Saturday, November 03, 2007

Portland Story Theater - Nov 2007 review

It's no secret: I'm addicted to Portland Story Theater. Rick Huddle and Alton Chung will return for performances in 2008, but founding members Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard continue to anchor the group, and this month's show brings the delightful addition of Penny Walter, who shines in her stories, plus guests Robin Bady (November 2-3) and Rebecca Cohen (November 9-10).

Licking the Plate is about "wanting it bad and getting it good," about nourishment and cravings -- for food and for family, for direction and identity, for joy and power.

Duddy opens the current show, reminiscing about a 1962 outing to the Space Needle, one of those special, family, dress-up excursions where children thwart the vision parents have of the how the day will unfold. The megalomaniacal symbolism of finger food has never been so deftly portrayed, and the silent conspiracy of neighboring dining guests -- separated in age by decades -- provides equal measures of amusement and victorious satisfaction. Her second piece is a deft adaptation about an attempted robbery and assault foiled by that turned cheek we hear so much about, but rarely encounter.

Bady (Nov. 2-3) resurrects her grandparents' lower east side tenement in New York in a tale about her mother's childhood obsession (and disenchantment) with maraschino cherries. There's rhythm, humor, and intensity in Bady's telling, and she has skillfully crafted a narrative of innocence, idealism, willfulness, drive, and denial. It's a rich, heady mixture rivaling the spread of delicacies at the milk bar in which the story is set. Bady's second piece addresses the vagaries of perception as she riffs on Aesop.

Howard continues to construct a solid body of work with each successive show, chaining links in a personal history that's tender, earthy, learned, and loving. I can only hope the Six Gods of the Universe in their flaming rainbow teepee bless me before I die with a collection of his stories. "The Night on the Island" describes a coming-of-age when you had to be ten years old and know how to swim; and another transition at 16, when all you needed were a flock of migrating geese and the guts to follow. There are dads, uncles, and brothers; warm liquor and limericks; and an excruciating (and hilarious) lake crossing in a canoe.

Walter joins PST for the first time, and I certainly hope it's not the last. She brings an energetic playfulness to the table that's sometimes rueful but never self-indulgent. I am still grinning at her recollection of family dynamics, growing up the baby on eastern Washington farmland, when a milkshake could remedy just about anything... and some of the challenges were dire indeed. Walter's tale of going from apathetic truancy in first grade to finally hitting her stride in high school is one that will stay with me for a long, long time. It's hard for me to imagine this sparkling, wry teller as a puppeteer, where I (probably mistakenly) imagine her in sort of a backstage role. I hope to see a lot more of her at storytelling showcases.

Once again, this is a short run: two weekends, and then it's gone. And Robin Bady is only appearing one more night. And the next four productions are all solo shows, rather than the ensemble. So get to Hipbone Studies (oh, crap, I forgot to write about the venue -- but it's late, and I'm tired, so I'll just say it's warmer and more inviting than the perfectly fine but somewhat industrial Brooklyn Bay).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

October (and November) fun!

Maybe it's from so many years of school -- K-12, then junior college, then college proper -- but for me, September always seems like the start of the new year. There's change in the air. Autumn is coming, with the equinox, the harvest, the weather changes. New projects get traction after the easygoing summer. Schools, churches, businesses, nonprofits -- they all seem to ripen with a final-quarter burst of energy.

But October really takes off like a rubber band in the hands of a practical jokester. ZING!

FRIGHTTOWN OPENS as of October 6. Woo-hoo!

Baron von Goolo's Museum of Horrors and the Robot Slavechicks from Mars is this year's incarnation of Portland's most ambitious haunted house. What can I say? I love it. I'm a sporadic volunteer, dressing up and scaring the wits out of too-cool-for-school teens and grown-ups. But even behind the scenes, the place creeps me out. I went through as a member of the paying public once; never again. I froze halfway through and had to be escorted out.

FrightTown's Tim Burton Meets George Romero sensibility splatters itself over the walls of Portland's Memorial Coliseum through Halloween. This place won't just fill a couple hours of your evening with BOO. It will have you wishing for some of that eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. I still can't get the Karaoke Nuns out of my head. If your nightmares had nightmares, they would be on exhibit at this museum. Go see.

