Saturday, April 26, 2014


How might the totality of one’s identity evolve over the years?  Voilà one of the questions I asked at the end of my last post.  Branding, that intentional professional persona one cultivates to create distinction, separateness, or notoreity, requires dedication and savvy to pull off.  Still, it is easier to accomplish than sculpting myself into the people I might hope to become. 

Just as a sculptor must know the material with which he or she is working—wood, marble, soapstone, or bronze, for example—in order to free, as Michaelangelo said, the form imprisoned inside, I must be self-aware.  To shape my identity, I must not only know myself.   If I aspire to liberate any potential that lies within,  I must also know myself in relation to others.   When I learned about Johari’s Window and applied that knowledge to my personal development, my own journey on the path of self-discovery gained momentum.

Johari’s Window gave me an entirely new perspective on myself.   Created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the United States in 1955 as a tool to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and with others,   Johnari’s Window anchored the content of a  graduate class in human relations I took almost thirty years ago.  Although the understanding I developed in that class differs slightly from the explanations of Johari’s Window I find online and that you might also encounter in your own searches, I will nevertheless share it with you here,  given its impact on the development of my own identity.

The Window is created by the intersection of two graduated axes:  what we know about ourselves (horizontal), and our awareness of what others know about us (vertical).  These intersecting continua create four quadrants.

1  The Arena 
This quadrant is our goal.  People in quadrant one know themselves very well.  They recognize their strengths and limitations, and they also have an accurate perception of the information others have about them.  That combination allows them to mobilize all of their potential to reach goals they set.

2 The Blindspot
People in this quadrant don’t yet recognize their strengths or limitations; they are very aware, however, of the perception others have of them.  I call this the paralysis quadrant, as people’s focus on what others think and know about them can undercut their power to achieve.  

3   Private
People in this quadrant do recognize their strengths and limitations, but are unaware of how others perceive them.  As a result, they might not anticipate the effect their words and actions might have on the people around them.  My professor called this the ‘bull in the china shop’ syndrome.

4  Unknown
People in this quadrant recognize neither their own strengths and limitations nor how others might perceive them.  This ignorance severely curtails accomplishment, and individuals remain closeted in their own world like a turtle in its shell.

Throughout that class, our professor asked us to keep a journal that chronicled our journey.  I remember using it then, in my early thirties, to track my position in Johari’s Window, and to make decisions about both where I could go to inch closer to the Arena and also what actions I might choose in order to get there.  As a result, I gained more control over the direction my identity could take.  Using feedback to gain specific knowledge about both my own qualities and the perceptions others had about me, I was able to make decisions that directed me toward the arena.  

Sculpting myself into the person I have always wanted to be is, of course, a work in progress.   When my time is up, I will still not have finished.  In the process of identity building, however, Johari’s Window has enabled me to see through obstacles in my path, and take some action to shape the person I continue to become. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Canadian singer and songwriter David Myles  and his band take the stage for the Arts Council performance dressed in blue suits, white shirts, and narrow dark ties.  “That’s odd,” I think, “a group of young musicians in the popular idiom wearing suits.”

David Myles suspects the audience might think it was odd, too, it seems.  He addresses the question in his introductory remarks after the first song.   He comes from a family of doctors, he tells the audience;   his father and his brothers are doctors.  A giggle ripples through the auditorium.  Many of us have leaped ahead of him in the storytelling, and are already hearing the conversation he and his parents might have had.  When he announced to this family that he intended to make music his career, Myles continues, his father told him he would be the only Myles who wouldn’t be ‘Doctor‘.  Maybe not, Myles acknowledged to his father, but he promised his father he would always show up for work in a suit.  The suit has become part of David Myles’ stage persona, of his identity as a performing musician. 

In the same way, Brett Cave,  pianist and singer I first heard in concert during a Panama Canal cruise, also orchestrates his identity as a performer as much as his music.  Attire demarcates him as well.  The Piano Man, as he describes himself on his website, arrives on stage wearing taupe pants and a co-ordinated wide-striped red, taupe, and beige long jacket with matching red shirt and vest.  The vibrant colours and singular fashion statement mirror the energy of the show and differentiate it from others.  The visual statement becomes enshrined in memory, and forever connected with the performer.

At the piano introducing a song, Cave calls it his “favorite song ever, ever, ever!” punctuating the last two ‘evers’ with arcs of his arms starting at the top of his head like a pirouetting ballerina, and finishing by the piano bench.  Two songs later, characteristic gestures not forgotten, Caves sings another “favorite song ever, ever, ever!  By the third “favorite song ever, ever, ever!  the audience is joining in on the ‘evers’ as soon as they see his fingers meet at the top of his head.   Caves has reinforced not only his rapport with his public and the spirit in the show, but also the imprint of his identity.  I want to call it a brand.

