Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pot Luck

Little Felka watched as her mother painstakingly prepared the New Year’s Day dinner. Her mother, Desdemona, saw it as her duty to hand the tradition down to her daughter.
Desdemona removed a shiny silver coin from a velvet bag and held it in the palm of her hand. “This silver dollar,” she said, “was first used by your great-great grandmother. We’ve been passing this buck for generations. It’s important that you boil it with the black-eyed peas.”
Little Felka frowned. “I don’t like black-eyed peas.”
Desdemona used the back of her hand to brush away a sweaty strand of hair from her forehead. “I don’t care much for them myself. Your father hates them.”
Little Felka nodded. Being of a curious nature, she asked, “Then how come we do this, Ma?”
Desdemona shook her head and blinked her eyes, trying to knock a big enough hole in her incredulity to allow her voice to escape. Like it was a universal truth that everyone was aware of, she said, “Why, to keep the bad luck away in the coming year, of course. Everybody knows that. What planet have you been living on?”
Little Felka fell silent, her eyes cast upward and to the left.
Too much silence unnerved Desdemona. After a few moments, she said (trying not to shout), “Penny for your thoughts!”
Little Felka focused on her mother, a tad irritated at having her reverie arrested. “Say what?”
“What were you thinking about, Sweetheart?”
“Oh, I was just thinking that you and Papa both hate your jobs. What time we have together you spend snoozing or cussing your fate. You get along with hardly any of our relatives; you can barely even stand each other. You take pills we can’t afford to alleviate your neuroses and depression. Bill collectors call constantly—when the phone hasn’t been shut off—and we panic if the cable TV goes out—”
Desdemona flapped her hands. “Lord, don’t I know it! I shudder to think what life would be like if we didn’t boil that dollar every year.”
Little Felka’s shoulders rose nearly to her ears. “Maybe we could, I don’t know, try something different?”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Sweetheart.”

Years later, when the silver dollar was passed on to Felka, she took it to a numismatist. The rare old coin was worth thousands. Felka took the money and invested it in black-eyed pea futures. She’s doing quite nicely.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Facebook Flashback

I got friended by an old flame on Facebook. I’ll be damn.
She asked if I was still alive; well, technically I am.
Gettin caught up on three decades, I suspect as we explore
She remembers a me who’s not there anymore.

In my profile picture, my bald spot doesn’t show.
Oh, wait; here’s a better one from twenty years ago.
Twixt the wrinkled wrath of now and the cool cat of before,
It looks just like the me who’s not there anymore.

That old flame and I burned the candle at both ends.
While some said, “You can’t do it.” we exchanged winks and grins.
Here’s a toast to the tingle, the rumble, and the roar,
And a prayer for the pair who’s not there anymore.

She recalls the balls-to-the-wall give and take.
But lately I’ve been yankin the emergency brake.
The spirit and the flesh once had a ravenous rapport;
Glory be, where’s the me who’s not there anymore?

She’s retired and bored. Why don’t I fly up for the day?
I’ve got Fiddlers and Pipers and Hell yet to pay.
I appreciate the invite, but I’ll just click “Ignore.”
Fond regrets from the me who’s not there anymore.

An albuterol inhaler, assorted salves and sprays
Are what pass for an intimate relationship these days.
I might could still get down, but could I get up off the floor?
Two trick knees and a me who’s not there anymore.

My reward may be in Heaven; in the end we may fare well;
Meanwhile it’s my memories of raisin holy Hell.
Maybe not indeed, but in my heart and in my head,
She remembers a me that she’s raised from the dead.




Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Munch Ado about Nothing

Last summer, we had some construction projects going on around campus. I decided to have lunch with the crew—it’s fun to fraternize with folks from whom one can get a straight answer without having to form a committee.
The first day I joined them, a fellow named Gus unwrapped a sandwich and said, “Oh, no, not again! Sardines and mustard.” He shook his head, his expression leaving no doubt about his displeasure and disquietude. “Oh, how I loathe sardine and mustard sandwiches!”
He asked if anyone wanted to trade. No one did. Gus didn’t even rewrap the sandwich; he balled it up, slam-dunked it into his lunchbox, and flipped the lid.
I felt kind of sorry for ol’ Gus.
Next day, the same thing happened. “Sardines and mustard: Is there a sorrier sandwich anywhere on Earth? I can’t eat that $#!+!” Slam! Splat! Seethe!
This went on for three days. You know how a chronic complainer can start to get on your nerves and wear you out after a while. Finally, on the fourth day, one of the other guys said, “Gus, for cryin out loud, if you hate sardine and mustard sandwiches that much, why don’t you just ask your wife to stop makin ‘em?”
Gus’s eyes widened; he sat up straight and said, “Wife? I’m not married. I make my own sandwiches!”
Now, if you and I are feeling a bit smug and uncharitable, we might be tempted to cast aspersions, expressing doubt about the man’s mental wellbeing. But, before we do, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves if we might not be guilty of the same thing as Gus. I don’t mean the sandwiches. Let’s dive a little deeper: What was Gus doing?
He was complaining bitterly about something over which he had complete control.
Of course, you and I would never do that. . . . 


(This is not an original story, just my version of it. I do not remember where I first heard/read it. th)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seasonal Affectation Disorder

Away in a Walmart, standin in a line
You should see the jolly elves I’m waitin behind
Blowin borrowed money and cussin at their kids
Oh, what fun. “Let’s git ‘er done!” Let’s don’t and say we did
Brightly colored plastic crap all shiny and new
Jesus. Happy birthday to You

Rockin around the liquor store, God rest those merry gents
Good eggs with bad noggins and uncommon scents
Here we come a wassailin, best get out of the way
The Guy who turned the water into wine was born today
May your days be merry and your red noses blew
Jesus. Happy birthday to You

Ice and snow? On with the show! A plastic reindeer scene
Fall on your knees and bust your Blitzen figurine
Memories of Christmas past hang on the tree and walls
Hark the heirloom angels; hang the family balls
Some doodad that Dad had and a Play-Doh kangaroo
Jesus. Happy birthday to You

Ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-holy cow, ho-holy night
There are so many things our senses to excite
Eleventh hour sale! Ho-hum-pa-rum-pum-pum
Bargains galore! Oh, all ye faithful come
Act deranged and jostle strangers, unto others do
Jesus. Happy birthday to You

Get up at the crack of dawn to watch the kiddies grin
Santa gets the credit while your credit’s gettin thin
What child is this unwrappin all that junk we can’t afford
Then later on that afternoon they’re cranky and bored
The most precious gift of all? We ain’t got a clue
Jesus. Happy birthday to You

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fraudulent Frog Skins, Mock Money, Misleading Loot

I was at my favorite convenience store a couple of weeks ago. Since I’m in there almost every day, I’ve gotten to know the manager. She told me she found a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill while preparing her cash drop for the bank.
I asked her how she knew it was a fake. She said, “It just didn’t feel right.”
She handed it to me. It looked fine, but like she said, it just didn’t feel right. I can’t explain it exactly, but after handling the genuine article for so long it’s easy to tell when something doesn’t feel right.
If we mixed in and handled enough of those counterfeit bills, after a while, we might get to where we couldn’t tell the difference—or even know which one was real to begin with.
It’s the same with our attitudes, outlooks, and actions. When we react in a way we know is wrong, even if we get away with it, it just doesn’t feel right. We know it.
 Counterfeit money is illegal, plus it harms the overall economy. A counterfeit person is perhaps even worse. It’s not illegal, necessarily, but it’s a crime nevertheless, a crime against ourselves and those who are counting on us. And we’re not fooling anyone, at least not anyone who is familiar with the real thing.
Like our old pal, Shakespeare, said via Polonius in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rock (A-Hula) The Vote

