All posts by jimazing

A Plum Ending

plumsI’ve got one more thing to say about Plums, then I’ll be quiet (unless I think of something else).  I admit that I went a little overboard with the thanks, but I couldn’t help myself.  You see, I was really worried where Danae would wait for me for five hours while I drove from Charlotte.  I had visions of her at best sitting in an uncomfortable fast food joint and at worst wandering the streets.  When I found out that she was in a safe place, I was able to stop worrying and focus my attention on getting there.  When she told me that Michael offered to wait with her no matter how long it took me to get there, I was beside myself with grattitude.  He treated her kindly and with respect all day long.  What a gentleman!

I have told this story many times this week and many have responded with statements like,  “You just don’t see things like that anymore.”   I do not agree.  I believe that there are many decent people doing nice things for no other reason than to be gracious.  Most of us miss it most of the time.  Don’t get me wrong, Michael is one in a million (and so are the other million).  It doesn’t diminish his kindness at all.  The actual thing we don’t see much of is thanks.  We expect people to treat others with respect.  It’s the way things ought to be.  When someone is disrespectful, we feel angry and rightly so.  But the opposite does not hold true as often.  When we are treated courteously and respectfully, we ignore it or dismiss it.  We don’t say thank you enough.  That’s what’s missing.

I think there are biological roots for why we are not as thankful as we could be.  The book, On Intelligence explains from a logical standpoint how the mind works (intelligence).  In short, the authors explain each of us is constantly “predicting the future”.  We constantly receive sensory information from our eyes and ears and nose… We know what’s going on and we expect things to continue like they always have.  Driving down the road in traffic, we expect the cars to stay in their lanes going the right direction, or change lanes slowly and hopefully with a signal.  If someone darts out or passes us like a bat out of hell, we are startled because we didn’t predict that.  As I write this, the ceiling fan in moving the air about in the room.  Until I stopped to think about it I was unaware of the feeling of the air blowing my bald spot.  I was also unaware of the sound of a plane flying overhead.  My mind was used to these sensations and predicted that they would continue.  Here’s the kicker… When the predictions come true, our minds simply throw the information away.  It is not needed.

As humans, we can intentionally stop and pay attention to details that we would otherwise miss.  A fun exercise in Improv Wisdom is to close your eyes and describe the room you are in in as much detail as possible.  Then open your eyes and see what you missed or what you just got wrong.  Clearly we can override our automatic intelligence systems sometimes, but we cannot do it all the time.  It takes effort.

Back to thankfulness.  We miss the gifts that others give us.  Carl Sagan said, “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” We are all dependent on the work and gifts from others present and past.  It would be impossible to be completely present and aware of everything that we could possibly be thankful for at any one time. But it is a wonderfully eye opening experience to stop and thank someone for what they did for us… even if it was their job.

My final act of thankfulness to Plums (until I get a chance to visit them) is a letter to the editor of the Bryan County News (click to read online).  Facebook messages are nice, but I’m willing to bet that the owners of Plums didn’t go into business to get nice compliments.  They surely did it as a financial investment.  My sincere hope is that one day soon, they are able look at their financial statements and say, “On June 19th, when we were nice to Jim Anderson’s daughter, everything changed for the better.”

Thank you.

P.S.  I just realized today that the letter to the editor will not remain online forever, so I have captured it here…

Bryan County News (Wednesday, June 23, 2010)

Dear Editor: My daughter’s car broke down at exit 87 on her way to Charlotte, N.C. from Orlando, Fla., on Saturday.

I drove the 5 hours from Charlotte to get her and was worried about where she could wait for me. Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop was where she chose to wait. Michael, the manager, was so very helpful and friendly to her. He even let her stay there after closing time until I could get there!

Since we returned home, my friends have been filling their business’ Facebook page with thanks. As satisfying as that has been, none of us live near Richmond Hill.

The Richmond Hill community needs to know what a jewel they have in Michael at Plums. He went above and beyond.

If Michael had been rude or worse, I would have taken the opportunity to blast the restaurant and the people of Richmond Hill. I want to be just as intentional about shining a light on our positive experience. Would you help me go overboard with lavishing thanks on Michael at Plums?

This was my personal blog entry asking my friends to help…

Thank you,

Jim Anderson

Stirred Part 3 – If Only

free-guyIf only…

When I was a young man, I had all the answers.  In fact, I still have most of the answers, but they changed.  Now I am not so sure of these new answers.  One of the reasons for this lack of surety is because of those very changes.  Why should I think that I would stop and settle on “the truth” as I know it now?  I’m pretty sure I’ll keep “adding to” and “taking from” as long as I am breathing in and out.

