And what do you do during yoga?


I write a blog.

That’s right, the moment my butt hits the mat, my mind begins to wander. Where, you ask (or maybe you don’t)? Well, that is as unpredictable as the path an autumn leaf takes to the ground.

Before I wander again into the dusty recesses of my mind, where all my blogs are born, I need to clarify something: yoga is not “exercise” in the western sense. The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, meaning to “unite” or “join.” It has many forms, only one of which can be interpreted as exercise.

And this is where we westerners screw it up, like we do to all things spiritual.

The world problem Hinduism tries to solve is the same world problem most philosophies try to solve: get better at being human. Connect. Be mindful. Be nice. Yogas are the methods through which we imperfect humans become better. The main forms of yoga – karma, bhakti, jnana and raja – all come back to the same thing. You, the practitioner, chooses the way in which you want to plug into the world around you.

Here’s the short version:
Karma yoga is good works. Feed the hungry, give to the poor.
Bhakti yoga is prayer and devotion. Worship your god through song, dance, prayer…choose and enjoy.
Jnana yoga is intellectual. Study spiritual texts, debate, expand your mind.
Raja yoga is about the whole person, a combination of all types of yoga, the royal path to personal enlightment. Here is where we find the hatha and pranayama yogas. Those that we westerners have turned into a whole industry.

But we’ve missed the point. And that, friends, is where the wandering comes in. See, if you think that yoga is supposed to magically turn your mind off and soothe your soul, then you are unrolling the mat for the wrong reasons. It’s work to focus on uniting your body and mind, especially if you are as high strung as I tend to be. But it is worthwhile work.

Recently, I started taking a class taught by my friend Lynda. It’s the type of class that I need once a week (if I had time, I’d take it every day) because I personally need the focus of Yin. For me, it is a mind-bending hour of giving real attention to my aching joints and forcing myself to love the reliable machine that carries my brain around all week. Did I mention that it’s hard work? Each time my mind wanders, or writes another sentence, or thinks about work, a phrase or instruction from the teacher creeps into my consciousness and brings me back to the task at hand, connecting.

There are myriad versions of yoga classes, now. There is always a debate whether the adaptations are true to the spirit of yoga. If one considers that the intention of yoga is to unite the mind and body, then it is up to the individual to choose what works toward that goal. My sister claims that “yoga is too slow.” In fact, a lot of people do. However, I’ve taken ashtanga classes that have left me as breathless as running does. There is a great variety in what you personally can choose from to heal and push your body.

If you’re mind isn’t constantly wandering away from what it’s supposed to be doing, then you are not practicing yoga, you’re just stretching. We mindlessly allow work and other stresses to negatively impact our bodies every damned day. I get on a plane twice a week, sit in a chair for most of the day in front of a computer and by the end of the week, my back and legs are miserable. So, I go to yoga not only to get the physical benefits of the stretching and the movement, but also to actually give back to the vehicle. Nowhere else do I have the opportunity to quietly and intentionally heal my body. The real work is in bringing the mind back.

There is one other thing. During that same hour, I connect to the human I want to be: a better mother to my son, a better wife, a better teammate at work. As I settle into a pose, where I will likely stay for a few moments (and in Yin, a few minutes), as I breathe deeply into wherever it hurts, I let in all of the light I can. Yeah, it may seem like a lot of new-agey rhetoric, but in truth, it’s like anything else that creates a zone for you. The point of yoga is the zone.

I try to practice all forms of yoga, because in the end, I think self-improvement is a worthy goal. Most of us practice in one way or another every day. While Hinduism organizes the ideals into a tradition, most of the humans I know practice the precepts as part of their own spiritual traditions; they just have a different name for it. The mindfulness of yoga isn’t about perfect clarity on a mat. In fact, to me, it’s the opposite. It’s about the work of getting whatever clarity I can. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes it’s twenty, and sometimes…it’s a blog.

P.S. There are a lot of good studios around. I take classes from different teachers for different reasons, and they don’t all practice in the same place. Find your favorite places to find your own zone.

