents.  How can you perfect these talents?  How can you use these talents in your daily life?  How can you use these talents in your life's work?

Background of Mozart:
Mozart was born in Salzburg, a former principality of the Holy Roman Empire.  His father was a minor composer and experienced teacher.  Mozart married Constanze Weber and had six children, only two survived infancy.  Mozart died in his 35th year.  Beethoven and others have been heavily influenced by his work.

Here is a video of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ten Best Books I Read in 2012

In 2012 I read 43 books, 50% more than in each of the previous 3 years.  Why did my reading increase so dramatically?  One word:  Kindle.  I read 27 of these books on a newly acquired Kindle.  Some of these books were much shorter than the normal paperback or hardback, e.g., The Heart of Haiku, A Christmas Carol, and the Playground.  Here is the list of the Ten Best Books I Read in 2012.

Here's Johnny [With CDROM]10.  Here's Johnny by Ed McMahon.  I was never a Johnny Carson fan and I never stayed up late to watch his show, but I found this memoir very funny.  The book is read by McMahon and I recommend that you listen to the audio version rather than read the book.  I am afraid that much of the humor is lost on the written page.  The humor is in the voice of Ed.

Castaway Kid: One Man's Search for Hope and Home9.  Castaway Kid: One Man's Search for Hope and Home by R.B. Mitchell.  This is a memoir of growing up in an orphanage and how one man came to understand and accept the abandonment by his mother.  A heart-warming story.

Composed: A Memoir8.  Composed: A Memoir by Rosanne Cash.  This is actually the first book I read on the Kindle.  I heard an interview with Rosanne Cash on the program, On Being With Krista Tippett.  Now, I have long enjoyed the music of her father, Johnny Cash, but have never listened to her music.  In the book she discusses her father's death.  As a result of reading the book, I bought an album, Black Cadillac, about her father's death.

Rashomon Gate (Sugawara Akitada, #2)7.  Rashomon Gate by I. J. Parker.  Those who know me well know that I will cry at movies, but that I will rarely cry while reading books. Rashomon Gate was that rare book that succeeded to bringing me to tears. It is a murder mystery set in the eleventh century Japan. If you love historical Japan, you will enjoy this book.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)6.  The Hunger Games #1 by Suzanne Collins.  I read all three of the Hunger Game books but I have only put the first one in my top ten.  I felt the other two did not live up to the promise of the first book.

The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single)

5.  The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirschfield.  This is short, brilliant introduction to haiku poetry.  I encourage anyone who wants a better understanding of haiku to read this book.

Imagine: How Creativity Works4:  Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.  You will no longer find this book in bookstores since it was taken off the market because the author allegedly manufactured quotes by Bob Dylan.  I still think it was a great read and that all creative leaders should read it.  

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery3.  Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds.  If you ever make presentations using PowerPoint, then you need to read this book.  Most people use PowerPoint inappropriately.  They make PowerPoint the center of their presentation when it should only have a supporting role.  The speaker is the presentation.  

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo2.  Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.  I love and appreciate the art of the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.  If you like her art or love art in general, you need to read this biography.

Steve Jobs1.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  This is the best book that I read in 2012 and it is a must read for all creative leaders.  You learn the good, the bad and the ugly.  Jobs was human like the rest of us with both strengths and weaknesses.  I don't think I could have ever worked for him, but I can learn from what he accomplished.  If you only read one book out of my list, this is the book to read.

To see a list of all 43 books I read in 2012 visit Goodreads.