Hearing the President Elect of Toastmasters speak…in person

Does seeing the President Elect of Toastmasters International speak sound interesting to you? What if I said that the leader of an organization of more than 345,000 people in 142 countries was coming to speak? Might you listen to that?

Would you want to see this gentleman speaker from the island country of Sri Lanka? What if I mentioned that this man would speak about how his country gained independence from Great Britain after World War II? Perhaps he will talk about how Sri Lanka recently freed itself of the ugliness of a 30-year Civil War in less than ten years ago. Would hearing about his experiences surviving the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake of 2012 interest you?

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Today, I get to hear Balraj Arunasalam, Distinguished Toastmaster and president of an organization serving almost 350,000 others and me speak in my community about leadership, communication, service, and possibly some of the life experiences that formed his passion for all three of those interests.

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Today’s events bring Mr. Arunaslam from Sri Lanka to my midwestern US community. For a volunteer organization in 142 countries, you can imagine that visiting us is a significant event. In addition to a keynote speech of more than an hour, Mr. Arunasalam will perform another hour of education for our club. Other educational events will be included in the day. A minting of Distinguished Toastmasters occurs today, as does a pair of contests for an area serving more than 100 of the over 15,000 clubs in the larger Toastmasters organization.

As a person that has spoken about Toastmasters International before, today is an exciting day.

Matt – Saturday, April 29, 2017

At the Mountains of Madness with The King of Weird, H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft never amounted to much during his life spent mostly in Providence, Rhode Island. His tombstone reads “I am Providence,” as is readily apparent in the link I’ve attached with his name in the first sentence. The 2015 Philip Eil penned piece in The Atlantic, which aligned to the 125th anniversary of Lovecraft‘s birth, offers you insight into the down-and-out pulp fiction writer of “cosmic horror” that was never appreciated for his craft until after his death. Perhaps that is fair in the face of his reputed racism, though Lovecraft’s work has influenced a notable writer or two.

A recommendation of Lovecraft‘s book At the Mountains of Madness by Stephen King brought me to Lovecraft‘s writing about six weeks ago. I wasn’t quite two-thirds into the book when I discovered how effusive King was about Lovecraft. Consider a December 1995 piece written by Curt Wohleber for American Heritage. In the in-depth article provocatively titled “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King,” the contemporary King shares the power of Lovecraft‘s influence.

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work,” says Stephen King, “I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale. …. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”

In The Atlantic piece, Eil tells us that

“Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Lovecraft faced such poverty and obscurity, when regions of Pluto are named for Lovecraftian monsters, the World Fantasy Award trophy bears his likeness, his work appears in the Library of America, the New York Review of Books calls him “The King of Weird,” and his face is printed on everything from beer cans to baby books to thong underwear. The author hasn’t just escaped anonymity; he’s reached the highest levels of critical and cultural success. His is perhaps the craziest literary afterlife this country has ever seen.”

A crazy, weird afterlife of a literary perspective following a poverty and obscurity partly derived from shying away from selling himself and his talents. Part of this issues arguably of the man himself.

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Lovecraft tends toward a professorial air in the writing that I have seen, which is specifically the novella At the Mountain of Madness as recommended by King. The book itself gets into other wordly beings far more intelligent then man coming to earth millions of years ago in order to enslave humanity. That notion gives way to main characters approaching the world with scientific or psychological curiosity. Many die while others losing control of their own actions in the present or future. The characters sense psychological well-being, or physical well-being, slipping away while finding themselves powerless to change course.

The main characters in At the Mountain of Madness were educated, rational, and without a spirituality beyond stepping back, recording their impressions scientifically without emotion, philosophy, or a religious fervor beyond their assumed objectivity, their assumed skill in discernment and interpretation and planning, and their overly proper infatuation with an articulation and air that seemed overly formal yet correct.

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For writing from the era between Edgar Allan Poe and the contemporary Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft gave America a quintessential voice for horror the ostensibly bridged the path between the two behemoths of the American horror style. I am hesitant to pick up another Lovecraft book currently, which might be more a statement of the writing style of the time Lovecraft lived in rather than Lovecraft‘s writing itself. I enjoyed reading At the Mountain of Madness, though I am not sure that I would recommend it. 2.5-stars out-of-five.

