Monday, February 18, 2013

Transported to County Kerry - Review of "Stones in His Pockets" at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston

I spent a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon in County Kerry in the Republic of Ireland.  If you had checked the GPS on my iPhone, it would have pegged my geospatial location as Clarendon Street in Boston's Back Bay, inside the performance space of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  But, metaphysically, the actors on stage had transported me and the rest of the audience to The Old Sod.

The Lyric has a reputation - not only as Boston's oldest professional theatre company - but as a place where the audience can always expect to see a show of the highest quality.  The long run of successes continues with the current production of "Stones In His Pockets."  Written by Marie Jones, the play is a "madcap story of a rural Irish village turned upside down" by the arrival of a film crew, come to shoot another Hollywood version of a bucolic and stereotypical Irish tale.  The play first appeared in London where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and also garnered several Tony nominations when it moved to Broadway.

The conceit of the play is to ask the question: "What would happen if the tables were turned, and the movie were made allowing the 'extras' - the regular people - to tell the story, with the Hollywood stars and directors being turned into bit characters?"  Two young Irishmen bring this conceit to life and to light as the two acts develop.  Jake Quinn is a local from County Kerry, and Charlie Conlon is an interloper who has come down from Belfast in Ulster and has appeared in town to earn the 40 Quid a day that an extra is paid in this film. Phil Tayler plays Jake - and a host of other characters.  Daniel Berger-Jones plays Charlie - and all of the remaining characters.

These two actors deserve their own paragraph here.  Marie Jones chose to write the play so that all of the 17 characters are played by only two actors.  The transformations from one character to another are suggested by lightning-fast changes in costumes (a hat or scarf), dialect, facial features and physical manifestations.  The effect is at first bewildering and then stunning.  In the hands of a less capable Director than Courtney O'Connor or less gifted actors than Tayler and Berger-Jones, the play could be a confusing jumble.  This was not the case yesterday when they performed the play for area critics and an appreciative audience.  Much credit must be given, as well, to dialect coach, Nina Zendejas, who helped to lead the actors through labyrinthine permutations of regional dialects.  To their credit, the actors not only mastered individual voices for the distinct characters, they also created unique facial expressions and postures so that the audience could recognize which character was about to speak even before the actors opened their mouths to utter their lines.  The performances were flawless and memorable.

The title of the play refers to an incident that takes places involving one of the play's "minor characters."  That incident serves to frame the gulf that exists between the Irish townsfolk and the outsiders who have come into town to make a film that will tell a false story.

On Sunday afternoon, audience members were invited to stay for a Post-show Talkback.  It was instructive to hear from a man and woman in the audience who had each grown up in County Kerry.  I recall the woman saying, in essence, "I left Ireland for a better life in America, much like the characters in the play dream about doing someday.  Your play was so well told that it brought me back to my days in County Kerry.  The story is authentic and deeply moving."

Another audience member, who identified himself as "Sven," made the comment that he would have wished to have had an advance description of each of the minor characters, because he spent Act I somewhat confused.  While I can understand his sentiment, I found myself disagreeing fundamentally with him.  As an audience member, I had to do some work and involve myself beyond the level of merely being entertained in order to grasp the shifting characters and identities.  In the end, being forced to do that "work," increased my ability to empathize with the plight of the protagonists who were working hard to survive in two worlds - the hardscrabble Ireland of the play and the dream world of the film that was employing them for a season to play two-dimensional caricatures of themselves.  The end result was that Tayler and Berger-Jones created for us, from the raw material of Jones' script, truly three-dimensional human beings who reached out to ignite a spark of hope in one another and a spark of understanding among the members of the audience.

The play will run at the Lyric through March 16.

Lyric Stage Website - Stones In His Pocket



Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Future of Digital Medicine - Dr. Eric Topol on NBC News

My friend, Tom Glass, recently made me aware of the breakthrough work being done by Dr. Eric Topol and his team at Scripps Institute in LaJolla, California.  I invite you to watch this 8 minute clip from NBC Nightly News that shows Dr. Topol interacting with a cardiac patient of his using iPhone technology that could be the wave of the future for digital medicine.

Fascinating! Dr. Eric Topol

Thank you, Tom.


Military Brain Drain -- The Pentagon's Top Brass is Driving Away All The Smart People - A Stunning Wake-up Call from a Retired Commander

A good friend of mine, who is active in the military and in the intelligence community, made me aware of this stunning article published this week in Foreign Policy - National Security magazine.  Written by retired Lt. General David Barno, the article is a scathing indictment against our senior military brass and their cavalier attitude towards losing the top young talent as the numbers of active duty soldiers, sailors airmen and Marines shrink due to budget constraints.

The points that Barno makes in this piece are completely consistent with my observations covering almost fifteen years of working closely with transitioning military officers.  I am torn.  As an executive recruiter, I am delighted that I am in a position to make available to my client companies the best and the brightest that our military has trained.  As a citizen and a tax payer, I am concerned that we are driving away from our armed forces the men and women who have the broadest understanding of a complex and rapidly evolving geopolitical jigsaw puzzle.

Military Brain Drain -- The Pentagon's top brass is driving away all the smart people

In his recent book “Bleeding Talent,” Tim Kane joins a growing chorus of serving and former junior officers to deliver a wake-up call to today's military leadership in the face of a major drawdown. Their message: If you ignore the expectations of today's young, combat-experienced leaders as you shrink the force, your most talented officers and sergeants will exit, stage left.

The military bureaucracy's response? "Good Riddance."