We associate brands with products and organizations.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders, for example, have developed an iconic brand.  In fact, in March, 2014, the organization  won a North American Brand Achievement Award from Cult, an Alberta marketing firm.   The team’s logo represents pride, loyalty, determination, grit, fun, and community.  As the Cult program description notes,  “Fans are born into their colours, flock to the games and events, purchase more merchandise than the entire CFL teams combined and are themselves 'owners' (the team is owned by the community and fan shareholders). This community owned team has created one of the most loyal and involved fan bases in sport." 

A brand, however, is not restricted to products, organizations or professional entertainers.  Our identity as individuals becomes a kind of brand as well.  Our character traits, our tastes and predilections, as well the activities in which we are involved, all make up the composite that becomes our image, both professional and personal.   Certain individuals are known for their sports knowledge and proficiency, some for their innovation, others for their charisma and energy in social situations, still others for their commitment to the community.

In my own case, music, especially liturgical music, is a cornerstone of my identity. In fact, I carry a brand—‘the church lady.’  Given that I am not a professional musician, I can only attribute that phenomenon to visibility and longevity.  I didn’t take it too seriously until a taxi driver in Hawaii yelled it out to me on the way to Diamond Head.  Having walked from our hotel room, my husband and I were just beginning the climb to the trail head when I heard the call.  “Hey, Church Lady!”  We ignored the herald, and kept walking.  A few seconds later, a taxi stopped beside us.  The driver rolled down his window, and said, “Hey, Church Lady!  There’s someone in this cab who knows you, and they want to give you a ride.”   People related to parishioners from home had seen me at our church, and offered us a ride to the trail head.  We accepted, gratefully.  I, too, have my own brand, of which liturgical music is one dimension.

It’s one thing to create a brand, as did David Myles and Brett Cave, or to cultivate one springboarding from some pre-existing conditions, as did the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  But what about the unintentional dimension, like my association with liturgical music?   What factors might contribute to the evolution of our identity over the years?   What resources might help us shape how our identity evolves?  And what happens when, by choice or happenstance, we must rebrand?  Lots of fodder here for the next blog posts, it seems.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Miracle is perhaps too strong a word for what happened to me during the final preparations for the music ministry at the Holy Thursday liturgy.     A sacred and powerful descriptor, miracle, I think, belongs to the realm of unexplained and sudden healing, survival against all odds, or bizarre confluences of events well beyond  even the extraordinary.  I could call last night’s events an intervention, a metaphysical helping hand.  Maybe they are just a good story.   How about if you weigh in?   

I arrive at the church at 7:15 p.m. for the 8 pm liturgy.  You would think, with music stands already set up and the program photocopied and accessible on the piano ledge, that a forty-five minute lead time would suffice. 

I go through my normal routine—click the power on for the big screen and the projector, and press the button that lowers the screen.  Next, I turn the power on the mixer nestled into the podium in the music area at the front of the church, and then head into the sacristy to load up on my materials—computer, cord, remote, dongle, hymn numbers, microphones.  Still taking my time, I plug in the computer, and press the power button.   Then, I turn away to retrieve my jump drive containing the Power Point with the words to the hymns and responses for the evening’s liturgy. 

Glancing back slightly toward the computer, I notice a blue screen.  That is never good.  The computer refused to start,  the screen tells me before it switches to black and Windows asks if I want to try to start using the safe mode.  Okay, no sweat, I still have forty minutes. 

Then, another decision.  Do I want to repair the problem?  Well, last time this happened, I clicked cancel and lived to regret it for that liturgy, so, once burned, twice shy, I click Okay this time.  A blue band begins its loop, and the computer informs me that the repair might take several minutes.  Well, define several. 

Now it’s 7:30.  No panic yet, I have things I can do—put the music in order, distribute the microphones, make sure everyone has a program.  In the meantime, the musicians  and the singers  arrive, and begin their set up.  The blue band is still looping.  For the first time, I acknowledge the real chance that the computer might not be running by 8 pm.  No big deal, really, unless you count the hour I invested getting the PPT ready.   We are dependent on the screen for the words to the opening hymn, however, so, I pick a different hymn for Plan B, and retrieve the books I need.

