The Drill Seargent vs The Guru

Every morning, blanketed in the black before sunrise, I walk into my office, and I’m faced with the same decision:

Do I start digging into my work pile and get a jump on my to-do’s,


Do I stop and do something that seems both self-indulgent and impractical? In other words, do I meditate?

Almost every morning, as I saunter down the hall, head full of yesterday’s overflow, the to-do’s seem like they’re going to be the victor. I can hear the high-octane voice of a drill sergeant in my head commanding me to get to work.


I know this voice all too well — it’s an important voice — but one not to be bullied by because, after a “to-do” type of morning, two things are always true:
1) I’m not done with my to-do’s; and 2) I’m still in the hole.

Packing in more work never seems to be the right answer, but for some reason, that option still calls to me. It calls to a lot of us. It’s hard to ignore that obnoxious shouting voice.

[ Editor’s Note: I confess, the drill sergeant won out yesterday. I abandoned my original attempt at this post to get some work done. Ah well. Definitely some irony there. ]

Fortunately, there’s a quieter, gentler voice that never steers me wrong. They have great things to say, though, for some reason they like to speak in riddles.

you know what works…

Yeah, but this universe-connecting thing takes time. And I got shit to do. I’ll never it get it all done if I don’t start now. I won’t even get it all done if I start right now, which is why I have to start right now.

you speak with the wrong mouth and see with the wrong eyes…


close your eyes and you will see…

A touch cliche. You need to work on your material.

do it for the universe…

What about me?

you are the universe…

I’m just a dude.

you will become the universe…

I’m gonna need a bigger office, then.

your office will disappear

Yeah yeah.


You still there?

i am always here…

It would help if you were more forceful.

forceful hands crush the rose…

But shit gets done.

be careful about wanting completion…

Okay, okay.


This probably isn’t going to work.


You there?

























welcome back


now you see


and so you can

Yes. I can.

Keeping Them Alive

White metal chair

We should all pause and smile when someone mentions a loved one that’s passed away.

In that moment, that loved one is alive again, as if they’ve stepped into the room with their signature style and voice, that smirk they always have, the particular cadence of their words that we’ve memorized. They are alive. Alive forever.

Just ask the person who uttered their name.

Inez, Elizabeth, Bill, Flamer, Louella, Vic, Jack, Stan, Cynthia, Mark, Patrick, Chris, Cle, Loretta, Bob, Mr. & Mrs. ________, Tony, Pie, Mr. _________

(I’m smiling ear to ear right now.)

It’s a comforting thought to know that these wonderful people can be summoned and cherished at any time and that this power is ours and ours alone.

We can do this for each other. With nothing more than silence and the grace of a smile, we can welcome the person fully into the room.

Our Angels.

Instead of hovering in the background peering over shoulders (like they always do), they can come sit down and be part of the conversation — a quiet, respectful observer full of wisdom and boundless love.

Their presence becomes more than imagination. With invisible strings and wires, they pull people closer together, they slay our dragons.

As we get older and are forced to confront the hardest of things, to close our eyes and listen for footsteps, we know deep in our hearts that we are not alone. And can never be alone.

It is not wishful thinking. It is undeniable.

For we are surrounded.

Suprises & Second Impressions

Multiracial students gossiping about black man with notepad

One of the great joys in life is being surprised by a loved one.

I don’t mean like a surprise party. I mean being surprised by learning something new about them, something that didn’t fit your idea of who they are.

Like when you find out about your partner had a childhood celebrity crush or your best friend’s been grinding away at a secret hobby or your daughter slipped a classic rock song in her playlist.

In that little moment, they expand a bit, and since we’re forced to readjust our understanding of them, we expand, too. It’s a gift exchange of sorts. I give you the space to surprise me, and you give me the surprise.

So how come we can’t afford this same gift to strangers? Why are we so reluctant to let largely unknown people surprise us about who they really are?

We’d rather define the soul of another by a few typed or spoken words. And once we put them in that box, is it any wonder they respond like a caged animal?

No one person is a single act or a cluster of words. Yet, that’s what we beg people to be when we first meet them.

Their first word.

Their first gesture.

We even let their absence define them.

Do you believe they didn’t show up?

We’re far too obsessed with first impressions. When it comes to people, must we be so efficient?

Where’s the harm in offering them the space to make a second impression? Why keep them in that box, when there are countless surprises we can both unwrap?

Life’s better that way.

With surprises.

Crappy Vacation

An aerial photography of a man in black jacket standing in the middle of the forest

Sometimes, gratitude isn’t so easy to come by.

If you’re having trouble finding it, here’s some advice: take a crappy vacation.

You don’t have to actually go anywhere; just plan it. Plan it in your head.

Where are you staying?