Molly Ivins had an interesting yardstick for judging a political candidate’s chances of winning: How much Elvis the candidate has or has not.
Looking back over the last 60 years of presidential elections, I think she was onto something. It does seem that none of the things that we pretend matter really matter.  Liberal or Conservative? Doesn’t matter. Religion, voting record, intelligence? Play no part. The winner, in every election since Eisenhower, has been the candidate with the most Elvis. I’m not saying that a candidate has to be eat up with Elvis, I’m just saying that he (and someday she) has to have more Elvis than his/her opponent.
If you can readily see that Dwight Eisenhower had more Elvis than Adlai Stevenson, then you understand what I’m talking about.
“Why start with Eisenhower?”                                                         
Because that’s who was president when the world heard “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
JFK had more Elvis than Nixon. (Quick show of hands, with every head bowed and every mind closed: How many can imagine Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to Richard Nixon?)
LBJ is not someone I’d normally associate with Elvis, but Au H2O even less so.
While Richard Nixon had considerably less Elvis than John Kennedy, Nixon had considerably more than Hubert Humphrey or George Wallace.
George McGovern had a lot of Liberace, but zero Elvis.
Again, we’re not judging anything about these men except how much Elvis they did or didn’t have. George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Gerald Ford: There is a lot to appreciate about them, no doubt. Good, decent men doing what they consider the right thing. That counts very much day in and day out, but it doesn’t mean doodley-squat in a presidential election.
Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976? No contest.
Say what you will (and I’m sure you will) about Ronald Reagan, he had himself some Elvis. People liked him who didn’t even want to.
George H.W. Bush had more Elvis than Michael Dukakis. That’s not saying much, but it’s why he was elected. When George H.W. had to run against someone who had some real Elvis, he fell by the wayside.
No one, now that The King himself no longer walks among us, has more Elvis than Bill Clinton. Politics aside, all that other stuff aside, Bill Clinton could get elected ten more times if the law allowed it because he has an overload of Elvis and that is the quality that counts in presidential elections.
“Are you trying to tell me that George W. Bush has a lot of Elvis?”
No, I’m saying that George W. Bush has more Elvis than Al Gore. I’m also saying that everyone (with the possible exception of Roy on the original Mickey Mouse Club) has more Elvis than John Kerry. Al Gore is brilliant. John Kerry is intelligent and he’s a bona fide war hero. Doesn’t matter. Bush has more Elvis.
There is a lot to admire and respect about John McCain. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 on the Elvis-O-Meter...well, you tell me. Barack Obama scores somewhere just shy of Bill Clinton.
So, who’s going to win in 2012? That’s an easy call. Unless the Republicans can come up with a candidate who has more Elvis than Barack Obama, well, this E-lection is a done deal.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Passion over Paycheck

I’ve advised many college students over the years. When I ask them why they chose a particular major, all too often I hear, “Because it pays real well.” It disappoints me if that’s their number one reason. It is cheerful and refreshing when a student says something akin to “Because I love it!” or “I just can’t imagine doing anything else.”
I always advise students to go for the passion instead of the paycheck. Here’s why:
There’s money at the top of every field, and who rises to the top, the clock watcher or the person who is there because s/he has a passion for the profession, the first one to get there and the last one to leave?
Most of us spend more waking hours at “work” than we do with our families, so our work had better be something we care about, something we enjoy.
In his book, What Should I Do With My Life?, Po Bronson tells about how he turned down a job that paid over $300,000.00 per year, a job he could do in his sleep. Over that sure thing, he chose to try to become a writer. That’s not an easy field to break into, obviously. I admire Po’s reason for making that choice: “I’d rather have something to love than something to impress you with.”
Yes! Doesn’t that make sense? Day in and day out, I’d much rather have something to love.
On an audio series, I heard Dr. Deepak Chopra say that, in our society, more people die on Monday morning at 9 o’clock than at any other single time of the week. I thought maybe he was joking, so when I heard him on a radio talk show I called in to double-check and to chat. He said it was true. I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but I asked him anyway: “Reckon how come that is?” He said, “What?!” I said, “Oh, you’ll have to pardon me; I’m from east Arkansas. What I’m trying to say is ‘Why do you perceive that to be the situation?’” He said that the reason more people in the USA die on Monday morning at 9 o’clock than at any other single time of the week is because most people hate what they do for a living.
There’s a big clue. Please do something you adore instead of something you abhor. People who hate their jobs live for the weekend—there are songs and T-shirts lamenting that sad fact. So, there go 5 days of the week, lost to loathing. Then what do they do with the weekend? Spend a large part of it dreading Monday. Some try to make up for the 5 lost days by cramming in as much “fun” as they can, often resulting in overindulgences that just make them feel that much worse. There go two more days, displaced by dread and destruction. Not much room for joy when all 7 days are discounted. They’ll have to visit a former lifetime to find any good old days to look back upon.
Nothing against money. I’m all for getting paid. Someone (perhaps Sophie Tucker) said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” Money can’t buy happiness: That’s true, but neither can poverty. Money has little or nothing to do with happiness. We all know people who have hot and cold running maids, yet they are miserable. We know folks who don’t have a window to throw it out of, yet they are cheerful. As long as our basic needs are being met, how happy we are or are not is pretty much a choice.
Choose the passion over the paycheck. The result is an abundance of both.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Teachable Moment


