Mr. Zimmerman, one of my high school English teachers, presented our class with his paradigm for life at the beginning of the school year, as, I am sure, he did for each year’s class before us. I imagine he continued this tradition for each year’s class after us until he became Harry S. Truman High School’s principal. Despite it being one of the cheesier life plans one will ever encounter, I remember it fondly.

He first drew on the chalkboard (yes, we used chalkboards back then) a circle and then drew three lines through the circle, dividing that circle into six equal sections. In the top three sections he wrote the letters “P”, “I”, and “E” and he filled in the bottom three with “S”, “M”, and “C”, like this:

Mr. Zimmerman went on to explain the meaning of this diagram of his, maintaining that each slice of the “pie” represented a different aspect of our lives and that the slices ought to be all about the same size and that we ought to devote equal attention to each slice.

So, in memory of Mr. Zimmerman, here is what I plan for my slices in 2020:

Physical – Mr. Zimmerman was not really big on the physical fitness aspect of life. He was, after all, a high school English teacher. He did, though, recognize the importance of being physically active and physically engaged. I have a number of physical goals for this coming year. I want to continue running and aim to compete in a half marathon, at least. I also plan to run 700 miles over the course of the year, quite an increase over what I ran in 2019. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take up yoga.

Intellectual – The need to stay focused and not wander randomly is my main intellectual challenge. For 2020, I will keep my reading centered largely on classics which I have heretofore neglected. I will start with Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. To those I will add just a few current novels and finish Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and read Plutarch’s Lives. This past year I read Republic and a few other works by Plato. I would like to follow that up in 2020 with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, if I can find a translation that makes sense to me.

Emotional – I am a fairly even person emotionally, not out of control on the upside nor the downside. So, for 2020, I guess it will be steady as as (s)he goes. Or, perhaps, what would do me some good would be more emotional involvement in the world around me and, with it, more emotional maturity. Maybe I need to open myself up to experiencing life’s highs and lows more. Laugh more, cry more. More weddings and funerals in 2020?

Social – While I am not a very social person, I am not anti-social, either. I guess you could call me “asocial” if you want to call me anything. As I become more emotionally involved with the world around me, I expect that I will shorten the social distance between myself and others. I know I should want to be more social, but, in reality, I am happy as I am now.

Moral – The more I look at myself, the more I see the need for a more moral me. Morals, after all, are the animating force behind a person’s actions, or at least should be. A more moral me would be a more outraged me and a more compassionate me and a more socially engaged me and a more emotionally charged and mature me. It will begin with a more moral me.

Cultural – I feel that the cultural part of me is the part that presents one of the biggest opportunities for growth. After 2019 slipped by without me being all that culturally active, I have decided to be much more culturally active this coming year than last. Reading plays is one thing, but there is nothing like seeing them performed. I will be taking in a modern re-telling of Richard III, the play Teenage Dick by Mike Lew, which will be at Washington DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theater in June. That should be a nice wrap-up to reading the bard’s plays. I also have a number of other live performances planned. Additionally, I will be expanding upon the limited amount of Italian I learned in 2019 before visiting Rome and Cinque Terre. I am committed to more travel abroad in the future, but for now that is a hope, not a plan.

I am quite sure I have not done justice to Mr. Zimmerman’s “pie” but at least I have a start.

Thank you, Mr. Zimmerman.


Read the photo essay (if you can call looking at photographs “reading” them) from Issue 148 of Granta, the Summer Fiction issue, along with the accompanying commentary. The photo essay was on H+, transhumanism, by the multi-talented Matthieu Gafsou. Each photo dealt, in some way, with mechanical and electronic and software augmentation and supplementation of humans. The pictures were mostly stark, cold, clinical. This starkness enhanced the effect of the technology and dampened most real human elements in the shots. In one photo, a rat looks more human than the human technician, who appears to be more of a component of the technology than a person.

Of course, the visuals, along with Daisy Hildyard’s commentary, got me thinking. The aim of transhumanists, generally, is immortality, to live forever. To me, this seems like a totally worthless, empty goal.

