Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Bounce" by Matthew Syed - A Seminal Work on the Science of Success

In his seminal work, "Bounce," Matthew Syed proudly stands on the shoulders of psychologist, Anders Ericsson, and those of Malcolm Gladwell in the work that he did in "Outliers." The subtitle of the book gives the reader a good of the breadth of the topics that Syed addresses as he examines success in a variety of fields: "Mozart, Federer, Picasoo, Beckham, and the Science of Success."

I found this book to be fascinating and thought provoking, especially in light of the fact that it comes on the heels of a recent visit I paid to the Center for Enhanced Performance at the United States Military Academy. A few weeks ago, accompanied by my friend, Detroit Lions coach, Daron Roberts, I spent a day with Dr. Nate Zinsser and his staff at West Point's acclaimed CEP. The principles that Dr. Zinsser and his team articulated - and demonstrated as they worked with West Point athletes - fall precisely within the parameters of the principles that Syed describes in "Bounce." Syed, himself a world class table tennis player, begins with his own anecdotal experience in achieving an extraordinary level of success, and then broadens his inquiries to examine more universally how women and men manage to attain levels of proficiency well above that of their peers.

In a nutshell, Syed makes a valid case for a phenomenon that Gladwell describes in "Outliers": For any individual to attain a level of mastery in a complex task, 10,000 hours of focused, purposeful practice is required over the course of 10 years under the guidance of gifted coaches. He argues strongly against the notion of "child prodigies" and "naturally gifted athletes," and presents a convincing body of evidence to buttress his claims.

The ramifications of Syed's work are staggering and are clearly applicable beyond the realm of athletics or the arts to include business practices and military training: "As one business expert has put it, 'Very few businesses have introduced the principles of [purposeful] practice into the workplace. Sure, the hours may be long in some jobs, but the tasks are often repetitive and boring and fail to push employees to their creative limits and beyond. There is very little mentoring or coaching . . . and objective feedback is virtually nonexistent, often comprising little more than a half-hearted annual review.'" (Page 111)

This is a book that I will recommend to friends who are athletes, business leaders, military officers, coaches, musicians, teachers and mentors. Syed has given us a special gift and a powerful tool to enhance understanding about the mature of how to achieve extraordinary levels of performance in virtually any field.



"How Will You Measure Your Life?" - Challenging Words to the HBS Class of 2010 from Professor Clayton M. Christensen

The current edition of The Harvard Business Review contains a brief, yet powerful, article based on Professor Clayton M. Christensen's interactions with his students around the issue of how one defines success.

This is how the editors of the Harvard Business review introduced Christensen's article:

"When the members of the class of 2010 entered business school, the economy was strong and their post-graduation ambitions could be limitless. Just a few weeks later, the economy went into a tailspin. They’ve spent the past two years recalibrating their worldview and their definition of success.

The students seem highly aware of how the world has changed (as the sampling of views in this article shows). In the spring, Harvard Business School’s graduating class asked HBS professor Clay Christensen to address them—but not on how to apply his principles and thinking to their post-HBS careers. The students wanted to know how to apply them to their personal lives. He shared with them a set of guidelines that have helped him find meaning in his own life. Though Christensen’s thinking comes from his deep religious faith, we believe that these are strategies anyone can use. And so we asked him to share them with the readers of HBR."

Here, in Christensen's own words, are some of the concepts that he seeks to instill in his students:

"My class at HBS is structured to help my students understand what good management theory is and how it is built. To that backbone I attach different models or theories that help students think about the various dimensions of a general manager’s job in stimulating innovation and growth. In each session we look at one company through the lenses of those theories—using them to explain how the company got into its situation and to examine what managerial actions will yield the needed results.

On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.

As the students discuss the answers to these questions, I open my own life to them as a case study of sorts, to illustrate how they can use the theories from our course to guide their life decisions."

Those three personal questions are ones that all of us should be asking in a life-long quest to achieve success. Professor Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

I commend the entire article to you using the link below:

HBR Article

Monday, June 28, 2010

American Repertory Theater Updates - Last Chances to see "Johnny Baseball" + Thoughts on "The Donkey Show"

Anyone who has been reading The White Rhino Report these past few weeks knows how much I have enjoyed the American Repertory Theater's current production of "Johnny Baseball." For those of you who have not yet had the chance to see the show, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the run of the show has been extended beyond its original date. The bad news is that you only have two weeks remaining to see this remarkable show. There is a "hard stop," and the show must close on July 11.

I recently saw another A.R.T. show, running at the Oberon on Arrow Street in Harvard Square. "The Donkey Show" has garnered much critical acclaim during its run at the Oberon, and has become something of a cult classic among fans. Knowing that A.R.T.'s
Artistic Director, Diane Paulus, had helped to direct "The Donkey Show," I decided it was time for me to check it out. I very much admire the work that Diane has done with "Johnny Baseball," and am intrigued with the direction in which she is taking the A.R.T.

Loosely based on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream," "The Donkey Show" seeks to recreate the ambiance, attitude and ambition of Studio 54 in all of its 1970's disco glory. I had seen some video footage of the production, so I had some idea of what to expect. But the video had not prepared me for the non-stop action of dancing and acting and rollicking that more than filled the two hours we spent together under the pulsating lights. The audience is immersed in the middle of the dance floor and participates in the action of the play. The stamina of the remarkable ensemble of dancers/actors is breathtaking. The show's directors and scenic designers have used every inch of the Oberon as performance spaces on many vertical levels. The evening is a non-stop romp of celebration and sensory overload. On the night that I was there, a woman was celebrating her 50th birthday party with a large number of family and friends representing three generations. They all seemed to be having fun - some really engaged and others slightly bemused and remaining off to the side. "The Donkey Show" will be playing at the Oberon each weekend for the foreseeable future.



Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Stunning First Novel by Ellen Bryson: "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno"

Ellen Bryson's first novel, "The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno," is a "freaky" tour de force. When I read an early review that likened the book to "Like Water for Elephants," I knew that I had to read the book. I am a sucker for any well-written book about the circus or those who perform in circuses. That fact that I lived briefly in Bridgeport, CT that boasts it own P.T. Barnum Museum gave me even more incentive to read this fictionalized work about his famous New York City museum. Ironically, I am writing this review just a few days after the Bridgeport museum suffered serious damage in the recent Bridgeport tornado, echoing the destruction by fire of the New York City museum in July of 1865.

On the surface, this is a novel about the inner lives of the cast of freaks and oddities that Barnum put on display at his popular museum - and later in the circus that he ran. Narrated by Bartholomew Fortune, "the world's thinnest man," the novel is a deep exploration of the source of one's identity and the quest for freedom from those forces that would seek to interfere with truly becoming who one is meant to be. The theme of freedom emerges in many of the scenes in the book, and ties together many of the characters - and the actions and dialogue that bind them together. Here is an excellent example of how the author treats the topic of freedom - its gifts and its pitfalls. In this example, caged birds represent the novel's characters in their individual pursuits of freedom - Fortuno; Iell,the enigmatic bearded lady who carries a secret known only to a few; Matina, the fat lady, the Strong Man, The Rubber Man, et al.

"And finally, with everyone's attention riveted upward, the doors to all the little birdcages popped open - they had been rigged with strings pulled by lads running along beneath them - and a hundred frenzied songbirds dashed out into the height of the cavernous theater, a cockatoo and a conspicuous blue parrot among them as the boys released all my birds as well.

The birds, set free, swooped about in fifty-foot drops, careening over our heads, and then dashed up again, as if they were trying to make sense of a world without limits. I leaped to my feet with the rest of the audience, bedazzled by the spectacle, hope and fear rising in me in equal measure. Many of the birds settled on balconies or seatbacks for a moment or two before taking off into the air again, and my heart soared with them. But an unlucky few seemed to lose their way, and, rather than fly with their brethren they swooped too high or too low and ended up smashing themselves against the walls, discovering the hard way exactly what freedom meant." (Page 306)

This novel is well worth reading to learn how this gifted first-time novelist, Ellen Bryson, depicts how each of the human curiosities - her cast of characters - soars too high or swoops too low in search of their own brand of freedom.



An Inspiring Book: "An Eagle Named Freedom - My True Story of a Remarkable Friendship" by Jeff Guidry

As soon as learned about Jeff Guidry's book about his unique friendship with a bald eagle names "Freedom," I wanted to be able to get this book to send to my sister, Diane. She has been deeply involved in rescuing animals for many years, and this is her kind of story. Yet, as I read this inspiring memoir, I quickly realized that this is not just a story for animal lovers and members of the animal rescue community. This is a story for anyone who is willing to learn more about the mystical relationship and bond that can exist across boundaries of species within the larger animal kingdom.

The story begins as one might expect. Guidry and other volunteers at the Sarvey Wildlife shelter in the state of Washington struggle to save the life of a young female bald eagle who has fallen out of her nest and badly injured her wings. The story takes an interesting turn when Guidry is diagnosed with cancer and struggles to bear the physical and emotional burdens of many debilitating rounds of chemotherapy. The eagle seemed to sense that Guidry was struggling with a deep problem, and it was her giving back to him - sometimes in the form of a rare "hug" with her deformed wings - that gave Guidry the courage and spirit to fight through the many layers of the disease's hold on his body and spirit.

I cannot think of many people within my sphere of friends and acquaintances who would not be deeply moved by reading Guidry's account of his special relationship with "Freedom."



Friday, June 25, 2010

Metacognition and the US Marine Corps: The Quantico Diaries - Part III

Our last day at Quantico for the Educators' Workshop was full and instructive. I am processing a lot of information and impressions, which I am pleased to share with readers of The White Rhino Report.

Our day began at the Marine Corps University, which was formed in 1989 to consolidate several elements of Marine Corp Professional Military Education (PME) - the USMC's professional development arm. We toured the impressive Gray Research Center, which houses the MCU library and Marines Corps archives. While we were in the archives, we observed USMC archivists cataloging and preserving original photos taken by a Marine during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. We spent the rest of the morning with the Deans and Leaders of four elements of the Marine Corps University - The Command and Staff college (CSC), The Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS), the Marine War College (MCWAR), as well as the Director of the USMC Distance Learning and Training initiatives.

Dr. Charles McKenna, Dean of Academics for the Command and Staff College, cited Sir Francis Bacon as a source for the educational philosophy that they employ throughout the Marine Corps University. He quoted Bacon as saying that effective learning takes place with the proper balance among four elements and activities on the part of the learner: "Read, Write, Reflect, Discuss." As would be appropriate for an educator addressing a group of fellow educators, Dr. McKenna gave us a thorough understanding of the deep thought that has gone into creating a comprehensive learning environment that offers development for Marine officers from company grade officers (Lieutenants and Captains), field grade officers (Majors and Colonels) and General officers. He cited issues of metacognition and Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. As soon as I heard Dr. McKenna, a West Point graduate, employ the term "metacognition," I said to myself, "This is not your grandfather's Marine Corps!"