Being the father of four teenage daughters at the same time was a challenge.  I envisioned myself as the stoic leader of my family.  the one with the answers and the rules.  Of course, I expected them to believe the truth as I knew it and to live by the same rules that I was trying to live by.  I was mostly unaware of how little they were interested in following those rules. I thought it was a phase and they would eventually come around.  Rules are created to prevent pain, which is a good thing until the rules become the point and we stop feeling pain because we don’t feel anything.  When the kids were living at home with us, I felt the need to be the example for them to follow.  After all, If I broke the rules, how could I possibly expect them to follow the rules?

Now that they are all out on their own, the scales begin to fall from my eyes.  I realize now that I do break the rules and no one knew that better than my daughters.  In 2004, I went to France to play music with LaClef. The group was mostly people my kids’ ages at the time (late teens early twenties).  I kind of became “the dad” on the trip.  I remember hearing their stories and on one occasion in particular, several of them were sharing their painful family stories.  As I listened to them talk about their parents shouting and how it frightened them, I cried with them.  I was angry that anyone could do that to such great kids.  Later when I had some time of prayer and reflection, I thought about the pain they felt and related it to my own pain.  I remembered how I too shouted where my girls could hear.  I remembered one of them coming to me in tears asking if her mom and I were going to get a divorce.  It hurts to write that.  In that moment I realized that I was not only the recipient of pain, I was also the giver of pain.

It is humbling to realize that finger-pointing works both ways.  I want grace for all the dumb things I do.  I want to be let off the hook for my mistakes.  I think the best place to start is by giving grace.  Giving it to others and to myself.  Letting others off the hook and me too.

Over the years, I have always thought it was silly when I heard people say, “If only I could go back and do it over with what I know now.”  It’s goofy to think you could win the lottery or buy Microsoft (even though it makes for a pretty fun movie).  As I step into a new understanding of graceful living,  I find myself wishing for the first time every that I could go back and do some things over.  I wish I had understood grace better and lived it better rather than so much rule giving and following.

A Plum Day

The kindness of a stranger can make the difference between a totally rotten day and a tolerable one with pleasant overtones… A “Plum” Day.

plumsThis morning after mowing the lawn, I was fixing or breaking my edger (depending on whether you consider my intentions or the results) when my phone rang.  Danae was driving to Charlotte from Orlando, FL after a week of Music Therapy training.  When she got to Savannah, GA (well… almost) she stopped for a bite to eat.  When she exited I-95 the engine cut off and wouldn’t restart.  Google and I helped her find a place that would look at it today. She was towed in and the news was not hopeful.  It looks like the timing belt broke, which could be very expensive to fix.

I drove from Charlotte to get her and bring her to our house where her baby girl and dogs were waiting… in fact we are on the road as I type this (Danae is driving). I was very concerned about where she would be for the 4.5 hours it would take me to drive to her.

When the repair shop closed, she walked down the street to a little sandwich shop and made herself at home.  She didn’t know what to expect.  It was, after all, a local place hidden in the back of a little shopping center.  What she found was a gracious store manager named Michael who treated her like royalty all afternoon.

On my way down, I-26 (or as Danae says, “I-twenty-sux) was a parking lot.  I took a longer route around the traffic, which was faster than sitting in it, but slower than I anticipated.  It was clear that I was not going to make it before the restaurant closed at 7:00.

Michael told her not to worry.  Even if he had to close the restaurant for the evening, he would let Danae stay there until I arrived. When I got there around 7:20, Danae was safe and sound and full of terrific stories from her adventure at Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop. Michael was a wonderful host who gave my daughter a safe and pleasant experience in the midst of a pretty horrible day.

I have three little requests for you to consider…

First: I would like to overwhelm Plums Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop with Facebook Fans.  If you are thankful and/or impressed with what they did for Danae, would you go to their page (click here) and click the button to join them?  They had 92 members before me.  Wouldn’t it be cool for their kindness to be the start of a wave of positive attention and new customers for them?  Let’s do it!

Second: Would you share this story with your friends and ask them to become a fan of Plums?

Lastly: If you find yourself traveling south of Savannah in the area called Richmond Hill, please get off I-95 at exit 87, head East on Hwy 17 for a little over a mile.  They are hidden in the shopping center right behind the Verizon store on your right.  Stop in for a sandwich or the best blueberry cheesecake ice cream you ever had.  Tell Michael, “Thanks for watching over Danae and making her day a Plum day.”

See also A Plum Ending

Improv Wisdom

shell-artI picked up, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Madson in one of the many bookstores in Berkeley last month when we were visiting Erin and Justin.  The title stirred me and a cursory browse of the book showed promise.  I wasn’t mistaken.