I was facilitating an 8-week bridge program for adult students who had a high school diploma or a GED and who wanted to go to college. There were 14 women in the class. They were all parents, all unemployed, and all receiving benefits from the Department of Human Services. We met twice a week at the Adult Learning Center of San Michez Community College.
A few days into it, one of the students accused me of having “all book smarts and no street smarts.”
I replied: “First of all, we need both. Second, you might be surprised. Third, ‘book smarts’ expand our options, so anymore, the kind of ‘street smarts’ I want are the kind that help me find and afford a better street to live on. That wasn’t an option when I had all ‘street smarts’ and no ‘book smarts.’”
One Tuesday morning, one of the women asked if I knew where she could find a part-time job. I said, “Not right off the top of my head, but let’s dive a little deeper: Are there any ways—legal ways—that a person can pick up some extra money other than a part-time job?”
Diving deeper is an idea I learned from Dr. Skip Downing, author of On Course. I had no clue where the conversation was going, but I’d learned long ago to trust the process.
A moment or two went by then one of the students told us about how she sometimes made extra money by trying new products and giving them her opinion. Sometimes they’d rearrange things in a grocery store or a big box store then pay her to shop there and tell them what she liked or didn’t like about the layout. She said, “Last week I made 40 dollars in about 20 minutes. It’s not steady work, but they call me every once in a while.”
That woke them up. All of the students were paying wide-eyed attention, taking good notes, and asking questions only for clarification. Where do I sign up? Who do I talk to? What’s the name of the place? What’s the phone number?
Another woman said that she sold plasma a couple of times each week. She told us all the details—where to go, how much they pay, what the rules are, how often a person can go, how the procedure works, what the plasma is used for, what it feels like, how long it takes, everything. She got into some pretty intricate details about incentives and bonuses.
I pointed out that what they were doing is exactly what a successful student does in every class: Paying attention, taking good notes, asking relevant questions. They just blew me off and continued their lively exchange of information, so I started taking notes, too.
The following Thursday, I gave them a quiz over the product sampling and plasma selling information we’d heard on Tuesday. Every one of them scored at least 90%. I said, “Again, you’re exhibiting successful student behavior; it’s obvious that you looked over your notes and transferred the information into your long-term memory.”
I asked them why they went to all that trouble to remember so much of the information.
They looked at me like I was the most ignorant and clueless thing that ever lived. Someone said, “Because money was involved!”
“How well,” I asked, “would you do in a history class or an algebra class if you paid such close attention, took such good notes, asked such good questions to make sure you understood everything correctly, went over your notes right away, and did your best to remember what you’d learned?”
One of the students, the one who’d besmirched my street smarts, snorted and said, “Yeah, but you don’t get paid for taking algebra.”
After they’d all hooted, high-fived each other, and paraded their yeah-buts down Main Street, I let things get quiet and said, “I do.”
“You get paid for taking algebra? Uh-uh!”
“I really do because if I hadn’t taken and passed College Algebra back in 1989, I could not have earned my associate’s degree. That gave me the confidence to continue on for a bachelor’s degree which led to the master’s degree, and this job I have now requires a master’s degree. If I hadn’t passed that algebra class, we wouldn’t be talking right now because I wouldn’t be here. Yeah, every two weeks SMCC writes me a pretty nice little paycheck. I get paid for taking algebra, psychology, history, English, biology, every class.
“It may not seem like it today, but payday is coming for you, too. Five years from now, odds are, you’re going to still be alive, and if you are, you’re going to be doing something. You could be working at a new career, one of your choosing this time, having more fun being alive…or, you can still be sitting around here bragging about all your street smarts and sweating the bills. Someday, you are going to be paid—or not—for the work you do today.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It Ain’t Over 'Till the Bat Lady Screams