Read more here:

An “Intentional” Community

“Here, we created an intentional community,” says Mandy Cloninger, Executive Director of Trinity Cafe. In a two minute speech at their annual event Stick a Fork in Hunger, Mandy recounts their daily activities and with a grin, she reveals the secret “sauce” in Trinity’s mission. I have to admit, until that moment, I had only a cursory understanding of what I saw in the images posted by my dear friend Shannon, whose work it is to raise awareness and raise funds. It is certainly easy to understand that there are people who need to eat. Anyone can understand that, right? You’d think so.

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Stick a Fork in Hunger, Annual Charity Event

Note that THIS is where this piece changes tone, in case you miss it.

In my last ten years or so on social media, I have noticed a trend that infuriates me. Over and over I read that “they should do something about hunger,” “they should feed and shelter our homeless,” they, them, those people…ad nauseam. When I ask who “they” are, I get a lot of hemming and hawing about the government, the rich, “you know, people who have the money.”

“Really,” I ask. “Who are ‘the people who have the money?'”

***blink, blink***

I already know the answer, anyway. I’ve photographed enough charity events to know where the money comes from and exactly how hard it is for organizations like Trinity to have enough. If you dare to begin this conversation with me, you’d better have your facts straight, and you’d better have a good explanation as to why YOU don’t do anything yourself.

You know what you need to know about feeding the hungry? It is a community responsibility, and it always has been. That means YOU need to look after your neighbors, and not just the ones next door to you. Your neighbors include the small business owners who were devastated by the last recession, the single mom working hard at two jobs to raise three beautiful kids, children who’ve been orphaned and the elderly who cannot afford groceries and medications.

Be careful, as we discuss this topic, not to criticize the people who are actually doing the work you ascribe to they, them and those people. You see, I’ve seen the best. I’ve seen how Chef Benito and his staff focus on managing costs so that they can successfully serve as many as 500 nutritious meals a day, 365 days a year. I’ve seen Mandy and Shannon and their administrative volunteers tirelessly keep the public informed that their efforts are working. I’ve seen men and women whose lights were nearly extinguished by circumstance not only get a good meal, but then find a purpose in helping others.

Most importantly, I’ve seen dignity.

If you really want to do something about hunger, you first have to understand that hunger isn’t just about food. It is also the need for companionship, for kindness, for acceptance, but most of all, it is the need for dignity. THAT is the “secret sauce” at Trinity. Every day, three meals a day: over 500 of them, and every one served with kindness and respect. It is just as much about helping people heal as it is about filling their stomachs.

So, shut up and stop saying they need to fix hunger. They are trying. In the events I photographed this weekend, representatives from AT&T, GTE Financial, local law firms, physicians organizations, wine companies and more all gave personally and through their employers. Now, it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves or get out your checkbook and donateWE have to fix hunger in our community. WE need to stop talking about hunger as though it is not right on our collective doorstep.

By the way, an interesting thing will happen to you while you serve at Trinity, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.

Where is Your Other Sock???

The tactical objective is clear: get into the car and out of the driveway by 750am. It supports the overall strategic objective of arriving on time to the mission objective: camp. But there in the middle of the living room stands the child, wearing only one sock, his shirt far too big, his hair a shock-and-awe mass of unkempt curls, his hands turning a Matchbox car while he studies it intently. It is now 745am.

“Child,” I said, “where is your other sock and why are you not entirely dressed to leave?”




“I don’t know.”

“Child,” I said, “the socks were together. Put down the car and go back to where you started.”

We did not achieve our tactical objective that day.

It occurred to me, as I watched Child put on his other sock, that his ability to achieve our strategic goal of getting out of the house was limited by his inability to make several decisions in a row without supervision. He is 7. He has a good excuse.

However, I am finding that adults are suffering from the same problem when it comes to achieving strategic goals like electing a government official. In order to vote on legislation for example, one has to understand the entire contents of a bill. The ACA, at over 900 pages, was an epic of poorly, hastily written policy AND no one was going to read it.

But what if we gave people an algorithm to follow: a flow chart of what to look for while researching their vote? What if we required congress to present the information in a more consumable way so that the average layperson could assimilate it and ALSO have enough time to decide what they preferred.

In the project management world, we ask the stakeholders how and at what frequency they prefer to receive their communications. What if we, as the country’s stakeholders, demanded that congress limit their legislation to a single decision and then publish the votes on those decisions?

