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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review: The Making of The President 1960

The Making of the President 1960The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Making of The President 1960 earned the author, Theodore H. White, a Pulitzer Prize in 1962. In the book, White, a journalist, follows the candidates from the moment they made the decision to enter the race for the Presidency until Kennedy was elected.

In the 1970’s I had White’s The Making of the President 1968, the third of 4 books in the series. I was impressed with book when I read so decided with being on the doorstep of the 1916 election that I would read the original book in the series.

The Making of the President 1960 is as relevant and important today as it was in 1960. White has the reporter’s knack of capturing the detail that makes the story exciting even 55 years after the event. Many of the issues that he identifies in the 1960 campaign are still relevant today. He also has a strong sense of history and is able to put the events of the time in historical context.

White touches on the fact that the peaceful transfer of power from one person to the next is unusual in the annals of history. White writes:

“Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people have succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans.”

The Democrats seeking the nomination of their party in 1960 included Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson II and Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The Republicans seeking the nomination of their party in 1960 were Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon.

White is excellent at summing up a situation in a very simple image. After Humphrey had lost the primary in West Virginia that ended his campaign, White writes: “In the morning, when Humbert Humphrey woke, the Presidential image had evaporated. Outside the Ruffner Hotel his parked bus had overnight been given a ticket for illegal parking.”

Lyndon Johnson, like some politicians today, was seen as being too close to the workings of Washington. Johnson’s weakness was that he believed that the Senate was America and that he was the Senate. In a very relevant passage, White writes: “Long service in Washington at the court of power decisions causes men to forget that power rises ultimately from beyond the Potomac.”

Here is one of White’s descriptions of Kennedy: “He had mastered politics on so many different levels that no other contemporary American could match him. He had nursed ward politics with his mother’s milk; heard it from his grandfathers, politicians both, in boyhood; seen it practiced from his father’s embassy in London at the supreme level of world events in 1939, as war and peace hung in the balance.”

White fills his book with telling details. He writes: “At almost any moment of afternoon and evening on the road, soup is the favorite Kennedy dish — almost any kind of soup: chicken soup, tomato soup, bean soup and his favorite New England clam chowder.”

White reviews in detail the impact of the changing demographics on the politics of the time. Between 1950 and 1960, the population of the country grew by 18%. Forty-one million Americans were born during the period and 16 million died. Two-thirds of the growth had occurred in the suburbs.

White also discusses immigration which statistically began being counted in 1819 as required by Congress. White writes, “in 1820 America held 9,638,000 people, of whom almost 20 per cent were Negroes; and the rest are considered to have been the parent ‘colonial stock’ of America — an overwhelmingly British stock, spiced lightly with adventurers from all northern Europe.”

Over 40 million immigrants entered the country between 1820 and 1960. The Irish came first. Between 1847 and 1854, over one million Irish entered the country. Almost 900 thousand Germans came between 1850 and 1857 and they kept coming in waves. By 1960 people with German heritage had become the second largest component of the American population. The Scandinavians arrived in the late 1800s. In the early part of the 20th century, more than 3 million Italians arrived.

White also writes about the issue of religion. He reminds us that many of the early settlers came to escape the religious wars of Europe. The memories of how they were punished in Europe for their religious beliefs led to the decision that government had no right to make inquiry into the faith of its citizens and that the state should not have any connection to religion. People were free to worship as they pleased without guidance from the government.

I think every American would benefit from the reading and rereading of this book as we enter another election year. White is a great storyteller who helps us understand how politics work and how Presidents are elected to serve the people.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 28, 2015

Paulo Coelho

I remember when I first started writing I would ask the question that many people who first find the creative path ask: Do I have talent? And I hoped that some wise teacher would say that I was a talented writer and that I should devote myself to writing. Now, having trod this path for years, I know that no one can affirm or deny my talent. It is what it is. We all have creative gifts. We can either put our talent to good use or squander it.  We can either walk the creative path or become lost in chaos of creation.

There is a deeper and more important question within the question. When we ask do we have talent, the hidden question is: Will I be rich, famous and successful? And the answer for many of us on the creative path is no. Most creative leaders will work in obscurity and receive only a pittance for their labors. If money and fame is your desire, there are easier paths to walk. To walk the creative path is do it because you love it. The choice is yours.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Georgia O'Keefe

How much do we miss because we don't take the time to see it? How many sunrises or sunsets have you spent time just enjoying the beauty? Or are you like me — running from place to place, not spending time enjoying the beauty of nature? I have lived through over 24,000 sunrises and 24,000 sunsets. I would be lucky if I saw 200 of them. I could probably count on one hand those I remember. How much we miss because we are busy elsewhere!!

How many birthdays have you missed? Yours? Those you love? Our birthdays are one of the important days of our lives.  It is the day we came into this world. Some of us don't like birthdays because we had a bad experience as a child. My wife tells the story about how her family forgot her birthday one year when she was a child.  They failed to celebrate her life.  For the past several years I have made the choice to take off work on my birthday? I take the entire week off, not just the day. 

How much have you missed in the lives of your children or grandchildren because you were too busy to stop and enjoy a few precious moments with them?  Life is about the memories we make with those we love.  For some of us we will wake up one day and realize that our children have grown up and have gone on living without us.  