First, consider the practicalities of immortality. If you can make the body and the mind durable enough to last forever, you had better not be the only one to do so. To be the sole immortal would be to isolate you from the rest of humanity in unimaginable ways. Unimaginable in that no one would understand you and you would understand no one because neither you nor the rest of humanity could imagine what it is like to be the other.

The opposite situation, where everyone is immortal, would be scarcely better. The person you most detest would be around, forever. There would be no escape. The same would be true for other fates: they would last forever.

Then, of course, there is the absurd conclusion to a life that never ends, outliving the earth itself. (I know, I know, we’ll inhabit other worlds.)

A more subtle problem also arises. Anyone with a moderate understanding of mathematics knows quite well what an inverse relationship is. The relevance of this is that the worth we attach to things, how much we value them, what they really mean to us, is inversely related to how often they occur and how long they last. What if you were to only hear your favorite song one more time in your life? Wouldn’t you listen to it more intensely than ever? And wouldn’t it be memorable? Conversely, if you were going to hear that same song an infinite number of times, the joy of each listening would shrink to zero, and, no matter how many zeros you add end to end, you still have zero. Your very most favorite song would become worthless.

Same for your best friend. In fact, you would have no friends because you would attach zero worth to any time you spent with any of them because, after all, that time you eventually spend with them over the course of eternity would be infinite and the inverse of infinite is: zero.

The only escape from this infinite morass of absurd meaninglessness would be, of course, death. The irony there is that, after spending all one’s energy and time and resources on living forever and, ultimately, missing out on really living at all, one would throw in the towel.

I’m in no rush, but when it’s time for me to go, I’ll just go.

The Fiction of Software

I write software for a living. Throughout a diverse succession of software projects, I have programmed in dozens of different languages on an array of computing platforms. Outside of my work life, I read books, a variety of books, including novels, classics, history, technical and scientific works, biography, philosophy. I also read software, which is not as crazy as it might sound. Sometimes there is some helpful information contained in software that I use and, occasionally, in software that I have written. Most software, of course, does not make for as interesting of reading as does most books. On the other hand, some software is highly entertaining.

Over the years (decades, actually) something has gradually worked its way into my consciousness. I have become aware that software and fiction share many similarities. In fact, in several respects, a short story might resemble a short program more than it might resemble another work of fiction.

The first way in which software resembles fiction is setting. A story has to have some context, some setting. That setting might involve place. It might also have a time aspect to it, when the story occurs. Language might also be a part of the setting. So, too, for software. Software also happens (or executes in the parlance of the computing world) in a setting, a setting both of circumstance and of time. It, too, is written in a language, a language often (but not always) suited to the circumstance and time of its execution. Different programming languages have different nuances which suit them to different types of programming. Regardless of the language or nuance, though, each program occupies some problem space, some domain, and that domain plays a huge role in what happens in the program.

Fiction also has characters. Some of the most memorable fiction has the most memorable characters. Think of some of your favorites. Software is full of characters, too. Those characters are called different things in different programming paradigms, but they are there and each one has, well, it has character. Sometimes these characters are called variables or objects or entities or whatever, but they all have some presence. They all have a role and they all behave in certain ways, although sometimes those ways are obscure and mysterious. Each one is there for some specific purpose, if it is well written software. Sometimes, though, in some not so well written software, just as in some not so well written fiction, there are some useless supernumeraries, extras, entities that tend to obscure rather than clarify the story at hand.

Of course, what would a story be without a plot, a sequence of events that transpire. Ditto for software. Software that does nothing is not really software.

Finally, setting, characters, and plot are all directed toward a purpose, both in fiction and in software. After all, a story must have a point of some sort and not just meander about aimlessly, although some fiction seems to do just that. At the bottom of it all, the function of software and of fiction is resolution of some problem or some conflict, something that needs to be set right. What might be needed is to deliver a message nearly instantaneously or it might be the hero in a novel making sense of her life, whatever. Both have to move a narrative toward a resolution. That’s what software and fiction do.

8618 Addendum

Years ago, when I was much younger, in high school and before that, my mom had this bothersome desire to frequently rearrange the plants in our yard.  Not just bulbs and mums and small manageable plants, but bushes, hedges, and even trees.  Big ones, sometimes.  Of course, fulfillment of these wishes fell on my shoulders.  Literally.