During any military drawdown, equipment, training, force structure, and end-strength will inevitably be sacrificed. But the "crown jewel" that must be preserved in order to be able to fight and win in the years ahead is human capital. Recruiting and retaining highly talented people remains the best guarantor of success in future conflicts. No distant campaign against a wily and unpredictable enemy in the 21st century will be won without innovative and creative military leadership. And that leadership is most at risk in the coming thinning of the military's rolls. And the officer corps most of all.

A colleague told me of a recent meeting with a roomful of senior generals in which he outlined the looming "talent drain," highlighting the prospect that the most exceptional officers will flee the force in droves over the next five years. Their response echoed the one I hear all too often from both active and retired generals: "If they want to leave the team, we'd be better off without them."


In no business enterprise would the large-scale loss of an organization's top performers be greeted with such indifference. In fact, given the likely impact of such losses on any firm's bottom line, corporate chieftains would likely soon be looking for new jobs themselves if they dismissed their responsibility for managing their best talent. In today's competitive and uncertain environment, any company that loses its top talent will go out of business.

But in the military, not so much.

With more people than it needs as budgets shrink, and no management redlines to alert service leaders to the loss of their best young leadership, the military simply assumes there will always be more than enough talent to go around. Managing decreasing numbers becomes more important than fighting to retain the best manpower. And a "so what" attitude among senior military leaders toward the loss of highly skilled talent is seen as acceptable, a bravado that is often encouraged by those who "stayed on the team" through previous drawdown’s. After all, many of today's generals think, "As junior officers, we stayed while others left, and we've made out just fine." Plenty of talent will stay, as it always has. Why worry?

There can be no more deadly, pernicious outlook from current or former senior leaders. It conveys a fundamentally flawed message to the military's young leaders that individuals don't count, that talent doesn't matter, and that even in the hyper-competitive world of the 21st century, in the U.S. military, "parts is parts." This outlook has the potential for deadly consequences as end-strength plunges.

Secretary Bob Gates challenged the Army in a February 2011 speech at West Point to change in order to retain and empower the kinds of leaders it will need for the 21st century. Gates observed: "[The] greatest challenge facing your Army and my main worry [is]: How can the Army break up the institutional concrete, its bureaucratic rigidity in its assignments and promotion processes, in order to retain, challenge, and inspire its best, brightest, and most battle-tested young officers to lead the service in the future?" Cadets cheered, junior officers were encouraged, and the bureaucracy changed not at all.

Two years later, the worry described by Gates remains -- while the primary response from the military services has most often been silence and a denial of the problem. As I've noted before, and as Gates pointed out in his West Point speech, the Army (and military writ large) is competing for talent with Google -- not a 1950s widget factory. And it is going to start losing, dramatically.

It does not have to be so. There is no reason not to listen and respond to the concerns of younger officers -- while also fully meeting the needs of the service. But you can't do it with a World War II mindset, an insular outlook, or an Industrial Age personnel system -- all of which are markedly in evidence today. And in the coming years, throwing money at the problem is not likely to be as easy as in the past.

So what must the senior military leadership -- the service secretaries and four-star generals -- do?

First, know your talent inventory. Make sure you can identify your performers -- the top 1, 5, and 25 percent, and subsequent percentages below. Measure your attrition against each category, and hold your personnel managers accountable for keeping as many of those in the top tiers as possible and disproportionately shedding poor performers. If the reverse happens -- if the best leave and the worst stay -- you have failed.

Know your intellectual capital, which may not always correlate with your "top performers." Know what percentages of your officers score in the top mental categories at each rank to monitor potential loss of intellectual capital. Look for non-standard undergraduate degrees and unusual life experiences and find a way to weight those factors.

Know your outliers. Exceptionally gifted individuals often struggle in their one-size-fits-all initial assignments, and their early ratings may reflect poor performance rather than growing pains. The best platoon leader in a brigade may not grow up to be the best four-star strategic leader. Collect every leader's SATs and GREs and analyze against who fits where on the performance curve, and fight to avoid wholesale losses of your future intellectual capital. Balance current performance against intellectual potential as you shape the force.

Empower your personnel managers -- and hold them accountable -- to create the coming smaller force with the performance and intellectual specifications you want. Don't let the end result of who stays in fall to happenstance or whim, and don't accept marginal outcomes because it's simply too hard to individually manage top performers and sharp thinkers. Demand that managers incentivize the best to stay, and rigorously examine quality leaders who depart so you can correct the system. Don't settle for mediocrity and call it success.

Get your field commanders into this fight. Require them to take on the mission of keeping the best on board. The best will already be doing this. Give them access to strong retention incentives -- graduate schooling, assignment overrides, broadening opportunities -- that can be decentralized to those on the cutting edge who know talent the best. Insist commanders at all levels in the field make this a top priority.

Finally, find a way to give today's officers more of a voice in their assignments and in their lives. If there is one key generational difference between today's young officers and those of my generation (and there are many), expecting a voice in their future is the one that most stands out -- for the officer, for his or her spouse with a separate career, and for their family. One answer may be the creation of "yellow pages" to apply for assignments as Tim Kane suggests. Officers and their families want choices, not simply orders. Another is simply more humane one-on-one dialogue between human resources directors and individual officers. During a rapid drawdown, the human resources impetus is to "dump" officers, and no one is held accountable for the ensuing quality drain as many of the best exit. That meat-ax approach to management has to end if the military is to retain critical talent in this drawdown as a hedge against a very dangerous world.