Life is a gift that we need to celebrate and appreciate.  Take a few precious moments this evening and watch the sunset.  Wake up tomorrow and watch the sunrise.  Choose to slow down and enjoy the moments in your life.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Theodore Roethke

Many of us are afraid of silence. We have a need to fill the the air waves with noise — television, radio, music. And for those living in cities there are the sounds of cars, trucks, sirens, airplanes and neighbors fighting. We don't feel comfortable when the conversation dies and we are left with silence.  We rush to fill the void. We experience silence as emptiness. 

I enjoy external silence because it allows me to think. Silence allows me to explore the backroads of my mind. Silence releases my creativity. But I rarely experience internal silence. Even when I sleep my mind is filled with dreams.  My thoughts are always bubbling to the surface, brandishing their weapons. 

When I teach people to speak in public, I talk to them about the importance of silence — of learning the pregnant pause, of giving your audience the time to catch up with your words. Storytellers understand the power of silence. We must learn to appreciate silence, to enjoy its many flavors. Sometimes we can learn more from silence than the words spoken or written.

Can you hear the silence when you are painting? Do you listen to the silences between the words that you write? 

Monday, December 7, 2015

General Colin Powell

Some people look for the easy way, the next get rich scheme and the short-cuts to the top. I had a brother-in-law like that. He was always looking for the business opportunity that would make him rich. He fantasized about retiring to a beach in Cabo, Mexico. Yet, he was never willing to invest the time and hard work it takes to become successful.  He was always moving onto the next great idea that would make him rich. He died with his dream unfulfilled. Even on his death bed, he was still scheming how to make his first million.

Practicing any of the arts takes patience, hard work and persistence. Nothing happens overnight. Many people quit too soon. They become frustrated because what they produce does not match what is in their imagination. And this quitting begins early in life. I recently saw a four-year old girl who was working on a painting of the ocean become frustrated because the painting did not match what was in her mind. She burst into tears. Has this happened to you? Do you become so frustrated that you quit? Do you give up on your work?

If you want something bad enough, you have to prepare, work hard, and learn from your failures. As artists and writers we understand this because we sometimes labor for years or even a lifetime with little or no success. My words are simple: keep writing, keep painting, keep living.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Kahlil Gibran

Hope is an essential gift we have been given as human beings. Hope is the capacity for believing that tomorrow will be better. Without hope, we are wandering through a dark, desolate world. We are at the mercy of our fears and doubts. Hope allows us to see beyond the current trouble we are experiencing. In even our worst moments, we need to remember that life will get better. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, even when we can't see it.

As artists, writers and creative leaders, we need to believe that the next painting or the next poem will be our best. Hope keeps us writing, painting and acting in the face of self-doubt and failure. If we were to quit now, we would never know what was around the next corner or what opportunities lay ahead.

As creative leaders need hope because we live in a very negative, sometimes hostile world, that often does not understand or appreciate our creative work. I have been writing seriously for almost forty years and have yet to receive acceptance and recognition for the work I have produced. Another person might have quit many years ago, but I keep plugging away.

Do you have faith in your creative ideas? Your poems? Your stories? Your paintings? Your ability to become another person on stage? Do you have dark days when you want to quit and live a normal life? Hope keeps us going even when everything and everybody around us are telling us to give up — that we have no talent, no gift.

What keeps you going during those darkest of hours? Why do you believe in your ideas? Where does your hope come from? Don't give up. Keep dreaming. Keep hoping. Keep believing. In every winter you will find the flowers of spring.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Joye Moon

How do you begin your day? With a cup of coffee? A cold beer? With steak and eggs? Or a doughnut? Do you drag yourself out of bed wishing you could spend the day sleeping? Are you wide awake and full of energy?  Do you hit the snooze button again and again trying to steal a few more minutes of sleep? Do you sing in the shower and dance about the room?

While my wife and I are both early risers, we approach our mornings differently. She loves sound and light.  She turns on the TV so noise fills room.  She turns on the lights around the house chasing away the darkness.  I, on the other hand, prefer silence so I can give free rein to my thoughts.  Mornings are my creative time.  Ideas seem to spring out of nowhere.  I don't want to talk. I don't want any external noise disrupting my thoughts.  My thoughts are enough noise. We both are enthusiastic about the day, but approach it differently.

Some people get up in the morning and say: "Good morning, Lord. It is great to be alive!" They are full of energy and enthusiasm.  Other people get up and say: "O Lord, it's morning again." They start the morning in reverse and keep going backwards. Which person are you? Someone who appreciates each day she has been given? Or someone who finds no joy in living and finds fault with the world? 

How you begin your day can have a positive or negative impact on your creative work. Do you begin your day with meditation? Or prayer? Do you take a walk? Or lift weights? Do you eat a healthy breakfast or do you skip the most important meal of the day? 

Be thankful for every day you wake up. The alternative to waking up is being six feet under. Celebrate the day and give thanks for all you have been given. Every day is an enchanted gift — an opportunity to begin again.  Greet the morning with enthusiasm and hope.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Isaac Bashevis Singer

The world is in need of a lot of kindness today. Kindness must start one person at a time. I must first be kind to others before I can expect others to be kind to me. Am I kind to those around me? To family, friends and strangers on the street? How should I demonstrate my kindness? How do I show my caring? Can you be kind without loving the other person? What is the differences between love, caring and kindness? Or are they cut from the same cloth?

One of challenges we all face is accepting people who are different than ourselves. And I am not talking here about race, culture, religion or nationality. I'm talking about the little things that separate people. Is there someone in your life who talks too much or too little? Are there people who you perceive to be stuck-up or unfriendly? Do you dislike fat people or sloppy people? Is there someone in your life who is too organized or too thin? Do you think all poets are crazy and should get paying jobs like the rest of us? Do you not like the way someone combs his hair or the clothes he wears?