If the end goal is to elect an official we feel would be best-suited or the job, we have to remove our emotional, intractable ideologies and actually look at our candidate’s work history. We’d do that if we hired any employee. Why not do that for our elected officials?

The average human makes decisions based on no more than 5 or 6 factors. Highly emotional people may make a decision based on a single factor. Lately, it seems like the entire country is standing in the living room wearing one sock because there are far too many other distractions to get through the 5 or 6 tactical steps that facilitate the strategic objective: electing a good leader.

“Child,” I said, “what are the steps we must take to get out of the house by 750am?”

“Dress, eat, brush teeth, get our lunch box, go to car,” he answered.

“And you got lost at ‘dress?'”






“I don’t know.”

And there you have the average American voter, knowing the objective, but not how to reach it.

The Art of Scrubbing

Bear with me while I make a short point about the status of the American (and possibly global) mindset at the moment.

I started writing databases back in 1984. I have written many, from the complexity of a predictive foreclosure manager to the simplicity of a phone list. The first thing one does when writing a database is “scrub” the data. “Scrubbing” is a technique we use to make the data consistent so that it is (a) easily searchable and (b) easier to generalize data in reports. The criticality of this step increases commensurate with the size of the database.

As populations increase (any population, even within the confines of a business entity), the need to manage that data forces the dehumanization of the individuals in that population. We transform from a person, known by our uniqueness, to a line item, identified only by the commonality we share with other members of that population. It’s bad enough when it is a global company, especially if that company has become a large entity over time, absorbing smaller companies (as many of my recent clients have been). When it is a country, with vastly different populations, and localized idiosyncrasies, it becomes a nightmare.

Humans feel less and less hopeful, and therefore more and more depressed, as we get lost in the “scrubbing.” It is demoralizing to call, for example, an insurance company, and KNOW that nothing you say will be addressed because your line of data has no power. YOUR personhood doesn’t meet the critical ranking level that other stakeholders do. This is where we are as a country. We’ve become so hopeless, so demoralized, that like a weakened virus, we are turning on each other, using each other as fodder for our rage. Is this really who we want to be?

True globalization (which has been tried numerous times throughout history) will not succeed because as the data becomes more and more sterile, and humans begin to grab what is theirs and escape the onslaught of so severe a change, the individual countries will unravel but the cultures will continue to fight for relevance. Change is the great nemesis.

WE individuals are not losing our humanity. We are losing our hope that our lives matter in the face of immense external pressure. We are witnessing dangerous groups (such as DAESH and MS13) emerge that give hopeless individuals a localized sense of belonging. Groupthink roots deeply under those circumstances. I am a strong proponent of communities for this very reason.

Stay connected to your community, whatever it may be. Know your neighbors. Volunteer your time. Be part of a solution instead of spewing rage at a force under which individuals are powerless. It is the only antidote for scrubbing.

And before anyone starts the “but…but…isolating groups…blah blah blah” rhetoric, think long and hard about how “communities” reach out and welcome people whose lives have brought them to those places. Communities are first and foremost, welcoming. If your mind immediately goes to isolationist groups, then you are part of the problem.

If you give me something green…

Fifteen years ago, a colleague gave me a rare African Violet. It wasn’t just ANY violet, either. It was an antique violet propagated from one of her plants. It had been handed down to her from her grandmother, who’d received a cutting from her mother. So, this particular plant is at least four generations old.

So what, you may ask. That’s hardly national news. You’d be right. It’s not. Yet, that one plant means so many deeper things.

My colleague, and friend, trusted me with a living thing that brought her joyful memories and the satisfaction that comes with helping something, or someone, thrive. That is her nature. I took that gift very seriously.

Since that day, fifteen years ago, I’ve not only taken great care with that plant, I’ve propagated many more from its leaves.

Antique African Violets, the mother plant now more than four generations old.

Others have shared their plants with me or given me plants as gifts. They too thrive in my garden. I research and apply their species’ needs, giving them the best chance at survival. I check them daily.

Why, you ask? Why is this so important? Because in an era where the world is focused on polarization, personal attacks, identity politics, and myriad other negative pursuits, I am choosing to focus on the loving act of sharing life between friends.

