The Week That Changed Everything

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World Series Cubs Indians Baseball

It has been a strange year.

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Donald Trump won the Presidential election. To me, those two events symbolize the best and worst of us.

The Cubs’ World Series victory is the major sports story of 2016…maybe even the decade.  But business schools will also be studying this team for years; a case study is already in the works. And I can’t wait to read it. It’s a gold mine for research into the organization’s management style, investment choices, business goals, and hiring practices.  I want the details about how Joe Madden’s unique style was able to inspire and motivate this particular group of players.

The penultimate example of this management ethos was during the fateful, 17-minute rain delay during Game 7. In any business, meetings are frequent yet often ineffective. Not so with the meeting Jason Heyward initiated. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be an invisible eavesdropper on that meeting?

There are many great business lessons — even life lessons — to take away from this team. The entire organization worked toward their goal with skill, class, sportsmanship, camaraderie, and collaboration. They were focused and professional. They helped each other. They learned from their mistakes, worked to correct them going forward, yet did not dwell on them. They appreciated their customers (fans) and one another. They respected their differences and understood how each person contributed toward part of the larger ‘whole.’ These Cubs were multicultural, multi-racial, and observed different religious faiths. They played cleanly and followed the rules.

Even if you did not follow sports in general or baseball in particular, it was difficult to ignore the Cubs. They made baseball fun to watch. The games were also a great distraction from the endless election talk on television, radio, and social media. The euphoria of winning Game 7, in extra innings after a rain delay, made the final victory that much sweeter. After 108 years, it was an emotional and sentimental win, especially for those with relatives and friends who had not lived long enough to experience the victory.

The exuberance after the final out was pure joy. You can see it in the photographs of the players, the sounds of the crowd outside Wrigley Field, the overview of the city immediately after the game and during the parade two days later. Unbridled happiness. Joy. Euphoria. The sun shined on the city and the country shared in this win. Wednesday, November 2, the day they clinched the Series, through Friday, November 4, the day of the parade, were days to savor and remember, regardless of where you lived.

But the stupor of baseball bliss petered out by Monday, November 7, and then it was election day. More partisan talking and yelling of who did what to whom and when. Neither candidate ran a flawless campaign and neither of the major party candidates were ideal. But only one candidate was patently unqualified for the job he sought, a status he kept reinforcing with appalling regularity week after week.

There are many examples of egregious and undignified conduct from which to choose. Two stand out for me. Most abhorrent and disrespectful are the lies he knowingly fueled and perpetuated for five years regarding President Obama’s birth and citizenship.

The second example, the one I cannot watch on television out of revulsion, is Trump mocking and mimicking the reporter Serge Kovaleski. Any human resource professional will confirm that Trump’s behavior is illegal in a workplace, but he got a pass on this behavior from those who voted for him.

To go from the intoxicating elation of the Cubs’ victory to the unnerving Trump ascendency within six short days was and is nothing short of depressing.

The Trump win will be studied far more than the Cubs’ win. Yes, business cases will be written about how the campaign was run, the unrelenting four-word message, and the savvy media choices. He changed a lot of the rules. But the Cubs’ fascinate because their growth and success took place internally and independently. The fans responded by buying tickets and branded merchandise, but the team’s success was not dependent on the fans. The fans helped a lot, no doubt, but this team had fun and played well all on their own.

In contrast, Trump’s responses are fueled by his crowds and his crowds are encouraged by his bombast. His psychological needs for adoration and attention are immense, regardless of the outcome. There is an interdependency between the one making the outrageous statements and the crowds believing them to be true. The fact that the teller is a proven, documented liar of longstanding does not seem to matter. And that is why this ‘win’ is so sad and the Cubs’ win seems so pure by comparison. Collectively, we chose this outcome.

If you share these sentiments, there are ways to protest and fight back. Get involved. Volunteer to run for office or work for candidates in local elections. Support voter registration and voting. Donate money. Call your U.S. Representatives and Senators often to express your opinion — every call is tracked and can impact which bills and initiatives are supported. Purchase an online news subscription or buy a paper every day: we need objective, thorough, investigative journalism to combat a culture that rewards celebrity for its own sake.

And keep the faith. Pitchers and catchers report on February 13, 2017.