Each of the leaders who addressed our group spoke with passion and deep understanding of the need for the USMC to be able to demonstrate the kind of agility and adaptability that I wrote about in my most recent Blog posting. The lessons being learned in Afghanistan and Iraq are being integrated immediately into the ever-evolving curricula at every level of enlisted and officer education and training.

Our next stop was for lunch in the gorgeous new National Museum of the Marine Corps. We were greeted by the Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Major General Robert E. Milstead. General Milstead was effusive in thanking the members of our group for having invested time to travel to Quantico and to observe the making of a Marine officer. The general has a personal presence that combines the seriousness that one would expect of a leader of warriors with a warmth and welcoming element befitting a gracious host. In his remarks about the state of the Marine Corps, he emphasized that he is convinced that the Corps has never been healthier or more prepared to executive its mission. It is clear that he is deeply proud of the men and women who serve as Marines. He described the intangibles that the Corps seeks to instill in each of its warriors to act ethically even in the most trying of situations and circumstances - even when "dancing with the dragon."

To meet the growing demands of keeping up operational tempo simultaneously in two war zones, the size of the USMC has grown from 175,000 Marines to 202,000. Recruitment was so successful that this augmentation of forces that was expected to take up to five years was executed in two and a half years. This expansion was accomplished without compromising standards - physical, academic or moral. As the general described what his Marines are accomplishing around the globe, it felt like a proud father bragging on his gifted children. And why not?

Following our lunch with General Milstead, we toured the museum, pictured at the top of this article. The architecture is stunning and inspiring, with a stylized spire representing the flag pole raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jimo - the proudest moment in the long history of the Corps, which was founded in 1775. The museum is laid out beautifully and honors those who have fought as Marines for parts of four centuries. This museum is worthy of a separate trip to Virginia.

Following some group photos and good-byes to some of our host Marines, we boarded the buses to return to our hotel.

The USMA invested considerable staff time and financial resources to bring our group of educators and opinion-makers to Quantico this week. Conversely, the members of our group invested a great deal of time and energy in observing, and asking questions and making evaluations and judgments about what we were seeing. I think the expenditures on both ends were warranted. I feel that most of the members of our Educators' Workshop are now in a far better position than before our trip to Quantico to advise any man or woman who may be considering a career as a Marine officer. We have a better understanding of the kind of candidate who can succeed, and a deeper appreciation of what the final product looks like - a Marine officer capable of leading other Marines in battle.

There are many good reasons why they are called "The few - the proud - the Marines."

Our country is well served with them defending our shores.

God bless the U.S. Marine Corps and its sons and daughters. They wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor with justifiable pride.

Semper Fi.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tchaikovsky In The Morning: The Quantico Diaries - Part II

On Tuesday evening in Arlington, the US Marine Corps gave us Mozart. On Wednesday morning, those of us participating in the Educators' Workshop were back at Quantico at The Basic School, and the Marines offered up Tchaikovsky. Never in my wildest imagination as I prepared for my week with the Marines did I anticipate that they would so graciously accommodate my love for classical music!

Our day at The Basic School began with an opportunity to observe a recent Marine Corps innovation - The Combat Fitness Test (CFT). Situated just behind the CFT course, a platoon of Marines was training in preparation for the upcoming July 4th celebrations. A ceremonial function of their job as an artillery unit is to fire the unit's vintage howitzers as part of the performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." Our group got to hear the Overture and watch the loading and firing of the guns as an overture to our day-long tour of The Basic School - know as "TBS" in a culture where everything has been given an acronym.

TBS is a six month long course of basic instruction for the women and men who have been commissioned as Marine 2nd lieutenants. The course prepares these new lieutenants to be able to lead a platoon of Marines in combat in partnership with the unit's NCO's. We were given a thorough briefing about the outline of the six month course of study, the objectives and methods used in preparing these young leaders for the challenges of efficiently and effectively managing a platoon of Marines. At the end of the day, the concept that stuck with me and made the greatest impression on me was the CFT. Let me explain why I am so impressed.

The USMC is rich in tradition, and firmly anchored in "The Marine way" of doing many things. The traditional Marine Physical Fitness Test has been part of USMC tradition for many decades - push-ups, pull-ups and a 3-mile run. In recent years, Marines returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan reported in their After Action Reports and in informal sharing sessions that these measurements of fitness were not properly preparing Marines for the kinds of physical demands placed on them in urban combat and counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism fighting. The Corps listened, and added the new CFT.

The CFT consists of three events: an 880 yard run, ammo can lifts, and maneuver under fire:

880 Yard Run. Marines will run for 880 yards while wearing boots and camouflage uniform (pants and t-shirt).

Ammo Can Lifts. Marines will lift a 30 pound ammo can from the ground, over their heads as many times as they can in two minutes.

Maneuver Under Fire. Marines must move through a 300 yard course, and perform designated tasks, in the time limit authorized. The tasks include:

  • Moving in a quick scurry for 10 yards, then a high craw for another 15 yards.
  • Drag a casualty for 10 yards, while zigzagging through several cones. Then lift the casualty and carry him/her at a run for 65 yards.
  • Carry two 30-pound ammo cans for 75 yards, while zigzagging through a series of cones.
  • Toss a dummy grenade 22 1/2 yards and land it in a marked target circle.
  • Perform three push-ups, pick up the two 30-pound cans and sprint to the finish line.
It was inspiring to watch these men and women performing demanding physical tasks that simulate that demands that will be thrust upon them in combat in the mountains of Afghanistan. What was even more impressive to me was the fact that this organization - steeped in tradition - was willing and able to be so agile and to introduce a new and needed element into what had been an almost sacrosanct approach to training and testing Marines. That kind of agility and responsiveness on the part of senior USMC leadership serves the Corps well and serves our nation responsibly.