It's time to listen to Kane and Gates -- they have it mostly right. Senior service leaders must take a harder look at themselves in the mirror when defending a 60-year old personnel system. It is 2013, not the Mad Men era of 1963. And sustaining the military preeminence of the United States starts with a uniquely American ideal -- cultivating the best and brightest, so they can lead the force into a dangerous future. It should be the first priority of today's senior military leaders, not their last.

Lt. Gen. David Barno (ret.) was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from
2003 to 2005 and is a Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
General Barno, ( a highly decorated military officer with over 30 years of service, has served in a variety of command and staff positions in the United States and around the world, to include command at every level. He served many of his early years in special operations forces with Army Ranger battalions, to include combat in both the Grenada and Panama invasions. In 2003, he was selected to establish a new three-star operational headquarters in Afghanistan and take command of the 20,000 U.S. and Coalition Forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. For 19 months in this position, he was responsible for the overall military leadership of this complex political-military mission, devising a highly innovative counterinsurgency strategy in close partnership with the U.S. embassy and coalition allies. His responsibilities included regional military efforts with neighboring nations and involved close coordination with the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations, NATO International Security Assistance Force, the U.S. Department of State and USAID, and the senior military leaders of many surrounding nations and numerous allies.

From 2006-2010, General Barno served as the Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. Concurrently, he was the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans and Families from 2007-2009. He frequently serves as an expert consultant on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare, professional military education and the changing character of conflict, supporting a wide-range of government and other organizations. General Barno is widely published and has testified before Congress numerous times. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

A 1976 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, General Barno also earned his master’s degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and the U.S. Army War College. General Barno has received numerous awards for his military and public service.

Here is a link to the entire on-line article: Article : Military Brain Drain

I would love to see and hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Professor Kate McKeown Shares Her Thoughts in Response to The Man/Woman In The Mirror

When Professor Kate McKeown read the recent Blog post entitled "The Man or The Woman in The Mirror," she wrote me with the following comments.  They are worthy of being shared broadly with the readership of The White Rhino Report.

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Al, on Lincoln's birthday, after reading your blog, I find myself watching "The Kennedy Detail" over and over.  I recorded it on February 11 on The Military Channel.  Those Secret Service agents who guarded President and Mrs. Kennedy in Dallas were each alone with their grief and their guilt for almost 50 years.

I learned much about those days and events in Dallas, and what these young men went through.  Agent Clint Hill describes arriving at Parkland Hospital, "Now Mrs. Kennedy had the president in her lap, and she wouldn't release him.  I asked her to, 'Please, Mrs. Kennedy, let us take care of the President.'   I realized that she was not going to let go, and I realized the reason she was not going to let go.  She didn't want anybody else to see what condition he was in, and and so I removed my coat and put it over the President's head and his upper chest, and she let go of the President."

At the end of the documentary, Clint Hill, who suffered through depression and alcohol addiction says, "The individuals who were assigned to presidential protection...they worked hard...they did the best job they could.  They were not in it for the money, nor were they in it for the politics or the glory, because there really isn't any...I wish that I had kept in touch with all the agents during that period of time, but I had not.  I had cut myself off....if I had kept in contact with the other agents, they would have gotten me through that period of time because that's the kind of people they were.  They held your back up, they made you strong, they kept you going."

Agent Win Larsen, the first agent to get to Parkland Hospital, saw his president's brain matter and blood flowing onto the gurney he'd procured.  Now in a wheelchair, Win Larsen says, "I had a rough time, a very rough time.  I believe that now, maybe, if something like that happened again, god forbid, there would be probably be a quite a bit of psychiatric help...I probably should have had some.  I didn't.  I didn't do it on my own either."

Agent Jerry Blaine breaks into tears as he talks about how he played handball regularly with a psychiatrist friend from the CIA, "You can just beat your frustrations out like crazy against that little rubber ball....but he helped me a lot, you know, to pull through, to pull through those days."

Jerry Blaine talked of Abraham Lincoln, too.  He says of the White House, "Late on midnights you look down this hall...and you can almost visualize Lincoln walking with his stooped shoulders down the hall...."

All those who serve our country carry the weight of it on their shoulders.  No one  should have to carry it alone.

We all need peer support.  Schools squash it by setting everyone against everyone else in the pursuit of a better grade.  Entrepreneurs in all fields succeed by Hustling with Honor, Helping and being Helped.  Agent Blaine sat in on a couple interrogations with Oswald.  He says, "He was an arrogant little nothing that wanted to be something."  Everybody wants to be something.  School declares 50% of students "below average."  Half of our kids are automatic losers...who can only hope to be something despite "education" as we practice it now..  Oswald is not the only human who found a very counterproductive way to try to not be nothing.

Agent Ron Pontius says, "We had Eisenhower, and he was a general and we were the troops...but here's Kennedy, and he knows everybody's name...."  Agent David Grant, who moved on to the Johnson detail says, " I lost in President Kennedy really a wonderful human being and a guy who knew my name."

Link to the TV documentary: Documentary

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Thank you  to Kate for sharing her thoughts.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Some Thoughtful Insights Into the Abdication of Pope Benedict from Andreas Widmer, Former Body Guard to Pope John Paul II

When the news broke of the Pope's unexpected resignation, I had two immediate thoughts: "What does this mean for the future of the church?  What are my Catholic friends thinking and feeling?"  So, I sent an e-mail to some of my close friends who are active Catholic lay leaders, to offer my support, promise of prayer, and to inquire about their thoughts. My friend, Andreas Widmer, who as a member of the Swiss Guard served as a personal body guard to Pope John Paul II, responded by sending a link to a Huffington Post article he had just composed.  Andreas has thought deeply about the papacy over several decades.  He penned a book entitled "The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard."