October 24 Comedy Hypnosis Show with Michelle De Lude at The Porterhouse Restaurant, 14611 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie. Show starts at 8:00 p.m.; with the show, you get a $5.00 discount off dinner. Yum! Just think, a comedy hypnosis show without a fairground corn dog. What is the world coming to? A fun dinner show! Tickets are $7 or two for $10, and seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. Two-drink minimum. And if you get tickets at the door on the night of the show, they are $10.

Portland Story Theater announces its 2007-08 season, so save the first and second weekends in November for their first show, Licking the Plate. I'll have a review up November 3 or 4.

And look for my November 15 Comedy Hypnosis Show at Duff's Garage in SE Portland.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Getting unstuck: Logical levels

One of the presuppositions of NLP is the Law of Requisite Variety, which is a fancy way of saying that more choices are better than few choices. If you're stuck, it may be because you're... well, stuck. You need more choices.

If you have two choices, that's better than one, but you may still feel stuck. To reach a comfortable sense of flexibility and freedom, you'll want to have at least three.

What are some ways to find new choices?

NLP has a model called logical levels you can use to explore any situation in which you need more choices. Making change at any level can affect the whole system.

Level 1: Environment. Environment is everything around you. Nothing occurs in a vacuum. Becoming aware of the environment may seem extremely basic. Why bother?

The more familiar you are with the environment, the more habituated you become.

Have you ever had a clock that chimed every hour? How long did it take before you no longer noticed it? Or have you ever taped a reminder to your computer, refrigerator, or mirror, and over time forgotten to look at it so that it became "invisible"? Take a moment to quiet your mind, ask some questions, and explore this first, most basic level.

What's the context of the challenge? Where does it occur? (If your answer is, "EVERYWHERE!" choose one specific example and start there.) Is it confined to home or office? Certain locations? Who are the people involved? What time does it occur? Mornings? Afternoons? Evenings? Weekdays or weekends? What do you notice about the surroundings? What sounds do you notice? Where are they coming from? What's the quality of light? Do you notice a lot of movement, or are things quiet? The more facets of the environment you can notice, the more options you'll have when it comes time to make the changes you desire.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Observations again

A recent kerfluffle on a couple of online communities (one of them focusing on conflict resolution -- HA!) have me musing once again on the concept of what are called "observations" in NVC and "clean sensory channels" in NLP.

It's amazing how much of our own self-talk we accept as coming from "out there." We know, without even thinking about it, when someone is angry, sad, puzzled, or delighted.

But those realizations are based on something. That something is sensory experience: information that comes in through our eyes, ears, skin, nose or mouth. You know the drill: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

Most of this information comes in and is processed subconsciously. You don't typically notice or analyze, with your conscious mind, how you know what you know.

When you're in a struggle, either with another person or with yourself, this can lead to deepening conflict, rather than resolution.

Take a step back. Ask: What am I noticing? Is it something I see or hear? What conclusions am I coming to? Could I possibly come to different ones? (We'll explore that question in an upcoming blog entry on reframing.

This can be extremely difficult to do in a moment of upset; human brains and bodies react to emotional threats the same way they react to physical ones, and the flood of stress hormones creates obstacles to rational thinking. So if you've ever "lost your head" in anger, don't beat yourself up about it. Just know that you can take steps to keep your cool, and you can do it without squashing your emotions or denying what's bothering you. (Emotions feed you information about whether a situation is healthy or dangerous -- you don't want to cut yourself off from valuable information!)

Of course, it's best to practice on a daily basis, when stress is low or mild, to develop the mental and emotional muscles you want to come into play when you're in a situation where you really need them.

So: Do a check-in exercise. Set an alarm, or find a way to signal yourself, to stop periodically throughout your day. Do a body scan. Are you relaxed? Tense? Happy? How do you know? Which muscles are tight, and which relaxed? (Pay attention to your face muscles, too -- when you're relaxed, happy, worried, annoyed.) What's you're posture like? Scan your senses. What are you seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or taking in with your skin? (Many people focus on texture, but don't ignore pressure and temperature.) Lastly, what sort of internal dialog have you been running since your last check-in? What have you been telling yourself about what things mean?

The point of this exercise is to practice separating sensory awareness and internal dialog. If you did this all the time, you'd never get anything done, because you'd be paying attention -- consciously -- to the way the light hits the water cooler, the cooler's proximity to other objects, the amount of dust or moisture that has collected on various surfaces of the cooler, the amount of pressure you need to use to press the dispenser bar, the sight of the water level rising, how the cup and water and breath smell and the texture of the cup and water on your lips... you get it, right? All this normally happens in 15 or 20 seconds, and you're oblivious, thinking about the work you did or haven't done or the questionable dating choices your kid is making or your lunch forgotten on the counter at home or whether you need to get any last-minute groceries for dinner...