Matt – Sunday, April 16, 2017

Love is a fire burning in The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Love is a fire burning in The Road in Cormac McCarthy‘s rendering of the book carrying this name. The Road is a book about the dark, burnt, nuclear wasteland of what is left after an unnamed, unfathomable, yet detailed nuclear oblivion that occurred.

The tale that is The Road is overwhelmingly a dark, desperate tale of two unnamed characters on a journey to the ocean. Where this tale takes place, what ocean the characters aim to visit, or any sense of purpose beyond survival and the desolate, dependent love of father for son, and son for father, is beyond the point. The unflinching connection, mutual support, and need to keep moving for the sake of love and survival, is the story of The Road. The father and son live in the here and now with nothing but to get to tomorrow. The father wants to pass along the behaviors of survival before all else, with a steadfast focus on love for his son; the son wants to give his decency and humanity in the face of nuclear winter, dead humanity, cannibals on their trail, and other enumerated horrors.  The son is motivated by a bigger love that, as yet, isn’t as beaten down by life.

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The Road focuses on survival strategies, cunning, and remembering loss. Lost empathy for the rest of humanity is the tug between father and son throughout the tale. The son survives his father at the end of the tale, yet ultimately doubts whether a larger morality, or God, exists. The message Cormac McCarthy leaves us is the thought that God is a highly personal concept that one experiences through heart and mind; for the unnamed son, he ends the journey at stories end bereft of place, time, people, community, and the tangible, day-to-day comfort of his father. The caregivers who will support this child, on the road and beyond the end of the tale, give the boy the wisdom of experiencing God through his memory of his father. After all, McCarthy says, how else do we experience God than through each other?

My rating for The Road by Cormac McCarthy is 3.5-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Sunday, April 9, 2017

Useful metaphor and concrete language in Emotional Agility by Susan David

In Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David offers useful metaphor, specific concepts, and concrete language with suggested actions to take for acknowledging and engaging your emotions.

An early metaphor includes the notion of a baited fishing line of emotional treachery; when hooked by thought blaming, anticipatory thinking / arguing, old and outgrown ideas, or wrongheaded righteousness, people that are hooked act against their own values because they are stuck. David gives examples of emotional hooks, with techniques to overcome them throughout the book.

David singles out joy, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, contempt, and disgust as emotionally relevant emotions. The point that as many as six scale towards unpleasant or uncomfortable is important. That surprise can be closer to joy, or the other emotions, is tied to context.

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An emotionally agile person who is unstuck tends to show up and step out on all these emotions. Six techniques for stepping out are offered in Emotional Agility, which is as thorough a thought process as I have seen in one place.

A second useful metaphor surfaces in Chapter 6 and deals with “walking your why.” To walk your why indicates “living by your own personal set of values.” Concrete detail for spelling out the concrete values in statements like this is something Susan David did quite well.

Bringing in the notion of changing habits through tiny tweaks, the notion of balance in the Teeter Totter Principle, and then applying emotional agility to work and raising kids were all practical means for impacting life and work. Closing Emotional Agility with the suggestion to become real brought the core message of the book home in a cogent, well-rounded manner that I appreciated.

My overall rating is 4-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Saturday, April 8, 2017

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. As revealed in the biography of Dittrich by Penguin Random House, Patient H.M. largely tells the “true story of Henry Molaison, an amnesic who became the most studied human research subject ever.”

The book extends the exposition into Dittrich‘s grandfather, Dr. William Scoville. The book delves into much of the history of “psycho-surgeries” (read lobotomies) that Scoville and Walter Jackson Freeman II promoted widely and spread with enthusiasm through the 1940s and some of the 1950s. The book Patient H.M. shares how Molaison was lobotomized by Scoville as a “culmination of a long period of human experimentation that…[Dr. William Scoville]…and other leading doctors and researchers had been conducting in hospitals and asylums around the country.” This August 9, 2016 New York Times article is the source of that quote.

