Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finding the News

Recently I read that Jon Stewart had challenged the “real news” TV people to begin getting their job done, i.e., to start reporting the news. What he said really resonated with me.

Two or three times every day I sit down in front of the TV to have a snack, eat lunch, whatever. I flip through several news channels, CNN, Headline News, CNBC, Fox and MSNBC. What I find are either commercials or a reporter being blown away by strong winds or people yelling at each other about this or that subject or a story about a missing child. So I flip through again. I find more of the same. So I give up and go to ESPN for yesterday’s sports results.

Obviously I’m not alone. That’s why so many people get more of their news from Jon Stewart and online than from networks whose core competency is supposed to be delivering news.

I may be retro, but I still rely on newspapers to keep me informed. And in my case I read them the old fashioned way, in my living room, not on the computer. These days, newspapers are not an efficient product. Too much wasted space. Too costly. Not green. So I’m not surprised that readership is down and staying viable is a struggle.

But I’m sure that as newspapers head toward history’s trash bin of outdated products they won’t be replaced by TV news. The news will be online – delivered on demand, through small mobile products, customized for personal interests, and always up-to-date.

It may be that if the news networks got their act together they’d be able to slow down their inevitable demise. But that would only be a holding action. In the meantime, they’re a waste of time – and at least in the short term Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will continue to thrive.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Today's the Day

Here’s a peek at my latest project – a book I’m calling (for now) ”Today’s the Day.” I’ve written a draft Intro:

The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset said:

Life cannot wait until the scientists have explained the universe. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness; it is always urgent, here and now without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point blank.

In plain everyday language, what does this mean for you and me?

You look like you’re waiting for the starting whistle. Look around. The game has already begun.

The preliminaries are over. The finals are next week. But today is for the championship.

There will never be a better time than right now to live the life you dream about.

It’s your parade. Rain or shine, you’re the only one who can piss on it.

I’ve been a coach for years. A life coach. I’ve helped people with their careers, their relationships, their well-being. We worked on whatever needed attention, but I was reluctant to be prescriptive. I didn’t want to tell someone what to do. I was willing to make suggestions or point out options, but I wanted you to be the chooser. I didn’t want you to follow mindlessly what I or anyone else told you to do.

I still feel you should exercise free choice and be responsible for the decisions you make. But from now on I’m not going to hold back. If I’ve got something to say: advice, opinions, to do’s, prescriptions, strong suggestions – whatever – I’ll be letting you know what they are.

What changed? What happened? Do I suddenly have a fount of infinite wisdom to dispense? Yes, I do. But that’s not what happened. What happened was that I turned 75.

I know that some birthdays have a big impact on some people. It’s going to be the Big 3-0 or the Big 4-0, or the Big 5-0, whatever you say is important. I’ve never had much attention on these age-related landmarks. Until this last one. The Big 7-5.

I thought, “No way around it. I’m getting old.”

And then the chatter from my internal iPod got louder: “Every day I see more evidence. Obituaries for people who died before they turned 75. Death notices for others who weren’t much older than 75.”

I didn’t think I was on the verge of expiring, but it did occur to me that I was entering the last act, the final stage, the winter of my existence.

It was now time to coach myself. Was I going to sink into a morose depression, wallowing in a cesspool of self-pity, whining about a chronological reality over which I had no control?

Nope. Not my style. So I came up with a new thought, a new context that acknowledges reality but doesn’t capitulate to it: 75 may be the beginning of old, but old is not the end.
To make sure I was not totally off base, I thought I should check out the definition of ‘old’. The dictionary has a lot to say about old, but the first definition is: Having lived or existed for a relatively long time. Perfect. That is both accurate and not loaded with negative interpretations. I have lived for a relatively long time. So be it. Let’s move on.

Long before the Big 7-5 came into my life, I felt that I had something to say that I hadn’t yet said. This notion kept rattling around in my brain, but I couldn’t nail it down. I thought maybe the story of my life, which for sure has been an interesting one, was what I was looking for. I doubted it, because I figured that except for the dozen or so people who really love and care about me, my story would not be of much interest.

Despite my doubts, I couldn’t come up with a better idea or at least a better starting point for getting at this something I had to say. My rationale was that if wrote the story, perhaps in the process of doing that I’d see more clearly what was really on my mind. So I began a memoir/autobiography that I called “Where Did I Go?”

Four years and a thousand pages later I finished writing my story. I’m happy I did it. It was a great project, fun to go back and re-live so many wonderful experiences, and a challenge to push myself to go behind the surface to discover and reveal, as best I could, the truth.

At some point in the process did I receive the revelation I was looking for? No. Not a magical revelation that enlightened everything. But in no way was it a completely dry hole. I saw some tantalizing hints. I noted insights that helped shed light on my behavior. From the data I distilled recurring themes. I could see some of the basic operating principles I had integrated into my life that pushed me in this or that direction.

That might have been the end of the process. But wait. Not so fast. I completed writing and celebrated my 75th birthday at about the same time. Serendipity? An accident of timing? Karma? Does it matter?

I’m now clear that I have something to say to you that is worth saying and hearing. My research lab has been my life. My long life. My old life. And fortunately, since old is not the end, I am able to share what I’ve learned.

Which brings us back to Ortega y Gasset.

“Life is fired at us point blank,” he said. You’re dealing with your life right now – today. Whatever’s going on isn’t going to wait until you’re ready for it, until you get your act together. So I’m not going to tell you to think about all the resolutions you’d like to make someday – on New Year’s or your birthday or whenever. Don’t wait.
My Message is: Procrastination is your enemy.

I’m going to send you some Messages. I’ll send you Text Messages. Use them right now and keep using them. I’ll send you Email Messages. Use them when you need them. It’s OK to archive them, but don’t delete them.

My Messages aren’t ranked by importance. So I won’t be telling you what to do first. Why? Because what you need to do now is what to do first. Look, if your house is on fire it’s not a good time to have a serious conversation about your relationship. Put the Goddamn fire out.

I want you to be able to do it all – all the time. Not possible, you say. In a purely linear world you’re right. But our lives are not only linear. They are also holistic and unpredictable. I didn’t say do it all – all the time. I said be able to do it all.
My Message is: Have the tools available to handle whatever comes your way.
Remember, life is fired at you point blank.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Not Happy With the Drift

I keep waiting for Obama to break through. It hasn’t happened yet. I’m not happy about it.

Given that:

The economy is in the toilet
Unemployment is up
Real estate is down
Gas prices are up
The war is unpopular
The current president is even more unpopular
The Republican candidate is an out-of-touch, unimpressive doddering old fool wedded to the past
People want a change
The Democratic candidate stands for change
In most states Democrats are in the ascendancy.
Etc., etc., etc.

Obama should be up by 20 points and rising. But depending on the day and the poll he’s only slightly ahead or dead even – and stagnant.

I can find reasons to explain the situation, but whether they are accurate or not is irrelevant. Because the explanations don’t help.

It’s possible that my natural inclination to avoid overconfidence is skewing my perception. I hope so. So I ask myself, could the American people really choose this cranky old fart McCain? Given our history, the answer is a resounding “Yes they could.”

I look at him and think, I’m older than he is but this guy looks like he could be my father. And I shake my head in disbelief that we could end up electing another disaster. But I know it is possible.

Maybe I should just go to sleep for the next few months and hope for the best. Not likely. I can send Obama another contribution. At least that will make me feel like I’m doing something useful. Sounds like a plan.