Best of Evanston

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ew_suptspotlight_video2015Dr. Eric Witherspoon gets my vote for Person of the Year. He is an inspiring speaker and educational leader. He cares deeply about the students at Evanston Township High School. But the pitch perfect message he delivered over the loudspeaker the morning after the election resonated in the school’s classrooms, across the houses and apartments of Evanston, and soon went viral across the country. This short epistle is only 275 words, but together they are more riveting than all the Tweets, speeches, and position papers leading up to the election and more comforting than all the ones that followed. Read it again to be re-inspired; save it for future reference in the coming months. I suspect we are going to need it.

northwestern-universityNorthwestern University is a great corporate citizen within Evanston. It is the city’s top employer and an essential contributor and participant within the social fabric of Evanston. It offers a beautiful lakefront campus and a calendar filled with lectures and first-class musical, theatrical, athletic, and cinematic entertainment, much of it open to the public. It is the home of groundbreaking research and Sir Fraser Stoddart, one of 2016’s Nobel Prize recipients. I am a fan of the Jazz Small Ensembles and National Theatre Live at the Wirtz. Come join me.

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The beautiful lakefront of Lake Michigan serves as my backyard. I love the bike path that winds around its edge and the serenity I feel whenever I pass by. The view from Northwestern looking south toward Chicago never fails to inspire me…as well as remind me of Oz, the Emerald City.

 

aylas

Evanston fosters a wonderful environment for small businesses and creative, artistic stores. One of my favorites is Ayla’s Originals, a shop that inspires, encourages, and provides supplies and lessons to beaders (those who bead) all over the North Shore. I originally visited Ayla’s for some assistance with jewelry repairs, but was drawn in by the friendly atmosphere and wonderful sense of community. Ayla’s offers a fantastic selection of beads from all over the world — including rare, collectible, and antique ones — as well as an array of individualized classes on techniques of jewelry-making. Take a class and see if this craft is for you. Treat yourself: do something creative every day.

We love to read in Evanston and there are many great bookstores catering to bibliophiles as well as a fantastic public library system. My favorite bookstore is Bookends & Beginnings for its fantastic selection, personalized service, great recommendations, and cozy atmosphere.  But there are others. Try Chicago Rare Book Center, tucked away on Washington Street; they specialize in children’s books, modern literature, jazz and blues, art, Chicago, the Midwest, and Americana. Comix Revolution specializes in comics and graphic novels. And if those specialties are not niche enough for your tastes, try Montagnana Books. They focus on books and collectibles about the violin family.

Happy reading, biking, and beading. As Dr. Witherspoon advises, “Let’s protect and take care of each other. Everything is going to be okay.”

Pick Your Tree Carefully

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about work, love, friendship, illness, and the tenacity female scientists need to succeed. This is a brave book; it is raw and honest and overall inspiring. I recommend it enthusiastically.

 

After reading Lab Girl, it is impossible to look at any tree or even a leaf without begrudging respect for everything it took for that respective piece of vegetation to venture into the world and live.

A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is only known to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance–to take its one and only chance to grow.

Jahren tells of growing up in a family that rarely talked and barely emoted. (“The vast emotional distances between the individual members of a Scandinavian family are forged early and reinforced daily.”) Her relationship with her mother was strained, but she drew comfort and strength from her scientist father whom she idolized.

I grew up in my father’s laboratory and played beneath the chemical benches until I was tall enough to play on them. My father taught forty-two years’ worth of introductory physics and earth science in that laboratory, nestled within a community college deep in rural Minnesota; he loved his lab, and it was a place that my brothers and I loved also.

Jahren is passionate about science and driven to succeed. She describes the obstacles female scientists often encounter — narrow-mindedness, failure to be taken seriously and be included, prejudice, sexual harassment — and how she barreled through and worked harder than anyone else to prove she belonged. Belong she does, and she has succeeded magnificently: three Fulbright Awards, one of only four scientists (and the only woman, natch) to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given in the earth sciences, tenured professor, and kick-ass writer.

There is a special skill to writing about science. It’s a secret language to those of us on the outside and one has to be especially adept to explain what’s taking place without losing the reader in complex jargon. Jahren is gifted with luminous prose when describing scientific experiments, the rhythms of efficient soil sampling, and proper laboratory procedures. I fell in love with her as she struggled and persevered, and cheered her professional and personal milestones. The passages in which she meets and falls in love with her husband, and regales us with tales of work adventures and friendship with her lab partner, Bill, testify to the depth of her feelings and the fullness of her heart.

She also wrestles mightily with manic depressive illness. Her raw candor about its effects on her life are mesmerizing and heartbreaking. I was awestruck by her strength, grit, and bravery, especially in the section where she describes the impact stopping her medication for 26 weeks (she was pregnant) had on her life. Thankfully what she had to endure worked successfully and her son was born completely healthy. She is fortunate: she has a true partner in her husband, who cared for her and advocated for the medical care she needed; she has access to the best medical care in the world; she has financial resources. That Jahren is aware of and appreciates these gifts make her triumph all the sweeter.