Are you gentle in your relationships with others or do you run over people like a Mack truck? Do you act like it is your way or the highway? When I read the life stories of artists and writers, I find some to be temperamental and self-centered as well as mean and cruel to those they love.  They abuse others. But my question is does it have to be this way. Can an artist or writer be kind and caring to the people in his life and still be a creative leader?  I think true strength comes in being gentle with others. 

As artists and writers, we often can be most abusive with ourselves. Our art never lives up to our expectations. The finished product is never as good as we saw it in our mind's eye. We should learn to accept the gifts that we have been given and not compare our work to that of other people. We are not them. We are each unique in the gifts that we have been given.  We need to be gentle with ourselves. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Robert Persig

This is a lesson I learned many years ago when as a young man I set out to change the world.  I wanted to stop the war in Vietnam as well as end racism and poverty.  These were all lofty dreams, but ultimately unattainable.  I learned that to change anything, I must first change myself.  Change began at home and if I was lucky, I would be able to influence and impact a small part of the world around me.

Are you unhappy with your job? Begin by changing yourself — improve your skills, educate yourself. Are you unhappy with your marriage? Change yourself. No one is perfect. What are you doing that makes your spouse mad? Change it. Most married people set out to fix their spouse. You can't change your spouse. You must first change yourself. 

Are you dissatisfied with your creative work?  Do you need to improve your skills?  What can you do to become a better writer?  Artist?  Musician?  Do you need to increase the number of hours spend on producing creative work?  Do you need to overcome your fears and share your creative work with the world?

Another lesson I learned about change is that only you can change yourself. No one else can change you unless you are ready to change. Your parents cannot force you to change, though they will try.  Your boss cannot change you, though he may try.  Your spouse cannot change you, though she will try for years. Only you can change you. And you will only change when you are ready.  Other people can influence and inspire you, but only you can create the change that is needed within.

Once you master of the art of changing yourself, then maybe you can influence and inspire others to change.  Remember, though, that they will only change when they are ready. If you are unwilling to change yourself, forget about inspiring change in those around you.

What changes can you make in yourself today that will inspire and influence the people around you?  Are you ready to make the changes needed?  Are you willing to do the things it takes to make lasting change?  Only you can answer these questions.

A third lesson I've learned about change is that it requires commitment. People dream of changing their lives but usually they lack the deep commitment to do so. Change takes hard work and follow through. Nothing changes overnight.

Many in the American society expect instant change. Not happy with your body weight, take a pill or have surgery. Not happy with your wrinkles, have plastic surgery. Change takes commitment and patience. It is healthier to lose weight slowly rather than quickly.

Becoming a successful writer or artist doesn't happen overnight. It takes years of work and commitment.  Actors often are labeled an overnight success — a success which took ten or fifteen years. Harrison Ford, the actor, spent 15 years in Hollywood before he got the break in Star Wars that made him famous. Paulo Coehlo spent 15 years waiting for his best selling book, The Alchemist, to become a hit in the United States. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime and died broke. Creative expression is a lifetime commitment. Don't give up.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Wilma Rudolph

We all have dreams, things that we want to accomplish in our lives, but many of us give up too soon. We don't have the commitment to achieve what we dream of achieving. To be an artist in a world where you have to have a 9 - 5 job in order to pay the bills requires commitment. You have to get up earlier than everyone else or go to bed later than everyone else in your family. You have to steal minutes wherever you can to write, to draw, to paint, to dance. 

Sometimes we have to create in isolation, without contact with other creative souls. We have to force ourselves to write even when our body and mind is finding ways to procrastinate. Many of us don't have people in our lives encouraging us to create. In fact, we may have people telling us to get a real job. We have to be our own coach and cheerleader. We have to be willing to do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do? Have you the commitment to be a creative leader?

Discipline is one of the keys to being an artist or a writer. One needs to work every day. People often say: "I work when I am inspired." If you wait until you are inspired, you will be waiting a long time. If you work whether you are inspired or not, you will find that soon inspiration will become a constant companion. Work opens up the creative spirit and the inspiration flows. So my message is simple: work every day even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Success comes from work. Work when you are sad. Work when you are happy. Work when you don't feel like it. Work when you want to go to a movie. Our minds are very good at finding excuses for not working. "I have to do the dishes." "I have to wash the clothes." And the list goes on. Work takes discipline and will power. 

Since you have no boss but yourself, you have to hold yourself accountable. Schedule your hours when you are most creative and stick to your schedule. Maybe you write between 5 am and 6 am. Or if you have the luxury, schedule your work hours from 8 am to 5 pm with an hour off for lunch. Some writers write in the morning and do their research and marketing in the afternoon. You have to find the schedule that best fits your temperament.

Creative leaders sometimes struggle with discipline. They procrastinate. They know they should pick up the pen and write or pick up the paint brush and paint, but they find excuses. When you find yourself procrastinating, remember what you want. What is your dream? What is it you want to accomplish? Why are you here? Focus on your goals and you will have the discipline to do what you need to do.

We all have dreams and goals but many of us never achieve them because we have not mastered the art of self-discipline. I define self-discipline as sacrificing short-term pleasure for the achievement of long-term goals. If you want to be a novelist but you never seem to find the time to write, you will never write your novel. If you want to be a painter but spend your time partying with friends and not painting, you may never produce any great paintings. The arts require a lot of self-discipline. We need to be able to sacrifice the pleasure of the moment for the achievement of long-term success.