Learning to notice the boundaries between sensory experience and internal experience can boost your ability to shift between the two, so the next time you're about to accuse someone (maybe yourself) of something you'll regret, you can more easily switch gears to a more productive and resourceful solution.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: Stumbling on Happiness

Daniel Gilbert's book ought to be required reading for every college freshman, and for everyone considering a major life change... or where to go for dinner.

Gilbert says we're astoundingly poor predictors of what will make us happy in the future. As we decide on career pursuits, marriages, restaurant reservations, transportation, and what to plant in the garden this spring, biology conspires to make life simple, and in doing so, thwarts many of our efforts even as the electricity whizzes toward those little light bulbs in our brains.

Happiness! Who doesn't want it? But what is it, really, and how do we get there? Are there standards we can use to measure? Is there a blueprint for having more happiness in our lives?

Well, yes and no. Gilbert's hilarious book runs us through the processes of perceiving where we are, predicting where we want to be, and all the pitfalls along the way. From magicians to man-on-the-street, Gilbert describes the way brains sense and organize the present, imagine what will come next (seconds from now or years later), and how we think we'll bridge the gap between the two. It's fascinating and funny stuff.

What makes us happy? Is one person's idea of happiness different from another's? How do we make comparisons between where we are and where we want to be? Although we spend our lives thinking about this stuff, Gilbert illustrates how we think we think is largely an illusion; the brain covering its tracks to save us time and trouble.

With amusing and compelling stories, Gilbert shines the laboratory light on everyday decisions and planning strategies, and yes: He even provides a formula for attaining happiness, which he claims most readers will never accept or use.

(But if you're reading this, you're not "most readers," are you?)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vision boards and the Portland Pen Show

I spent some of this past weekend at the Portland Pen Show, where fountain pen collectors from all over the country buy, sell, trade, and admire new releases by pen manufacturers and vintage models lovingly preserved or restored from the 1960s, '50, '40s and earlier.

When I began collecting fountain pens, I made a collage in Photoshop and put it on my computer desktop. The pens I wanted to purchase were there for me to look at every moment I was at my computer. All day long, I stared at those pens, imagining how each one would feel in my hand; what I would be writing; how others would look at them and at me.

According to some gurus who recommend vision boards, I should have some of those pens in my collection, right?

Well, I don't. Does that mean I did something wrong in my "vision board"?

No. I listened to feedback as I made my collection plans. After I created the vision board on my computer desktop, I learned that some of the pens I wanted weren't worth having. Some turned out to be too large and heavy for my hand. Others, although pretty to look at, had flaws that prevented the ink from flowing evenly. Nevertheless, I now have a fantastic collection of fountain pens that bring me a lot of joy.

Knowing your outcome is a terrific starting point. By making your goals visible, a vision board can help you stay focused and motivated. Make room for course corrections, though. Be willing to say, "This -- or something better!" By focusing too exclusively on one factor, rather than the big picture, I've missed opportunities.

Treasure your goals; stay flexible and alert.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Princess Syndrome

I ran across Meanwhile's post about the Disney Princess Syndrome. It's not the first time I've heard of this. I remember when Beauty and the Beast came out, and an acquaintance's daughter wanted to wear her yellow Belle costume everywhere: to bed, to the mall, the playground, school; you name it. And when I was little, I remember fantasizing about being Cinderella. She had lots of talking mice for friends, and I thought that was cool. She also had a pearl necklace, and my parents had recently taken me to Sea World, which had an oyster tank, where you could choose an oyster, open it, and see if there was a pearl inside. I stood by that oyster tank as long as I could, staring at the mollusks and thinking about the time and patience it took to make pearls.

I don't know what attracts little girls to princesses. I liked the pearls, the mice, the puffy blue dress, the magic, and the idea of being significant and sought after, rather than taken for granted and shuffled off to play. I thought it took courage for Cinderella to say YES to the fairy godmother and go on an adventure. I suspected there were probably lots of girls who would pull the covers over their heads, scrunch their eyes closed and yell, "No! Go away! I'll work this out myself, in the real world, without your magic! No ratty footmen or pumpkin coaches for me!"

