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.”

Sexual Health Expert’s Advise: Communicate

jeff headshot[This is a reprint of the article I wrote, published in the Evanston RoundTable, 5/3/17.  I cannot rave enough about how wonderful Dr. Albaugh is as a speaker.]

The Linden Room of the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave was filled as Dr. Jeffrey Albaugh, Director of Sexual Health at NorthShore University Health System, began his presentation on “Sexual Health and Natural Changes as We Age.” The presentation was the second featured Levy Lecture, a new program sponsored by the Levy Senior Center Foundation, a non-profit organization established to provide enrichment programs and activities for the benefit of seniors 55+ who frequent the Center.

Dr. Albaugh is a board certified Advanced Practice Urology Clinical Nurse Specialist and an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of sexual health and sexual dysfunction. Currently he runs the NorthShore University HealthSystem William D. and Pamela Hutul Ross Clinic for Sexual Health. He treats both men and women and has won numerous awards for excellent patient care. Dr. Albaugh’s research in sexual health has been funded by many sources including the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Albaugh is an expert at explaining complex health information in a way that non-medical professionals can understand. He is also a skilled communicator and comfortable discussing sensitive subjects – like sexuality, intimacy, and sexual problems – that might make others squirm. His open, upbeat personality and use of humor immediately put the audience at ease. Men and women alike sat rapt as he talked with compassion and understanding about one of the most basic drives human beings have, the need for touch and connectedness.

Communication between partners was one of the main themes of Dr. Albaugh’s presentation. He clarified some of the differences between sexuality and intimacy: sexuality is the sense of being male or female, whereas intimacy is the process when two people move toward “complete communication” and connectedness on all levels.

Dr. Albaugh explained how human beings need the feeling of being connected in order to thrive, but those same feelings make us vulnerable. Allowing oneself to feel vulnerable with another person can be very scary, but it is the only path toward love and creativity, according to Dr. Albaugh. Part of that vulnerability is learning how to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about sexual pleasure, which does not come naturally for most people. Practice helps!

Another theme of the presentation was understanding how men and women change as they age and the effects those changes may have on their bodies. It is essential to maintain good health overall as it affects one’s sexual health. Dr. Albaugh emphasized the importance of watching one’s diet, weight control, exercise (at least three hours of cardiovascular exercise per week), and managing medical problems.

Much of Dr. Albaugh’s work with his clinic and private patients focuses on issues of sexual impairment due to hormonal or physical changes to the body, sometimes due to disease or trauma as well as aging. Fortunately, there are many therapies available to address those issues, including counseling and behavioral therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy, hormonal therapy, vacuum devices, prescription medications, surgery, and herbs. Sexual and intimacy issues can be successfully resolved with patience and expert medical care.

As Dr. Albaugh wrapped up his lecture, he was inundated with questions
from the audience, which he patiently answered until he had to leave for his next patient appointment. The overriding message [Dr. Albaugh] communicated was that it is possible to enjoy sex and intimacy throughout one’s entire life. And if there is a “bump” in the road, don’t be shy: expert help is available.

Moonglow, A Fictional Memoir

I loved Michael Chabon’s most recent book, Moonglow. I am also a big fan of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, one of my favorite books. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

I liken his writing to a Wes Anderson movie. Both have their own particular style, but if you like the style, you love the creative output of the author or writer/director.

Moonglow’s storyline is complex and weaves back and forth between the past and the present. The main character’s grandfather, a curmudgeonly, silent type, is dying and in his Dilaudid haze he has become verbose, confessionally talking to his grandson, one Mike Chabon, telling him never-before heard stories about his childhood, his adventures during World War II, and how he met his wife, the author’s grandmother.

The novel is essentially a series of love stories that build upon one another like Russian nesting dolls. Mike Chabon is the novel’s narrator, but he is not Michael Chabon, the book’s author. Mike is the one filling in the gaps left out from his grandfather’s stories, packing a myriad of footnotes, adding the tangents which serve as spicy addenda to the books many pages.

The grandparents are two broken people (but broken in different ways) who find one another and fall head over heels in love with one another. Their marriage is passionate and faithful, but the grandmother suffers from horrible nightmares and mental illness, a remnant from her experience as a hidden refugee in France during the war.

All of the characters have secrets that they hide from one another. The backward and forward lurching of the story builds to the pivotal explanation toward the end of the book, slyly inserted into the narrative almost as an afterthought.