What are you willing to sacrifice for your creative work? What are you willing to give up? Life is never easy. There are many days when you will take one step forward and three backwards. Do you have the stubbornness to keep going even when you see very little light at the end of the tunnel?

The creative arts are not for the weak of will. The creative arts require commitment, persistence and self-discipline in the face of cold-hearted rejection. Do you have the self-discipline to stay focused when the world is screaming that you should quit and find a normal line of work? Do you have the strength to keep going when you have received 250 rejection letters? How long are you willing to wait for success? Two years? Five years? Ten? Twenty?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mark Vonnegut

Writing for me is a spiritual exercise. I did not realize this until I read an essay several years ago in which Mark Vonnegut talks about his father, Kurt, one of my favorite authors. This quote opened for me the door into why I have spent 40 years writing without fame or fortune.

Since I rejected organized religion and experienced a spiritual crisis at age 18, writing became the spiritual road I walked. Writing gave my soul the courage and strength necessary to face the traumas of this world. I was called to be a preacher but I could not preach until I first cleansed my soul and made it strong through writing. 

The writing is what makes me whole, gives meaning to my life, and keeps me believing even when I feel there is nothing left to live for.  Writing is my spiritual path, my meditation and my gift of prayer.

What roads have you traveled?  What paths have you taken?  Have you questioned your faith or simply accepted the beliefs taught you as a child?  Is your art a spiritual path that you have wandered down?

Here are several of my spiritual poems.

Many do not understand my form of spirituality.  I do not fit into any mold or preconceived notion of what religion is or should be.  For some I am a sinner lost in the world.  Others ask why do you speak of God?  He does not exist?

For me, my salvation is in my ability to question — in my gift of doubt.  I walk the path of the doubting Thomas.  I shoulder the burden of uncertainty.  I live at the edge of chaos and thrive.

I ponder the question of why we are here — of what is the meaning of life.  I receive no answers, only more questions.  I choose to listen to the languages of God and wait for His Word.  I walk the path of no regret.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Paul Gauguin

As a writer, I have lived in a black and white world for years. The pages of books are black and white. The page I write on is black and white. I came to color only slowly when I took up the study of art about fifteen years ago. 

The complexity of color is hard to understand. There are shades of color within shades of color. Black and white is easier to comprehend.  Black and white makes life simpler. Color adds layers upon layers of mystery and depth.  

Autumn is here — my favorite season. A time of reflection. The colors of the leaves are shifting and changing. The greens that we have lived with for months are fading from the world. Now we see yellows, reds and browns. Soon winter will come and we will be back to black and white, waiting for spring to sprout its vibrant greens.

What is the color of your life? Light? Bright? Sparkling? Deep? Dim? Dark?  What is the color of your soul? Yellow? Red? Blue? Purple? Brown? What is the color of your heart? Love? Hate? Indifferent? Compassionate? Discouraged? Hopeful? How do you paint the world?  Gray?  Black and White? Turquoise? Lavender? Rose colored?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Isak Dinesen

In the last 25 years, the publishing world has sought to give us more and more memoirs — people sharing their stories of sorrow and pain. They have taken Dinesen's quote to heart. And there is a lot of truth here. We all tell our personal story — if not to others, at least to ourselves.  By sharing our stories we can begin to heal the pain and suffering we have experienced.

When my wife and I wrote our book on pet loss, we gave voice to the pain that pet lovers feel when their pet dies. We allowed people to tell their stories.  We heard the tears of people who felt they had lost a soul mate.  Some said the pain was worse than the death of a parent or a divorce.  Some were still crying ten to twelve years after the pet had died.  Sharing their stories helped some to bring closure and healing to a painful time in their lives.

One of the best salves for healing the pain and sorrow that we feel is writing. The process of putting our feelings, thoughts, and experiences down on paper will give us the opportunity to work through our pain and sorrow.

Unfortunately, some of us don’t feel we can write. We feel that writing is something for professionals with creative talents but not for us. Yet writing is one of the most powerful techniques we have for clarifying our feelings and working through our emotions. By opening ourselves up and expressing our pain and grief on paper, we will release the emotions that are suffocating and depressing us. Giving vent to our anger and pain through writing will help set us free.

What is your story? What sorrows darken your face? Have you put it in words? In pictures? In music? Healing comes with the sharing of our stories.

I want to share with you a process, that if you follow it, will help you share your story and begin to heal your wounds and help you to recover from your sorrow.

Twelve Guidelines for Telling Your Story 

  1. Write for fifteen minutes every day. Discipline yourself to write even on those days you don’t feel like writing. 
  2. Write in longhand with a pen or pencil. Do not use a computer. 
  3. Begin either with the phrase “I remember’' or “I feel.” Whenever you run out of things to say, begin again with the phrase “I remember” and keep writing. 
  4. Write without stopping for the full fifteen minutes. Keep your hand moving at all times. 
  5. Write without thinking. Give free rein to your emotions and feelings. 
  6. Feel free to say whatever you want. Don’t worry about what others will think. 
  7. Be as specific as possible in your writing. Put in descriptive detail. 
  8. Don’t try to be creative or cute. 
  9. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or what your English teacher taught you. You are not writing for a grade. 
  10. It is okay to cry while you are writing. Keep writing through the tears. Don’t stop. 
  11. Keep writing as long as you need. If you wish, you can expand your writing time to thirty minutes or an hour.
  12. Initially, do not share your writing with others. They may not understand your expression of your pain or may be hurt by what you write.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Danny Kaye

We are in charge of our lives.  We make choices every day that lead us where we want to be.  Life is like a canvas and we are the artists of our lives.  We paint the person we want to be.  Or we paint the person we think we should be.  Or we paint the person we think others want us to be.    