But I digress. Back to Meanwhile, and the sentence that caught my eye, about Mulan:

"The girl kicks ass, true, but in the original legend, she kicks ass long enough to become a general in the Chinese army, one of six top advisers to the Emperor, while in Disney's version she is found out and marries her commanding officer."

When I read that, I remembered Hillary Clinton once commenting about how she'd chosen to have a career instead of staying home and baking cookies. The comment outraged moms everywhere, who resented the Stepford implication that all moms sweetly smiled and twirled around the kitchen all day. And I wondered about Mulan. By marrying the commanding officer, she lets herself get squeezed into a subservient, traditional female role. In the original legend, however, she proves that women must act like men, play by men's rules, and meet male standards in order to be valued.

I don't find either alternative attractive. However... let's look at the language I've used: laden with interpretation and evaluations. Without my thoughts about what the actions mean:

1. Mulan marries her commanding officer.
2. Mulan becomes an advisor to the Emperor.

It's kind of scary to look at the bare, stripped-down actions, and to realize how much of my own stuff I import in order to make a value judgment about the actions.

Symbols typically associate to a single, dominant idea: Red; stop. Green; go. Fence; boundary. Egg; fertility. We react instantly to the symbol's obvious meaning. We can certainly probe symbols for layers -- most contain depth and complexity -- but exploring those meanings requires a deliberate choice to thoughtfully reflect beyond the knee-jerk assumptions.

When I impose a symbol on a human being, I think I automatically invite conflict. Sure, a person can fulfill many roles, but my own conscious attention has limits. When I hang a symbolic identity on someone -- mom, president, princess, hypnotist -- don't I flatten them out a little? Don't other parts of them become invisible? When I go to my insurance agent, do I think about whether he ate a bad egg at breakfast, if his car is low on gas, if he'll get to his daughter's music recital on time? No. All I see is his job, and I want him to get me the best rate.

Sad. Human, natural, and sad.

Also changeable. If I can notice what I'm doing and refocus my attention, I can see the person and loosen my evaluations and judgments.

So. Exercise:

1. Make a list of the different roles you play. What are the symbols people hang on you? Lover, breadwinner, shopper, board member, parent, driver. (Or maybe you want to list a few people in your life and their roles.)

2. What expectations do you have of someone in that role? What do you expect someone in that role to do or be? What expectations do others have of someone in that role?

3. Are any of these expectation ever in conflict? How do you feel when you review the lists?

4. ERASE THE ROLES. Scratch out every symbol. Get rid of those labels! Now, go through the list of expectations. Using Nonviolent Communication, look for the underlying needs. Translate the expectations into observation language using Nonviolent Communication. What actions or behaviors would express those expectations?

Do you notice a shift in your experience?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Enemy Images

One of the reasons I spend so much time teaching the Observation component in Nonviolent Communication is because labeling pervades so much of our human experience. Labels create convenient, simple-to-use, easy-to-understand channels of communication. If I know something is "cheap," or "durable," or "appropriate," I can make decisions more quickly and accurately, living my life with integrity and aligned with my purpose.

Or can I?

I think labels do help us make decisions faster and easier. They also come with a cost: They can help situations devolve into conflict. Any time we simplify the complexities of human interaction and communication, we risk setting up polarities that divide, rather than bridges to cooperate.

So when I hear about people making efforts to change situations they perceive as unjust or unfair, I always ask myself, "Are they building bridges or walls? Are they separating people into camps of good and evil, or are they seeking to connect with one another through common human experiences?"

I value justice and fairness, but I try to avoid those terms in heated discussions, because they beg the question: Justice for whom? Fair for whom? I think those are valid, legitimate questions, but yelling, "That's not fair!" typically evokes defensiveness in the listener. Few of us can keep our cool when we're accused of acting unfairly!

Another thing I've noticed is that when I ask a person to describe the unfair situation in "observation language," they often drop the "unfair" label and switch to other labels: rude, selfish, disrespectful, exploitative, etc.

When I am dealing with my own triggers, it often takes me a long time to abandon labels. It takes even longer if I try to suppress them. To get beyond the labels, I write down all the ones that come to mind. I let my label maker run wild! I celebrate the enormous range of ways I have created to call someone evil! I try to get it all out of my system... and ON PAPER.

Then - and only then - I start translating into observations, feelings, needs and requests. NVC suggests I say, "When I hear you describe [specific policy, in terms of NVC Observation], I feel distressed, because I'm imagining [the needs unmet by the policy]." Then, I can present a connecting request or an action request. That way, I can focus my energies on the actual situation and on meeting our mutual needs, rather than on diagnosing who is "bad," which will probably not move me closer to a solution with the other person.