This complex, layered book drew me in and had me spellbound. The phrasing is marvelous, so effervescent some pages sparkle.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, yet I didn’t want it to end. If Chabon is your thing, dig into this one soon. Savor it.

 

 

 

More Escapist Fiction

 

Still in despair by our country’s current political environment and horrified by the catastrophes unfolding in Washington, D.C., I am seeking relief (or hiding) in various ways. I tried floating in a epsom salt float tank and loved it…more about that later. I am getting back into yoga and grateful to have so many good studio options in and near Evanston. Most of all, I am reading a lot and taking advantage of my EPL card.

In quick succession I enjoyed these three mysteries and a tear-jerker: The Dry by Jane Harper, a first-time novelist; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware; and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, author of the wonderful and highly acclaimed, Room; and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

The Dry takes place in a section of Australia that has not seen any rainfall for two years. The land and everything on it is withering..cracking..dying. Crops won’t grow and livestock can’t survive. Financial ruin is everywhere. As the book opens, Aaron Falk, a federal agent, is en route to the funeral of his high school friend Luke. Aaron hasn’t been home in twenty years and is determined to spend as little time as possible in town, counting down the hours until he can leave without seeming rude. It seems Luke snapped due to the impending loss of his farm and shot his wife and young son, sparing only his infant daughter, before killing himself.

Twenty years ago Luke provided an alibi for Aaron when a young woman was reported missing. This mutual friend later turned up dead. Despite Luke’s insistence that Aaron and he were together, town gossip blamed Aaron for the death and effectively chased him and his father out of town. Luke’s father knows the boys lied and asks Aaron to stay in town a few extra days to see if Aaron can help clear Luke’s name. In addition to the unrelenting heat, the gossip and cliques within the community add their own type of oppressiveness, where the past is never really over and everyone seems to know everybody else’s business. The story builds logically bit by bit over the course of a week until its dramatic and combustible conclusion. The Dry is a fun read, perfect for a beach vacation or long flight.

The Woman in Cabin 10  is a psychological mystery. Lo, a travel writer, is under tremendous stress and possible PTSD due to a recent attack during a break-in at her home and later, an argument and possible split with her boyfriend. The timing of both events could not have been worse as she is scheduled to leave in two days on a highly anticipated press junket aboard a luxury yacht trip en route to see the Aurora Borealis. The break-in has left her unable to sleep without alcohol to blot out her nightmares. In her boozy haze the first night out to sea, Lo is convinced she hears and sees a woman being tossed overboard from the cabin next to hers. She notifies the ship’s staff, but the room is unoccupied and no one is unaccounted for among the ship’s staff or guests. The ship’s security officer politely but firmly dismisses her concerns and suspects she is hallucinating, imagining things because of her recent break-in, hung over or a combination of all of the above. To complicate things further, the WiFi on the ship is not working and Lo is unable to receive or to send emails. Is she going crazy? Paranoid? Is there a secret killer on the ship that only she sees? Combine fuzzy memories, a disoriented sense of time and personal space, and ample self-doubt for a toxic mix. Similar in some ways to The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10 is a challenging whodunit with a surprise twist ending.

If you liked the tension and insular world of Room, I think you’ll enjoy The Wonder. Emma Donoghue has created another tight, restrictive environment, this time in 1859 Ireland. For the past four months, since her eleventh birthday, Anna has stopped eating save for a few teaspoons of water each day. A deeply religious young girl, Anna’s family and neighbors believe she is a living miracle in their midst. The local priest has doubts and wants to be certain Anna is a true miracle, so a group of townspeople hires two nurses to watch over Anna at all times for two weeks to determine if she is sneaking food or, as Anna maintains, living off of “manna from heaven.” One of the nurses is a young widow, trained by Florence Nightingale, and determined to uncover the scheme. Much to her surprise, Lib is charmed by Anna and believes her to be sincere, if not misguided.

Despite 24-hour surveillance, Lib and other nurse, Sister Michael, are unable to find hidden food or determine how Anna might be getting any sustenance. All outward physical signs show that Anna is slowly dying, yet no one — not her physician, her priest, her parents, her cousin who lives with them, or the other nurse, Sister Michael — is doing anything to actively save Anna from certain death. Why is the child willingly starving herself? And how can Lib save Anna before being run out of town, since Lib’s ‘by the book’ manner and irreligious approach have already provoked the ire of the local priest, the family doctor, and Anna’s parents. The Wonder is a story of love, commitment, and redemption. claustrophobic at times, the intensity builds as Anna deteriorates, but the end is nothing short of miraculous.