I knew Michele from some graduate classes we had together at the University of Arkansas. Michele has about her an air of erudition. She is calm and in control. She is one of the most creative people I’ve ever known, and her sense of humor is second to none. Great posture.
Student Services at U of A was looking to hire two counselors. This coincided perfectly with my graduation date; I would have the required master’s degree just in time.
I was hired for one of the positions and Michele was hired for the other. I started a couple of weeks before she did. This was around mid October. One day, Michele came in to look the place over. We were visiting in my new office.
Michele was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. I saw what I took to be a bat made with puff paint (or whatever that stuff is) affixed to her shirt, hanging upside down just above her left back pocket. It looked really good. I figured Michele had made it. I complimented her on the bat, a job well done. She thought I was kidding.
“No, really. There’s a bat on your shirt. Would I make up something like that?”
“Yes, you would. Just to get me to look.”
“I’m as serious as can be.”
Rolling her eyes, Michele pulled the shirt around and took a look. She saw the bat, but you would have thought she saw a pale rider on a pale horse, drinking tequila, breathing fire and eating puppies. She screamed and ran out of the room. I grabbed a stick that was used for propping the window open and ran behind her, hoping she would stop so I could somehow use the stick to get rid of the bat—and kind of hoping she’d continue to outdistance me so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I had no idea how to get a live bat off of a sweatshirt and I sure didn’t want it on me.
We were in a building just west of Old Main. We were on the first floor. There was a wide staircase leading to offices and classrooms on the second floor.
Michele was running past the staircase, making for the front door.
A sociology professor was on her way downstairs. She did not see the bat. All she saw was Michele, obviously terrified, running and yelling, “Get him off me! Get him off me!” And, of course, she saw me chasing after Michele with a stick.
The professor hastened her pace, intending to tackle me. People were coming out of offices, pointing and shouting. All Hell was breaking loose and Michele was running like a bat out of it.
Fortunately, Michele stopped running once she got outside, preferring instead to dance in circles. One of our tutors walked up and said, “Aw, that’s just a baby bat.” He grabbed the battling by its wings and peeled it off Michele’s shirt.
There was a bat house on a tree next to Old Main. The tutor returned the battling to the house. Michele returned to her senses. People returned to their offices, most probably grateful for the diversion and a new story to tell. The professor told me what she thought had been happening. It was great.
On Michele’s first official day at work, she opened her mailbox and hundreds of tiny plastic bats spilled out onto the floor. I have no idea how that happened.

(I am publishing this story with Michele’s permission. See what I mean about her sense of humor?)