This penchant for moving plants of all sizes continued even after I went off to college and our yard had become her yard (somehow Dad escaped having to participate in all of this and I never found out how he managed that.)  Over time, her plant movings became more ambitious.  On one trip home from college I was handed a shovel and directed to a twenty foot tall pine tree in the back yard that “would look better in front of the house.”

After Mom passed away back in January, I thought that my days of moving Mom’s plants were over.

Silly me.

Before she left us, long before she left us, about fifteen years ago, when Mary, the kids, Rusty, and I lived at 8618, Mom gave us a rose bush which we planted near a front corner of the house.  The bush flourished, to say the least, and, despite trimming by us and the new owners of 8618 after we moved, the outer edge of that rose bush pushed out pretty wide and quite high.  It had become a huge, flowering presence.

That changed, as I witnessed on my walk with Ryan last week, when we saw all the plants trimmed down to almost the ground.  A brief chat with one of the workers on the site informed me that the plants were to be removed completely in short order.  I related the history of the rose bush to him, and without me even needing to ask, he offered to save the rose bush for me.  He warned me, though, that, although he would set the bush aside with his backhoe, it would likely not remain there very long and that the day I saw it, I should take it while I could.

I agreed, happily, and a few days later, as I drove home a bit late from work, I saw the uprooted rose bush and its ball of dirt.

Later that same night, I returned to 8618 and grabbed the plant and its root ball to bring to our house.  I was glad to see that the light rain that day had kept the whole thing damp.    I held it firmly by the base and lifted.

It did not budge.  Not one bit.  I suddenly realized that it outweighed me by a considerable amount.

“She got me, again,” was all I could think.

I eventually knocked enough dirt off the roots so that I could wrestle the rest into the wheelbarrow I had brought with me and which, on the way home seemed to creak as if this would be its last trip.  The bush stub and root ball still weighed about as much as me but somehow I was able to hoist it into the wheelbarrow and deposit it in our current back yard, which will be its final home, I can assure you.

Addendum Postscript: Happened to meet the new owner of 8618, the wife in the wife and husband couple who bought the house from the people who bought the house from us. She said that they bought the house to rebuild and sell and that they would likely not keep any of what was there.

Oh, well.  Time to move on.

Occasion at 8618

I had occasion today to stop by our old house at 8618, which we moved out of just over ten years ago. The occasion for stopping there was that I was out walking our golden retriever, Ryan, which I do every day, and, in fact, I pretty much walk by our old house every day, since we only moved across the street and just a few houses up the road. This occasion was different, though. While much of the inside of the house had already been surreptitiously gutted in the past week, this morning empty eye sockets stared out mournfully where only yesterday windows had remained. The azaleas and rose bush were cut off just above the ground, as were all the daffodils and whatever else had pushed up in this nascent spring. The shorn plants and the lonely sight of all those windowless gaps pulled me in for a closer inspection. Ryan followed patiently.

I would have expected the sight of the recently gutted interior of 8618 exposed in that way to have upset me but, strangely, it did not. Sadness did not prevail but instead curiosity took hold of me. I peeked inside, admiring the brick-and-block sturdiness and all the other hidden details, suddenly revealed, which made the house so rock solid. As I peered inside, I noticed that care had been taken to ensure that whatever was not to be removed was left intact and undamaged. The house is not to be torn down but redone on the inside and, perhaps, added to, as well. I felt an unanticipated sense of comfort with the less-than demolition of the house. It was not to be discarded but reborn. The fact that I was comfortable with the change made me smile.

Shorn, Forlorn, About to be Reborn

Contrast that with the fact that, just three houses further down the road is the first house we occupied in this neighborhood, or, I should say was the first house we occupied in this neighborhood. 8612 was torn down to make way for a new, much larger house of far less character. That exchange of houses upset me as it seemed to be nothing more than an attempt to fill as much width and depth and height as the local zoning ordinances would allow. Square footage replaced a warm, welcoming home. Seeing 8612 discarded saddened me.

Now, I associate wonderful memories with each of those two homes. The first we lived in, 8612, was where we lived when Marie was born and where Liam watched through the front door as epically lousy basketball games were played for hours on end in the park across the street. The house even had a name, “The Blue House,” even though the only blue part of the house was the door.