Are you painting the life you want?  Have you chosen a large enough canvas?  Are you too stingy with the paint?  What color are you painting on the canvas of your life?  Blue?  Red?  Purple?  Are you painting flowers?  Or dirt?  Is the life you are painting happy?  Or sad?  Or anxious?

We tell our stories through what we paint on the canvas.  Others will know us by what we paint.  They will judge us by the colors we use or fail to use.  What stories are you telling?  Have you changed the facts to fit the story?  Or have you altered the story to fit the facts?  Are the pictures of your life filled with people?  Or animals?  Or is your life a landscape empty of people and animals?  Do you prefer the solitude of the mountains or the splashing of waves against the shore?

Are  you timid in how you approach life?  Or do you rush full speed ahead and ignore the red flags popping up every where?  Do you splash the paint on the canvas or do you make tiny delicate strokes with your brush?

Can you visualize your future?  Do you know what you want to paint on the canvas of your life?  Do you know what color you want your life to be?  Are you only painting the surfaces of your life?  Or are you exploring the depths of your soul?  If we look into your eyes, what will we see?  

Every day we pick up the paint brush and add a few strokes of paint to our self-portrait.  Is your self-portrait a true picture of who you are?  Or do you need to change the paint brushes that you are using?  Or do you need to use different colors that better reflect your character and inner beauty?  Are you painting the picture you want to paint?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book Review - No Higher Honor by Condoleezza Rice

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in WashingtonNo Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After listening to the audio book by Hillary Clinton on her experience as Secretary of State, I decided to follow it with No Higher Honor by Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor.  The books are in many ways very similar both in the telling and in the stories being told.  Like I was not a Clinton fan prior to reading her book, Hard Choices, I am not a George Bush fan either.  In fact, I have very negative views of his conduct of the wars during his administration, but I feel it is very important to keep an open mind and to listen to what they have to say.  One does not have to agree with someone to appreciate what he has to say.

Rice tells a very powerful story about her 8 years of experience in the Bush Administration as the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State.  She was introduced to George W. by his father whom she had served under during his administration.  Rice consistently defends the George W. and his decisions.  His administration was deeply influenced by the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.  She discusses the fear that permeated the administration in the months and years that followed the attacks. The way the Administration saw the world was colored by that fear.  While Rice admits making mistakes in her positions, she does not voice any negative feelings toward George W.  She is less positive about Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld with whom she experienced major disagreements, although one has to read between the lines to gain a sense of the conflict.

Rice grew up in the segregated Birmingham, Alabama.  She tells the story of how one of her kindergarten friends was killed during the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham.

One of my favorite anecdotes was during a trip to Rome for the funeral of the pope.  She was sitting between George W. and Bill Clinton.  She said Bill talked all the time and George did not talk.  The story, I believe, is very telling about the differences between the two men.

Rice did her own recording of the book so one hears the story in her voice.  I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in politics, history and the international world.  The book offers more of the story than one finds in the newspapers and on television.  And I would also recommend that one reads it in conjunction with Hillary Clinton's book on her experiences.  Hillary opens her book with the letter she received from Condoleezza.  A part of me wishes that Rice had chosen to run for President and that she and Hillary would have had an opportunity to campaign against each other.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 28, 2015

Helen Keller

During the first 35 years of my life I was more of a pessimist than an optimist.  I saw the glass as half empty, not half full.  I saw problems instead of opportunities.  I've had to learn the power of optimism and the need to see the glass as half full.  I had to learn how to discover the silver lining in the dark cloud.  

Even now as the second 35 years of my life draws to a close, I still struggle some days to see the glass as half full.  Often my first reaction is that something can not be done.  I have learned that I need to believe in myself before I can accomplish anything.  I need to find hope in a negative world.

Being a pessimist is much easier than being an optimist.  In almost any situation, it is easier to find the reasons something can not be done than to find the reasons that it can.  It is easier to be a negative person than a positive one.  

Pessimists believe that they are the realists and that optimists have their heads in the clouds.  The truth is that it is much harder to believe something can be achieved than it is to find fault with an idea.  It is much harder to be an optimist.  And research shows that optimists usually achieve more than pessimists.

As creative leaders, we need to have faith that what we create has value.  We need to believe in our ability to create something that can benefit others.  We need to have the faith to keep working when there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.  

Is your glass half full or half empty?

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  
Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."

— Helen Keller

Recommended Reading:  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Doug Larson

My wife and I are opposites.  She loves to talk and I prefer to listen.  She and her sister sometimes talk simultaneously and neither seems to be listening to the other.  When my wife was interviewing people for our book, It's Okay to Cry, she discovered that she often talked while others were talking.  When she transcribed the audiotapes, she could not hear the other person because she was talking over him.  She learned a valuable lesson about listening.  I have also discovered that talking can energize me.  After giving a speech, I want to keep talking but there is no one to listen since everyone has fled.  Talking helps me to think through my problems and come to a better understanding of what is on my mind.