It's easy to get stuck on labels, and to think of them as objective, dispassionate descriptions. It's easy to think an "atrocity" is pretty self-explanatory. Yet I've found that when I and others take the time to work out the observation, we begin to work toward a solution. When I and others keep holding on to our labels and defending the "rightness" of them, we have remained stuck, frustrated, and angry.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This is Your Brain on Filters

I watched a video by Paul Scheele recently in which he quoted the following findings from some research done in 1985-86. (Unfortunately, he didn't cite the study in his presentation. *sigh*).


The rate (in BPS, or Bits Per Second) at which our sensory organs receive input:

Eyes - 10,000,000
Ears - 100,000
Skin - 1,000,000
Taste - 1,000
Smell - 100,000

Wow! Pretty amazing!

Now, let's look at how much of that information (also in BPS) reaches the conscious mind:

Eyes - 40
Ears - 30
Skin - 5
Taste - 1
Smell - 1

No, that is not a typo.

Think about this for a moment! Most of the information that's coming in bypasses the conscious mind and goes straight into the nonconscious mind! We're only consciously aware of a fraction of the information we receive about the external world! That doesn't mean we are totally unaware of that information. We simply don't consciously notice it.

This is one reason I love Nonviolent Communication and hypnosis. During the "input" phase of communication, NVC "observations" help me focus my attention on sensory input. What am I seeing and hearing? Who is present? What is happening, in what order? Bringing my focus to these things helps me slow down and notice whether my reactions to the situation are coming from what I'm actually noticing or from a habit, memory, or old interpretation of an earlier, similar event.

Hypnosis, on the other hand, goes directly to the nonconscious mind. When I allow myself to go into trance, I can invite the nonconscious mind to share the perceptions it received but withheld from the conscious mind, not wanting to bother it with a lot of irrelevant details.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dear Online Salespersons...

Get to the point, people. If you're selling something, tell me what it is. Tell me what it will do for me. And tell me what you want me to do: buy it, request more information, call for a demo -- just freakin' ASK ME, for God's sake. (In NVC, this would be the request component.)

I got this e-mail:

Hi, I'm J - award winning storyteller. Okay, J. You've introduced yourself... sort of. At least I know your name and job title.

J continues:

Picture this - At the close of a presentation an audience member pulls you aside to earnestly share a story of their own. You have touched them, inspired them. That connection is rewarding, but most often, momentary. They leave wishing they could somehow give their pressing story a voice. You know it's likely this moment will not lead them to perform. In fact, it's likely their impulse will fade as the days pass. I find that very sad. At least I did, until I found Cherish Bound!

So, thanks to Cherish Bound, J no longer feels sad in these situations. Now she feels... happy? indifferent? disgusted? joyful? What does she feel instead of sad?

Or has Cherish Bound given J the tools to encourage people to go for it! Take action! Acquire the knowledge and skills they need to pursue their dreams!

I'm guessing the latter, but from J's sentence, it's just not clear. And I'm wondering what Cherish Bound is. A person? A product? A book title? A program? I read on:

Cherish Bound has empowered me... I can leave behind tools... I can help... At the core of the Cherish Bound mission is the belief... I get to deepen...

More vague, confusing language. Finally, a link to a Web site! I can go there if I want to learn more. But wait! The e-mail continues! Hallelujah! Maybe I will get the information right here, right now, without having to go somewhere else, later.

Picture this... And there's another story about some person pulling you aside to tell you how much you've inspired them, and how, with Cherish Bound you can help them. Somehow.

By now, I know this is a sales letter, but I still don't know what they're selling! What is Cherish Bound?

It goes on and on like that. Picture this... says J, then tells a story about somebody who always had a dream but never did anything about it, but now with Cherish Bound, you can help them.

I grow more bored with each vignette. The characters don't evoke in me any sense of curiosity, interest, sympathy, warmth or identification. They describe people who have no gumption but have plenty of pipe dreams. I don't want to spend time with them. And if J doesn't make me care about the characters, I don't want to spend time with J, either!

All J had to do was ask, in the very first line of the e-mail, "Do you ever have this problem? Do you want to solve it? I think I can help. Here's the name of my product and here is what it can do for you." J would have had me in three sentences... instead of seven freakin' paragraphs that never did tell me what the product was and what it did!