More of Our Old House

8618 held a very special place in the hearts of the whole family. It was the home where we brought Rusty, our first golden retriever, a rescue, from a shelter down in Virginia. Over time, Rusty became so attached to 8618 that after we moved up the street he would try to sneak out of our new house and run away to go back home. It was also the place where Mary and the kids watched out the bedroom window as Dad donned a hooded sweatshirt and a Darth Vader mask to do battle with a nest of hornets and the place where youngsters awoke before dawn on Christmas morning.

Even More of Our Old House

And so it is sometimes with memories that they outlive the places where they happened. 8612 is gone and 8618 is about to have a fresh new life but both of them will live on in our memories.

Despite the fondness of the memories, though, it is tomorrow that really matters, our next step is more important and more interesting than the step before it.

Ryan and I had a walk to finish and that’s just what we did.

Novel Now: Prompt #3

A character arrives late to a party, not knowing that an old significant other is attending too. The relationship didn’t end well. The host introduces them to each other, unaware of their history. In 500 words or less, write the scene and rewrite it twice, once from each character’s perspective: The late arriver, the ex and the host.

Why: Sometimes a story scene can be effective written from a secondary character’s point of view. Writing as a neutral observer might help you notice details worth including in the scene (such as the main characters’ actions and body language); actions that you wouldn’t think about as much if you were writing from a different viewpoint.


More than fashionably late and now this.  Lanny introducing me to Stella. Going on and on about her. I could tell Lanny a million things about her, things he would never guess. Things he probably wouldn’t want to know. A whole history book.

Feigning interest and surprise, I’m trying to keep up with Lanny and his gushing over Stella.  Gushing that obviously came from Lanny’s wife, who just recently met Stella and obviously doesn’t know about Stella and me or, if she does, she failed to fill in Lanny on our past.

So, Lanny launches into a colorful, extended, over the top introduction of Stella to me.

The subtext is clear: Stella and I should hook up.

Walking a tightrope, I try to share Lanny’s enthusiasm, but not commit to anything, all the time hoping Lanny will excuse himself to mingle with the other guests.

Stella could help out here a bit, too. Instead of lapping up all this praise, she could set the record straight, or at least demur. She could act a bit embarrassed or ask Lanny to stop but instead she just smiles pertly and almost nudges him on, more, more.

As Lanny moves on to another third- or fourth-hand story about Stella, I want to stop it but realize that this conversation has gone on too far.  At this point I cannot simply break it to Lanny that Stella and I flamed out a couple years ago, ingloriously, irrevocably, and very loudly.  Telling Lanny that in the midst of all his story, complete with bodily re-enactment and sound effects, would slap an awkwardness on us that would probably necessitate either Stella or me or more likely both of us excusing ourselves from the party immediately.

So I grin and bear it.

And glance at Stella, whose eyes are fixed on Lanny.

Lanny puts his arm around my shoulder, gives me a good shake and a squeeze.

Someone, please, help me out of this.

Oh, this is delicious!

Lanny wants to introduce me to Steve. I guess Louise didn’t pass along the Stella/Steve story to Lanny or maybe I just edited Steve out of my past. After all, when I met Louise I didn’t want to open with that gory tale. Just as well left out. It was just nice to not have that messy cloud hanging over every conversation. After a while, I guess it would have been too awkward to delve into it, so I just let it rest. After all, Louise and Lanny didn’t know Steve and I back then, so why bring it up?

And now here comes Steve, late for the party and unprepared for what he’s about to step into.

Thanks, Lanny, for that wonderful introduction.

My, Steve, speechless? That’s a switch.

That’s right, Lanny, keep on going, this is all sounding good. I’ll neither confirm nor deny these glorious stories. Kudos to you or Louise, whoever added all these embellishments. You draw such a delightful picture of me that I hardly recognize myself.

Steve, I can feel you looking at me but you’re on your own, pal. Lanny is too deep into the Stella stories now for you to tell him how well we already know each other and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop him. He’s on a roll. Stop him? Ha! Eat shit, you little prick! After all those nasty things you said about me? Acting like you were perfect, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou.