While talking can sometimes help us understand ourselves, listening helps us understand others. And by understanding others, we will better understand ourselves. If we listen to the words of others, they will teach us about life — both what to do and what not to do. 

When we spend our time talking, we become self-absorbed, caught up in our perceptions of the world, and unaware of those around us.  Listening allows us to step outside ourselves and see the world through the eyes of others.  Listening helps us grow and develop as compassionate individuals.

We probably learn more from the failures of others than we do from our successes. As writers, storytellers and artists, we need to understand other people — why they behave in the way they do.  What motivates them?  What drives them? The better we understand people, the more realistic and truthful our art will be.  

So take the time to listen to others and understand what makes them tick.  Your creative work will be stronger, wiser, and more engaging because of it.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

Henri Matisse

I have heard many wanna-be writers and artists say they are waiting to be inspired. They can only write or draw when inspiration strikes. Unfortunately, that is not the real world. If we wait for our muse to come, she may never arrive.  She is a fickle mistress who has her own agenda and cares not for our needs.

The key to finding your inspiration and to being creative is to work every day. Maybe it is for a half an hour or an hour, but one must do the work.  And when you least expect her, your muse will arrive wearing dancing shoes.  She will lead you into the heart of creativity and dance until your feet grow tired and your limbs ache.

And after your muse has left and gone to visit other lonely artists, don't throw your work away even if you feel that what you did was terrible. Let it sit and come back to it later and you will see it in a different light. Creativity is a process. It is messy and unorganized.  To produce great work, one must produce junk.  To achieve great work, one must fail again and again.    

Creative work is not easy.  Our conscious mind works against the spirit of creativity.  Our conscious mind attempts to distract us from the deep spiritual work by sending us to the refrigerator or demanding that we wash the clothes and vacuum the carpet.  We must be vigilant and not be deceived. 

May your muse fill your heart with joy 
and your soul with the spirit of creativity.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ben Franklin

For many people learning stops after graduating from high school or college. They stop investing in themselves. While education will not cure all the world's problems, it will help us understand them and give us the skills to find the answers. 

I believe that reading is one of the most important ways of increasing one's knowledge.  I ask people when was the last time they read a book and many can't remember.  Some offer the excuse that they don't have the time between work and raising a family.  Others admit to not liking to read.

When I was a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a more difficult time finding a good book than children do today.  In the farming community of 1800 where I grew up, there was a school library and a small community library.  The nearest bookstore was 25 miles away.  Yet, I was always able to find something to read even though my choices were limited.  Today, books are available in giant bookstores, through online bookstores, and in libraries. I can access and borrow books from libraries through out the state without leaving my home.  Books now come in several formats including the traditional printed books, audiobooks and ebooks.  And people have access to thousands of free books online.  Project Gutenberg offers over 49,000 free ebooks.

Learning, though, is not limited to books.  There are documentaries that teach us about the world in which we live as well as teach us new ideas and skills.  If you are a visual learner, like my wife, documentaries are a great way to learn new ideas.  And technology has now given us new ways to access this knowledge.  You can find documentaries on Netflix, Hulu and Youtube.

We can also find knowledge in seminars, workshops and lectures.  We can find workshops on many subjects from business topics to art, from cooking to writing, and from investing to storytelling.  TED Talks offers free lectures on many different topics.

We live in the information age.  There is an abundance of information.  I think if Ben Franklin suddenly appeared in our age that he would be amazed at the learning opportunities that people have.  Are you taking advantage of the plethora of knowledge at your finger tips?  When was the last time you learned a new skill? When was the last time you invested in yourself?

As creative leaders, we have a responsibility to invest in ourselves.  We need to grow and change.  We need to expand our knowledge base.  We need to find new ways of communicating our ideas.  Take the time today to invest in yourself.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dale Carnegie

Many of us are afraid to take a risk, to try something new.  We keep waiting for the right time.  Unfortunately, there is never going to be a right time.  When we stop risking, we start dying one day at a time.  The more safe we feel the less risk we take.  Security and safety are illusions of the mind.  We are never 100% safe.  I read a story about a woman who was driving on a country road and was killed by tree that fell and hit her car.  Just being alive is a risk. 

Taking a risk does not mean that you have to throw caution to the wind and risk everything.  Planned risk is best.  How much are you willing to sacrifice?  What are you willing to lose?  Be ready with a plan B if plan A fails.  Think ahead.  I have seen people quit their jobs without having a new job in hand.  They are putting themselves and others at serious risk.  A better alternative would be to job hunt while employed.  Take the leap but have a safety net.  High wire walkers without a safety net risk death.

One of the biggest risks that I took in my career was when I made the leap into marketing and sales without any prior training or experience.  The risk could have cost me my job and my marriage, but fortunately, I passed the test.

Every time I submit my writing to an editor I am taking a risk — I am facing rejection.  Writing this blog is a risk because people may not read it.  Showing my art in an art show is a risk because people may criticize.

Begin with small risks that won't cause too much pain.  You have to know what you are willing to lose.  Many years ago when I visited Las Vegas, I discovered how much money I was willing to risk — $5.00.  I played the nickel slot machines and was happy to sit there for 3 or 4 hours both winning and losing.  I tried my hand at poker once and lost $20 in ten minutes and I quit.  I was not willing to lose my hard earned money.

Now, some of you may be laughing.  I am not a gambler.  I know when to walk away.  I know when to fold the cards.  Yet, I have taken major risks in my thinking.  I have questioned and challenged everything I have been taught.  I don't need hand-me down answers to the eternal questions we all ask.