If you want something, justforgodssakepleeeeeeease ASK. Make a request. Don't dance around with stories about wistful dreamers, rosy-faced children, lost kittens... ack! Just tell me what you want! (You could also give me some characters to care about. That includes yourself. Who are you? What are you passionate about? What do you struggle with? What's great about being you? If I care about you, I might care about what you are selling!)

So at the end of the e-mail, I'm still wondering, WHAT EXACTLY is Cherish Bound? I follow the Web link. It goes to J's customized, personal sales page, rather than the Cherish Bound home page. And (big surprise) J's Web site isn't any more helpful than the e-mail.

The site lists features (no benefits) and I still don't know whether Cherish Bound is the name of a company, an educational program, a product, or a service provider. I don't know what it does, besides promising to increase my "visibility, marketability, and profitability."

And even here there's no clear request! Register now for your free invitation to follow the path of a story through the Cherish Bound process. Huh? I'm being asked to register for an invitation? I thought the e-mail and Web site each constituted an invitation to learn more. But no, I have waded now through an e-mail and a Web site full of non-info to REGISTER to receive an INVITATION to learn more.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Power of Doubt

In a recent article on his Web site, Kevin Hogan wrote:

Doubt is the birthing place of careful, concerned and critical thinking.
  • You must doubt your plan.
  • You must doubt yourself.
  • You must doubt those around you.
  • You must doubt the vehicle you are taking to achieve.
  • You must doubt the entire process.
Then go through each piece…analyze and become crystal clear on what is going to happen when things go wrong.

Now, I purchased a copy of the movie, The Secret, the first week it came out, because I enjoy Joe Vitale's marketing and PR materials. If he was involved in the project, I was interested.

I am a big believer in focus and staying open to possibilities. But do I think that's all I need to do? That if I focus on something, the universe will come into alignment and my desired outcome will manifest? That if I let doubt and "negative" thinking in, that I'm dooming my chances of success? No way!

I once attended a planning meeting for an event. At one point, the group chose to devote several minutes to visualizing the event filled to overflowing.

I thought that time would have been spent better developing a printing schedule for flyers, developing a list of venues to post the flyers, assigning people to post them, building a calendar of complementary events to distribute flyers... you know: a PLAN. With assigned tasks.

So I got up and left. I went home to work on my plan for filling those seats.

I love The Secret because I need to be reminded that the more passionate and detailed my goals, the better my chances of achieving them. (In NLP, it's called having a "well formed outcome.") But do I think there's some unseen force at work that works to attract stuff to me?


I don't see anything in The Secret that isn't described in clearer, more measurable terms with NLP's concept of well-formed outcomes.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Law of Attraction (I mean, Attention)

I want to think about a saying I hate (because it has a cutesy Hallmark Cards quality) and love (because I agree with the concept):

Energy flows where attention goes."

Ohmygoshwow! It's the Law of Attraction!

No. It's physics. Performing any mental, physical, or emotional action requires energy. Thinking, exercising, grieving, loving, laughing, walking, working... it all takes energy. So of course, if I'm focusing my attention on (i.e., thinking about) a math test, my neurons are firing and energy is being expended toward that math test.

The more pertinent question, in my opinion, is: How much energy? How well is it being focused? And what measurable difference does it make?

If I sit on the couch thinking about all the ways I could eat better, but I shove potato chips and chocolate into my mouth because that's what I've got on hand, I'm not going to lose weight. If I focus on how beautiful my body will look once I've dropped 30 pounds, but I never get off the couch, my mirror will persist in displaying the same overweight image.

My attention is on eating better, until I get hungry; then, my attention focuses on convenience.

Hypnosis, NLP and NVC can be used to train the subconscious mind to focus attention in ways that serve our outcomes. Steps involve slowing down and noticing our habitual behaviors. Then, asking better questions:
  • Where am I putting my attention?
  • What am I feeling?
  • As I decide how to act, what factors am I paying attention to?
  • What needs or outcomes are in play?
  • Will the action I plan to take block me from my goal, or get me closer to it?
Making a decision -- to lose weight, find a new job, repair a marriage, increase compassion -- is a great step. Focusing attention on what you want is also a great step. But without action, attention, decision, and focus won't change anything.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Resolving Differences. BLAM! BLAM!

In the days following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, I've been fascinated by the battle of beliefs.

Some folks believe that had other students been armed, the gunman wouldn't have gotten as far as he did. The shooting bolsters their advocacy for legally owning and carrying firearms.

