Year-End Review, 2000 Edition
Greetings, all. Welcome back.
Preface: As a general rule, I suspect we tend to underestimate the duration of our major life transitions. Whether it’s learning to write in cursive, graduation, marriage, divorce, changing careers, children learning to drive … these periods of getting used to some major change in our lives seems to take longer than we might expect, or hope. I began 2000 knowing that I was in a career transition, but believing that I was at the tail-end of it. In fact, these past twelve months have been a continuation of a change process that began in October 1998. NOTE: Most links will open new windows.
General Semantics, and My Career
In early January, my good friend and Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, Marjorie Zelner, announced her resignation. This was prompted in part because she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, which tragically ended her life 10 months later.
Her resignation left the Institute with something of an organizational crisis … who would take over? Since general semantics has become such a major part of my life, I offered a proposal to the Board whereby I would replace Marjorie, if they would consent to move the one-person office to the Dallas area.
This offer prompted much-needed discussion and debate amongst the board. In February, the Board decided instead to accept an alternative proposal from Jeff Mordkowitz that kept the office in the New York area.
With this decided, I turned my attention to finding a ‘real’ job, as my severance period drew to its six-month conclusion.
I was offered a Program Management position with Rockwell Collins, an established provider of radio and communications systems. I accepted their offer and began working for them in mid-March in their Richardson, TX, facility. My entree into Collins came via Kelly Ortberg, with whom I had worked at TI in the mid-80s. He moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1987 to work for Collins, and had risen to a vice president level.
Before I began, however, I wanted to take one last travel fling. I had never been to Chicago, so I decided to take an 8-day road trip prior to beginning the new job. I bought a new car and took off the next day headed to Chicago.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Chicago was because that’s where Alfred Korzybski founded the Institute of General Semantics. I felt a pull, a tug, to go back and pay a ‘pigrimmage’ to where this GS stuff started. I also played first-time tourist and had a great time.
After Chicago, I drove on north to Milwaukee and visited with some gs buddies — Gregg Hoffmann at the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, Andrea Johnson at Alverno College, and Lynn Schuldt. I got to sit in one of Andrea’s general semantics classes, which inspired me to write an essay in response to some of the class discussion. On my way home, I stopped in St. Louis and had an all-too-brief lunch with two more good friends I met through general semantics, Holly Ingraham and Robbyn Wahby.
My initial assignment with Rockwell Collins was to manage a proposal to offer a high frequency (HF) radio network to the Israeli Defense Forces. This led to a week’s trip to Tel Aviv in June.
Fortunately, the schedule allowed for a day of sightseeing to Jerusalem.
In 1999, I began to develop a website around the theme of “differences that make a difference” — www.ThisIsNotThat.com. And I continued to publish my Chanticleer Calls newsletter on a sometimes-regular twice-a-month schedule. The most recent edition includes a (partial) listing of (some of) what I learned during the past year.
In April, one of those “lucky breaks” happened my way. One of my Humperdink’s beer-drinking buddies, Katybeth Miller, wrote to me and advised: “Unless you say otherwise, William Safire is going to mention your website in his April 9th column in the New York Times Magazine.” At the time, Katybeth worked as Mr. Safire’s research assistant in Washington, D.C.
I immediately wrote back: “Katybeth — I am SO NOT saying otherwise!”
Sure enough, the April 9th New York Times Magazine column by William Safire, “Neten-clature”, made this reference with respect to website names: Some are thoughtful: a site dealing with general semantics, often illustrating the differentiation of words, is thisisnotthat.com.
As you might imagine, my website traffic picked up tremendously over the next few weeks. I received a bunch of very nice emails from people all over the world who read the Safire column. Somewhat surprisingly, several emails came from university faculty members.
One of these, Ursula Williams, Director of the Language Resource Center at Notre Dame, indicated an interest in general semantics and offered the possibility of hosting a program at Notre Dame. After much discussion about topics and titles and such, I flew to Notre Dame at the end of September to present a 90-minute talk about “The Language of Awareness: Taking Responsibility for Meanings.”
After investing the better part of a month preparing for this 90-minute talk, I wish I could say I did a bang-up job. However, about the best I can say is … I learned a lot. Although I think I pulled together some very good information, examples, and illustrations, it was too much for the time available, and it was for a different audience than the one in attendance. Nevertheless, I owe Ursula much gratitude for extending the invitation and the opportunity for a great learning experience.
On the other hand, I was asked to make a 20-minute speech to the Rockwell Collins chapter of the National Management Association earlier in September. Working off the title, “Sizing Your Box: How do you know when you’re thinking out if?”, I talked about six ‘dimensions’ or factors that shape and constrain your thinking. I did a much better job in presenting this, and the reactions were quite encouraging.