The Jahren Lab is in Norway now but you can keep up with her on her blog and be on the lookout for random op-ed pieces in The New York Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Options for College Success: Helping Special Needs Students Realize Their Dreams

Initially printed in the Evanston RoundTable on 10/5/2016
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Shoshana Axler (left) and Christine Anderson

Most students start school in the fall with some confidence that they will have opportunities and choices when they finish. But the options available to special needs students and their families when they age out of public school are not so obvious.

That is where Options for College Success (OCS) plays a vibrant and possibly unique role.

Options for College Success, 820 Davis St., is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that has been addressing this issue since 2008. OCS is a post-secondary educational program geared specifically for young adults, ages 18 to 30, who have some sort of learning challenge. The program’s ultimate goal is to help each student achieve independence and full potential through education and meaningful employment.

The offices, reception area, and individual rooms where studying, tutoring, and counseling take place are utilitarian. The brightest spot in the office is the Hall of Fame, painted sunshine yellow and lined top to bottom with certificates of completion and awards given to many of its past and current students. These walls provide tangible proof of the effectiveness of OCS.

Some of the challenges students deal with include autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, executive function disorder, social and maturation issues, ADHD, processing and non-verbal learning disorders. The program’s brochure lists more than 20 conditions or disorders, some more widely known than others, but each presenting specific and personal challenges to the affected students and their families.

OCS distinguishes itself because each student receives a customized program. The staff of Options for College Success works closely with the student, the student’s family, and the appropriate professionals at the student’s school or work to develop a weekly schedule designed to maximize that student’s success.

Students sign contracts that outline their specific goals for the year. They also spend time learning and practicing independent living, social, and financial management skills as well as education and career development. The program includes membership in the McGaw YMCA, and students are encouraged to exercise regularly. Everything is done to encourage and support good and healthy habits for daily living.

Christine Anderson, Options’ Executive Director, and Shoshana Axler, the Director of Admissions and Development, advocate for the students and serve almost as surrogate parents, especially for students who come from beyond the Chicagoland area.

The schools the students attend are diverse, ranging from community and junior colleges to four-year universities throughout the area. By law, each college or university must have a staff member on site as a resource for students with disabilities.

Ms. Anderson and Ms. Axler have no hesitation reaching out to on-campus resources to advocate for fair accommodations for their students. These accommodations are to “level the playing field” for the student and to compensate for a particular disorder; the goal is not to make work any less rigorous or standards for accomplishment any less steep.

Ms. Anderson and Ms. Axler have an extensive network of contacts within the learning disability and disorder community. Resources they will involve as needed include the Department of Health and Human Services, job coaches, physical and occupational therapists, and the people at the Evanston-based Institute for Therapy Through the Arts. New tutors and therapists are constantly being added, depending on what students need at any particular time.

In addition to working with the students, Ms. Anderson works extensively with the parents and is in regular communication with them. The parents go through an adjustment period as much as the students do, she explained; it is very important that parents feel they have someone to talk to who will listen to them.

The parents of most of the students have been advocating for them their entire lives. It is difficult for these parents to give up control, and Ms. Anderson understands that fear and hesitation. Over time, she says, parents learn to trust her judgment.

“The amazing thing is,” Ms. Anderson says, “as the students are treated with more respect and as adults, they start to become more independent.” Ms. Axler adds, “The students all look out for one another. They know we help their dreams become realities.”

Those who do not commute locally live in individual apartments in an apartment building in Evanston. A married couple, one of whom has a background in social work, lives in the same building as the students, and they serve as Resident Advisors (RAs).

The RAs facilitate the social activities and serve as resources outside the normal work and school day. Although the program does not offer 24-hour supervision, someone from Options for College Success is always available and on call – a boon to students and parents alike.

Evanston is an ideal location for this program. The office and apartment building are within walking distance of the CTA and Metra Davis Street stops, and the train station is a hub for most North Shore bus routes. Most of the students do not have cars; they learn how to navigate using public transportation and how to manage their time based on train or bus schedules. The staff meets with students regularly and is available for support and counsel.

Twelve months of Options for College Success costs $41,400 plus tuition, room, and board. Families may apply at any time. The application process includes a detailed application form; interviews with the staff; reviews of all transcripts; references; and a neuropsychological report on each student. Once a student’s file is complete, the family is notified within 30 days. Enrollment is limited to about 20-25 students at any one time to ensure each student receives individualized attention.