What kind of risk are you comfortable with?  What are you willing to sacrifice?  Do you have a safety net?  Or do you throw caution to the wind and hope for the best?    Is there a risk that you should be taking but are not?  Take the risk.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bernie Siegel

Nature has a way of renewing itself quickly and swiftly. In the late 1960's Lake Erie, which is up the road from where I live, was declared dead. Today it is alive, although it is facing new challenges. If you have ever seen how quickly a forest renews itself after a fire, you will understand the meaning of this quote. In fact, I believe nature uses adversity has a way of cleansing itself from rot and then creating new opportunities. One simply has to observe the seasons to understand how nature renews itself.

And since we are a part of nature, we also have this gift. When adversity strikes, we can seize the opportunity and renew ourselves as needed.  We can change course and discover new paths to follow.  Each job change in my career has opened new doors for me.  One path has led to another. Adversity has created opportunity to change and grow.  Being fired from a job opened new doors.  Each failure was a new beginning.

Learn to let go of your old tired habits and plant new ones.  Are you stuck in a job you don't like? Seek a new one.  Are you tired of painting the same subjects over and over?  Find new subjects.  Step outside your comfort zone.  Are you tired of writing the same storyline over and over?  Expand you subject matter.  Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut.  We need to renew ourselves.  We need to let go of where we are so we can find our way to where we want to be.

Nature teaches to importance of rejuvenation and revitalization.  What are you doing to keep your art fresh?  Are you challenging yourself to write new books about subjects you have no experience with?  What are you doing to keep from becoming bored with what you do?  Develop habits that will keep you revitalized.  Renew your spirit with hope for new beginnings.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alice Mackenzie Swaim

Strength often comes from unexpected places.  We sometimes misjudge people when we only look at the outside.  Inside is what counts.  Have you ever met someone who you liked instantly only to find out he was not the person you thought he was?  Have you ever met a person who you thought was rude and uncaring only to discover she was very warm and giving?

We can easily look at large oak trees and see how strong they are.  They stand tall and their root system goes deep within the earth.  Many live to be 200 years old.  Some have lived over a thousand years.  They weather many storms.  And we can not deny that it does take courage to survive the hostile storms of time.  

Have you ever looked into the face of an old person with pity and hope never to be like her? Or have you wondered about the storms she has weathered and the courage it took to live the hard life she led?  We often misjudge the courage buried within the hearts of the people we meet.

Yet, it is the flower in spring that survives a late snow that draws our attention.  By nature, it is fragile and its life is short.  Though, it has a rare courage that cannot be denied — to hold its petals high in the face of unwanted cold.  We have all met that child who faces death with a courage we fail to see within ourselves.

As artists, writers and storytellers, we must look deep inside and see the truth beneath the surface.  We must find the courage to tell our story in words and images.  Do you have the courage found within the flower poking through the snow?  Are you as strong as the oak tree standing in your backyard?  Are you able to look truth in the face and share the pain you have felt?

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Heart's Code — A Book Review

The Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart EnergyThe Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy by Paul Pearsall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book is like preparing to run a marathon.  Not because it is long.  It is only 228 pages.  Not because the writing is poor.  It is well written.  This book takes patience and time to read because each chapter, each paragraph and each sentence is packed full of content that needs to be absorbed and understood.  The first time I attempted to read this book, I set it aside after two chapters.  This time I ran the entire race and finished the book.
The essence of the book is best described by the subtitle:  Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy. Paul Pearsall's key message is that the heart communicates through energy and he backs it up with scientific evidence.  The name he gives this energy is cardio-energetics.
Much of Pearsall's research has been done with heart transplant patients.  He tells a story early on about an eight year old girl who received the heart of a ten year old girl who had been murdered.  The young girl dreamed of the man who had murdered the girl and based on her description, the police were able to find him and convict him of murder.  The heart, Pearsall teaches, has the ability to remember.  He documents throughout the book many stories of heart transplant patients who remembered things from their donor that they should never have known.  Some even change their behavior like the foods they liked.
One of the powerful experiments that he shares occurred in 1993 under the direction of the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command.  The scientists scraped white blood cells from the mouth of a volunteer and placed them in a test tube with a probe from a polygraph detector.  The volunteer was placed in a room and shown violent scenes.  The test tube was placed in another room.  The polygraph detected extreme excitation  in the cells in the test tube even though they were down the hall.  Later experiments documented the same result even when the separation was 50 miles.  Pearsall says, "The donated cells remained energetically and nonlocally connected with their donor and seemed to 'remember' where they came from."
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in spirituality, energy work and the scientific basis for the power within the heart.  The heart is more than a pump that is at the beck and call of the brain.  The heart has the power to heal and a memory distinct from the brain.  The heart communicates at a much deeper level than mere words with the hearts it comes in contact with.  People in business today talk about leaders with emotional intelligence.  This book provides some of the scientific support for the importance of emotion and the heart.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 10, 2015

Henry Miller

I have found that one of the benefits of traveling is the opportunity to see the world through new eyes — to realize that there is more to life then the day-to-day petty challenges that I face.  Too often we become so involved in chopping down a tree that we fail to see that the world is filled with more trees than those on the tiny acre which we occupy.

Wandering the streets of new towns and cities and encountering new people changes our perspective of the world and our place within it.  We often realize that our problems and challenges are small and insignificant compared to those of other people.  We learn to see the world differently and through new eyes.