My husband offers to run home for my Mac.  I’m skeptical.  I doubt the dongle will work, because the wireless connections aren’t established, and I won’t have time to fiddle with that.  However, he insists, and returns a few minutes later with the Mac.  7:45 p.m.   Call me prophetic.  We try the Mac and when I insert the dongle, I don’t get the wonderful ta-TA perfect 5th that tells me there’s a connection.   Well, that’s that, we’ll just carry on.

I glance back at the parish computer still repairing, and, to my surprise, at  7:50, the blue band has stopped looping!   I click Next, and see a 9-option matrix, in white and red characters on a black background  Okay.  Scanning through, I hover over the one that says, Reset your computer to the setting of a selected date.  Sounds good—let’s do it.  I press okay.

I wait, and then, . . .  the Microsoft Windows icon opens before me like a flower in time-lapse photography, all the colours glowing and spreading in an array whose radiance almost matches my smile.  Then, I get the reassuring loading melody!!  Followed by the password screen! 

Now, it’s 7:55.  Everything is slower for some reason, as the computer seems to be resetting.  I insert the jump drive, transfer the file to the Liturgy folder on the desktop, and load it up.  I see that the procession has lined up at the back of the church, candles lit, expectant look in the eyes of the ministers and the presider.  I turn on the projector, and a few seconds later, hear its comforting hum.

I sit down at the piano, set the Plan B accompaniment book down and pull up the music for Plan A, put on my piano glasses (ah, getting old!), check to see if the musicians and singers are ready to go, and breathe a few times to center myself.

I pick up the microphone, and address the congregation.  “Good evening, everyone.  Welcome to the Holy Thursday liturgy.  We are ready to begin, after our technical glitch . . .”

Miraculous?  Or an intervention, it being in the Lord’s best interest to come through?   Or a lucky coincidence, where events that had Detour written all over them came together just in the nick of time?

How would you see it?

Saturday, April 12, 2014


”Someone from the office comes over every day for coffee,” my friend says.  Her eyes glisten and her voice softens in  breathless wonder and gratitude.  She is at home, managing a terminal illness with inspirational grace and courage.  In fact, she continues, the CEO is likely to encourage a specific staff member she might not have seen in a few days to ”take ten minutes and run over for coffee.”   

That kind of appreciation for a workplace, in addition to the sensitivity of the CEO, got me thinking about other qualities an extraordinary work environment might have.  My list of the characteristics of a workplace that no one would want to leave is a self-generated one.  It’s a synthesis of my own experience, not a summary of any research that might exist on the subject.  I have singled out what’s key for me.

1.     Caring relationships.  Colleagues in your workplace care about what is happening outside your contribution to the company mission.  They have an idea of what might be going on in your life, and they ask questions.  They share in life events, and they commisserate.

2.     An orientation toward abundance.  Great workplaces function from abundance, not scarcity.  “Yes”  is the operative word.  They forge ahead with a great idea that was impossible to foresee, or they extend a project that needs extending.  Generosity is their hallmark.  

3.     A positive worldview.  An underlying assumption of great workplaces is that everyone wants the organization to prosper and is working very hard to make that happen.  The language of the office reflects that worldview.  Cognizant of implicit and potentially negative messages embedded in some phrases, colleagues instead choose expressions that convey positive undertones. They cut each other slack, because they know that any bumps in the road do not stem from malice, incompetence or neglect.  They just happen.

4.     Help with a smile.  Colleagues in an exceptional workplace will help each other with a smile, no matter how busy they might be or how trivial they might perceive the requested assistance to be.  They share their time and knowledge  with a glad heart, and they never convey rushed exasperation.

5.     Value for the dissenting opinion.  Great places to work not only acknowledge the dissenting opinion, they seek it out.  They encourage employees to look for potential flaws in a project or improvements that could be made.

6.     Mutual trust.  No one micro-manages in a great workplace.  Leaders have assembled a competent team, and they trust the staff to fulfill their responsibilities.  In turn, staff members keep the administration informed, and seek feedback at important junctures.

7.     Calm and stability.  No matter how tense the situation, or how many glitches arise in a process, people in a great workplace stay calm, breathe, and smile.  A casual observer might never know issues need immediate and continual monitoring and action.  Former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who died Thursday, embodied that kind of equanimity, say the G20 Finance Ministers in their tribute to him: “At all times, Jim retained his refreshing honesty and good humour.”  (Globe and Mail, April 11)  

8.     Diffused credit.   In a great workplace, workers refuse to accept credit for success, preferring to defer it to the savvy of others.  Success is always the result of a team effort.    In his blog post about the success the Saskatchewan Roughriders enjoyed in 2013, Rod Pedersen says, “Trying to find someone to take credit for the current flush state the franchise is enjoying is a nearly impossible task. ”    Everyone he talks to keeps pointing the finger of success at a colleague.  The Rider brass diffuses the credit for success.