Each day I understand better that our value is not tied to what we do or even what we can do.  We all have value because we are.  There’s value in just showing up and being present.  Planning and preparing are important, but they aren’t everything.  I am learning that, while being prepared is invaluable, being present is just as important if not more so.

The section I read today in the book was on rituals.  Being one who loves variety, I have always thought of rituals as ruts, but this book has given me a different perspective.  Rituals can help us get in the groove.  Madson was relating about the rituals she was introduced to in some classes she took.  She says,

At our desks in calligraphy class, we began with the ritual of grinding  the ink.  There is a correct way to hold the ink stick and to move it in small circles in a tiny pool of water on the stone that serves as an inkwell.  The action of making ink became both a physical and mental preparation for the work of learning how to paint Japanese characters and bamboo leaves.

These rituals at the beginning of each session had the effect of creating order and harmony.  We knew what we had to do when we entered the sace.  Cleaning and grinding ink got us into the world of the art without the stress of creation.  There was a calming effect…

My best meetings have been the ones where I not only prepared for the content, but took time to prepare my self to clear out the clutter and be more present.  What a wonderful way to look at rituals as preparation for the art of being present.

Stirred Part 2

Watching my granddaughter, Molly, grow is so incredibly rewarding.  She is constantly learning new things.  Every day she wakes up so full of life.  It’s as if she’s wondering, “What cool things am I going to learn today?” I used to believe that kids learn new things until they become adults.  Then you are are “just a grownup” for the rest of your life.  This was around the same time that I thought grownups could do whatever they wanted. I don’t know about all adults, but it sure hasn’t turned out to be true for me.  Each stirring is another opportunity to learn.

When I feel stirred, it feels like a small voice saying, “Pay attention.  Something cool is going on.”  It is an opportunity to see something new that I never saw before, or something old in a new way… hearing a new sound… smelling a new smell (what did I have for lunch?).  For me, being stirred is learning.  My artist/neighbor/friend says, “To truly live and grow is to always be open to being stirred/ stimulated/ moved, isn’t it?” What does stirring mean for you?

Reading for stirring

america-mapWhen I was younger, I read mostly for information.  I was (and am) a learner. The rule makers I was trying to please said, “Learn the rules and obey them and you will be okay.”  So I studied and listened in order to learn the rules of life.  The better I learned the rules, the better I could recite them and the more I felt like I fit in.  Unfortunately, with my head down, learning and applying the rules, I didn’t see that I was following a map through life that was written by others who were as clueless as I was.  They saw what they saw and no more. Lately I have found myself understanding that most rules are someone else’s ideas about how life works.  They remind me of the ancient maps of the world drawn by people who had a very limited perspective.  Yes, they were invaluable in their day, but really… are you kidding me.  This is North America?

Lately I find that I am reading less for learning and more for stirring.  I want to learn, but to get more perspective, not the right answer.  Don’t get me wrong, I do read to learn, but the ideas the author is trying to convey are less important to me than what her words stir in me. Not because I have all the answers, but because some things I am ready to learn and others… not so much.  The stirrings are a clue to what I’m ready for.  Some of my recent reads have stirred me to irritation.  Even that has value.  I was able to ask myself what I believed and what was this author stirring in me.  That was way more valuable than reading an author I agreed with completely (if that were possible).

Lately, I find that I enjoy two kinds of books.  The first type is books that explain some facet of the way life works in a way that I have never thought of before.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Seth Godin’s Linchpin are two that I particularly enjoyed.  I’m reading one now, called Nudge that talks about the kinds of things that influence the thousands of decisions we make every day.  Fascinating stuff.  Not the whole story, but a new perspective.  The other kind of books I find myself gravitating to are biographies.  I got stuck on presidential bios for a while and then got out of that rut by reading a biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.

I am a little surprised that I like biographies so much for two reasons.  First because, I like surprises. I don’t want to know what is coming next.  With a biography, you already know the ending.  For me, knowing that the story is true and experiencing the depth of the whole person is fascinating and stirring.  I pick a biography because of what the person did.  But when I as I slow down long enough to read the details of his life, he becomes a real person with real difficulties to overcome.  The other reason my interest in biographies surprises me is that I’m not a big fan of history.  I find facts and dates to be overwhelming and boring.  But reading the biography of a historical figure helps me experience history through their eyes.  They become much more than their accomplishments.  That stirs me, and I like being stirred.


stirred-sm“I’m stirred,” I said to Jeanie recently.  Not that that is unusual.  I frequently say I am stirred.  Why? Because I am frequently stirred.

Am I alone?  Are you stirred?  Do you ever feel a little emotional flip in your belly?  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just a tiny little flip will do.  If so, you too have been stirred.