In July, I signed up with Helen Harkness, Ph.D., President of Career Design Associates, Inc. Helen is one of the pioneers in counseling people specifically on career transitions, and helping people understand and articulate their real interests and abilities. Through her program, I started to shape a lot of fuzzy images into some semblance of a focused picture of what I could do to better make use of my creative talents and abilities. For the first time, I could actually see several pieces — writing, speaking, consulting, training — coming together to form a ‘real’ career option.
But I still struggled with answering some basic questions …So what are you going to do? Who is your target audience? What’s the benefit you’re providing? How are you going to make money?
As hard as it is to believe, Stacy is now half-way through her Senior year of high school. She has kept herself busy with her office work for a local chiropractor, her medical transcription typing at home, her church activities, and an active social life. She’s also vice-president of her high school’s drug awareness program — D.F.Y.I.T. (Drug Free Youth In Trinity).
Let’s see … for some reason, Stacy’s favorite band, HANSON, wasn’t mentioned in my 1999 report. I know why — they dropped off the face of the earth, that’s why! But they re-appeared in 2000 with their second CD, “This Time Around”. Stacy got to see them twice during the summer — once by themselves, and once as part of a local radio station’s summer music fest. The headliner act of that concert was Bon Jovi, whom Stacy REALLY liked! (“Dad! What’s their lead singer’s name?)
Stacy enjoyed two vacations this year. Right after school let out, she, her mother, her Aunt Fran, and her friend Candice took a week-long road trip to the beaches at Destin, FL, via New Orleans.
In July, Stacy and her cousins Jessica and Britni flew to Phoenix to spend a few days with their Uncle Freddy and Aunt Kay. While she was gone, she made the mistake of asking me to record a live concert on HBO by ‘Nsync. I sat down to check it out as I started the recorder, started watching it, and then became – much to Stacy’s embarrassment – the World’s Oldest Male ‘Nsync Fan. It would’ve been okay if I had just tolerated them.
But once she understood that I had memorized the lyrics and some of the dance moves, she kind of freaked. I fear I crossed over the line from “Kewl!” to an eye-rolling, head-shaking, exasperated sighing, “Da-ad!”.
As for her future, she’s looking to go to either McMurry University in Abilene or the University of North Texas in Denton next year. A few months ago she completed a full-day battery of interest and aptitude testing, which revealed what her mother and I suspected. She’s particularly suited for the liberal arts, with potential areas of emphasis in music, psychology and language arts.
We were quite proud of her Senior pictures. And I can’t say that she has a boyfriend, but I am allowed to say that she “is dating”.
For Christmas, Stacy requested the “Beatles 1” CD on her list. I requested the Beatles Anthology book. I can’t really explain why, but I feel good about this inter-generational sharing of musical interests. In 1969, the Beatles were about “Revolution”. In 2000, they were about connecting a father and a daughter with a shared experience.
So I’m wondering if, in 2030, Stacy and her kids will be sharing an Eminem, or a Blink182, or a Limp Bizkit musical moment … ?
Since mid-1999, I’ve been using the online dating service Matchmaker.com. I’ve used it as something of a creative outlet, as well as a means to meet several interesting (and not so interesting) women.
In late October, a woman wrote to me on Matchmaker and complimented my writing so much I thought, “I’ve got to meet this one.”
So we met. And we talked about all the “first meeting” kinds of things that people talk about — primarily about the Matchmaker system, bad first dates, people who exaggerate on their profiles, etc. We talked about how Matchmaker works well as a system to get dates, but we felt it lacked something. It lacked any sense of online community — there was no newsletter, no bulletin board, no hint of any local organization.
She (Leslie) and I started kicking around some ideas for what somebody could do as a step toward instilling some collective sense of community. And after a few minutes, we both reached the conclusion that — hey, we could this! We could each use our Matchmaker profiles as one-half of a ‘newsletter’ that presented two different perspectives — one from a man, one from a woman.
Within the Dallas/Fort Worth Matchmaker community, in early November I became HE-SAID and Leslie became SHE-SAID. We each wrote about 2000 words or so of commentary, and attempted to provoke some thoughtful responses to some pressing questions that seemed to affect us all. Then we started emailing people like crazy, asking them to read our ‘newsletters’, write back, get involved, etc.
At first, SHE-SAID was bombarded by letters from guys. And, SHE-SAID was bombarded by letters from the women. After the first couple of days, SHE-SAID had received something like 300 letters. HE-SAID had received four. And, those four were from guys who obviously were trying to cover all bases to score points with SHE-SAID.
I tried to not take it personally.
But over the next several days, we sensed we had touched an exposed nerve within the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s unmarried adult community. People in numbers responded to us, and wrote to us, and encouraged us. We found we had a lot more material than what we could use in our ‘newsletters’. So we decided to create a website for our overflow … www.he-said-she-said.NET (also available at the abbreviated url: www.hsss.NET).