Families tend to find out about Options for College Success through word of mouth, referrals by the counselors and professionals in their lives, or finding the program online. As far as Ms. Anderson and Ms. Axler know, Options for College Success is unique in the United States because of the individualized and intensive one-on-one management students receive.

Despite the cost, families speak highly of the program. Janet Hoffman, an Evanston resident, talked with pride about her daughter Julia, a participant in the program. Ms. Hoffman said, “We had hoped, but didn’t really believe, that at this point in her life Julia would be leading such an independent life, handling day-to-day challenges, living on her own, graduating from community college, and more. With help from Options for College Success, she has exceeded all of our dreams for her. Julia is happy. She has worked so hard to achieve all of these accomplishments, and we are very proud of her.”

 

Evanston Stitchworks

Last month I visited and took an introductory sewing class with Amalia Malos, founder of Evanston Stitchworks. This bustling storefront is just the latest of wonderful craft and retail hotspots germinating in town, as I wrote in Evanston Roundtable. Unfortunately, we were limited in the number of photographs to include in print; the rest are included here. The whimsical and unusual fabrics Ms. Malos sources from Japan and Scandinavia are worthy of their closeups, and she is an inspiration. Stop by and join in the fun.

Copyright © 2016, Evanston RoundTable LLC
7/13/2016 4:13:00 PM by Wendi Kromash
More Than Just the Machines: Evanston Stitchworks
Amalia Malos, owner of Evanston Stitchworks, 906 Sherman Ave., has always been a craftsperson. Even as a little girl, she recognized the value of something handmade, whether the object was food, something to wear, or a decorative object. “Making something by hand is a two-way dialogue between the maker and the receiver. It involves thought and intention. It is unique and can not be duplicated,” she observes.

A long-time Evanston resident, Ms. Malos wanted to create a space where she could share her enthusiasm for sewing and knitting, and teach others how to create objects and clothing using fabric and yarn. She envisioned a business that would include her love of vintage sewing machines, fine Japanese and Scandinavian fabrics, and high quality threads and notions.

Ms. Malos visited and spoke with other like-minded business owners in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Cambridge, Mass., and elsewhere via online research, Which confirmed the validity of her idea. Thus encouraged, she tested it with an email to friends offering a few actual classes in her home.

That first email was a revelation – all of the spaces sold out within four hours and she had a waiting list in case there were cancellations or other classes.  Those first few classes were cozy and relaxed, but pretty soon the business outgrew the family’s dining room. She needed a dedicated space for her growing business.

She wrote a business plan, rented a small studio in Evanston, and slowly got the word out to her friends and the mothers of her children’s friends. Her students were having fun and learning new skills, and signing up for additional classes. Word -of-mouth was her main source of advertising. The business continued to expand, happily.

Eventually Ms. Malos needed to move her business into a larger space. The result is Evanston Stitchworks. The bright white, high-ceilinged space is the perfect environment in which to feast one’s eyes on the array of beautiful fabrics, sit around and knit with others, or learn how to sew. This summer has been bustling with activity with nearly sold-out camp sessions such as ‘Basic Sewing Machine’ and ‘Pajama Pants’ for, tweens and teens, and adult classes of all levels for sewing, knitting, and quilting.

So far most of her students have been girls or women, but the boys who have tried a sewing class tend to love it, Ms. Malos said. It is all about the machine, after all. The sewing machines used in class are relatively easy to thread and operate, especially after a bit of practice.  Ms. Malos is always nearby to offer a gentle suggestion or demonstrate the best way to do the task at hand.

The fabrics available in the store are fresh, modern, and vibrant.  Ms. Malos sourced a few domestic and international manufacturers who specialize in organic fabrics and who encourage young textile designers. The color palettes used are alive with energy and playfulness. They are extremely visual, tactile, and affordable, and best when used for clothing, soft wearable objects (such as a bag) or upholstery on an item that will not be used heavily, like a decorative pillow or seat cushion. Gone are the days when projects started with a pattern followed by fabric. Nowadays it is just as common to purchase the fabric without a particular project in mind.

The yarns available at Evanston Stitchworks also have a designer pedigree. Amalia sources wool from small, privately held, often family-owned and-operated farms, many of whom dye their own yarn. The majority of the yarn is grown and processed in the United States, and one of the farms even identifies by name the sheep who have contributed to each particular skein. You cannot get more personal than that.

Ms. Malos has a class for those who want to brush up on dormant sewing or knitting skills, if you are curious to learn new skills, or if you want to work past bad experiences from middle school home economics classes. Evanston Stitchworks, they will find, is a happy spot in a bustling neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

Missing Nora Ephron

everything is copy

I have been a fan of Nora Ephron’s work ever since reading Crazy Salad. She was funny and sophisticated and very hip, everything I was not as a confused and moody teenager growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When I still lived in Manhattan, I saw her on the Upper West Side once. She was holding hands with her best husband, Nicholas Pileggi, and they looked really happy; I behaved like a true New Yorker and didn’t fawn or ask for her autograph.