In a workplace like that, people love to go to work.  They look forward to seeing their colleagues.  They ask questions without fear, and they share their opinions and knowledge for the benefit of the organization.  Laughter and play characterize collaboration.  Like my friend, I am privileged to work in that kind of environment. 

However, wherever I go, there I am, in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I have a responsibility to my colleagues to live out each principle.  As a player in that environment, I contribute to a respectful and positive atmosphere that nurtures and supports creativity.  How fortunate I am to have a friend who has channeled her entire life to building relationships and a dynamic workplace.  I am so grateful for her example.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


As I soak up the sun and the melted snow gurgles down the storm drains on my way downtown, I am absorbed in the butterfly effect, and what evidence of it I might discover in my own life.

I remember where I first encountered the concept, in Anna Quindlan’s novel, Every Last One.  During a backyard visit, Ruby, close friend of the heroine, Mary Beth, mulls over the connection between her adolescent son’s personality and ordinary events in his early life.   “The butterfly effect, how the beating of their wings in Mexico could cause a breeze in our backyard,” Mary Beth reports.  She can relate it to their roles as mothers: “The breast-fed baby became the confident adult.  The toddler who listened to a bedtime story went on to a doctorate.  We flapped our wings in our kitchens, and a wind blew through their futures.”  I had to know more, I remember, almost forgetting to wave to a passer-by.
Intrigued, I recall Googling the concept.   I learned that the theory of the butterfly effect originated with meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1960.  As he tried to replicate a weather model he had run a day earlier, Lorenz noticed that, during the second run, the second model was identical at the beginning, but diverged later.  Why would that be?  He realized that, in the second run, he had rounded off the starting number at the fourth decimal place.    A small change in one place in one system can result in large differences later.  A butterfly can flap its wings, and cause tiny atmospheric changes that might result in a hurricane in a distant location or prevent a tornado in another.  Really.   Absorbed in my mental summary, I push through the door of the Co-op and head straight to the deli for the local honey and the pomegranate-cranberry jelly. 

“Your number, please?” the cashier asks.  What is my number, anyway?  I refocus long enough to tell her.

“No bag, please,” I recite, as she scans the items.  I pull out both my wallet and the teacher bag my sister gave me as a retirement gift, and punch in my debit card PIN.  While the register spews out the bill, I pack the items, and throw the bag over my shoulder.  I endeavor to make small talk with the people in line behind me, but it’s a lost cause.   My mind doesn’t press pause on the butterfly effect movie.

At that point, I was hooked, it seems to me.  Besides the article on Lorenz, my Google search also turned up a book.  In The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters, Andy Andrews applies the concept to history.  Andrews begins with an event circa 1864.
·  Mary Washington is carried off by bandits in Diamond, Missouri, with her infant son, George.  She is killed.
·  Mary Washington’s friend, Susan, traces the bandits and arranges a meeting with them for her husband, Moses.
·  Moses trades their only horse for the contents of a dirty burlap bag.
·  In that bag, Moses finds a baby, Mary’s kidnapped son.
·  He and Susan raise the baby and give it their own name, Carver.  The boy is known as George Washington Carver.
·  George Washington Carver becomes a botanist who develops a myriad of uses for the peanut and the sweet potato.
·  Carver is asked to mentor his professor’s son, Henry Wallace.
·  Wallace serves as Vice-President of the United States from 1941 - 1945.
·  Wallace hires Norman Borlaug to run a station in Mexico that hybridizes corn and wheat for arid climates.
·  From Africa to South America to Asia, Borlaug’s high yield and disease-resistant seeds flourish.
·  Those seeds grow crops that save an estimated two million people from starvation.
·  ABC News honors Borlaug, then aged 91, as Person of the Week on April 2, 2004.

A butterfly flapped its wings in 1864, and a researcher is honoured one hundred and forty years later.  The butterfly must have flapped its wings in my own life, as well, I ponder, as I stride home.   I conjure up the audience at St. Paul’s Home where my husband, our son, and I are the entertainment.  As I settle in my chair after the trumpet-piano duet with our son, my father says,  “Who knew those Saturday piano lessons would ever lead to this?”  Who indeed?  In my own family and my sister’s, counting adults and children,  the piano lessons have contributed to approaching 150 years of liturgical music in our parishes, Royal Conservatory medals,  singers in professional choirs, a bass guitarist and an accordionist in bands, a graphic artist who scored her own animations and those of her colleagues as a student, and a professional jazz musician and composer.   When my parents signed us up for piano lessons in the late fifties, the butterfly flapped its wings.