I am  pleased to share with you what Andreas has written, and to provide a link to the original article.

What's Missing From the Conversation on Benedict's Resignation

by Andreas Widmer

"The Vatican moves very slowly -- they measure time in centuries, not years. Thus the news from Pope Benedict of his impending resignation during the last stretch of his seventh year as pope struck the public like lightning.
"Shocking! Unbelievable!" was the sentiment that came to mind when I (and I presume you) first learned of Pope Benedict's abdication.
This reaction is a natural initial response -- but there's a lot more to the story. The mainstream discussion about Benedict's decision is a regrettable oversimplification. We don't do justice to this important announcement declaring the pontificate a failure and proceeding to a guessing game of "who's the next pope."
Before we move on, we need to stop and reflect on what just happened -- not just in the past seven years, but the last 70 years. Upon closer examination of the facts, observers will see that this was a strategic decision, and not one done in a moment of weakness or despair.
Every papacy has a "theme" or an "aim." John Paul II's pontificate was focused on realigning the implementation of Vatican II and combating communism and materialism. By contrast Benedict's aim, I believe, was to bring the Church to the doorsteps of what Catholic theologian and thought leader George Weigel calls the next chapter in Church history: Evangelical Catholicism. In order to achieve this goal, Benedict needed to finish the implementation of Vatican II and set the stage for this new chapter in Church life.
Benedict and John Paul II represent two equally valid examples of executing the Petrine ministry, two different but effective approaches to leadership. In very general terms, John Paul was a philosopher who explained the Faith as an answer to the philosophical challenges from Ockham, Descartes, Kant, and Marx. Benedict XVI is the theologian who explains the Faith in very clear and liner terms, encouraging us to read the Bible again as God's ongoing Divine revelation rather than as a historical novel or ancient myth. As popes, they both lead the Church faithfully and effectively. John Paul in a sense started the project that Benedict would bring to completion.
Finishing the implementation of Vatican II was straightforward for Pope Benedict. In continuation of that effort, Benedict renewed the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations; clarified teachings around faith and reason, sincerely reached out to those who did not agree with Vatican II, and clarified inter religious and interdenominational dialogues.
Through careful decisions, Benedict offered the Church a "lifeline" to the past as it ventures onward into the 21st century. This is true not only in terms of Catholic thought, but also in the very physical expressions of our Faith, a distinctly Catholic issue.
A person close to him once told me that the pope purposefully uses all kinds of "props" that have fallen out of fashion since Vatican II. He did so specifically in order to give the next generation a chance to use these items in the future if they wanted to. Any items used by the pope in the beginning of the century would in a sense be legitimized for use by a pontiff in the next 100 years. Not doing so would surely seal them in for good in the history books. So the staff in the Vatican went to look for ideas in the proverbial "attic" to make sure that the rich history of Catholic liturgical customs would survive into the 21st century.
Setting the stage for the age of the New Evangelization was a bit more difficult. What Benedict did is focus on the basics. His first three encyclicals examined the three cardinal virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. His first three books focused on the center of the Catholic Faith: Jesus Christ. Like a steady drumbeat, he lectured every Wednesday on issues like the catechesis, the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, the Psalms and prayer. Late last year, he held a synod (or a major Catholic meeting) on the New Evangelization and in his opening speech declared "The Church exists to evangelize!"
With that job done, and looking into the future, Benedict XVI apparently felt that the leader of this effort should bring youth and vitality to the job. A leader that could travel the world, meet people and stay on the job for a while to steer the ship with some constancy.
I think he then decided that he could not offer that to the Church himself or that he wasn't in fact the ideal person for the job. And as a truly benevolent shepherd, he decided to make way for the right person to be found to be the successor of Peter, during the beginning stages of this new chapter for the Church.
The timing he chose is greatly important. If he had waited until pundits, even only a few, would call for his abdication it would be too late. Then the political undertones would diminish and pollute the sincerity and selflessness of the decision. The way he decided to do it allowed Benedict to be ahead of the speculators and politicians among us. Dare I say he outsmarted them?
Leaders take note: Pope Benedict XVI provides a rare but profound example of humility in action. True leaders put their cause before their power and self-interest. Far from a failure or weakness, this may be the most shining moment of Benedict's papacy, and what will turn out to be a historically brilliant move."

Huffington Post - Andreas Widmer: What's Missing From The Conversation on Benedict's Resignation

I continue to prayer for my Catholic brothers and sisters and for the future of the Church.


Monday, February 11, 2013

LinkedIn Reaches 200 Million Members - My Small Role in That Horde

Al, congratulations!
You have one of the top 1% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.
LinkedIn now has 200 million members. Thanks for
playing a unique part in our community!