Dittrich‘s book explains that Scoville was in part motivated to find a cure for his first wife; Scoville’s wife at this point (there were two) was Dittrich’s biological grandmother. The book confirms that Scoville performed surgery on Molaison, most likely the wife that would later divorce him, and an estimate of thousands of other patients as well. That this was done with the ostensible support of the American medical establishment, even after the legal and ethical condemnations to human experimentation in Nuremburg following World War II, shocks me. See this Doctor’s Trial link for more details. Patient H.M. explores this subject in enough detail that the reader is left to struggle with the ethical mortification imbued in Dittrich’s exploration.

The book goes into some of the history Dr. Suzanne Corkin of MIT, who studied Henry Molaison as a patient for more than 50-years. (Understand that Molaison underwent the lobotomy as an epilepsy patient in his 20s, and lived into his 70s). It was through much of Corkin’s research that awareness of the way memory works in the human mind became known. Dittrich asks some pointed questions about the raw data underpinning Corkin’s research, what she had to gain from information she kept or did not, and the ownership of Molaison’s brain (and the work product governing it) after Molaison’s death.

Patient H.M. is described in this Amazon book listing as a “biography, memoir, and science journalism” book, which is where it aims and largely lands. The storytelling does demand a certain degree of focus from the reader. Many threads of the narrative tend to get explored for periods of time, dropped, and then reappear. I’ve seen commentary from neuroscientists that indicate some of Dittrich’s knowledge is lacking, though the level of information worked for my tastes as a person not trained in medical science.

I came away with more insight into memory and the different ways that it works. The larger stories of Molaison, Scoville, neuroscience in the 20th century, and the meaning this had to Dittrich‘s family, fascinated me. The ethical questions around informed consent and the lines between the research and practice in medicine, trouble me. Upon finishing Patient H.M., my interest in a deeper dive on that last subject.

I would read this book again; I recommend that others read it. My rating is 3.5-stars out of 5, mostly owing to my interest in the subject matter coupled with the author not having taken a firmer stand about his own personal feelings surrounding the morality of his grandfather’s actions.

Matt – Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Top 20 Movie “Memento.”

Top 20 Movie Memento (2000) ranks 10th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. This gem as directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan joins with Interstellar (2014) as the second Nolan movie to be distinguished by a Matt Lynn Digital listing Top 20 ranking. Memento also is the first movie directed by Christopher Nolan to receive significant box office success.

Memento is the story of a guy named Leonard (played by Guy Pearce) lacking the ability to form new memories that is determined to get revenge for the death of his wife at all costs. Being as Leonard cannot recall anything, he takes to the memory aids of tattoos, Polaroid pictures, and handwritten notes to help provide contextual clues to guide his mission of vengeance. These coping mechanisms are, collectively, the central metaphor that viewers of the movie should take as the metaphoric mementos of Leonard’s mission of vengeance.

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From the opening credits the film, the audience is introduced to the truly unique and non-linear storytelling methodology that served director and writer Christopher Nolan well in both Memento and Interstellar. With Memento, we see a Polaroid picture of a bloody murder scene becoming undeveloped, which is to say going from developed to the point where the picture first came from the camera. Remember that this movie came out in the year 2000, which was before Smartphones let you take digital photos with the ease that is customary today.

Memento then begins revealing itself reverse chronologically, in alternating scenes of color and black-and-white, wherein we see Leonard killing Teddy/John Edward Gammell in color and in reverse…that is, the scene is moving backwards. First we see Teddy’s glasses, then blood moving in the wrong direction, and then the gunshot moving backwards with Teddy’s glasses returning to his face. Teddy is played by actor Joe Pantoliano.

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Moving reverse chronologically, the movie then movies on to the first of a few different black-and-white scenes in the movie, which mostly serve to offer perspective on the condition of Leonard, as Leonard experiences it. These scenes almost had a documentary feel in nature, by which I mean they explained Leonard’s behaviors, deficits, and coping strategies rather than moved the narrative of the psychological thriller along.

In the third scene of the movie, we moved back to color and into the scene immediately leading to the opening scene wherein Leonard kills Teddy. The scene moves more or less forward, though there the last bit of this scene is a direct reviewing of the scene that becomes the opening death of the movie. This setting up of the narrative, and the setting of both the unreliable narrator (Leonard) and the murder victim (Teddy) signaled the uniquely Nolan method of storytelling beautifully.