As November ended, we recognized that Matchmaker.com wasn’t doing much to facilitate ‘offline’ social activity. Flush with the feeling we had gained minor celebrity within this group, we felt like we (Leslie and I) might could draw a decent number of people to a holiday party. Rather than try and compete with all of the pre-Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, we picked a date right in between — December 28th. We figured that nothing else would be scheduled that week, and if people weren’t traveling out of town they would probably love the opportunity (or excuse) to get out of the house.
Riding this perceived crest of assumed celebrity, we boldly predicted we could draw 150 people to our party at Humperdink’s in Irving/Las Colinas.
To say that the response exceeded our expectations is like saying the 2000 presidential election was “close”. About 400 people came to our party. And it was a very high quality, highly social, attractive crowd. Even though the parking was a nightmare and the understaffed bar and waitstaff taxed everybody’s patience, just about everybody had a great time and left eager to find out about the next one. Since the party, we’ve heard from over 60 people thanking us for putting it on, congratulating us on our efforts, and asking to be put on our list so they would be sure to know about the next party.
We believe we’re on to something here — not only in terms of throwing parties, but in merging the online and offline activities of people experiencing relationship transitions. We believe we have a unique approach to addressing these needs.
Looking ahead …
I mentioned transitions. My year 2000 included transitions in various forms — some joyous, some utterly unwelcome — that affected me, my close friends and my family: relocations, job changes, weddings, separations, diagnoses, surgeries, divorces, births … and deaths.
Within a week in mid-October, our general semantics community lost D. David Bourland, Jr., President of the International Society, and Marjorie Zelner, Executive Director of the Institute. I considered David, the ‘inventor’ of E-Prime (English without the to be verb forms) and student of Korzybski’s, to constitute a friendly and caring mentor. I felt a close friendship with Marjorie, her husband Larry and their son Jonathan, having stayed with them on more than a few trips to New Jersey for Institute board meetings and seminars. I find that since her death, “the Institute” doesn’t quite mean what it did to me before, and I wonder what it will mean to me in the future.
In her career counseling practice, Helen Harkness refers to the frustration and demoralization of ‘career-bottoming-out’ as enduring the “dark night of the soul”. She says that most people will not take the career action they want, or need, to take because of fear. Often, as one finds oneself deep into the “dark night of the soul”, that person will find that the pain of his/her current situation becomes greater than his/her fear of action. Only then, when the pain is greater than the fear, will many people make the changes they must make to go forward.
During the last two weeks of December, I suffered through my own personal “dark night of the soul”. Somewhat ironically, my ‘darkest night’ came in the midst of our He-Said-She-Said party success.
My mother died four years ago on December 27th after enduring several agonizing years battling scleroderma. I find that I miss her more with each passing holiday. And especially this Christmas. I had Stacy’s Senior pictures to give out, and every time I put one in a frame and wrapped it I thought about how much I wished Mother was here to see how Stacy has grown up.
I had some friends of mine engrave Stacy’s photos on marble coasters to give as gifts. And it didn’t escape my attention, as I organized the photos and tried to decide which ones to give to whom as a set, how this was so like something Mother would’ve done.
And I thought about the similarities between what I was doing with He-Said-She-Said, and the newsletters she used to create when she was active in the Bridgeport Desk and Derrick club.
For the first time, it really struck me how much I am is a direct reflection of who she was.
I couldn’t help but remember something she said to me when I was in junior high and sort of “dropped out”, after we moved four times in two years. She got on to me for not making use of the natural talents and abilities I had.
So as my December ended, these inter-related streams of thought — the career dissatisfaction and frustration, the invigorating stimulation of He-Said-She-Said, the remembrance of my mother and her admonition, the wish I had for Stacy to not go through what I was going through, the desire to practice what I hoped I was teaching — crested in a confluence of turbulent emotions, contained by a dam of denial.
One of the literary passages I memorized the first time I read it is from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides: I lived with the terrible knowledge that one day I would be an old man, still waiting for my real life to start. I realized that it was time to ride these emotions over the dam of denial and get on with developing the talents, abilities and interests that I have, that allow me to “be me“. It’s time to start my “real life”. The pain has become greater than the fear.
So what all that means is, I’m quitting my ‘dam’ job. I’m going to ride this He-Said-She-Said wave wherever it takes us.
- We’re going to build an online community.
- We’re going to offer people an intelligent forum for discussing significant aspects of their lives, specifically pertaining to relationship transitions.
- We’re going to offer opportunities for people to extend these online correspondences to offline personal experiences.
- We’re going to write and speak about factors such as self-awareness, relating to others, communications, and expanding social comfort zones
- And we’re going to offer coaching programs for helping people in private sessions, groups and seminars.
We don’t know how successful we might be. But we know how unsuccessful we’ll be if we don’t try. In any event, I’ll look forward to reporting back to you in twelve months.
Here’s wishing you success in your own dam-busting endeavors in 2001.