My day began with a pleasant surprise as I scanned through the e-mails that had come in overnight.  The message I have attached above greeted me.  I had no idea that LinkedIn had been so effective in making the world aware of The White Rhino.
The full text of their e-mail continued . . .
Recently, LinkedIn reached a new milestone: 200 million members. But this isn't just our achievement to celebrate — it's also yours.
I want to personally thank you for being part of our community. Your journey is part of our journey, and we're delighted and humbled when we hear stories of how our members are using LinkedIn to connect, learn, and find opportunity.
All of us come to work each day focused on our shared mission of connecting the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful. We're excited to show you what's next.
With sincere thanks,
Deep Nishar, 
Senior Vice President, Products & User Experience

I use LinkedIn in a variety of ways. I see it as a great tool that continues to evolve in may positive directions.  You may want to take time right now to spruce up your LinkedIn Profile so you can use it to maximize advantage.
If you could use some professional advice in knowing how to optimize LinkedIn, I commend to you this book by my friend, Dave Gowel, "The Power in a Link - Open Doors, Close Deals and Change the Way You Do Business Using LinkedIn."

LinkedIn.Reaches 200million Members

The Man or Woman in the Mirror - Managing the Emotional Challenges of Transition

I am writing this brief Blog post in fulfillment of a Commission.  Allow me to explain.  I just got off the phone with my good friend, Professor Kate McKeown - known to many as The Vulcan Professor!  We were talking about the "Rumsfeld Quadrant of Knowledge."  

On February 12, 2002, the Secretary of Defense made the following  statement as part of a press briefing regarding the War on Terror:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Kate and I were discussing the "unknown unknowns" with regard to a project that we are working on together.  So, I shared with her part of a conversation that I had just concluded with a young woman who is transitioning from serving as an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Army.  Here is the gist of what I shared:

"We have talked about many aspects of your transition, but there is one more item that I would like to put on the table for us to discuss today and in future conversations.  I find that in dealing with women and men who are transitioning from the military - even those who are retiring as Flag Officers- Generals and Admirals - that this is often the most neglected and most important transitional dynamic to be aware of and to control.  I am talking about the emotional and psychological challenges that one faces in transitioning from a role of military leadership to the private sector, service sector or graduate school.

Think about this.  For the past several years, you have lived and worked in an environment in which external structure was present everywhere you turned.  You had a clear and identifiable mission, and would often receive immediate feedback on how well you had performed in carrying out your assignment in fulfilling that mission.  At the end of the day, you could check off any number of boxes of concrete things that you had accomplished.  You knew your place in the scheme of things and you knew your purpose, as well as having a pretty clear picture of your performance.

  And then one day you begin Terminal Leave, and it all changes.  Gone are the structures, the mission, the After Action Reports, the sense of your place in the world, a sense of security and accomplishment.  You face a new world, one that often has a hard time understanding who you are and what it is you did when you were serving in the military.  You send off resumes, and are met with overwhelming silence or with insensitive questions like: 'Have you ever held a real job?'  You apply to graduate programs and wait months to know if you have made the grade and will be accepted to matriculate in the fall.  And it begins to take its toll in subtle ways.

You wake up in the morning and look in the mirror (shaving mirror or make-up mirror), and look at the face of a stranger staring back at you with that 1,000-yard stare.  You begin to wonder, 'Are my best days behind me?  Have I peaked too early?  Is there a place for me now?  I used to command men and women who saluted me when we met, and no I have a hard time getting phone calls and e-mails returned.'  

Managing the reality of those dark hours is as important as sprucing up your resume or updating your LinkedIn Profile.  What I have learned in listening to other women and men who have gone through a similar transition is that you need to admit that those dark moments exist.  Acknowledge them - to yourself and to a small cadre of trusted advisers - and then mount a frontal assault against them.  Create your own structure - a workout schedule, specific times for sending out resumes, writing a Blog, reading from a strategically chosen reading list, volunteering to 'Pay It Forward,' re-connecting with family and friends, and talking about your feelings and struggles.  Use the 'sounding boards' and the 'leaning posts' that are the special  persons  in your life."

When I finished recounting for Kate what I had said to this young soldier, Kate exclaimed: "You need to write down what you just said.  I needed to hear that.  Lots of people need to hear it - not just transitioning military personnel.  Hang up the phone, write it as a Blog piece, and then call me back so we can continue with our original agenda for this phone conversation."
So, I have herein fulfilled  the Vulcan Professor's Commission to share my thoughts.  Here are my final two cents' worth on the matter - at least for now.  Two questions:
  • If you have those dark hours when looking in the mirror, are you humble enough to reach out to a trusted friend or family member to give them the opportunity and the privilege of sharing with you your struggles and hefting some of the burden that you bear?
  • Do you have someone  in your life who appears to be struggling with those dark hours, but who seems reluctant to open up?  Ask some gentle leading questions that make it clear that you are prepared to listen if they would be willing to talk at a meaningful level about how they are doing?
I had just such a conversation last week on the phone with a "crusty old Colonel."  At the end of our conversation he said, "Thank you for raising this issue of the emotional aspects of my transition.  No one else has dared to talk to me about it, and it is very real."

Take a look in the mirror, my friend.  What do you see?


Friday, February 08, 2013

A Lovely Gift of Lyrical Spirituality - "A Thousand Ways to Sing" by Liam Aisley

As I hunker down to await Nemo - "The Storm of the Millennium" that is about to find Boston - this seems like a perfect time to reflect on "A Thousand Ways to Sing" by Liam Aisley.

I seldom purchase books of poetry, but since I know this gifted young poet and his musical and literary sensibilities, I felt that I needed to read and to own this slim volume.  I am not sure if Amazon is required to declare the valuation of the books that it ships, but if so, they would have had to check the box marked: "Invaluable."  This opening salvo by the poet - his initial collection of published works - holds the promise of many future songs that he will sing for his reading audience.