Monday, August 8, 2011

We Reap what We Sow, so…


Here’s a fun challenge: Only think about what you want. (I’ve read so many books and listened to so many audio programs that I really don’t remember where that idea came from.) It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For practice, keep this in mind: Everything we are against weakens us. Everything we are for empowers us. As part of our bold experiment, let’s also think and speak only in terms of what we are for, what we want. Don’t you hear enough people talking about what they hate and what’s wrong with the world?
It’s not sticking our heads in the sand, far from it. It’s pulling our heads out of the sand and wising up to the way things work. You do not change your opinions or your values; you simply reframe things in terms of what you are for, what you love.
For example: We don’t hate ignorance, we love education. We are not against poverty, we are for prosperity.
One of the many good reasons for adopting this approach is that we actually get better results. Who are you more likely to listen to and support, someone who’s always down in the mouth, angrily telling you what they hate or someone who is positive and has a plan for making things better?
Another what’s-in-it-for-me is that this way of thinking and speaking gives us more energy. Remember: what we are against weakens us, drains our energy. What we are for empowers us, gives us more energy—physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
Is it easy? Few worthwhile things ever are, but the payoff is powerful. After a while, you’ll start to catch yourself and make corrections. “I hate potholes! Wait, let me rephrase that: I love smooth roads.” Then you’ll notice and catch yourself in mid-sentence, then in mid-thought.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it for an hour. Try it for a day…a week…a decade and see if it doesn’t make a noticeable difference in the way you feel and in the results you get.
I know where this next notion came from. It’s from Earl Nightingale. If you will, take 3 minutes and 8 seconds to watch this: http://www.thestrangestsecretmovie.com. Then spend the rest of your life applying it.
Bonus Earl Nightingale quote: Life is dull only to dull people.


Friday, August 5, 2011

The Magic Word


Have you listened to Earl Nightingale’s audio series, Lead the Field? If not, well, you just must.
The first of the 12 sessions is titled “The Magic Word.”
Those of us who grew up watching Captain Kangaroo are likely thinking that the magic words are Please and Thank You. Those are wonderful words (when we really mean them); they can work wonders and open doors. Earl Nightingale’s magic word is Attitude.
Here’s a quote from the program: To ask “What is the role of attitude in the success or failure of a human being?” is like asking “What is the role of water in the Pacific Ocean?” or “What is the role of granite in the Himalayas?” It is almost everything.
Wow! What if he’s right? I hope (and believe) that he is right. That’s great news for you and me because we can choose our attitudes. The single most vital ingredient in our success or failure is something we can control! Cue the balloons! Strike up the band!
You might not believe this, but I have known people who do not believe that they can control their thoughts or their attitudes. I invite them to recall the last time they looked in the rearview mirror and saw the blue lights flashing. “Did you continue daydreaming? Did you make a mental note to pick up some Cheez Whiz at the store? Or were you in the moment and on your best behavior?” We most certainly can control our thoughts and attitudes when it’s important. Our attitude is the single most deciding factor in our success? That makes it important.
When I was teaching Learning Skills at the University of Arkansas, I invited them to listen to “The Magic Word.” One of the students loudly pronounced it the biggest bunch of $#!+ she’d ever heard. She was so negative and so hateful. It was one of the very few times I’ve wished a student would stop coming to class. As the semester wore on, she did calm down and quit making snide comments. She quit commenting altogether.
During the last week of school, she brought me what she called a “bonus essay.” The cover page was colorfully and artistically designed. The title of her essay: “Attitude: It Really Is The Magic Word!” In her essay, she explained that things in all areas of her life had fallen apart. She tried some of the typical harmful remedies. Nothing helped. She got so desperate that, with almost every other solution exhausted, she was willing to try that attitude stuff. It worked—as it always will with a sincere effort, when it’s important. I still have that essay. I take it out and read it every now and then. It cheers me and it reminds me.
Hey, if you want to, you can download Lead the Field, one session or all 12, for $5.99 each.