Other folks believe this is one more tragedy that would have been prevented with stricter gun control laws.

Each side has plenty of research and statistics to substantiate their claims, each side repudiates the research of the other, and neither side can comprehend the other's beliefs.

I think this is a pretty good demonstration of people observing the same event and drawing diametrically opposed conclusions. It's a phenomenon that happens, unseen, hundreds of times a day. Most of the time, we assume others think like we do. It's only when we stop keeping our thoughts and opinions to ourselves that disputes arise... and we have to collaborate on how we want to live together, what values we share, and what behaviors we are (or aren't) willing to tolerate.

I've been disappointed that the NVC and Social Change discussion list never mentioned the Virginia Tech shooting: not to offer prayers; not to discuss how NVC could have changed anything, at any step along the long path; not to discuss how NVC might have a measurable effect on preventing this kind of occurrence. I had hoped that people so focused on reducing violence would have something to contribute to the discussion.

NVC talks about "Empathy before Education" and "Connection before Correction," and I've seen little of this in the conversations about gun control. (I've heard lots of ridicule, however - each side saying the other must be brain damaged to hold the views they do). I like NLP's S.O.A.R. process.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Portland Story Theater Wraps

Portland Story Theater is wrapping up its 2006-07 season. *sniff* It's going to be a long wait until the 2007-08 season commences. September? October? I so look forward to the shows. I'm especially enjoying Lawrence Howard's contributions, because although they aren't exactly a serial, there are recurring characters, so each story evokes memories of a previous story. I really enjoy the continuity; also, the slow revelation of history and connections. Lovely and compelling.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Michael Hall Delivers In Portland

Michael Hall was in town last weekend to debut his new seminar, Unleashed! The Ultimate Self-Actualization Workshop.

Chalk it up to journalistic prejudice, but I seldom trust anything with an exclamation point in the copy. Yes, I use it myself, because it works. But exclamation points always seem a little shrill to me. So does the word ultimate. That probably comes from my writing teacher telling me to get rid of those goddamn adverbs and adjectives and look for some decent nouns and verbs, instead. And my dislike of nominalizations (self-actualization) comes from both NLP and NVC. Nominalizations take a perfectly good verb and freeze it into a vague, static illusion of a noun. Ick.

Despite my disappointment with his workshop titles (Accessing Personal Genius didn't go down in my book of unforgettable titles, either), Hall is an engaging, warm, enthusiastic and well-organized presenter, and I have found his material extremely useful. Once you get in the door, the time flies by, and the processes are quite elegant -- simple, effective, flexible, creative, and applicable to a variety of different challenges. He calls his work Neurosemantics, developed from NLP. I wish I could get more people to attend his workshops, but it's hard to make a case for them when the titles are so off-putting. Sigh.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jerry Harris's Oregon Tour

Last night, I saw comedy hypnotist Jerry Harris at a club in Salem. The opening act was a magician who goes by the name of Alexander; his promo materials said he'd won the Portland-area magician's close-up act award. I remember the first exposure I ever had to close-up magic, at The Magic Castle, and how dizzy I felt when an innocent-looking fellow spelled out my telephone number using a deck of cards. Wild.

Alexander did some nice work, as did Jerry Harris. Using props in a hyp show is something I've heard about, but never seen, and Harris had some well choreographed bits with fun hats. I'm now trying to think of how I can use a hat as a prop in my show... Finnegan's toy store downtown has a Viking hat I'd love to use in a skit.

Harris must have had 20 different audio programs for sale. I was impressed. If you've got a problem, he's got a hypnotic solution. I'd like to develop a program that will turn PC people into Macintosh fans.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Birth of an Addiction

I remember precisely when I became hooked on Portland Story Theater. During their 2004 production of Love, Death & Other Scary Stuff, I had a moment of being utterly astonished and transported - as though I'd just come face to face with impossible beauty, like a Georgia O'Keefe painting or one of those first-snow mornings in a forest that seems like stepping into Narnia.

And Then the Bed Broke, Portland Story Theater's current production at Brooklyn Bay, links these moments into a chain that invites the audience into a don't-miss evening of storytelling that's seamless, energetic, bright, and funny as hell.

Olga Sanchez is ultimately responsible for the theme and title of the program, and the ensemble opening tale frames the evening with real-world whimsy.