In much the same manner, the Corps has learned over the years that Marines are more feared by enemy combatants when the enemy is aware that each Marine has mastered martial arts. So, a new integrated approach to martial arts has been introduced - "marital arts by Marines for Marines" - that teaches Marines how to perform complex hand-to-hand combat moves in full gear and "battle rattle." We watched an impressive performance of unarmed Marines able to overpower an enemy with a rifle and bayonet and an enemy with a pistol held to his chest, back and head. The passion of the senior instructor was inspiring and infectious. And, once again, the agility of the USMC in their willingness to implement new tactics to respond to changing battlefield conditions was impressive to me.

Another highlight of our day at TBS was a visit to the firing range where the lieutenants are rated on their pistol and rifle marksmanship. Each member of our group was given an opportunity to fire a Baretta M-9 pistol and an M-16A4 at silhouette targets. The pungent ambient smell of gun powder reminded me of the classic line from the film "Apocalypse Now" spoken by Robert Duvall's character: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

After leaving the fire range and digesting all that we had experienced at TBS, my overall assessment is that the USMC is right on target and hitting a bulls eye in the way in which they are preparing America's sons and daughters to lead USMC platoons in combat.

Semper Fi.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Proud to Be An American: The Quantico Diaries - Part I

My evening ended with me and a few thousand fellow Americans being soaked by a quickly moving thunder shower that came sweeping down the contours of the Potomac River. And most of us were smiling. Let me explain.

We were in attendance at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia for the Sunset Parade presented by the USMC "The Commandant's Own" Drum and Bugle Corps. Each Tuesday evening during the summer months, these parades are held in front of the iconic statue of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jimo. The drum and bugle corps performs martial and popular music, and the Marine Corps' storied "Silent Drill Platoon" puts on a jaw-dropping display of precision in weapons handling. It was a stirring and inspiring performance that exemplified many of the traits that Marines have come to be known for. It was a very public display of a Marine Corps esprit de corps that I had seen privately earlier in the day.

I am spending this week in Quantico, Virginia as part of a unique program that the USMC sponsors each summer called "The Educators' Workshop." The purpose of the program is to expose a handful of educators and influencers to the inner workings of how the Marine Corps trains its officers. The assumption is that those of us involved in helping young leaders make career choices will be able to advise outstanding women and men about the advisability of pursuing a career as a Marine officer.

Our day began with a briefing by the commanding officer of the Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Col. Richard C. Jackson. Colonel Jackson, with whom I was able to have a personal conversation as our group prepared to view the obstacle course, is very much the face of the modern Marines. He has the look of a Marine - incredibly physically fit and "squared away." He is also an outstanding communicator and nuanced thinker with several graduate degrees under his belt or in process. Our sons and daughters are in good hands being molded by the likes of Col. Jackson and his team. Following a very thorough briefing on the complex process by which officer candidates are turned into 2nd lieutenants who are capable of leading Marines in battle, we watched a demonstration of how one is supposed to conquer the obstacle course. As a sergeant explained to us each element along the course, one of his Marines vaulted and climbed with apparent ease.

Our next stop was was rare treat. We were taken to the hangars that are the headquarters for HMX - 1. Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), is a United States Marine Corps helicopter squadron responsible for the transportation of the President of the United States, Vice President, Cabinet members and other VIPs. When the President is aboard, the Marine helicopter uses the call sign "Marine One." In addition to its VIP transport role, it is also tasked with operational test and evaluation of new flight systems for Marine Corps helicopters. Nicknamed "The Nighthawks," they are headquartered at Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico, Virginia.

After a quick lunch at the Mess Hall, we were taken to the Expeditionary Warfare School, part of the Marine Corps University. We received a briefing by the chief of staff, and were then able to ask questions of a panel of seven freshly-minted 2nd lieutenants. They talked candidly about the highs and lows of their personal experiences in becoming Marine officers.

After a quick trip back to our hotel to freshen up and grab a boxed meal, we mounted the buses for our trip to Arlington and the parade.

Several impressions will stay with me from this first day of observing candidates being transformed into officers in the USMC.

There is an over-arching and universal sense of pride that is shared by enlisted Marines, NCO's and officers in what it means to be a Marine. The Marine Corps "brand" is strong.

The criteria for being admitted to and passing the OCS course are difficulty for all but the best and the brightest to attain.

The focus at OCS is on testing candidates on a combination of physical fitness, academics and leadership - with leadership driving the train.

The President and his team are in good hands when they are flown by the staff of HMX-1.

One final image will stay with me. I mentioned above that the Drum and Bugle Corps played a variety of martial and popular music. There were the obligatory John Philip Souza marches, of course. But there was also a fascinating percussion rendition of Mozart's "Turkish Rondo" from the 3rd movement of his Piano Sonata in A Major! The most ironic moment of the evening was the rendering of songs from a popular Broadway musical. These Marines, these "jar heads," renowned for their high and tight buzz cuts and their squared away and disciplined approach to life, were playing selections from the show, "Hair." I could not help but smile when I heard the music and silently mouthed the lyrics: "Long as I can grow it - my hair!"

Only in America!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Talent Alert - Heads of Sales Based in Reston, VA

A client company of mine is in need of a uniquely qualified individual to build and run a sales team from a base in Reston, Virgina. Please read the description below and pass this information along to anyone you know who may be interested and qualified.