Are you inside or outside?

What can go wrong? (cuz everything goes wrong on a crappy vacation).

Dive into the dystopia. See what you fear, what you hate the most, what you’re worried about. And experience it. Fully. Feel it for a moment. It’s actually kind of fun — like watching a dark comedy from the safety of your EZ chair, screening your own personal B-movie.

And when it’s over, or it gets to be too much, or it’s just plain boring, you can flick the lights on and get out of there. You can go home. No plane fare (or missed connections) is necessary.

In other words, click them heels, girl!

Crappy vacations are great (whether in real life or in your head) because no matter how crappy they are, when you come back home, the situation you once felt stuck in always seems to feel a little better than you remembered it.

That’s gratitude, baby.

It’s always there for you. Even when you think you got nothing, you got something.


Me & Holden Caulfield

Field of ears

I just read Catcher in the Rye again.

Funny how different you can see a book the second or third or fourth time you read it.

In high school, as a mixed-race-white-looking-class-individual-child-of-divorce-latchkey-kid, I saw Holden Caulfield as a hero: a justifiably disaffected, perpetually misunderstood troublemaker trying to find his place in the world.

Basically, I liked him because I was him. But I was too far into my own stuff to get it.

Now, as a father-of-two-trained-counselor-and-writer-in-a-massively-healthy-relationship, I’m someone who has loved and lost, someone who has cried uncontrollably in someone else’s arms. I see the book differently now.

Holden was grieving the loss of his younger brother. And failing miserably at it.

Like the high-school me, he’d shut off his feelings and couldn’t figure out how to turn them back on. He was imaginative and bright and did quite a good job of hiding in his brain. He attracted people to him only to disappoint them with his emotional limits. He was sensitive and kind-hearted. People loved him from afar because that was as close as they could get, and he resented them for getting even that close.

Today, Holden would be my client or my older daughter’s friend, the one I secretly counseled through the car window.

In some ways, I became the future Holden Caulfield, the proverbial Catcher in the Rye who lives among the tall stalks of rye and catches people before they run unknowingly over the edge of a cliff.

Books, like the past, don’t change, but we, the people who read and write them, do. And that means they actually do change.

Many of us long for another time, and others are still waiting for the good years to arrive. We’re always too old or too young by our count.

And when we hit a stretch of time that fills us with wonder and passion and discovery, we want to hold on to that time forever, to reach down into the earth and stop the world from spinning.

But, God, what would we miss?

The chance to change the future and the past. To undo and redo. To proudly and painfully fall to pieces when it is necessary.

So heartbreakingly beautiful, we are. Traveling through time. Grasping for each other’s hands.

Holden, it’s me. You’re doing alright, kid. Just keep going. And keep reaching out even when it doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry that you can’t see what’s up ahead. Just keep going.

I got you.

Empathy All Around

Man playing saxophone

I gain empathy for a person immediately after I get to know them. We all do. That’s how it works.

But why wait until then?

I went to a Latin Jazz/Funk show because I felt the need to move around after a particularly heavy week. We got there early to beat the crowd and get a good spot right down in front.

Just as the second song started, two women, still carrying the cold in from outside, slid right in front of us. They looked at each other in victory and began dancing, their arms jutting up into my hard-earned view.

I stared at the back of them.

They were shorter than me, but one had big hair and was obstructing the bass player.


But the beautiful jazz, pouring out of brass and strings, was seeping in. It’s hard to be upset when you’ve been dancing.

I tried to find a way. What if she were a client? I thought.

Then I turned around and looked at the whole room. Wait a minute. Anyone in here could be a client. Or a future client. Or a client of someone I know. Or someone who thought about calling me to talk about something important, but didn’t at the last minute.

The drums picked up, the horns came at me like a freight train. And the music spoke to me. It said, “We go everywhere. We touch everyone.”

My empathy expanded like a glowing ball of light, like the unapologetic vibrations that spiraled out of the saxophone.


Empathy to the woman in front of me with the big hair. Empathy to the man behind me with his hands hitting my back every 5 minutes. Empathy to the bartender who ignored me. Empathy to the drummer, who seems nervous.

Empathy all around.

My circle of light grew wider and wider, crescendoing with the beautiful music that worked in tandem with me, coming out to assist, like the spirits in a seance.

The two women in front of me parted and I saw the bass player. He looked up for a second and we shared a smile. Both of us, alchemists, undoing the stress of others, erasing the outlines of things. He with his bass, me with my light.

Plenty of work to be done.

I’m with everyone tonight.

The Key to Impressing People

I was hard at work prepping for a school fundraiser at my house.