Like so many millions of other people, I was completely caught off guard and very sad when I heard the news of her death in 2012. I loved reading about how she had planned her memorial service down to the last detail, and provided copies of her favorite recipes to be given out to those in attendance. (I use her recipe for egg salad and it is a knockout.)

She was a great writer of books (I Feel Bad About My Neck) and screenplays (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), a wonderful director (Julie & Julia), a devoted mother to Jacob and Max, and a maven of the first order. Her first marriage ended before children and her second marriage was the source of her greatest thrill (becoming a mother) and worst hurt (finding out her husband was having a very public affair while she was pregnant with her second child). But she directed her own story, made lemon meringue out of the bitterest lemons, and turned her soon to be ex-husband from a famous journalist into a humiliated punch line.

Success is the best revenge, and she succeeded by any measure. She found marital happiness with Pileggi, her third husband. When asked to write her autobiography in six words, she famously answered, “Secret to life, marry an Italian.” She seemingly had it all, except for–perversely–her health, but of course she hid that from almost everyone she knew. It was the one story whose ending she could not direct.

jacob headshot for the timesOne of her sons, Jacob, must have recognized the yearning her fans had for one more Nora fix, and he at least partially satisfied that desire with a long, heartfelt, and intimate portrait of his mother’s final days and the period leading up to her illness. It is a wonderful piece of writing. I read nearly all the letters in response to it and realized I was not alone, by far, in how much I admired her work and appreciated her son’s essay. He is a gifted writer.

Fortunately, Jacob felt compelled to probe more deeply. He developed and directed a documentary film about his mother entitled, Everything Is Copy. It is currently available on HBO and absolutely worth watching. The movie confirms what was evident to any student of her work: she was smart, ambitious, and witty. She made her own luck even when the world was falling apart around her. She did not give up. She made sure to control her own story. Better to have people laugh at something you wrote (where you can control the joke) than become the joke and have them laugh at you.

Bravo, Jacob. Great movie. Your mom would have loved it.

 

 

Thoughts About Death and Life: When Breath Becomes Air

I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live. (pp. 131-132)

Bibliophiles know about When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: the heartbreaking memoir of a highly gifted (degrees from Stanford University, University of Cambridge, Yale School of Medicine) neurosurgeon and writer who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 35, only months away from completing his surgical training. The book is dedicated to his infant daughter, the child he and his wife, also a doctor, chose to have after his diagnosis.

Of course the book is sad and poignant for many reasons: first and foremost, because his daughter will grow up without her father. His wife, whom he loved deeply, is now a widow. He was incredibly talented and on the cusp of realizing the pinnacle of his professional training. Given his expertise, he could have helped many more people. Now all that is for naught. His premature end is both tragic and cosmically wasteful. And yet his life was rich and full of meaning.

When Breath Becomes Air is a brave book. Death hovers on almost every page, but the book is not macabre. It’s beautifully written, and at times, even profound in what Kalanithi observes; his perspective shifts back and forth between writer as doctor and writer as patient. He observes death, is aware of death, even feels the presence of death as a medical student and throughout the stages of his training. He writes about how his training taught him to “actively engage with death” and thus, to “confront the the meaning of life.” Being a doctor meant assuming mortal responsibility, and it was a responsibility he embraced forcefully and with passion. Kalanithi was a man who ran toward challenges.

Near the end of his life, contemplating the brief overlap of his life with that of his daughter’s, he muses about what wisdom he can leave her. The message he wrote is this:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing. (p. 199)

 

The idea of ‘providing a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world’ is one of the book’s central ideas. As Kalanithi’s disease progresses and various drugs and treatments he is pursuing lose their effectiveness, his options narrow and the time he has left dwindles. He mourns the losses of his life, of dreams not realized, children he and his wife would not have together, of not growing old with the one you love. But he accepts these hard truths and strives to make the most of his remaining time, energy, and concentration. He labors to complete this book, to leave some tangible record of his thoughts, before the cancer overtakes him.

For each of us, the idea of what we have meant to the world, is unique and intensely personal.   Kalanithi made his life matter. He made a difference to those around him and touched many, mostly strangers, with his thoughts about making the most of his remaining time. A teacher and researcher to the very end, he found ways to contribute at Stanford even when he could no longer operate or treat patients. You will think about this compact book long after you complete it.