No, I’m enjoying this too much.

Ah, there’s Steve, more than fashionably late, but, hey, that’s okey-dokey. Being the great host that I am, I’ll just usher old Stevie over and make the introduction. Stella’s been prepped with the “new friend I’d like you to meet” to whet her appetite and pique her curiosity. From across the room she’ll have a chance to view this guy as I bring him over to her. Piece of cake.

Come on, Steve, over here, there’s someone Louise and I would like you to meet. You’ll love her. Louise has told me some wonderful things about her.

Stella, this is Steve, the guy I was telling you about. Steve, this is Stella.

Steve’s look says it all. Mouth open, at a loss for words. Let’s move this forward.

Louise has told me quite a bit about Stella. An impressive young woman, Steve-o. Let me tell you a bit about her.

Both you guys kind of quiet, huh? That’s okay, I can keep this conversation going until one of your brains kicks in. Stella, you keep your eyes on me and Steve, you keep eyeing Stella and I’ll keep chipping away at the ice. That’s okay, how about another story? There’s plenty more where that came from.

I can do this all night, if that’s how long it takes. After all, I’m game for a challenge. Besides, this is a lot more fun that trying to entertain Louise’s boring friends.

Novel Now: Prompt #2

A character is being chased by a villain or villainous group through an abandoned warehouse. Describe their fear and lucky escape in 500 words or less. Rewrite the piece from the viewpoint of the villain(s).

Why: Rewriting a protagonist’s scenes from the antagonist’s perspective can help you create a more realistic sense of threat, since you will be able to picture the protagonist as well as antagonist’s movements and psychological state clearer.

Lonnie set his two drinks on the floor in front of the passenger seat.  He started the car and carefully pulled it around, parked it between the front door of the jazz club and the cars of Wes and Darron, nestled in an open spot just behind Jones’s SUV.  Slid over into the passenger seat and adjusted the side mirror so that he could see the jazz club door down the sidewalk behind him.  Briefly opened the glovebox and checked inside.

Then he settled in and waited.

While he waited, Lonnie finished off the two double whiskey sours at his feet.  He stewed and he simmered over the situation.  Rage and indignation boiled within him.  Jones was not going to abscond with Lonnie’s players.

In the side mirror, the sight of the club door opening disrupted Lonnie’s thoughts. Lonnie leaned closer to the mirror for a better look.

It was a couple exiting, bundled up and walking with their arms around each other against the chill of the night.  They crossed the street and wandered down the sidewalk the other way.

A minute later, two familiar figures stepped out of the club door.  Lonnie straightened up in his seat.

“Leaving early?  Past your bedtime?” Lonnie sneered to himself.

Darron and Wes walked slowly up the sidewalk, discussing.  Lonnie, hand poised on the door handle, leaned closer to the side mirror until his forehead was touching the window.  His jaw tightened.

Darron and Wes made their way past the alley next to the club and continued past storefronts, closed for the night, dark.  Darron talked animatedly, using his hands.  Wes listened intently, eyes on Darron, and nodded

The two were even with the tail end of Lonnie’s car when he pounced.

Flinging the car door open, Lonnie barked, “Jones!”

The two coaches jumped, startled.  Neither said a word.

Lonnie stepped toward them, face seething, steam rising off his head into the chill of the night.  He stopped a couple paces in front of Darron, arms folded across his chest, lips pursed.  Jones cautiously took a step closer.  He could smell the double whiskey sours on Lonnie’s breath.

Wes stepped up next to his friend.

“What do you got to say for yourself?” Lonnie demanded.

“What are you talking about?” Darron answered, trying to match Lonnie’s indignation.

“I hear you’re walking out and you decided to take a few things along with you.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

”Never mind.”

“Wise tell you that?”

“I said never you mind that!”

“You sure Wise has his story straight?” Jones challenged Lonnie.

“You keep your hands off my players!” Lonnie shouted and jabbed his finger into Darron’s chest.

Darron’s eyes blinked, his jaw tightened, and he brushed Lonnie’s hand away. “You don’t own those boys!”

“I said you keep your hands off my players!”