A cartwheel cactus I received as a cutting after a heavy pruning has now doubled in size; a philodendron cut from the same friend’s plant now cascades over the pot. Sunflowers grow wild: gifts from the birds. Ginger and orchids, given to me by a client who could not bear for them to be neglected after she moved from her home of twenty years, are now flourishing, constantly reminding me of her. I know each plant well, and I remember where it came from each time I tend to it. These are connections that I treasure.

Propagating a plant takes weeks, sometimes months of attention and care. When I give away a plant I’ve grown, it is not a frivolous thing. I am giving my time, my nurturing. I am telling you that you mean enough to me to entrust you with a thing that will bring you peace as you care for it; a peace I long for you to have. Many times, I take the time to prepare the vessel in which I give you this gift. I paint or decorate it in a way that I hope suits your tastes or communicates a message. On rare occasions, when I can afford it, I find an artist whose work is perfect for the plant and I invest in that vessel. To me, giving or receiving a plant is a very intimate thing indeed.

So, next time someone hands you a plant from their garden, understand that it’s not just a plant. It’s a living, breathing thing that may bring color to your life, or clean the air in your house, or give you food for your table. It is always more than just a plant.

African Violets, some as old as twenty years. 


Red Devils

Cass street bridge

A few weeks ago, while meandering down our local river walk with my pre-teen son, we passed a well-known but dilapidated railroad bridge. It remains raised, looming over our heavily-invested, developing downtown area. As abandoned machinery often does, this bridge stands as a monument to the captains of industry that put our fair city on the map. We natives know it well, but it was the first time my young son had seen it.

“Mom, what is that,” he asked, pointing to the rusting metal that cut the afternoon sunlight into familiar geometry on the sidewalk before us.

“It’s a defunct railroad bridge,” I answered.

He paused, a reaction I know well as his processing behavior.

“What does ‘defunct’ mean?” I already knew he had a fairly good idea.

“Well, what does the prefix ‘de’ mean?”

“Not,” he answered.

“And the second syllable, ‘funct?’ What did it sound like?”

“Functional,” he answered without hesitation.

“Alright then, what do you think ‘defunct’ means?”

“Obviously, it means ‘not functional,’ mom.”

“Well, almost. It actually means ‘no longer functioning,’ which communicates that it DID, at one time, function. That is different from dysfunctional, which communicates that it never functioned properly. That’s an important distinction.”

Another pregnant pause.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes. I do.”

Three important things happened for my son that afternoon. The first, simplest change was that he added to his vocabulary. The second was that he practiced his ability to discern ideas by reverse engineering other ideas, in this case, learning a new word based on his knowledge of its parts. The third, and most important, is that he increased his ability  to comprehend complex ideas.

What prompted this nostalgia, you wonder? Well, I had another tiresome discussion on Facebook today with another person whose reading comprehension was, shall we say, less than stellar.

Unless I am engaged in sophomoric banter with friends (don’t judge, everyone does it), I write comments thoughtfully, focusing hard on clarity. I ensure that I have made my point without insult, without false equivalency, without malice. If I read something I do not understand, I research the information, or I ask for clarification of the comment. In other words, I make sure I understand before I take the offensive. Today, I was not even mildly surprised when I was personally attacked for my “ignorance” as I openly discussed the idea that finding and addressing root cause will always provide the lasting solution, especially in an otherwise volatile situation. The person who accused me of “ignorance” does not know me. Calling me “ignorant” and my favorite, “pathetic,” based on a single, out-of-context comment was the width and breadth of her attack. I found it sad, and simultaneously, a revelation.

It was obvious that the woman who attacked me had not read the commentary elsewhere in the thread. Or perhaps she had and just short of true alexia, her emotions inhibited her. She did not appear to comprehend the conversation into which she injected herself, having only insulted me, addressing no part of the original post. She obviously did not understand the core of the discussion. Cognitive dissonance, I wondered. No, that would assume she’d read, understood and then formed a separate but competing opinion about the subject at hand. Perhaps this is the BIGGEST problem with social media.