How can I best characterize this collection of poems?  Some of them feel like hymns, some like Psalms, some seem like Coming of Age reflections, and others reflect a spiritual longing and journey - the meaning of life and death and what lies between these two poles.  The poet often uses imagery that is rich in sensual stimulation - lots of rain drops gobbling up the parched earth and beams of light or sound projecting from tree branches into the sky.  It is a collection full of wonder, awe, celebration, heartbreak, emptying and being re-filled.

One of my favorite poems is the eponymous "A Thousand Ways to Sing."  Allow me to share it with you:


The sky sounds like spring today
Treetops project melodies into the heavens
Their branches split like river and
My heart just found a thousand ways to sing.

It's a classic tune, my heart-song,
Sparking a quiver and a sprint,
Giggling like a brook in the thaw,
It shines through impenetrable fog
In the darkest of days.

It's light split into a spectrum
If for sound there were a prism
And like a rainbow it flows
Sliding earnestly to a never-end.

Royal blue and bouncing on a mountain's tip,
It holds the tension of a tethered horse,
Rabid, gnawing for one last hour.

Matched in heaven are the days of Earth by infinity,
And so my song endures . . .

This is the voice with which Liam Ainsley sings to us.  If there is indeed a prism for sound, he is singing us a wondrous rainbow.



Chocolateers Unite - A Unique Valentine's Day Gift Opportunity

My good friend, Professor Kate McKeown - known to many as "The Vulcan Professor" - is passionate about Systems Change.  Her passions run largely to overhauling the way in which we educate the next generation (More about that subject in future White Rhino Report postings).  One of the systems that she wants to change is the way in which chocolate lovers procure the world's best chocolate at a reasonable price.  She describes her approach as "disintermediating chocolate-making so that chocolateers can make world-class chocolate at home in their own kitchens."

I will let Kate describe her vision for Sacred Night Chocolate as outlined in the campaign.  As you read about the "vision" of Sacred Night Chocolate, think about contributing to the campaign in the name of your Valentine, with a promise to make him/her some delicious home made chocolate once the ingredients have been shipped to you. Project - Chocolateers Unite

Chocolates Created by You

Calling all Brave New Chocolateers!

Help us launch Sacred Night Chocolate as a real part of the unique experience of being able to make and give exquisite, custom chocolates in a,super-fast and creative brand new way.  And prove that many of us want to make our own chocolates at home, our way!  And many of us want to make chocolates the personal ways our friends and families, and even new customers, love chocolate!

Kate (above, in video, spilling popcorn on the kitsch kitchen floor) has made chocolates for friends and loved ones for over ten years, in a tiny kitchen in Greenwich Village.  At Sacred Night Chocolate, we have created a chocolate making/eating community in our neighborhood, and wish to spread our culinary wealth while working on the projects that inspire us!

All Sacred Night Chocolate™ contains the pure ingredients of cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla beans, soy lecithin for smoothness, and the essence of white tiger lily and night-blooming jasmine.
Our dark chocolates are completely vegan, ranging from 60 to 80% cocoa. Our creamy milk chocolates contain from 30 to 50%. Sacred Night has no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, waxes or paraffin...just pure chocolate, your way. This is why Sacred Night Chocolate™ melts so smoothly and quickly, and so lends itself to lavishly creating!

What We Need & What You Get

We Need Your Help!

We need your help to launch Sacred Night Chocolate as a business.  We operate in the heart of the West Village in New York City and have a small team of chocolate-lovers ready to grow!
Your funding will allow us to:
  • complete initial inventory and packaging, and go live online
  • fulfill initial orders
Through our Indiegogo community and initial sales online, once we prove that people are indeed passionate about creating and giving custom chocolates, fast, we have a next step.  Having spoken at length with a major retailer (who launched one of our inventions years ago), we are confident that if this very big and nice company sees that people do, indeed, love to make chocolates at home, they will create a relationship with Sacred Night to get the product rapid national distribution.

AND  The more the merrier (...and with the endorphins in chocolate, we are being literal here)!  If we take in more than we ask for here, this is just more good news!!! We can fulfill as many Indiegogo Packages as people want them, and later add parties and networking events for Chocolateers!

Really, and for the big economic picture, this is disintermediating chocolate-making, and disintermediation is good in any, publishing, video creation.  NOW AND FOR THE FIRST TIME Brave New Chocolateers will allow everybody to be a free, passionate, thinking, chocolate creators.

You probably know about the health benefits of the cacao in your chocolate, and that it stimulates the brain and gives us energy. Now you know that your Sacred Night creations add the unique happiness benefit of the scent of flowers, which reach the limbic area of our brains, stimulating emotions such as thankfulness, joy, yearning, love, comfort and a sense of vision.

You will give the Bright Blessed Day...helping Eye-Camps

The name of our company, Sacred Night Chocolate, relates to vision too: from a beautiful old song, the words, "I see trees of green, clouds of white, the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night, and I think to myself what a wonderful world." inspired us to make eye-camps our first social mission...

Every year, millions of people lose their eyesight to curable diseases. It is estimated that 100 million people in the world suffer from blindness that is curable, right now. For many, especially children, a mere $10 surgery can give these people their vision back!! With a volunteer doctor, a scalpel, a bandage, and a little anesthesia, some 100 million people could see, right now.  Let's make it happen.

At Sacred Night Chocolate, we want to support eye surgeries in eye-camps around the world.  So we will happily we give 5% of profits from to support those surgeons, diligently working, for free, to end curable blindness in one generation.