“And I’ll do what I please!” Darron shouted right back.

Lonnie turned away from Darron and stepped to the open car.

He leaned in and opened the glovebox.

Darron grabbed Wes by the arm and shoved him back toward the club.

“Run for it!” Darron shouted.

As Lonnie straightened up and turned back toward Darron and Wes, he saw the two of them run around the corner and into the alley.  Lonnie took off after them.   He heard the sound of a trash can being kicked halfway down the alley.  They were getting away.  Lonnie’s shoes slapped the pavement as he passed the last storefront and rounded the corner into the alley.  He saw the two men and he shot, wildly.  At the sound of the bullet striking the brick wall, the two instinctively put their hands up behind their heads and ducked as they ran.

“Faster!” Lonnie heard one say to the other.

Lonnie cursed and chided himself, told himself he wasn’t in the movies. On the next shot he would stop and steady himself before shooting.

Darron and Wes raced to the end of the alley and made a sharp cut out of sight.  Lonnie avoided the knocked over trash can, came to the end of the alley, and skidded to a stop as he cleared the corner.  He stopped, raised his gun, and froze.

Two D.C. police officers, guns drawn, told him to drop the gun and put up his hands.  Lonnie, staring down the barrels of the two drawn guns, did as he was told.

The chase was over.

Now Novel Prompt #1

A character is moving to another city. She visits her favourite public place and sees something that makes her want to stay. Describe this in 500 words, using third person POV (he/she). Then rewrite in first person, using ‘I’.

Why: Rewriting third person scenes (especially emotional ones) in first person helps you find your character’s voice.  You’re telling the reader what your character thinks as your character, not an observer. When you rewrite in third person (if you prefer this POV), some of this immediacy will carry over.

Mrs. Jones, the mother of Jeremy Jonathan Jones, Jr. and the wife of J-J Jones, Sr., moved with her son and husband from a small town in western Pennsylvania that nobody ever heard of to Washington, D.C., which everybody heard of.  Decided to visit every monument and museum she could before she got herself too settled in and came to view such things as too “tourist-y.”

Before the family actually packed up and left, however, a certain dread had kept her from really embracing the move.  The voice of the small town girl in her tried to warn her about the dangers of the big city, especially a city where it’s all about power and politics.  And that voice of fear was winning.  She was convinced the move was a mistake.  She worried about what Jeremy would be exposed to in this new, hostile environment.

She went along with the move, but only for J-J Sr’s sake, what with his new job working for the government and all, but she was not going to enjoy it.

Until she did.

The only prior visit she had ever taken to D.C. was when she was in high school, on a school trip, and at the time she could not imagine that there was anything duller in the whole world.  Colonial-this and Civil War-that and the whole place just seemed so in-the-past distant and over and done with.

But that was then.  This time around, with a fresh set of eyes and having a son and a different outlook on the world, so much of all the history and all the culture, and all the different cultures, so much of what she saw meant so much more to her.

“You know,” she told someone about it afterward, “on my high school trip, everything was all planned for us and there was not a whole lot of room for asking questions and I’m a naturally curious, questioning person.  Being able to seek out what I want to see and find out what I want to know, to learn, that has made all the difference.   I like it here.”

I’ll tell you, Jeremy and J-J Sr. were looking forward to moving out here to D.C. but I had my reservations, coming from a small town in western Pennsylvania and all.  That small town girl voice inside my head warned me about Washington and it all being about money and power and the like.  So, yes, I definitely had my reservations, what with the dangers of the city and Jeremy and what he would be exposed to.  I was worried and nervous and filled with a bit of dread,

But I went along with the move, for Sr.’s sake, his new job with the government and the opportunity that presented itself to him.

I wasn’t happy about it but I put on a brave face.

Once we arrived here I thought I would get out and see some of the sights around town before I got too settled in and got to be too much of a local.  It seems like once you live in a place for a while, you never get out and see the things that visitors to your city see, all the attractions and monuments and sights.

I had been here once before, just once, on a class trip with my high school.  That trip was just dreadful.  Everything on that trip was planned and we were rushed along from museum to museum and I could not imagine that there was anything duller in the whole world.  Colonial-this and Civil War-that and the whole place just seemed so in-the-past distant and over and done with.  There was no opportunity to see anything that I might really want to see, just follow the schedule and make sure to keep up.