I have found, in nearly every “discussion” thread into which I’ve reluctantly entered, comprehension decomposes quickly. Each thread is a microcosm of what is happening in our country. It usually begins with a highly emotional, hyperbolic post. Several people with similar feelings chime in, raising the temperature. The comments become more and more vile. If, at this point, someone with an opposing, or even moderate view enters the discussion, the pack turns, salivating, and begins an all out personal war. Trolling notwithstanding, it quickly becomes obvious that the mob is either incapable of or disinterested in truly comprehending the commentary they are reading. They are the Red Devils in the ocean of social media. I don’t want to think it is a willful disregard for facts and reason, but I must concede that that may be part of it. I have often said that MOST people want the same thing but don’t agree on how to get there. Now I believe that humans are decreasingly capable of the meta-comprehension required to live democratically. The rapid breakdown on a single thread is proof that productive debate and comprehension are now defunct.

Comprehension requires not only a grasp of language, and at least an average vocabulary, but more than anything else, it requires the maturity and reason to accept that we cannot know everything, that we must be receptive to the ideas and experiences of others and that we must ask questions when we do not understand. Most importantly, we must be introspective and accept that we may not understand.

Persuasion is an art form. Tribalism, the opposite of debate and persuasion, is the natural human condition. As civilization has evolved, we have had to devise constraints that promote order and progress as we increase in number to many more humans, who are naturally self-centered. The last twenty or so years has seen a near complete abandonment of the intelligent application of systems that created the environment for innovation and improvement. “I am entitled to” has replaced “I will work for” and “I will contribute to.”

This is not an indictment of emotion. No great rock would move without the power of a good push. However, in order to move that rock, we have to push together in the same direction. We have lost sight of this fundamental idea. Many find more gratification in keyboard bullying than they do in solving the problems about which they spew their vitriol. I don’t want to believe that it is a devolution of human understanding, but after what I’ve seen just in the last few weeks, I can see that the Red Devils are increasing and all reasonable voices are being consumed in a melee of poorly written, myopic comments. The Red Devils are winning, Borg-like in their pursuit of group-think. If you’re not with them, you’re against them, and these days, that’s a very dangerous place to be.

(Original photo credit “Steve E.” No more information available, edited by me for composition and dynamic range)

Frankenstein Lives

“What causes you pain,” I ask my user. His aspect changes. First he looks a bit surprised, but then a very predictable thing happens. His body language, tone of voice and facial expression shows frustration. He’s been given permission; he commences unloading with considerable emotion, about what hinders his work.

“Well, um…I have to enter the same information on every invoice for clients. You know, um, shipping address…it takes too much time. I should just be able to pick the location and then all that stuff fills in. I do dozens of these a day. It would save me so much time.”

“Great example,” I say, “tell me more.” With each answer, his mood improves, his brow unfurls. He’s been heard.

It’s a fairly simple question, but it results in myriad answers, easily organized into only a few recurring categories: just like stories that fall into into one of the seven major plots. The users address process deficiencies; they identify, often in whispers and furtive glances, who they believe are ineffective managers; they even admit, on rare occasions, that they themselves are the problem, citing poor training, or in some cases, no training at all, which when fully analyzed, still points to a problem with their employers.

The most valuable project management skill is identifying and refining requirements, which are often gleaned from users whose expertise is process-based work. These users are constantly evaluated and compensated based on some form of tangible output, such as the number of pallets shipped or the number of orders fulfilled in a given period.

This seems like a simple process, doesn’t it? One would think that it culminates in a task list, which can then be completed step by step, which would in turn culminate in perfect conditions at the end.

However, anyone with any work experience agrees that no process improvement, big or small, is that simple. All the data gleaned from interviews must be catalogued and categorized, then the emotional responses must be analyzed for root cause and organized objectively as to their true impact to the company and the user. In conjunction with a team of subject matter experts, the project manager presents solutions to the project sponsors. I cannot count, for I long ago lost track, the number of times that the solution is education. In order for a user to be more effective, he or she must understand intimately, end to end, where lies all of the potential failure points, and more importantly, how to mitigate or avoid them. This is the nature of process dynamics.

Having honed this skill over many years, I have peripherally become good at analyzing political arguments. I “hear” what people are really saying, on both sides, and as they talk, I am forming potential solutions to the problems they are discussing. Keeping my personal feelings out of the debate is essential to what I do. I have often found that people do not “hear” reasonable solutions unless those solutions fall within their emotionally accepted range of possibilities. Emotional responses ALWAYS lead to “bandaids.” They want a fix now that they cannot understand will cause them bigger problems, later.