Sanchez's closing story examines online dating with similar realism and whimsy. Drama, enlightenment, humor, despair, how an elaborate fantasy of wedded bliss can bloom from a simple e-mail: It's all there. Tightly constructed, with the diction and rhythm of a poet, Sanchez is a jewel.

Alton Chung opened the Portland Storytellers Guild's 2005 season with stories about "lo lo" (stupid) that had me laughing so hard I was sucking on my asthma inhaler for the next three days. Last Valentine's Day, his stories evoked a sense of loneliness and longing. He never fails to surprise me with his range, and this show was no different.

Chung takes the audience on a cross-country plane trip that describes a 20-year friendship at a turning point. As Chung recalls meetings, decisions, and the families we choose, he dips into scenes from memory and re-members them fully in the present. Like Dumbledore's pensieve from the Harry Potter novels - a device which stores memories for later reflection - these are moments of magic. Transitions are generally a storyteller's bane, but Chung showcases them here with the deft mastery of an artist.

In another story, he adds to my vocabulary once again (I owe him thanks for "lo lo"), this time describing hysterical euphemisms for... no, I'd better not go there.

Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard have their solo pieces: Duddy adds her own perspective to an e-mail describing how to decode women's expressions, and Howard, in a blend of Bob Dylan meets Spike Jones, recounts a relationship's development and demise in the time it takes to run the Kentucky Derby.

Duddy and Lawrence really shine, however, in their tandem telling of a marriage shared for 25 years. Male and female, husband and wife, the two also elicit a stylistic point and counterpoint, simultaneously telling two stories, one in the voice of a traditional mythology of the beginnings of men and women; and the other in a contemporary voice, memories of synchronicity, overalls and mistletoe, of hippies and cultural roles, of identity, conflict, honor and devotion. Their delivery is so conversational, intimate and generous that you'd swear you were hearing the tale at their dining room table over coffee. They display the expert's mark of making a difficult craft seem effortless.

My only complaint about the show is its two-weekend run... blink and it's gone. Don't wait. Give yourself a gift and add this evening to memories you'll cherish.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Do you like having your photograph taken? I don't. I hate it. It's boring, tiring, and I never like the results. My eyes squint, my hair gets tired, I start to sweat. Bleah.

But I had to get a head shot.

I called a photographer I knew and trusted, but she was going to Minnesota for six weeks. So I called Tim Jewett.

Tim is a photojournalist who has worked for every major paper in Portland: The Oregonian, the Willamette Week, and the Tribune. He does commercial photography and product shots. His work rocks. I figured head shots were beneath him, I knew I couldn't afford him, but I thought he might be able to steer me in the right direction.

Lesson #1: Clothing consultants always tell you not to shrink from high-cost items because they look better and wear longer than cheap stuff. It's an investment. I learned the same thing goes for photography.

It turned out that I could afford his services, and in retrospect, he's underpriced, because he took so many terrific photos, it was hard for me to choose. In fact, I will be purchasing more from him.

More lessons I learned about sitting for a head shot:

Know how you're going to use the photos. Will they be on your Web site? In the newspaper? 8x10 glossies? Color or black and white? Also, what message do you want your audience to get from your photos? Are you exciting? Reliable? Daring? Tell your photographer. He can help you make decisions about what to wear and how to sit.

Take several outfits. This was Tim's advice, and I took it. Shirts, jackets, earrings, necklaces - it will give you a choice, and choices give you power and flexibility.

If you have dark hair, notice the background the photographer is using. Ask for a lighter background, or for a splash of light behind you to add a bit of contrast.

Bring examples of photos you like. These can be photos of yourself, or photos of others. (Think about those magazines lying around beauty salons. Examples give the photographer guidance.)

GET NONREFLECTIVE LENSES. Light is a photographer's best friend. Reflections can be his worst enemy. I shudder to think how many photos Tim had to trash because my glasses weren't made of nonreflective material.

Don't be afraid of the quiet smile. We're all familiar with the friendly, outgoing expression behind, "Say cheese!" But the quiet smile can express warmth, interest, mystery, and a thousand other emotions. Experiment with it.

Ask questions. If the photographer is using digital equipment, ask to see a few shots. No one likes to have their creativity curtailed, and no one wants their time wasted. If you like one pose, expression, or outfit more than another, say so. Counterintuitively, this actually gives you more choices, because you more shots containing the components you know you want. At the same time, don't be afraid to get a variety of shots. Sometimes, the pose that seemed silly or pedestrian during the shoot may stand out as a keeper later on.

Take a mirror and check your appearance every so often.