Talent Alert – Head of Sales, Reston, VA

The company is a Joint Venture between a U.S.-based Fortune 500 company and a European partner.

This position will require a true leader who can run a team, build a team quickly, and execute Explosive and Narcotic Detection Sales

Not for the faint of heart.

Ideal candidate…….Former military leader (Service Academy grad a +), MBA, “athlete.”

Compensation range: Base: $95-150k, depending upon breadth of experience. Variable Incentive Comp: $50-75k

Must be located in D.C. or Virginia. Home Based with office in Reston, VA.

This position is open now and needs to be filled ASAP.

Qualified candidates only, send MS-Word resume and cover letter to:

Dr. Al Chase

In the cover letter, highlight the aspects of your career that directly match specific items in the job description.



Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rest In Peace - Arlene Joyce Champoux Spearin

My beloved Aunt Arlene, Arlene Champoux Spearin, died a few days ago in Camden, Maine. It is a story worth telling and a life worth remembering.

Yesterday, I represented the Chase-Champoux side of the family in offering remarks at her memorial service at her home church in Camden. Here is an outline of some of the thoughts I shared. If you did not know her, these sketchy thoughts may not mean much, but may at least give you a sense of the scope of the lives that she touched in each stage of her four score and three years on this earth. If you were privileged to know her, the short-hand outline may remind you of incidents that will make you smile in remembrance.

My Aunt Arlene, along with a few other family members, was someone who taught me that following the vicissitudes of the Boston Red Sox was a life-long passion. Until the day she died, she was asking for updates on how the Red Sox were doing. I had the privilege of taking her to her last Red Sox game at Fenway Park. She had a wonderful time that day sitting in a wheel chair and taking in all of the sights and sounds and smells. Given how much baseball was part of her life, I would like to frame my remembrances of her life as a trip around the base paths. And I would like to do so by sharing briefly some of the images I recall from each of those stages of her life.

The trip from home to first base – Her childhood through her nursing career

· Athlete - Football and losing teeth

· Leader – NHS Class of ’44 – Don, President; Arlene, VP; Isabelle, Secretary

· Nurse – Salem Hospital School of Nursing, NE Baptist, Peterborough Hospital, Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Hospital

o Caring for JFK, as is nurse at New England Baptist Hospital – “Are you going on a date?” "No, I am going to a prayer meeting!"

· Family member –

o NYC trip – Times Square - stopping traffic to take a picture

o D.C. – Iwo Jima Memorial - she knew the designer

o Friend in a sailor uniform – “We are going to see a man about a horse”

o Sledding at March’s Hill – “She is remarkable for her age.”

The trip from first base to second base – Her pilgrimage as a follower of Christ and a missionary with Child Evangelism Fellowship.

  • In 1948, when she was 21 years old, under the preaching of Dr. Harold John Ockenga at Park St. Church – personal commitment to follow Christ.
  • Chicago and Emmaeus Bible College
  • Joining CEF – teaming with Velma with CEF of NH and then traveling the nation as a Teacher training Team – Training Team #3
    • Winnebago - many thousands of miles traveling the U.S.
    • Camp Good News – Me, my sister, Diane, and my brother, Dave
    • Nana cutting out flannel graphs in her kitchen on Spring St. in Salisbury, MA
    • Skits – “Pencils - Two for five”
    • House on Litchfield Rd. in Londonderry, NH – games of Acquire
    • Trials of being a traveling missionary - Meal of peas

The trip from second base to third base – Joining the Spearin family

  • Answering a call from God in 1975 – I was living in Haiti and returned to meet a whole new branch of the family.
  • Nana’s quilt – velvet
  • Big adjustment for everyone – never easy, but motivated by love
    • Champoux stubbornness
  • Loved life in Lincolnville Center
    • trips to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
    • Camping, fishing, gardening
  • Listening to Jerry and his friends playing their Martin guitars
  • 1994, the Lord took Jerry home, and in a sense, ever since that day, Arlene has been waiting for the Lord to call her to join him and other loved ones in the presence of the Lord – which leads us to the final leg of her journey around the base paths.

The trip from third base to home – The latter years

  • In the years since Jerry went to be with the Lord, she has enjoyed watching the Spearin children and grandchildren and great grandchildren grow and prosper.
  • She tried to remain as active as possible in church affairs
    • helping in the office of the church in Morrill
    • helping to develop Camp Cornerstone here
  • She maintained contact through letters, e-mail, phone and personal visits with family and friends from all stages of her life.
  • As her health began to deteriorate, she tried to be gracious and to remain active, but it became increasingly difficulty.
  • She still loved games – “Hand and Foot”
  • While trusting the Lord’s timing, she was clearly waiting for the call into his presence.
  • In baseball, a third base coach stands near the runner at third and let’s that runner know when it is safe to make the final dash towards home plate.
    • Over the past days, she had a lot of coaches, lovingly waving her home
    • The visits and phone calls and cards affirming the love that we shared for her made it so much easier for her to hear her Savior’s voice when he opened up His loving arms and waved her home.

My Aunt Arlene – Arlene Joyce Champoux Spearin – has been welcomed Home

She was a saint – not because she was not perfect, but because she was forgiven, like the rest of us who endeavor to follow the Lord. She was not perfect, but she sure was special and memorable. We will miss her and may never see her like again.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Avatar at Fenway Park - The Saga of Daniel Nava

The scoreboard had his named listed as "Daniel Nava." I am convinced that there was an error, and that he actually is an avatar of the superhuman Navi' race who graced the screen in James Cameron's iconic film, "Avatar." To do what he did, and to have arrived at Fenway Park by the tortuous path that he trod, he must have tied into the mystical powers emanating from the ethereal and luminescent Tree of Souls.