Designing information systems for humans is a unique parallel to solving societal problems. A user who cannot complete his or her tasks often has the same visceral response as those trying to solve a social issue. They become focused on how the problem affects their immediate existence. They make decisions based on the fear of losing their jobs. They are not concerned with root cause; they want an immediate solution, which is how bandaid after bandaid becomes the monsters that are poorly written solutions. Those same bandaids satisfy management in the immediate, because their key performance indicators stay within range in the short term. Sadly, legislation is a canon of bandaids that rarely, actually solves a problem, but it makes the public happy until they’ve forgotten about the original issue.

It is useless to have “feelings” about a problem. Long-term solutions require that root cause is identified and accepted without the chaos that accompanies fear and loss. Effective, feasible, long-term solutions are most often the result of small, measurable course-corrections. A well-placed ripple can become a tidal wave of change.

I am grateful that my friends and acquaintances are a bell curve of political viewpoints (minus the pesky, lunatic extremes at both ends, which I attribute to my limited tolerance for stupidity). The ONE thing I’ve experienced consistently is that when we have open and honest discussions (about anything), and listen without prejudice to opposing opinion, we find common ground. In the end, we all tend to want the same things. The arguments, the intractability, is in the how.

I understand that it is difficult to remove emotion from an argument, especially one as intimate as politics, but bickering based on how we feel about a problem is the intellectual equivalent of throwing cow manure at one another: everyone ends up angry and reeking. Is this really what we want to teach our children? Listening, maturity and reason are the prerequisites for effective and lasting change. If you, an adult, are not willing to hear opposing views and try to understand them, how can we expect our children to become good, informed decision makers? How can we expect that we ourselves can make informed, lasting decisions if all we ever do is talk into a mirror?

Lately, I’ve read too many op eds, posts and comments and seen far too many videos of people who cannot seem to assimilate that they are not informed, that they do not have a clear understanding of the “big picture,” that they’re unexposed, “small town” perception does not translate to a world view. They are busy with their heads buried firmly in the mountains of detritus shoveled out by the media, and then perpetuated by the even less informed. Most are too lazy to seek the truth for themselves. They simply accept whatever trash supports their personal agendas. We claim to be improving as humans, in better health and with greater capacity for complex thought. Yet, we’ve allowed an insidious anti-intellectualism to infect society. We  tolerate views that are virtually irreconcilable without our hard-won freedoms, so that we can say we are the welcoming, the magnanimous. We continue to create more problems than we can possibly solve because we cannot seem to operate outside the confines of our personal circuses and those we trust to implement effective solutions are not keeping their collectives eyes on the prize.

In order to move forward, we have to accept that the human race mimics exactly the animal kingdom. There are predators and there are prey.  We are an intellectual food chain of personalities. For society to operate, we have to minimize the impact of the predators and protect and empower the prey. Predators will always manifest destruction because that is their psychosis. This applies to every aspect of human existence, from the stewardship of our environment to the protection of both our loved ones and our rights.

The question is, how do we identify and eliminate predatory behavior without restricting the rights of the rest of the human race? What is creating new crops of predators? We have to ask ourselves hard questions, some of which make us very uncomfortable. Are we manufacturing predators as products of our behaviors? Have we, as a society, as a race, created the monsters we now want to contain? Are we collectively Dr. Frankenstein?

Thriving with ADD

I developed “failure syndrome” at a fairly young age, only, I didn’t know what it was, nor did my teachers. According to an ERIC digest published in 1998, it is a clearly defined pattern of behavior based entirely on lack of confidence. At the time, they treated children like me as lazy, especially when evaluating the results of frequently applied intelligence tests. I was tested three times before I was twenty-four. Each test revealed that I was more than capable of learning. In fact, I had exceptional processing speed and problem-solving skills. So, why couldn’t I learn like the other children in my class? Why were my parents consistently frustrated with my performance in school and worse yet, why was I descending into profound depression as early as eight years old?