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We later learn throughout this film that Leonard was seeking revenge for the death of his wife, as played by Jorja Fox. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Natalie, who plays a villainous role that ranks ahead of the villainy of Pantoliano’s Teddy. Also keep an eye out for Burt (as played by Mark Boone Junior) and Jimmy Grants (as played by Larry Holden). The real genius of the storytelling in this movie is its structure, how the story unfolds and lets us experience Leonard as he experiences his own story, and the plot twist we get at the end of the story in learning about Leonard what he cannot see for himself. That we further get to see a reality that portrays Leonard’s humanity, and the nature of his change through the eyes of Natalie, Teddy, Burt, and Jimmy is pure excellence.

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My one complaint about the movie rests in the nature of how Leonard’s illness was drawn incorrectly. Memento aimed to explain Leonard with feeling, understanding, and a sense of getting into Leonard’s head without explicitly narrating this for us, and for this the movie deserves praise. In this process, the film gets some detail wrong. Yinnette Sano from Bryn Mawr College describes Leonard as suffering from anterograde amnesia, or “a selective memory deficit…[wherein]…the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” The film’s emphasis that Leonard had no amnesia is wrong. Further, to suggest that Leonard might be struggling with remembering his identity, his character, and fundamentally who he was, does not ring true. The psychologically complex and emotionally messy part of Leonard, as distinct from the memory loss (aka anterograde amnesia), is fine for me.

Overall, Memento remains the breakout hit that has opened the door for other movies in the Nolan collection that I have truly enjoyed. On its own, Memento works well. Consider checking this movie out for yourself.

Matt – Sunday, April 2, 2017

 

5,863-days to a new career

Today’s post has it’s beginning in early December last year when we had the Kleenex tissue meeting at my workplace. My colleagues and I were told over the course of the morning how my business unit had been sold in a fashion where the jobs would disappear in waves over the coming 18-months.

A small number of us with specific jobs other than my own would be given the opportunity to transfer over. Others would be asked to stay through the 18-months. Most of us would be provided with a 60-day notice and a severance package.

Unlike some of my colleagues, Lynn and I chose to keep this news pretty close to the vest. That is, I waited to see Lynn in person before sharing the news with her or the in-laws. Sharing Facebook friends with other less reticent people, Lynn captured knowledge of the news before my chance to look her in the eye and address concerns that you’d expect to appear in this case. Overall, Lynn understood my rationale and accepted the news pretty well. To this day, the means of sharing the news coupled with sharing my plans for working the problem pragmatically worked. Focusing on accepting the fact of the setback while acknowledging that it hurt seemed to have offered a sense of normalcy and optimism.

Through the time since, Lynn and I have updated our LinkedIn profile, become acquainted with Glass Door, Zip Recruiter, and Indeed as services. We worked with the displacement services to finesse a more professionally written resume; much has changed in the approach to resumes in the 16-years since landing the job I was losing. I reached out to people across my current industry, from school, in Toastmasters. The idea was to network with resilience and a positive demeanor with those in a position to help.

The decisive turn in finding our next opportunity came about three weeks ago when a former boss responded with his willingness to help. In less than a week, I had interviewed with five different people while passing a skills assessment with this company. Over the weekend that then appeared, the group that wanted to hire me extended an offer. Yesterday, news came back that my background check went well. My new role will start in 10-calendar days.

Today was the end of my 60-day notice period. The job I learned would disappear in December ended today, after 16-years and roughly 2.5-weeks. Next week, I get a “spring break” of sorts as I get to enjoy some relaxation before starting in full force in my new adventure. Today, as I joined many of my colleagues in saying goodbye on our respective last day, is emotionally sad, bittersweet, and a chance for saying farewell after 5,863 days.

Life happens. You feel sad, deal with the feelings, and then use the hurt to focus on moving forward. Lynn and I are happy that things are working out for us. Things are working better for us than for others; I am extending help and empathy where I can. Offer thanks for good fortune and support where possible; do the same with a helping hand where practical.

Matt – Friday, March 31, 2017