I know I’m late to the party about A Man Called Ove as it’s been in print since 2012, but better late than never. Ove is a curmudgeon. He is almost mean and very rigid, and he is determined to commit suicide to end his troubles. Thing is, his plans keep getting waylaid by the people around him…boisterous neighbors, a pushy cat, fainting commuters…there is no end to the interruptions! But little by little, his icy heart starts to thaw. This is his story. I loved this book — I laughed out loud more than once and was charmed to tears as the story of Ove’s life was slowly revealed. If you need a feel-good book to read or give, this is the one.

Happy reading!

Social Disconnect

I first heard about J.D. Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy, from my Aunt Sue, who had read it as part of the syllabus for a college course she audited last fall. It was November, shortly after the election, and I was still in a fog of disbelief about the results. She recommended it as essential reading and promised it would explain a lot.

A few weeks later I was browsing for a gift in a small book store and asked the owner if she had noticed any differences in her customers’ purchasing habits since the election. She acknowledged that, indeed there were changes. In the days immediately after the election, there was hardly any store traffic. No one was in the mood to shop; people were hunkering down. But after a few days, things got back to normal — whatever that is — and she had two types of requests: non-fiction (explain the election, how did this happen?) or fiction (get me out of here, this can’t be happening).  In the former category, two books were in hot demand, White Trash: The 400-Year Old Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg and Hillbilly Elegy. 

In Isenberg’s White Trash, “the poor are always with us,” and labeling the underclass of poor whites implies “an imposed inheritance” that almost invariably prevents them from escape and encourages demonization if not blame. For them, the American dream of upward mobility is largely “unobtainable.”

First known as “waste people,” and later “white trash,” marginalized Americans were stigmatized for their inability to be productive, to own property, or to produce healthy and upwardly mobile children–the sense of uplift on which the American dream is predicated. The American solution to poverty and social backwardness was not what we might expect. Well into the twentieth century, expulsion and sterilization sounded rational to those who wished to reduce the burden of “loser” people on the larger economy. (p. xv, White Trash)

The book is long, dense, and at times, tedious. Isenberg weaves the history of how the poor in this country have been treated and viewed as expendable fodder as far back as the 1500s when the land was a colonial outpost of Great Britain and a dumping ground for undesirables. There are three main themes: the importance of our country’s rural past; the pervasive role class hierarchy plays in the United States; and how land ownership and class are connected, in that “the worst classes were seen as extrusions of the worst land: scrubby, barren, and swampy wasteland.” By the time these themes reach the likes of Honey Boo Boo and the current economic struggles of the lower rungs of the 99%, I was pretty discouraged although much better informed.

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of an unusual childhood. J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt of Ohio with deep family ties in the hills of eastern Kentucky. He was raised by his grandparents; his mother had substance abuse problems throughout his early years and he nearly failed out of high school…except he didn’t, because of the love and support of a few people and a fair amount of luck. He graduated high school, joined the Marines, served in Iraq, graduated from Ohio State in two years, and graduated from Yale Law School. He made it out and he made it big.

The majesty of  Vance’s story is learning why, amidst such a chaotic start, he did not give up on himself and why he did not give in to the despair, pessimism, and cynicism all around him. He describes growing up in deep poverty with familial violence as a norm. Years later he learns that the yelling, fighting, and abuse he and his sister experienced had a name–“adverse childhood experiences”–and that children with multiple ACEs are statistically more likely to experience adverse health and behavioral issues. He is unabashedly loyal to his family and loves them unconditionally, but he is clear about the bad choices his family and neighbors have made and the impact those choices have had on their lives and on the lives of the children in their care.

Vance despairs about the rampant drug addictions tearing through his hometown, and how unprepared its residernts are to confront a knowledge-based economy. He assigns both fault and credit to certain aspects of government programs, family decisions, and cultural norms. Vance doesn’t pretend to speak for all of his kin or neighbors, but he does present a portrait unfamiliar to many Americans and one that is helpful to understand. He writes with objective emotion and sensitivity; he is not bitter or vengeful, and surprisingly forgiving, accepting, and understanding of his mother. He recognizes he is lucky to have had loving grandparents who instilled him with good values and self-confidence and good mentors who believed in him and taught him about things he was never exposed to at home.

Neither White Trash nor Hillbilly Elegy are the definitive answer about how and why our country elected this president, but they are important parts of the conversation. I recommend them.

 

 

 

 

 

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.