This time around, though, I was left to my own devices and you know, I was fascinated by what there was to see, really fascinated. Some of the museums show some of the contributions that all the different people, all the different types of people, from different backgrounds and all, made to our country.  I had no idea.

The more I saw, the more I was amazed.  There’s so much history and culture and even Jeremy was hooked after a while.

I’m glad we moved here.

What this Blog is All About

You’ve probably often heard someone say (if only in the movies) that “It’s only business. Don’t take it personal.”
If it isn’t personal, it isn’t important. All the important things in life are personal.
That’s what this is all about.

What Sports Can Teach

People often tout such things as “teamwork” and “sacrificing the individual for the greater good” and “overcoming adversity” as benefits of playing sports.  Like bad tasting medicine, the things that sports can teach you are often portrayed as something to be endured on the path to learning some tough lessons.

There are other, less painful things that sports (and a good coach) can teach.

The first of these is Focus.

Focus is an interesting subject.  It involves something called attentional field.  Attentional field is made up of everything on which you could focus.  Attentional field includes all those things that are subjective, inside of you, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical responses, plus those things that are objective, outside of you, including sights and sounds.  Focus is the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field (see here for details.) Focus is not just something that you have or do not have, it is something which can be taught, developed, and nurtured. Focus, or attention, can be subjective (internal) or objective (external) or a blend of both. A good coach will recognize the particular type of focus best suited to each individual athlete she or he coaches.

We have all seen coaches who, after an athlete has made a mistake, refocus that athlete on what is coming up, not allowing the athlete to be defeated by the mistake but rather to intensify their efforts towards what comes next. For other athletes, the reverse is needed. After they do something, good of bad, they need to be directed back to it to review it and to internalize the lesson which can be learned from it.

For some athletes it’s internal focus and for some it’s external focus.  A good coach can nurture either.

Whether internal focus or external focus, the focus must be tuned toward what needs to be done in any given situation.

Some time ago, I was watching on during a session at the Michael Jordan Flight School camp in which campers picked at random were given the opportunity to win a pair of Air Jordans by sinking a free throw in front of the whole crowd of campers and onlookers with the condition that if they missed the free throw they had to do some number of push-ups.  For most of the young kids, it was a daunting pressure-packed free throw.  One camper, however, displayed a bit of cockiness and upped the ante.  Make the shot and his whole team would win a pair of shoes.  Michael responded without missing a beat, “And if you miss, the whole team does push-ups.”  The camper, after first checking with his teammates, agreed.  Before shooting the free-throw, he confirmed with MJ the terms, “The whole team gets shoes.”  And MJ confirmed, “Or the whole team does push-ups.”

The young man missed the free-throw, which provided Michael the opportunity for a teaching point.  “You missed the free-throw because you were focused on the reward and the consequence.  You should have focused on your shot.”

Preparation is the second thing sports can teach us. Preparation serves as a strong aid in developing focus.

Preparation, though, is not simply creating a script to follow come game time. It is the actual process of getting ready that prepares more than any tangible plan that might come from that preparation. As Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Or, as someone once told me, “A well-prepared person expects nothing and is prepared for anything.”

As one advances to new skill levels and moves through higher and higher arenas of competition, one spends more time, proportionally, preparing than performing. This holds true as one progresses from youth sports to high school sports and on to the collegiate level. Finally, at the highest levels of competition, the amount of time spent in preparation grows to hours for each minute of game time. This is something lost on most fans. All of this preparation feeds the athlete’s ability to focus and provides the confidence needed to succeed.

Focus and preparation would be meaningless, however, without Purpose.  Purpose engenders the motivation to focus and to prepare, not just in the larger sense of purpose, on the grand scale, but also in all those day to day situations.  Life, in general and the season as a whole are not the only things that demand purpose, but each practice and each workout along the way do, too.  When asked, with all that he had accomplished in his career, what more did he still wish to accomplish, Hall of Fame bound coach Bill Belichick replied “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be at the top of the list right now.”

Which is why he is headed for the Hall of Fame.