I had just finished calibrating the stereo and microphones. I still needed to set up the auxiliary A/V system (just in case), make blackberry rosemary syrup for the cocktails, trim back the ivy on the stoop, vacuum the stairs, make some signage, and find sensible-looking donation baskets. Oh, and the decorations…

My phone rang. it was Molly. She was at Fairyland with Hazel. It was a beautiful day, apparently. You should come, she said.

I looked at the dirty stairs, the unmuddled blackberries, and pulled the phone away from my ear to look at the time. I could feel the first drop of sweat emerging from my hairline.

Leaving the house would be seriously unproductive.

But, I’ve never been all-the-way ready by the time the first guest arrives. Has anyone?

So I left my unfinished things and went to ride the Jolly Trolley with Hazel, yell in the tunnel, roll down the Jack-and-Jill Hill like enchiladas, slide down the Dragon slide, laugh out loud with the greatest of all laughers…

Against the golden rules of planning, I put playful first.

If you’re wondering… The fundraiser was awesome. I definitely wasn’t ready in time, and everything worked out perfectly.

I was relaxed, present, and completely on fire — all the things you need to be when you’re hosting a party.

I think we have a narrow view of what preparation is – for parties, for interviews, for anything important that involves people you’re trying to impress.

As the moment nears, forget about the ducks and the rows.

Leave the outside world imperfect and, instead, run a lap, laugh out loud, sing a song, roll down the hill.

Focus on getting the inside right.

That’s what people are coming to see.

Path to Redemption

Persons raising hands

Redemption only comes to those who are willing to gather the pain they’ve caused

and put it back inside their own body.

It is not a collaborative effort. It is not something to ask for. It is not found nestled neatly into words.

Relief from torment is in the ache.

Look nowhere else.

In Common

Trees in fog

Things are tough out there.

I’m seeing a lot of pain in people, doing more therapy than career coaching.

People are having the rug pulled out from under them, people who never thought they’d be the ones getting hit.

Layoffs to fix balance sheets.

Strikes to balance paychecks.

Robots eating our lunch.

Politicians destroying democracy from the inside out.

The Pandemic pushing us apart.

Wars waged by the worst of us, harming the rest of us.

Everything getting smaller and more expensive.

All of it sends ripples through the economy and into our homes like an earthquake.

Will The Selfish always lead the Selfless?

Is Wisdom merely a deeper understanding of Suffering?

I punched a cereal box in the grocery store the other day, when I realized just how full of air it was. (Then I looked for cameras.)

It seems like the charlatans get to win way too much these days, like karma doesn’t really exist; just another scam by the scammers, a soft blindfold.

The Loudest, The Rudest, and The Most Hurtful seem to take everything, as the rest of us, small and separate, stand to the side under the weight of daily obligations, watching our beloved things being hauled away.

The last thing we have in common.

Maybe we start there.

Completing My Biotech Assignment

Close up photography of brown wasp

My daughter gave me a homework assignment before she fluttered off to Santa Cruz for a Girl Scout sleepover:

“I need to catch a fly for Biotech class.”

Easy enough.

Flies seem to find their way into our sunroom all the time. If one didn’t end lifeless on the window sill, I could just trap one in a cup or something.

Funny how I noticed flies for the next 24 hours, buzzing in the air and resting on things. I was patient; no hurry, no need to interrupt a conversation for the capture.

Sure enough, in the early evening, just as I’d finished a beer and was sitting in the sunroom with the empty bottle in my hand, a fly buzzed in and landed on the neck of the bottle, its buzzing coming to a stop.

Perfect. I’ll wait for him to go into the opening of the bottle, clamp my hand over the top, and voila: homework complete.

I sat still, breathing low and steady, as the fly walked jerkily around the lip of the bottle.

(Sipping beer? Enjoying the sugar?).

He rested on the white label, and I could see his body so clearly, the colors, the jaggedness of his front legs as he rubbed them together.

(Cleaning? Licking his chops?)

He crawled back up the neck of the bottle to the lip, circled twice, and finally, after a few seconds of sitting still — the bottle and me and the fly — he dropped into the opening.

But the future was not set.

I didn’t move, whether due to my unplanned habit of stillness or just a change of heart.

My hands stayed where they were.

And the fly came back out.


This wasn’t going to be the fly they used in Biotech class.

We’d shared too much time together. His backstory had been revealed (or conjured; same thing).

I knew I’d made the right decision because as I moved the bottle to the shelf, the fly didn’t fly away; he just enjoyed the ride. Had I placed my face closer to the bottle, I may have heard a miniature “Wheeeee!” and perhaps seen a solitary fly leg raise up in hopes of a high-five.

What about the science of that?

The fly and me. A quiet moment in the sunroom that changed the course of time.

The inevitable healing quality of closeness.

A gesture of hope.

But one that will surely fail Science class.