By now you must have heard the story of the Grand Slam that he hit yesterday afternoon off of the first pitch that he ever saw in the major leagues. Such a feat had been accomplished only one other time in the long history of major league baseball.

I was there, so let me tell you a little bit about "the rest of the story."

I was sitting in my usual spot in Section 20, in the grandstands behind home plate. When Nava came to the plate, I said to those sitting around me, "I don't know much about this player, but I am pretty sure that this must be his first major league at bat." A few seconds later - Boom! - history had been made. The crowd stood as one and cheered for so long that Nava's new teammates forced him out of the dugout to take a rare rookie "curtain call." He sheepishly tipped his cap and returned to the safety of the dugout.

Not long after things had settled down, I noticed in the next section over - the section where most Red Sox players' family and friends sit - a security guard came to talk with and then to escort a couple. There was a buzz in that section of the crowd, so I figured that they must be some VIP's whom I did not recognize. A few minutes later, this couple returned to their seats. Later in the game, I noticed that Red Sox CEO, Larry Lucchino and Principal Owner, John Henry, had come into the grandstands and were visiting with this same couple. It did not occur to me until some time later that they had come to pay their respects to Mr. and Mrs. Nava.

A few days earlier, the rookie's parents had made the trip from their home in California to see their son play in Indianapolis for the Red Sox Triple-A club, the Pawtucket Red Sox. Just as they were preparing to fly home, Daniel got the word that he was needed to fill in at Fenway Park. His parents changed their plans, and after experiencing some flight delays, arrived at Logan Airport. The wait for their luggage dragged on, and they bolted from the airport without luggage, not wanting to miss the beginning of Daniel's first major league game.

This story is the stuff of legends and movies in the ilk of "Rudy."

What a thrill to be there to watch it unfold - on the field and in the stands.

Daniel Nava - "I see you"!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mini-Review of "Get A Life, Not a Job" by Dr. Paula Caligiuri

Dr. Paula Caligiuri has changed the game when it comes to books about career with her volume entitled: "Get A Life, Not a Job (94,365 Hours of Your Life Are Spent Working . . .Do What You Love and Let Your Talents Work for you)".

I must thank my friend, Jeff Caliguire, for making me aware of this book. He has quoted Dr. Caligiuri several times in his on-line newsletter, "Jeff Caliguire Online"

Jeff Caliguire Online

In this book, the author begins with a premise first posited 2,500 years ago by Confucius: "Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." She translated that timeless truth into the realities of the workplace in America in the 21st century. She is an evangelistic for the principle of taking ownership of one's "Career Acts." She summarizes this new reality in the second page of this book: "As almost everyone who is currently working knows, this 'career plan' or psychological contract with employers is obsolete and largely a fool's mission for those who still expect it with most firms in today's employment reality. . . . Employers have no long-term commitment to their employees and employees have no long-term commitment to their employers." (Page 2)

Using mini-case studies of women and men who have taken ownership of their own "career acts," Dr. Caligiuri offers a series of simple self-assessment tools to lead the reader through an unblinking evaluation of his own career path and plan.

I have already started giving out copies of this book to individuals who are asking well-informed and appropriate questions about their own careers.

This book is a great tool. Use it to help you to "Get a Life - Not a Job"!



Sunday, June 06, 2010

Renfield Record Exchange - My Son Scott Opens a Store in Jerome, Arizona and in Cyberspace

I am pleased to share the good news that my son, Scott, has realized a life-long dream of opening a record store. He and his girlfriend, Lacey Ritter, have just opened Renfield Record Exchange in the quaint mountain town of Jerome, Arizona. Jerome was once a bustling copper mining town, became a virtual ghost town, and is now experiencing a bit a resurgence as it attracts artists, artisans, vintners and others looking for a slower pace of life than can be found in more urban settings. I fell in love with Jerome when Scott and Lacey took me there a few months ago. The panoramic view toward the northeast - looking at the area around Sedona - is spectacularly beautiful.

The local newspaper, the Verde Independent, just ran a piece about the opening of the store.

Verde Independent Article

The article mentions Scott's encyclopedic knowledge about music. I can attest to that fact. He has been collecting CD's and vinyl albums and memorabilia since he was a kid, and he has studied assiduously the background of each musician and group represented in his collection. If you are looking for help in tracking down a lost album or favorite song from long ago or a recent release by an obscure band, chances are that Scott will be able to help you.

In addition to their "brick and mortar" store at 403 Clark Street in Jerome, Scott and Lacy also offer an on-line store through Amazon.

Renfield Record Exchange Website

Amazon On-Line Store for Renfield Record Exchange

Enjoy browsing - in Jerome or virtually - to find a special item for yourself, a friend or a loved one.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Review of "The Lakeshore Limited" by Sue Miller - Exploring Post-9/11 Grieving

I love discovering a writer whose work is new to me. Boston-based best selling author, Sue Miller, just came onto my radar screen with her latest novel, "The Lake Shore Limited." I was aware of several of her previous works - "The Senator's Wife" and "The Good Mother" - but had not yet read them.

In this work, "The Lake Shore Limited," Miller wades into the realm of post-9/11 grieving complications. A central theme is the question: "How does one properly grieve the loss of someone with whom the relationship was falling apart when death intervened? What are the rules that govern such a situation?" In a broader context, Miller seems to be asking the questions: "What does it mean for the four main characters in this novel - and all of humanity, by extension - to play by the rules or to choose to break the rules? What are the consequences of those choices to obey or to flaunt or to make up new rules?"