The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind. ~William James

Another Magic Word


“I thought you said that Attitude is the magic word.”
I did and it is. This is about another word that worked wonders for a football team. Now that you mention it, I guess this word, in order to work its magic, has to trigger an attitude, so Attitude is still the magic word.
Do you know which football team won the first Rose Bowl game?
In 1902, the University of Michigan won the first Rose Bowl game by beating Stanford 49 to 0.
Michigan had a new coach, Fielding Yost. In his first interview with a local newspaper, Coach Yost announced that in the upcoming season the Wolverines would be undefeated and that the combined scores of all the opposing teams would be 49 points max. The players on the team did not know or believe that they were that good. They thought the new coach was going to make them look bad by making such outlandish claims. Yost inspired the team with one word—by helping them understand the meaning of that word.
Here’s the whole article, written by Laurie Grimes of Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio: http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/Motivation023.htm
Before you read Laurie’s article, just for fun, can you guess the word/attitude that Yost used to inspire the players? Make 5 guesses. Make 10. I bet you won’t get it, but it will make sense to you when you read what it is.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Poem that Captures On Course


Vernon Howard said, “Impartial self-observation leads to self-awakening which leads to self-liberation.” That sounds profitable and fun. It’s that impartial part that gets in the way. We’re almost never impartial when observing ourselves; we’re either congratulating ourselves for a perceived success or flagellating ourselves for a perceived failure. Not long ago, a good friend challenged me to reexamine what motivates me. I took it seriously and spent the next several weeks trying to impartially observe myself.
One theme kept popping up again and again: Having something worthwhile to offer. That rings true. If I’ve got something I think is worthwhile to offer I’ll beat the bushes and shout it from the mountaintop. Been that way all my life. That’s one reason I’m such a fan of On Course by Dr. Skip Downing.
On Course is the best “College Success” textbook I’ve seen. In addition to being the best textbook of its type in the country, On Course is also an excellent self-help book. I have known parents who see such dramatic changes in their children that they buy a copy of the book and work through it for themselves. And they get excited about it. It’s wonderful to finally find something that works! It’s always such a joy and a refreshment to watch college students as we make our way through On Course. The improvements in their lives are positive, powerful, and permanent.
One afternoon, Skip Downing and I were waiting in the Tulsa Airport. I had been using his textbook for years. I asked him to summarize On Course in one sentence or less. Skip did not hesitate. He shrugged and said, “Making wiser choices.”
While listening to a Wayne Dyer tape, I discovered a poem that, to me, sums up the steps the students of On Course often go through:


Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson


Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to get out.

Chapter Two
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter Four
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five
I walk down another street.

Big Apple Offal

In 1968, the sanitation workers went on strike in the city so nice they named it twice. Most people probably hadn’t given much thought to the trash collectors except maybe to complain about the noise they made so early in the morning. Now, everyone was giving the sanitation workers a lot of their attention as clutter and filth filled the alleys, avenues, and sidewalks of New York.
Stiff winds blew flaming refuse down some of the most famous streets in the world. And the rats, and the nastiness, and the disease! Not just ugly, dangerous.  
During this whole mess, there was one man who had his trash picked up regularly. Not because he was a privileged character but because he understood something about human nature. Each morning, he would set it out in front of his shop and within a few minutes his rubbish was removed.
Know what he did? He gift wrapped it. Presently, someone would come along, see the thin layer of shiny wrapping paper—perhaps a bow—assume that the package must have value, and steal it!
Gift wrapping the garbage: There’s a metaphor we could play with for a good long while, but let me just run one by you for now.
Let’s say that the garbage is a life situation (job, school, romance, finances, what-have-you) with which we are dissatisfied and feel helpless to change. The thin layer of gift wrapping is the cheap excuses we trot out for our sorry selves. When others accept our excuses or when we buy into our own excuses, that seems to give them validity and value. After a while, if we’re paying attention, we notice that no matter how neatly we wrap, no matter how much we curl the ribbon, no matter how pretty the pattern, the situation does not change. Then, to use On Course terminology, we stop acting like Victims, embrace the Creator role, stop making excuses, and start making progress toward what we want.


Is this a true story? Gary Zukav mentions in his book, Soul Stories, the way a Lakota elder (I’m guessing it was Black Elk) responded when a reporter asked if the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman was true. The elder said, “I don’t know whether it actually happened that way or not, but you can see for yourself that it’s true.”

Read all about it.