First Supported Friend:

Bihar Eye-Camp

Every November, more than 20,000 eye surgeries are performed at the Bihar Eye Camp in Bodh Gaya, in the North of India.  All of the doctors volunteer, and many have come every year for 22 years.  But still, with a population of 1.8 million, the Bihar region of India has 10,000 people go blind annually for lack of treatment. Only a little more money can make a huge difference. .

Dear Fellow Brave New Chocolateers, when you create, eat, and share Sacred Night Chocolate, you also give someone else the Bright Blessed Day, and make a wonderful world.
Thank you to all our new Chocolateers from Indiegogo!  Welcome!
Love alot, chocolate!
The Sacred Night Team

So, join the campaign and become a Brave New Chocolateer!



Thursday, February 07, 2013

No Escape - A Story of One Family's Fragility - "The Glass Menagerie" at the A.R.T.

Last evening, the A.R.T. welcomed the critics for the official Press Opening of Tennessee Williams' classic drama, "The Glass Menagerie."  This production is directed by Broadway veteran and Tony Award winner, John Tiffany.  It was crystal clear to this audience member from the opening lines spoken by the play's narrator, Tom Wingfield, that this would be a special night within the dreamlike confines of the Loeb Theatre's Main Stage.  It seems as if that stage's last denizens - the cast of "Pippin" - as they decamped to Broadway, had left something of their spirit and ethos beyond.  They had not taken all of the Muses' inspiration with them to New York.  For there was magic in the air as Williams' poetry was brought to life by a stellar cast, undergirded by strong direction and by scenic and lighting designs that are transcendent.

Tom makes it clear in his prologue that the play represents not reality, but rather his memories of his family's struggles in St. Louis in the Depression.  The story is told as if those memories are evoked in a dream.  The simple and spare set creates a dreamscape upon which the human menagerie of fragile creatures play out their tragedy.  The adult children, Tom and Laura, long to escape to a different future; their mother, Amanda, retreats to the solace of her remembered salad days in the Mississippi Delta when she entertained as many as seventeen "gentlemen callers" in one glorious day.

The set, designed by Tony Award winner Bob Crowley, is really the fifth character in the play.  The Wingfield's flat is represented by three interlocking hexagons set at slightly different levels from one another.  The stylized Wingfield habitat is surmounted by a fire escape that plays a dual role.  At its lower levels, the fire escape is "practical," in that it enables access and egress for the actors as they interact between the cocoon of the home and the outside world.  At another level of meaning, the fire escape soars and telescopes into an infinite beyond - a "Stairway to Heaven," if you will, or Jack's magical Beanstalk.  Yet none of the characters ever ascends to the upper reaches of the fire escape.  Only Tom "escapes" the tedium of his life at home and in the shoe factory.  And his escape is a descent - both physically and morally - as he runs down the fire escape and runs out on his mother and sister to a new life.  In running away, he recapitulates the sins of his absent father, who was a "telephone man who fell in love with Long Distances"!  Jim O'Connor, the gentlemen caller,  cannot wait to head down those same stairs to escape from Mother Wingfield's manipulative attempts to trap him as a suitor for Laura.  The entire set appears to float just above a reflective, blackened pool of water, making it appear that all of the fragile and transparent action is transpiring upon a sea of glass.  The effect is electrifying.

Equally electrifying is the lighting design by Natasha Katz, another Tony Award winner.  Light is a crucial motif in this play, and the subtle changes of illumination throughout the two acts add to the sense of wonder, worry, anticipation and foreboding that cast shadows upon the drama.  Pin-point spots light up Laura's glass unicorn - a double symbol of her psychic escape into unreality and frailty.  A candelabra is used to great effect to punctuate the flickering fortunes of the characters.

The color palette of the set is a range of dusty roses and reds - emblematic, I imagine, of several key elements of the story.  Laura, during her high school years, had been given the nickname, "Blue Roses", by O'Connor when he misunderstood that she had been ill with pleurosis.  The mother, Amanda Wingfield, is in many senses a dusty and faded rose.  The rose colored sofa plays a significant role - doubling as a gateway as well as a symbol of both womb and tomb.

The cast is superb.  They are veterans of Broadway, films and TV.  Cherry Jones as Mother, is everything that this iconic character needs to be - and more. She is matronly, delusional, anachronistic, meddling,  jabbering, overbearing, over-protective - and unforgettable.  Zachary Quinto, recognizable as Mr. Spock in the 2009 Star Trek film, plays Tom with equal measures of passion and desperation.  Celia Keenan-Bolger shrinks into the role of the crippled Laura in ways that are wondrous to behold, coming to life briefly when Jim dances with  her to the music of the Victrola, only to sink back into a fugue-like state of desuetude when Jim reveals that he has a steady girl.  Brian J. Smith  as the gentleman caller sounds just the right notes of bravado and vulnerability.

Laura is physically crippled, but in truth, all of the characters are crippled in some way by their inability to live with present reality or to create a more hopeful future reality.  The writing has been long acclaimed as brilliant.  This current rendition of Williams' play adds a new depth to the pathos that is the story of the Wingfield family.

The play will continue to run at the A.R.T. through March 17.