Let me offer three brief excerpts that will show how Miller and her characters explicate the issue of rules. In this first example, Gus - who dies on one of the planes ouot of Boston that was flown into the Twin Towers - brings his girlfriend, Billy, to meet for the first time his big sister, Leslie.

"They heard rushing footsteps above them, and then Leslie came down the narrow staircase, emerging into their view feet first on the steep ladderlike stairs. Billy was startled as she descended by how different Leslie was from Gus - soft, almost plump, where he was bluff, dark where he was blond. And there was something grave, something serious, about her, which you couldn't have said of Gus, though when she turned from embracing him to hold out her hand to Billy, her face opened in a smile of dazzling warmth. 'Billy,' she said. 'I think I would have known you anywhere.' Her hand itself was warm, her grip firm. Billy liked her immediately, just as Gus had promised she would.

They sat in the side yard, and Leslie brought out a tray with a pitcher and served them lemonade. Just as she finished pouring their glasses, one of the children across the road called loudly to another, 'That's not the rules.' And the other answered, 'Yeah, well, the rules stink.'

'So true,' Billy said, and Leslie laughed." (pages 126-7)

Ah, yes. There you have it.

Sam, an architect who forms quasi-romantic and tortured friendship relationships with both Leslie and with Billy, is described by the narrator as musing on his early life - his family, his first marriage and his college days.

"The problem was that even then Sam didn't feel he'd escaped them sufficiently - their world, their way of seeing things, their rules. It seemed to him he was still faking it, four years after leaving home.

The rules of the college world had seemed like those of another country when he first got there, so different were they from the rules at home. Even the clothes he had brought with him were wrong. Sam sold them at the local used-clothing store within a few weeks of arriving on campus, and with the money from that and some of what he's earned working at the grain cooperative over the long, hot high school summers, he bought several versions of the uniform the prep school boys wore - Levi's, not slacks; blue work shirts or Brooks Brothers button-downs; striped rep ties; two tweed jackets. This made him more comfortable in his body, but he was still so unsure of himself socially that he sometimes waited to hear other people's opinions before he announced his own." (Pages 198-9)

What uniforms of apparel and speech do we choose to clothe ourselves in to cover our nakedness and insecurities?

Finally, Sam, in conversation with his second wife, Claire - to whom he remained married only a short time - struggles with his rebellous teenage son from his first marriage.

"'You've got to do something about him,' Claire told Sam over and over as Jack turned fifteen, and then sixteen. What what could Sam do if Jack simply wouldn't follow the rules, wouldn't accept punishment, wouldn't change, wouldn't see anything wrong with the life he was leading?" (Page 223)

Miller explores these questions of rules within a structure that has each of the four major characters explain the world and the action of the novel from their individual perspectives. These characters are: Leslie, Gus's sister and the wife of a pediatric oncologist; Billy, Gus's girlfriend and a playwright; Sam, the architect; and Rafe, an actor in Billy's play and a man whose wife is dying of ALS. Since Sam is an architect, I will use an architectural metaphor to explain my reaction to the novel's strucutre. It is as though each of the characters and the narrator are sketching out for the reader "elevation drawings" that show the view of the world and the "house each character inhabits" from where they stand at that moment in time.

The writing is elegant, and the descriptions of Boston and Vermont are told in the voice of someone who loves and celebrates the uniqueness of both worlds - urban and rustic.

I look forward to reading more Miller.



Thursday, June 03, 2010

World Premiere of "Johnny Baseball" - The A.R.T. Team Pitches a Perfect Game!

In a wonderful case of art imitating life, the doubleheader dramas of two perfect games played themselves out last evening in two venerable American cities. In Detroit, an imperfect call spoiled a perfect baseball game being pitched by the Tigers' young hurler, Armando Galarraga. With two outs in the 9th inning, first base umpire, Jim Joyce, erroneously signaled safe as Indians' hitter Jason Donald touched the first base bag a split second after Galarraga had tagged the sack with his foot. In a perfect world, the umpire would have gotten the call right and Galarraga would have completed the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. A Greek tragedy, to be sure.

Meanwhile, 700 miles to the east, a perfect game was being tossed by the team that created and presented the new musical "Johnny Baseball" - a play that deals with some of the darkest and most imperfect chapters of baseball history. I wrote earlier about a preview performance that I had seen on May 22.

Prior Blog Piece about the Preview Performance

Last evening was the official Press Opening night, and I was pleased to be able to attend and to see the differences in the two performances. I had really enjoyed the preview performance. In a sense, it was like being invited into an artist's studio to watch the painter add the last few brush strokes to a canvas that would eventually be proclaimed a masterpiece. Last night, the masterpiece was complete, framed, signed by the artists, hung in the most appropriate gallery, and perfectly lighted to show off all of the masterpiece's chiaroscuro nuances and subtleties. And the results were perfetto! The crowd that gathered for the unveiling of this freshly-minted work of art had a buzz and electricity that rivaled that which one feels in the stands at Fenway just before the first pitch of a Red Sox-Yankees game.

The creative team that conceived of this project and midwifed it through its long gestational period have clearly treated this show as a labor of love. What comes across and sparkles like diamonds is the artists' love for the theater, for baseball, for the Red Sox, for justice and for the miracle that occurs when a perfectly told tale reaches out and grabs the hearts of the audience. That miracle occurred last night in my heart, and if the telltale streaks of tears running down the cheeks of the men and women sitting around me are a reliable barometer, I was not alone in experiencing a transcendent evening.