I have learned that taking the time to step away from my day-to-day challenges reduces the stress in my life and clears my head of the issues and problems that normally occupy center stage.

I discovered this my sophomore year in college.  My freshman year had been filled with concern about the problems and challenges facing the American people.  War was killing the youth of our nation as well as the men, women and children of Vietnam.  Riots were burning the hearts of our cities.  Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.  Young people were beaten in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic convention.  And I considered dropping out of school.

In September of 1968, I boarded a plane for Kingston, Jamaica with twenty other college students.  We spent 13 weeks immersed in the culture and history of the country as part of a Study-Service term abroad offered by our small church college.  We studied the Rastafarian movement, Spanish and British imperialism, banana plantations and Jamaican literature.  We spent seven weeks in a service project.

We did not read American newspapers or listen to American newscasts.  The problems in America faded slowly away.  The problems Jamaicans faced had less to do with race and more to do with economics.  War was not on the daily news.  Jamaicans were proud of their recent independence from Great Britain and believed they had a bright future.  The pace of life slowed and the stress of being a student in the turbulent sixties in America slowly faded away.  I began to see the world through new eyes.  

When I returned to the United States in December, the election was over and Nixon had won.  America still faced the same problems and challenges that it had when I left.  The world had not grown any better.  But I had changed.  I was still concerned about the issues, but I was calmer and understood that change took time.  I could not change the world, but I could change myself.  By stepping away, I had come to see the world differently.  I had come to see my place in the world with new eyes.

About Henry Miller
Henry Miller was born to German Lutheran parents in New York city in 1891.  He wrote several novels including Tropic of Cancer,  Tropic of Capricorn and Sexus.  He also painted 2,000 watercolors and played the piano.  He was married five times and died in 1980.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Zig Ziglar

Note to Reader:
(This blog post marks the fifth anniversary of my blog, Monday Morning Motivation.  I wrote my first post on August 7, 2010.  The first two years I posted daily.  The last three years I have posted weekly.  I have received over a quarter of a million page views during these five years.  So, thanks to everyone who has stopped by.)

I was 35 years old when I first heard about the importance of goal-setting in achieving one's dreams. In college I had dreamed of being a writer but at 35 was far from my dream. I had only written about 200 poems in 15 years. I set a goal to write a poem a day for a year. That year I wrote over 400 poems.

Now, after more than 30 years of setting goals and writing thousands of poems, I have come to understand what Ziglar means in this quote.  The person I have become through the process of struggling to achieve my goals is more important than whether I did or did not achieve my goals.  The journey, as others have said, is more important than the destination.

So, how has achieving my goals made me a better person, a better writer?  Has my journey been more important then my destination?  

My creative journey has given me a greater appreciation for the struggle of all creative individuals.  I understand what it means to be an artist or a writer.  I am less willing to criticize the creative works of others.  Yes, some of us may be more skilled than others, but we all have creative forces running through our veins.  I know what it means to put pen to paper or paint brush to canvas and not find an audience for my work.

I have a greater appreciation of the creative energy that drives my being.  If I don't write or draw, I become melancholy.  I need to expend my creative energy.  The more I create the happier I become.  Failure to create leaves me lifeless, empty.

I have gained the ability to create anywhere and anytime.  I can write a poem while sitting in a mall while my wife shops.  I can write in church while the minister is preaching.  I can doodle while sitting in a business meeting.  I can take a walk at 6 a.m. and compose a poem.  Creating works of art has for me become a way of life, not a destination.

And most importantly, through my creativity I have found spiritual healing and understanding.  As a teenager, I was troubled by the hypocrisy of church members.  Writing has helped me see beyond the hypocrisy and to gain an understanding of the hearts of others.  I am a better person for the time I have spent creating.

Have you set goals for your creative journey?  Have you come to understand that the journey is more important than the destination?

About Zig Ziglar
1926 - 2012
Hilary Hinton Ziglar was the tenth of twelve children born to John Silas Ziglar and Lila Wescott Ziglar.  When Ziglar was five, his family moved to Yazoo City, Mississippi where he spent most of his early childhood.  His father and sister died a year later.  Ziglar served in the United States Navy during World War II.  He married his wife, Jean, in 1946.

Zig Ziglar began his career as a salesman and eventually moved into motivational speaking. He wrote and published more than a dozen books including See you at the Top, Secrets of Closing the Sale and Confessions of a Happy Christian.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hephzibah Menuhin

Some people believe that freedom means doing whatever one pleases.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Freedom is about making choices.  And one's choices defines whom one becomes.  People seem to forget that freedom actually means taking responsibility for oneself and others.  Freedom is about choosing which burdens to bear.  Freedom is about choosing one's passions and obsessions.

As creative leaders, we are free to choose how we express our ideas, beliefs and opinions including what paints or metaphors to use.  Our freedom is in the choices we make.  But freedom is not just about our expression, it is also about our obsessions.  What are we focused on?  Where do we spend our time?  What are our passions?  What drives us to share?

Freedom is also about choosing to accept our burdens.  None of us live without pain or challenge.  We all face the darkness that haunts our dreams.  We must choose to accept that which weighs us down, to shoulder our responsibilities, to bear the brunt of our pain.

About Hephzibah Menuhin

Hephizibah Menuhin was born in San Francisco on May 20, 1920 and was descended from a distinguished rabbinical dynasty.  She became a pianist, writer and human rights activist.  She died January 1, 1981.