The Pause Button

Yes,  yes, yes, it’s time to get moving. There’s content to write.  Bills to pay. Children to feed. A house to clean. Laundry to do. A neighborhood event demanding an appearance. Errands to run. And those are just the mandatories. What about the disorganized basement? The unfertilized lawn? The messy desk?

And yet… sometimes there’s joy in listening to your mind and body and giving them what they need. After an emotional day, and cheating on sleep schedules, swapping the normal 6am wakeup with lounging in bed until 10:30am is a welcome respite.

White space in a layout makes the text clearer to read.

Take joy in hitting the pause button. And being privileged enough to be able to hit the pause button on occasion. Make sure you don’t take it for granted. Then, if you’re recharged enough, see if you can focus that renewed energy to fill in the rest of the day.

Leadership, Marketer

Seeing Thestrals, and the Bridge Test

Firing someone is a terrible but necessary rite of passage for every manager.

I have two overly dramatic metaphors that have helped me describe it.

In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry learns that what he originally thought were magically self-propelled carriages are actually pulled by mystical creatures known as Thestrals — winged reptilian horses that are only visible to wizards who have witnessed death.  It’s a tangible symbol of the perspective change after seeing another person meet his end.

In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Thine Own Self,” the character Deanna Troi earns her promotion to Commander by passing the Bridge Officer’s Test.  The solution to the test is to order a fellow crew member to sacrifice himself in order to save the ship.

Years ago, as a manager, I passed my Bridge Officer’s test.  And now I can see the Thestrals.

There’s no joy in the deed.  In fact, you rob joy from someone else’s life, which is hard for my personality type to handle.  But addition by subtraction can still bring joy, if it inspires the rest of the team by reinforcing their belief that hard work is rewarded.  And once you’ve lost your innocence and can see the Thestrals, it’s disturbingly easier to order the next crew member to his fate, for the good of the crew.

I find joy in knowing that I can save the ship when I have to.  I hope you find joy when you discover you are strong enough to make tough choices.


The Lotti Eight-Part Crucifixus

Cross-posted from my other blog, Just Another Bass 

For this year’s Tanglewood season, I am fortunate to be on the roster for the second residency, which includes our chorus’s annual Prelude concert in Ozawa Hall.  The set of a capella pieces we are singing are a fabulous assortment of sumptuous harmonies, consonant and dissonant, all dancing around each other exquisitely.  The exquisite pieces will require diligent study, careful breathing, keen awareness of the other parts to tune to, and a close eye on our conductor James Burton as he leads us through it all.

Perhaps one of the most straightforward examples of this is one piece in the middle of the program: Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus.  Composed just as Baroque music was evolving into a Classical period style, it is one of the best known works of sacred music that the Italian composer created. I’m told that many a high school choir has learned and performed it, since the notes themselves aren’t hard to sing.  It’s how you bring them together and infuse them with passion and sorrow all while staying technically accurate and attuned to the other parts that makes the piece so transcendental.

Spend three minutes listening to a recording right now, if you haven’t already:

This video is even more enjoyable because, by displaying the sheet music, you can see what’s going on.  I love how the voices build upon each other for the first minute, then maneuver around each other, passing themes back and forth, until the mournful finish.

Trust me, it is even more exhilarating to sing it, especially with a group of musically intelligent adults fully committing themselves to producing a beautiful sound.  Our first deep rehearsals of the piece with James Burton focused on bringing out those passages of tension, finding anchor chords that we can use to tune to other parts, and carefully working out some of the trickier intervals.  And, like with the Ravel, when he emphasizes the theory, and our mentality changes from “I’m singing an A” to “I’m singing the third of F major,” something clicks in the way the ensemble sings such that we stop clinging to our separate notes and lock the tuned chord in place.  (Though I have lots of “up arrows” pencil marks in my score written above notes that are easy to overshoot in several phrases.)

The final effect is magical… and we’re not even done working it.  If you can be out at Tanglewood this summer, try to catch our performance on July 20th at Ozawa Hall.


The Best Way to Respond — Don’t.

Even when one has a reputation as a pretty even-keeled fellow, it can be surprisingly easy to get angry at Internet rhetoric.  How could they believe that?  How could they even write that?  

In those situations it can be a struggle to find anything resembling joy.  Worse, there’s a false sense of joy in scratching that itch by arguing.  Shouting You’re wrong on your keyboard, even with your evidence and fact-based argument, rarely convinces your anonymous debate opponent.  So You’re stupid and other ad hominem attacks become the fallback.  

It’s all too easy to revel in your own sense of outrage or moral superiority.  Few people acknowledge that different viewpoints exist.  Even fewer recognize that confirmation biases may be affecting their own position.

It’s a work in progress, but I’m finding joy in my ability to resist the urge to punch back.  I shape my own reality.  I can step out of the funhouse mirror maze at any time.  Drop that toxic Facebook group.  Stop reading that gloom and doom news channel.  Leave that forum feeding you clickbait articles.  There are ways to change the world, and an online flame war is almost certainly not one of them.

Before I hit send, I now think about whether I’m adding to or subtracting from the world with my commentary.  Will you remember to pause, too, before you hit reply?




Write Something Every Day

Seth Godin, brilliant as always, talked in his June 6th podcast about the process of moving his blog site from a “sharecropper” platform (where he was the product another site was selling) to one where he was the product.  His content is written not to appear at the top of every Google search (what many know as “Search Engine Optimization”), but to be the kind of content that you pass along to friends and seek out specifically.

He also encouraged all of his listeners to create their own personal blog.  Not to make money, or to get millions of readers, but because of the discipline it gives.  To know you’ll be writing something tomorrow.  Something that will be read by the right people — by your tribe of people.  The idea is that day by day, you’ll build up a following, you’ll make connections and assertions, you’ll practice sharing your ideas and get the narrative out of your own head.

So here I am.  Writing every day.  I’ll share posts on Twitter and Facebook and occasionally LinkedIn, like a good little marketer, but ultimately, those are sharecropper platforms too.

I find joy in writing.  I hope you find joy in reading what I write.