Richard Dresser and Willie Reale wrote the story, with Willie also supplying the lyrics to the songs; Willie's brother, Robert Reale, wrote the music. Diane Paulus, Artistic Director for the American Repertory Theater, directed this production. The result of the blending together of these singular talents is a collaboration as smooth as the legendary double-play combination of Tinkers-to Evers-to Chance. This team was backed up brilliantly with a set designed by Scott Pask that helped to transport the audience alternately to the fabled Green Monster at Fenway Park and to a North End bordello where patrons were encouraged to pay out their money to "fall in love for an hour." Lighting effects by Donald Holder made me think of the film, "The Natural." The baseball sounds and crowd noises, designed by Acme Sound Partners, added to the air of verisimilitude that permeated the performance space. Period costumes by Michael McDonald evoked just the right sense of nostalgia.

Let me talk about the cast - the starting line-up for this championship team. In my previous piece, I highlighted three of the principals:

"Burke Moses looks just like a young Babe Ruth, and when he runs around the bases, he channels the Babe's mincing steps with uncanny precision. Colin Donnell, as Johnny 'Baseball' O'Brien, is an Irish Tenor who could have walked right out of central casting or off the sands of the L Street Beach in South Boston. Stephanie Umoh as Daisy Wyatt is a delight - iridescent in beauty and incandescent in talent."

Let me also mention the fine work turned in by Charl Brown as the young Negro League pitcher, Tim Wyatt. Charles Turner as "Fan #9" (to say more about his character's identity would be to give away a wonderful plot twist) was paired throughout the show with Robby, played by Newburyport's own Erik March as a young and remarkably knowledgeable and prescient young Red Sox fan. This unlikely pair - Black and White, winter and springtime, innocent and jaded, hopeful and resigned - provide the narrative backbone for the telling of this story. The scenes unfold as Fan #9 tells Robby the real story of the curse that has prevented the Red Sox from winning a World Series for 86 years.

This play is at its core an ensemble piece, with fans in the stands functioning as a Greek Chorus with the most pitch-perfect Boston accents ever to grace a stage. Usually, an ensemble is lumped together when accolades are being given. If you will indulge me, I would like to single out each of them, beginning with the Casting Director, Stephen Kopel. Seldom do I feel that a cast is "perfect," but in the case of "Johnny Baseball," the removal of any one of these ensemble characters would leave the show bereft of a key ingredient. In addition to their roles as fans in the stands, each ensemble member portrays multiple characters with wonderful versatility and agility.

Jeff Brooks - Throughout the show, this obsessive-compulsive Red Sox fanatic bargains with God: "If only You let us score one more run, I will go back on my diet."

Joe Cassidy - A Mike O'Malley look-alike, Fan #4 has had Red Sox season tickets for years. Having lost his money and his marriage to his gambling addiction at the race track, the divorce settlement forced him to give one of his seats to his ex-wife. The bad chemistry between the two of them is both hilarious and poignant.

Paula Leggett Chase (no relation that I know of to The White Rhino) - Fan #8 sings a memorable and brilliant song, "Not Rivera," about her guilty pleasure as a Red Sox fan of being in love with Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera.

Kaitlyn Davidson - As Fan #6, she conducts a running feud with her mother. As Babe Ruth's nurse in the hospital in 1948, fending off his amorous advances, she is the foil for one of the show's most memorable lines. The Babe, emaciated from cancer and suffering from pneumonia, tells Daisy Wyatt, "It's not easy to coax a dame into a death bed."

Carly Jibson
- As Fan #5, she is the bitter ex-wife who taunts her ex seemingly with every pitch being thrown from the mound at Fenway. As a breathlessly out-of-shape Worcester Booster cheerleader, she is hilarious, finally collapsing into the audience. In last night's performance, she ended up at the feet of some special guests - legendary Red Sox left hander, Bill Lee, and his wife, Diana. To say that Bill and Diana loved the show would be an understatement, but I digress!

Robert McClure - Despite the actor's New Jersey roots, he plays a wonderful Red Sox Fan #3, simultaneously embracing his desire that "The Curse" be broken, and holding at bay his matrimonially-minded girlfriend of seven years who pleads for "hardware on her hand."

Kirsten Wyatt - Fan #7 wants nothing more than for "The Curse" to be broken so that her commitment-averse boyfriend will finally "take a knee" and pop the question.

Alan H. Green - Among other characters, Green portrays Willie Mays. His duet with Tim Wyatt, "See You in the Big Leagues," is one of the show's highlights.

Each ensemble member brings his own individual quirkiness or her own charming foibles. Together, they are pure magic. Perfect in every way.

The Reale brothers have outdone themselves with the music and lyrics. There are some singable and memorable melodies. There are no "throw away" songs. The combination of solos, duets and ensemble singing is offered in an ideal blend. Each musical number advances the narrative in a significant way, which speaks to great writing and great direction. Some of the lyrics are brilliant. The songs that still play in my head hours after the curtain fell include "Eighty-Six Years," "All I Have to Do," "Daisy Darling Why," Color Me Blue" and "Daisy's Letter." The musical numbers that really moved me and gripped my heart like a pitcher grasps a four-seam fastball are "Circle in a Diamond," "Errors" and the finale, "The Game of Baseball," a paean to America's game.

Have I convinced you that I loved the show? My fellow audience members were clearly transformed into fans, roaring their approval and jumping to their feet the moment the curtain calls began.

See this show, which will run through June in Cambridge at the A.R.T.'s Loeb Theater.

"God bless the Boston Red Sox!"

God bless "Johnny Baseball"