With two blocks to go, I think of Dr. Tom Rendall, who taught me Old and Middle English literature as an undergrad.  He used to say that when you teach an English student, you teach one person, but when you teach an Education English student, you teach hundreds.  Like the butterfly, he too set events in motion whose ripples continue:

·  I explore an idea on an imagery pattern in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale for my Chaucer class.
·  Dr. Rendall takes the time to attach three pages of hand-written comments when he hands it back.
·  He does not assign a grade. 
·  He allows the students to revise and resubmit. 
·  I stew about his comments for a month.
·  As I revise, the day before the due date, I experience an epiphany.  I get it.  
·  I understand how to preview the main ideas in the introduction, conclude a paragraph, write a topic sentence that will link to the preceding paragraph and introduce the new idea at the same time. 
·  I teach every middle years and high school student I encounter those skills. 
·  A former student tells me he has his job because he can write.

Ahead of his time in providing feedback and allowing revision, Dr. Rendall started something whose effects go on more than forty years later.  Imagine how many people he has affected, I speculate, home now, and unpacking my bag.  Straightening the bag out to roll it up, I stop.  I stare at the message on the front:  Teachers make all other professions possible. 

Of course.  Teachers count on the butterfly effect.  They flap their wings every day through a story, an encouraging remark, a comment, a smile, or feedback.  We have no idea how far the ripples we initiate may extend, the hurricanes that might churn up or the tornadoes that might change direction or even dissipate.  Maybe that’s why the notion of the butterfly effect has captivated me so much.  It reminds me of the impact even the smallest of my words and gestures can have.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


My voice has just lowered a few registers.  I try to breathe from my diaphragm, the one-more-breath after the last breath, and I come up short.  What gives, here?  I must be tired, I rationalize, stretch my legs out in front me, and stick my nose back into my book.

“Are you okay?” my husband asks, as we head toward the overpass at Portage-la-Prairie on the way to Winnipeg.

“I’ll let you know,” I reply in a resonating contralto.  My speech arts coach from high school would be proud.

“Try to lower the timbre of your voice,” he counselled once, before a competition.  “Have you ever noticed that all the great actresses have low voices?”  I hadn’t, to that point, but I have made a study of it since.  Today, I could be short-listed for a spoken book performance, or a late-night news broadcast.

Kilometres vanish, and, with them, my hope that the symptoms are fatigue.  I’m worried for two reasons.  Maybe this is the flu—an epidemic of news bulletins has been conveying the stats and the states of the flu vaccine.  Worse yet, I have a date with my daughter for the wedding expo the day after tomorrow.   If I extrapolate the progression of my symptoms, based on past experience, Sunday could be touch and go.

We are pulling on to Perimeter, now, heading toward St. Vital.  It’s time for action.  Serious action.  Although I have my daily garlic dose with me, my body is in crisis, and I need reinforcements.  At the mall, I am on a mission.  Within minutes, I have a full container of garlic and a large bottle of Buckley’s.  I take a capsule from the first and a swig from the second.  No time to lose.  I repeat the dosage before bed.  By morning, the oppression has left me, and I can function.  I will make it to the play that night, and, even more important, to the wedding extravaganza the next day.

Given my sensitivity to my body in that moment, I can’t explain why I have ignored the tickle in my throat for almost a week now.  No increase in the garlic consumption, no pulls from Buckley’s.  Why am I coughing as I try to fall asleep?  Oh, I must have a cold coming on.  As lucidity returns from its hiatus, I head to the kitchen for an orange (double benefit—Vitamin C and some food with garlic) and my father’s default cold remedy.  I go back to bed.   I continue to cough.  Advil to the rescue this time.  Now, I sleep.

The next day, I repeat the regimen before I head off to work.  The symptoms have not worsened, and there’s consolation in that.  There’s no consolation, however, in my lapse of vigilance.   It’s not just that 2 + 2 equaled 37; it’s that the addition itself didn’t register.  No synapses connected the symptoms and my brain.

I can’t expect to have come out of this any better.  The cold hovers, but does not advance.  I resort to the Advil at night, but enjoy unmedicated days.  For now, I have dodged a bullet.    Not only have I avoided a time-consuming illness, but I have been confronted with a critical reminder.  Stay alert.  Pay attention.  Pause.  Reflect.  Make connections.  Mental lapses can have dire consequences.   In the end, I am grateful for the warning trumpeted from such innocuous experiences--the (mis)management of the common cold.