Stirred [adjective] Being excited or provoked to the expression of an emotion

Imagine a jar of water.  The water is clear, but there is sediment on the bottom.  The jar is me (or you), the clear water is a lack of emotion.  The sediment is the stuff we remember from our past… some of it good some of it bad.  It is made up of memories and beliefs attached to the memories that were emotionally embedded.  Haven’t you ever been reminiscing about something with a friend and say, “Remember when we…?” and the friend doesn’t know what you are talking about. She has no memory of it whatsoever.  Chances are, it was emotionally embedded for you, but not for her.

Our jars get stirred when anything bumps up against our expectations and beliefs.  Sometimes we feel that little emotional flip.  Sometimes we are paralyzed with anxiety.  Our tendency is to ignore the little flips and avoid the big ones until the emotion dies down and it seemingly takes care of itself.  Getting stirred can be incredibly uncomfortable and even embarrassing.  If we just hold the jar still long enough, the feeling will go away.  I think that’s what they mean when they say, “time heals all wounds.”  It doesn’t, but the feeling gets smaller over time.  It becomes more sediment in the jar to be stirred up later.

The feelings are what embeds the memory and with the memories are embedded beliefs.  Some are true, but many are lies.  The value in the stirring is that we can feel and in the process examine those beliefs.  I won’t tell you that is easy.  In fact it is incredibly difficult to examine carefully and to be honest about those beliefs.  As far as I know, the only alternatives are to a) ignore the stirring and hope it will go away soon or b) point fingers at other people or circumstances.  Neither is worth the pain in the long run.

stirred-sm2The thing is, stirring the jar is the only way I know of to un-embed those feelings and beliefs.  As uncomfortable as it is, it is valuable.  Kind of like removing a splinter.  The first time you get a splinter, getting it out with the tweezers hurts like crazy.  The second time, just the sight of the tweezers is enough to hurt even worse than it did before.  There’s a fear embedded with the memory.  The problem is that to leave the splinter is to invite infection.  So we feel the fear and let the tweezers do their work anyway.  Soon it is all forgotten.

I am afraid of being stirred.  Just the same, I want to be stirred.  When I feel the flip, I want to keep asking myself what it is about.  What do I believe?  Is it true?

What about you?

I Can’t Do It

rainbow-jimA few days ago, I decided to do an experiment in posting to my blog every day for 30 days.  By missing yesterday’s post, I answered the question… I can’t do it.

So what?  Now what? At this point, I can choose to end the experiment as a failure or examine what went wrong (if anything) and learn a little more about me and what I really want.

My friend, Curtis plays the guitar.  He has recently picked it back up in earnest and is writing songs for people as gifts.  My birthday present this year was a rewrite of “Yesterday” by the Beatles (lyrics below).  There’s no way I can express how much that meant to me.  Knowing that he thought enough of me to plan it in advance, to think about what song to do and then writing lyrics that fit me (not to mention knowing me well enough to be able to write for and about me).  It was a gift I will always treasure!

I mention Curtis and the guitar because I always wanted to play the guitar.  I like to say to say now, “I would give anything to play the guitar… ANYTHING!… except practice.”  And it’s true.  I could do it.  I already understand the music.  It’s just another instrument.  I just don’t want to do it badly enough to “pay my dues”.  Is writing like that?  Am I willing to give up what I would need to, in order to finish a book?

Yesterday was filled with wonderful activities with people I love.  I wouldn’t have given up any of them.  They were all very important to me.  On some level, I believe that a good writer writes first and then organizes whatever is left of his life around that.  I don’t think I can do that.  One of the things I value most in life is variety.  I love recording life using photos, videos and words, but I never want to stop “living life” in order to do it.

Maybe I don’t really want to write a book as badly as I think I do. Or maybe writing would be better as a collaborative effort for me.  Some of my favorite books were written by teams of writers.   For now, I will continue the experiment and wrestle a bit more when I fail again.  Molly will be staying with us for a few days starting Tuesday while her mom goes to a Music Therapy conference.  Something tells me that there will be life to be lived and written about.

Yesterday to Legacy (RTI–April 18, 2010)

All my time keeping others an arm’s length away
Didn’t think they’d care ’bout what I had to say
Oh I didn’t believe in me Yesterday . . .

I’m now twice the man I used to be
Friends in my life celebrating over me . . . it’s a
New legacy—God brought to me

Now I clearly see—the Art in me’s for the world to know
I have something to say—want to bring it out more every day so now my

Love’s not a game I have to play!
It’s just me being who He made me to be
Oh the weight of my presence—that’s my legacy!
Jim in my life—he’s a gift to me!