Fast forward forty-plus years and one day, the lightbulb, nay, the nuclear explosion glowed brightly above my head. I was sitting in my son’s teacher conference when it happened. I was so surprised by the revelation that I actually began to cry, not just because I was experiencing the cathartic understanding of my life as a student, but more because at the same time, listening to the teacher describe my child’s classroom behavior, I felt the gripping fear that he too would struggle the way that I had. It had already begun, his turn at “failure syndrome.” Everything the teacher told me was a replay of my own school experience. Why was I afraid – actually, terrified? Because my child had been happy, social and confident until his eighth year, just as I had. In third grade, a major developmental period for children, he began to say the exact same things I had. “Why am I so stupid? Why can’t I remember? Why do I make so many mistakes?” The big difference is that he has a mother and teachers who understand him and who will fight for his success.

remember feeling complete despair at fifteen. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four, and had failed at college, that I was diagnosed as depressed, even after having been in some kind of counseling on and off for six years. At one point, I’d sought counseling through the college. As a matter of course, they tested my intelligence and processing skills, as well. They reported back to me what I already knew, but still could not transcend. The more I tried to learn like everyone else, the more I despaired. It just didn’t make sense. No one had ever suggested that I had a learning “disability.” In fact, quite the opposite, they couldn’t understand it either. They marveled that I spoke about my brain as though it were a separate entity, with a great weight tied around it. They’d even say, “you are capable” repeatedly, as though those words were going to magically turn on the part of my brain that can sit in a classroom and follow the industrial revolution’s idea of standardized education.

As if the ADD component wasn’t enough, the depression that followed added a new wrinkle to the problem. While ADD is an inability to control certain brain waves (theta), depression adds a layer of seismic disturbance akin to snow in the television. With that much random brain activity, it is hard to focus on one single thing and as the anxiety increases, as it inevitably does, as students, my son and I stare at a page and watch as it actually begins to expand visually. Suddenly, twenty math problems is Kilimanjaro and we’re without cams.

After the meeting with the teachers, I began to read about how to help him and in the process, I learned how to help myself. I had always seen my mind as a handicap, a perception that really solidified when my son (and as a matter of understanding, I) was “diagnosed.” The more I read, the more I realized that ADD is not really a handicap as much as it is a type. We don’t learn poorly; we learn differently. The industrial revolution abandoned apprenticeships for classrooms, and in the process, immersive learning was abandoned for text books. For 150 years, we’ve been torturing highly-creative, kinesthetic learners, turning them into anxiety-ridden, insecure adults by forcing round pegs into a square holes.

The more I read, the more I realized that my brain is uniquely suited to the systems work into which I stumbled. My capacity to follow multiple threads means I can have several processes running on several computers in different rooms and not only remember each process, but switch between them quickly. My brain is not damaged; it is different, and that is a beautiful thing. I had, over much time and struggling, developed coping skills to get me successfully through my days. They were adequate, but often not perfect. I had already started applying those coping skills to managing my child’s learning, setting an example for him to someday manage it on his own. The more I read, the more I realized that my coping skills were among the items listed as best practices for brains like ours. It was hugely satisfying to learn that I developed coping skills that are documented as effective for my learning “type.” It was also an enormous relief to find confirmation that my understanding of how we package ideas is quite accurate, and the way in which I assimilate information is a teachable method.

So, if you have a child with ADD, consider yourself lucky. He or she is probably empathic. She has a mind that will spring into action to solve a problem before anyone else recognizes one exists. He will pinch a bleeding artery in an emergency situation. She will invent the lightbulb of the future or solve world hunger. Each is a free spirit and truly amazing.

It should be understood that even with this new understanding that my son and I learn differently, we still face the fear of sitting in a classroom all day. When I need to learn a new product for work, for example, I lock myself in a room with a computer and reverse engineer that product. In that way, I make it a reality by touching it, making mistakes, creating an end product. But on occasion, I HAVE to sit in a classroom, as I will in a few weeks, and despite my knowledge and new skills, I still fear that I will fail miserably. I understand what school looks like for my son. I hope that I can show him, as I venture back into a classroom, that with the right tools, we can adapt the classroom to our needs, instead of trying to adapt to the classroom. I send him to a Montessori school (see why here), which I highly recommend for children like him, but that will only carry him through elementary. He’ll soon have to move on to middle school, where everything changes.