American Repertory Theater - Glass Menagerie



Monday, February 04, 2013

Review of "Defying Gravity - The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked" by Carol de Giere

Any regular reader of The White Rhino Report is well aware that I have been following closely the development of the new production of Pippin that is about to move to Broadway after premiering at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.  In the course of tracking the show's evolution, I attended a number of performances and enjoyed several conversations with members of the cast, the director, Diane Paulus and the composer, the incomparable Stephen Schwartz.  So, it was natural for me to be waiting backstage after the final A.R.T. performance to say good-bye to several members of the Pippin company.  As I lingered and interacted with cast members, a woman approached me and asked: "Are you affiliated with this show? You seem to know everyone."  I explained that I was merely an enthusiastic audience member and someone who had reviewed the show.  She told me that she is Stephen Schwartz's authorized biographer of his creative career.  Thus was I drawn into the gravitational field of author, Carol de Giere.    As she described to me the book's scope,  I knew that I had to read it immediately.  And so I have. Giere has done  a masterful job of entering into the mind, heart and soul of Stephen Schwartz in learning to understand his creative and collaborative processes.  She has structured her insights with a wonderful dramatic arc - early successes, troubled middle career, recent acclaim amid some continuing travail and disappointment.  The resulting book is a gift to fans of musical theater and to students of creativity.  Mr. Schwartz was very generous in sharing his time with the author; he also gave her broad access to other key persons in Stephen's professional life.  She also was present at some of the key events that she chronicles in this book, including rehearsals, composing and recording sessions, and a wide variety of meetings.  The book is a veritable tome - chock full of interviews, conversations, commentaries, analyses and examples from Schwartz's vast oeuvre of music and lyrics spanning more than forty years of sustained creativity.

I have known the work of Mr. Schwartz almost from the beginning of his career.  I remember vividly reveling in performances of the Boston production of Godspell.  I made the trek to NYC to see Pippin during its five year run from 1972-1977.  I saw an early student version of Children of Eden at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts.  I took in a performance of Wicked in London.  Despite my rather extensive knowledge of his work, I knew little about his professional pilgrimage or about the many forms of "gravity" that he needed to defy in order to soar to the creative heights that he has attained over the years.  This book fills in many of the missing pieces in the puzzle that is the life and career of Stephen Schwartz.

Scattered throughout the book are small sections that the author calls "Creativity Notes."  These asides and added layers of insight shine spotlights on specific aspects of the creative process as Schwartz has come to understand it and to practice it.  I would like to share one such bit of "frosting on the cake," from a section called "Emotional Truth As a Touchstone":

"What I've learned as a writer is that the more I can get to my own emotional truth, the more a song is actually about me, thinly disguised as an Indian princess or the hunchback of Notre Dame or other characters, oddly enough, the more it communicates universally.  For the most personal songs I've ever written, I've had people come up to me and say, 'How could you possibly have known that?  I felt like you read my diary.'  It's really an interesting phenomenon, and of course it makes our job as songwriters a lot easier.  I have this joke where people ask, 'How do you write a song?' and I say, 'Tell the truth and make it rhyme.'  But that's really it.  The more you can tell the truth, the more it resonates with others.  Of all the lessons about songwriting I've learned over time, that's been the most revelatory for me.  I didn't actually go in knowing that.  I had to learn it from experience." (Page 127)

It is clear that Schwartz learned to trust the author enough to be emotionally honest with her about the bumps and potholes he has encountered along the road he has walked.  She has turned that trust into a book that reveals the complexities of the man who has given us so many memorable tunes, lyrics, harmonies and rhythms  - on stage, in the movies and in the albums he has recorded. Ms. de Giere has added her own layer of artistry to the telling of the Schwartz story.  On many pages, she has woven in subtle contextualized puns and allusions that challenge the discerning reader not to speed too quickly through the prose lest he miss a well-conceived turn of phrase.  Here is a wonderful example that is found in the section of the book in which Schwartz is involved in negotiations with DreamWorks to write music for The Prince of Egypt:

"Disney gave him an ultimatum: Be exclusive or leave.  No matter which way he looked at his own destiny, he realized an exclusive contract would not make his own dreams work." (Page 251)

In addition to offering the chronological arc that follows Schwartz's career up to the Broadway run of Wicked, the author has thrown in a number of additional "free prizes" inside this cereal box.  She has added almost 100 pages of extras.  For example, "About An Author and a Songwriter" describes the growing collaboration between Schwartz and de Giere in pulling together the raw material that eventually was transformed into this finished work of literature about a still unfinished career.  Carol  might well have entitled the section that describes her relationship with the composer "The Wizard and I," for it is clear that despite the many human traits to which he confesses - including being a very difficult collaborator with whom to work - that he has performed as a perfect wizard in creating worlds that we love to visit and inhabit.

"I thought there would be more plumes."  Prince Pippin utters those words in the midst of post-battle disillusionment.  Schwartz appropriates these same words for himself in reflecting on his failure - to date - to garner a Tony Award or to be enshrined in the Broadway Hall of Fame housed in the Gershwin Theater that is the New York venue for Wicked.  I read those words with a touch of sadness, but also with a profound appreciation for Schwartz's resilience and his unwillingness to be dragged down by the lack of universal approbation or acclaim.  I am deeply grateful for his willingness to continue Defying Gravity - even as Pippin returns triumphantly to Broadway.

This book takes its place alongside other treasured works that allow us to appreciate just how much it costs to create art that is honest.



Seth Godin Weighs in on The Importance of Listening

Each day when I read Seth Godin's Blog, I find at least one nugget that I am able to burnish throughout the day into something useful.  

Today's piece on The Importance of Listening is particularly helpful and useful.

I will tease you with just one glimpse of what he has to say:

"The best way to honor someone who has said something smart and useful is to say something back that is smart and useful. The other way to honor them is to go do something with what you learned."

The read the whole piece - which is quite short - click the link below.

How To Listen