Also of note is that a few weeks ago, I started drinking Bulletproof Coffee. Now, I am not recommending that this is a fix as I am not a health care professional nor a nutritionist. However, I personally have noticed a difference in my memory and most importantly, my motivation. It could certainly be psychosomatic, but I am rarely a victim of “suggestion,” so it’s unlikely.

I will recommend the op-eds Learn More in Less Time and Note Taking Study Skills, and a YouTube channel such as Mariana’s Study Corner. I had already started to develop some of these habits, and they are working for me. I will be incorporating more of them in my future learning. If you have a child that struggles to study, building a routine and materials that are unique to them will keep them interested in the process.

Rants About Ants

Firstly, thank you to my younger sister for brilliantly rhyming my pain.

Now that that is out of the way…

I must admit, I am somewhat Buddhist about the natural world. I will capture a spider and put it outside (although I learned recently that this practice is not exactly good for the spider, who chooses her environment based on her needs). I have saved a harmless snake from destruction by moving it to safer ground, or by staying out of its way if I’m in its territory.

But for two creatures, I am not so inclined to coexist. The first is the roach (except for the little guy in Wall-E, but in fairness, he’s animated). There is no reasonable explanation for the proliferation of the common roach, other than providing protein for the next link in the chain. However, there are no rodents in my home, so roaches need not volunteer for the position of protein-du-jour by crossing my threshold. When such a terrifying sight as a roach presents itself in my household, I scream like a banshee while running from the scene calling the name of the nearest person I know is willing to kill said intruder. Gentlemen, cue the heraldic fanfare as you enter, riding your mighty steed, sword aloft and save the day for the damsel-in-entomological-distress.

The second evil creature is the common sugar ant, an insidious and annoyingly persistent little bastard. I have tried all manner of discouraging the micro-beasts from entering my home as the rains embolden them to find every poorly-caulked baseboard in random rooms. I do not leave food out. I do not coax them with tiny ant treats. Yet, they have maintained a near persistent invasion, led surely by the ant-sized reincarnation of Ramses II himself.

Pharoah ants are the bane of my existence at the moment. I have tried negotiating, natural oil remedies, vinegar, borax and finally ant traps. They are the Borg collective and they are after my soul.

Finally, when they began biting me, I abandoned my Buddhist love of all things living and started smashing them. In any given sitting in my art space, there may be ten little mangled carcasses after I’ve basically exhausted my commitment to natural deterrents. Less than an hour later, I see ten more, drunkenly looking for a safe route around any chemical defenses I’ve laid out on my desk.

As I descend into madness, if you hear only the word “ant” on my lips, know that they’ve won, that I can no longer battle the force that has more fortitude than any other living creature on this planet.

I hate ants.

Update: I finally won! I found a recipe online for the best ant killer EVER. I doctored it a bit to make it more appealing and sure enough, the tiny creatures come in their hundreds to sample the ant-brosia I concocted. They carried it back to the queen and after just a few days they were gone! The recipe called for Borax, sugar, water and syrup. I raised the stakes with true maple syrup and unbleached sugar. Just a spoonful on a plate is enough to draw them out and tweet their little antennae like bugs possessed. And after about a week, no more ants! (PS, make sure that you add enough water that it’s still sticky but won’t harden.)



I check my plants for new growth every day. That is the first indicator that they’re healthy and thriving in their new space, in their new pot. Am I giving them enough? Plants are complicated, but the one thing that is true for all species is that every new leaf means you’re doing it right.

Recently, I met a delightful woman with an artist’s heart and a green thumb. I’m certain that few feel the way I do about receiving the gift of cuttings, because in the back of my wannabe-naturalist’s head, even I can’t quite understand the delight I feel as I run my fingers over the new material, feeling its bumps and textures. I delight further in researching the growth habits, the soil acidity, the amount of light it needs. I’m no botanist, but I understand the mechanics.

So, when after all the leaves have fallen away and after weeks of wondering if I’ve managed it, I see new leaves sprouting and new roots reaching into the soil, I secretly squeal with glee that I’ve done a small thing to perpetuate the green in the world.

I am amazed as well that something as lovely as a frangipani begins as a terrifyingly clawed gather of leaves as it reaches for the sun. People are the same. Something very ugly can eventually become something lovely, but it often takes patience, and encouragement and a bit of instinct.

Always keep an eye out for just the tiniest hint…