Summer Readings

July 24, 2006

Summer is a time for focused reading. It is a time when I catch up on my reading or get started on new reading. I typically have 5 or 6 books going simultaneously, in addition to my writing. Someone asked me the other day why I read so much. Well, I love to read many different writing forms. I read my share of fiction, yet I am finding that there is so much more forms of writing that I do enjoy. This has been a lifelong process for me.

Reading popular or pulp fiction provides a release from thinking. That’s about all it is good for, but I do enjoy a good author. Other authors, in fact many other authors write devastatingly beautiful novels that challenge the reader, capture him or her and allow a different kind of escape. A number of years ago I discovered Willa Cather and immediately had a love affair with her writing. The personal narrative in her writing were eloquent beyond description. Death Comes to the Archbishop is a magnificent work. It evokes in me a sense of perspective, a feeling of presence, an understanding of the character. She does it in ways that pulp fiction will never approach. Works of this kind allow us to grow.

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, suggests that a life spent reading is a life well spent. I would agree, but reading is not enough. We also need to find ways to make that reading come alive. For me that is in writing. No, I don’t pretend to be a novelist and while I might try my hand at it someday I am more interested in the personal narrative and the historical narrative. I feel that my contribution may lay in that area. Textbooks are okay, I’ve written a few, but they represent a different kind of writing, a kind of writing that dies when you leave the profession or choose not to write anymore. The frequent revisions that publishers demand are rarely because of the availability of new information, but rather a matter of economics. I am not looking for immortality in my writing, but I am looking for a way to convey my feelings thoughts, and yes even philosophies if I can.

So what am I reading this summer? The list is incomplete, but shares some of my better reads. From a pulp fiction side I have read almost all of Harold Coyle’s books this spring and summer. They focus on army small unit tactics and if you are inclined that way they are quite instructive. You need to ignore the geopolitical aspects of some of his newer books. Coyle’s are day books – good for those 8 hour flights. They aren’t philosophically challenging. I suspect they are good for the beach too. Now to the list. . .

Socrates Cafe
I was slow finding this book and it is an easy read with good content. I have enjoyed reading the approach he uses in his “cafe” readings as well as his own reflections. It is an easy read, not overly given to philosophy, but will lead you to some good additional books for reading.

Mayflower
This book is extremely well written and I look forward to reading more of the author’s work. Some of my notions of goodness about the Pilgrims have been dashed, but having enough sense of history to understand the challenges of living cut off in a new world would challenge many of us. While others may not agree I see some of the behaviors described in Willima Golding’s Lord of the Flies in the behavior described in the book. The tribal mentality of the pilgrims is quite evident in the book. While I am partially repulsed by their behavior I cannot measure it against the moral standards of 21st Century America.

The Writing Life
Part of the beauty of reading is discovering new authors. I have discovered a number of new authors this summer. I sometimes ask myself, how could I have missed this author for so long. However, finding new authors is a little like prospecting for gold. It takes time, you can’t tell the quality of the rock (read as “book”) by its cover. There may be gold or fools gold inside and there is no sure way to tell until you’ve cracked the rock open. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard is one of those books. It is gold on the inside. In fact I have already picked up Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek in anticipation of how good it will be. I have learned from previous readings that just because a book gets the Pulitzer prize does not make it a gold nugget. Come to think of it, a gold nugget is obvious to everyone, a writer’s ability to produce a gold nugget is dependent entirely upon the reader. The Writing Life is full of good thoughts. It is a short 111 pages, but it is not a short read. I suspect I will read it several times before I feel that I have gleaned all there is to find in the book.

Wind, Sand and Stars
Some books you find by reading recommendations from others. In this case I was in a small bookstore on the square in Bloomington, Indiana with my wife and daughter. We were taking a book back we had purchased two days before. My daughter did not realize she already had the book, so while she was making the change I wandered around this small bookstore. Small is an anomaly in today’s bookstores. The bookstore is less than 1000 square feet and yet I never fail to find good books. There may be a few best sellers around, but there are more gold nuggets per square foot than in Borders or Barnes & Noble. Size does not replace the quality of a good proprietor that knows their trade. Published in 1939 and billed as a National Geographic top 10 adventure book of all time does not do this book justice. It is a philosophy book and I have curled up with it several times in the last few days. Good writing requires good reading and for me good reading means I slow down and ponder on the words of the writer. Some words require more reflection than others.

That’s the short list. It reflects about 15 percent of my summer’s efforts.

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How hot is hot?

July 19, 2006

I sit in Salina, Kansas this afternoon basking in an air conditioned hotel room watching “Without a Trace” wondering just how hot can it get. It is 110 degree Fahrenheit outside. I have lived and worked in hot country, but it has been a long time since I experienced such heat. In the lower midwest we rarely if ever see 100 degrees. I haven’t seen it at my home in 16 years. Yet, when we lived in the central valley of California we experienced temperatures in excess of 100 degrees daily, for months at a time. I used to spend parts of my summer in the high desert of southern California running between howitzers, as a safety officer, in 125 degree heat.

Morocco

We adjust to the environment we live in, or at least we like to admit we do. In fact we no longer live within our environment. Instead we go out of our air conditioned homes and offices to experiences moments of heat and cold. But we no longer need to adjust to the temperatures. I only open my home up when the temperature and humidity meet my expectations. If the temperature adjusts 5 degrees either way I consider closing my home up and reverting to my artificial environment.

In my visits to Morocco I see much less of this adaptation. There may be some air conditioning, but the vast majority of individuals do not have the luxury of creating an alternative environment. Are they better or worse off then those of us who have technology available? I don’t know. It is another argument for another day.

As a child growing up in the midwest I was not privy to air conditioning. As a youngster, I remember walking into the Yonkers’ store in downtown Des Moines in the early 1950s and seeing and feeling air conditioning for the very first time. You had to walk into a space bounded by plastic sheets to feel the cool air. I thought it was great. Even then we altered our environment the best we could. Open the house at night, close it during the day. Use fans where possible. Spend time in the basement, or on the cool side of the house.

I have often pondered how the early pioneers trekked across the great plains day after hot day. How they retained the ability to endure the heat and the cold. Of course I know that they suffered and many died. Were they stronger than us. I don’t think so, but they were products of their environment and of the technology that was available to them. Just as we are today. Does that make us lucky. Yes and no. Yes, in that we have the ability to control our environment. No: When that technology doesn’t work we often don’t know how to respond. In a sense we have insulated ourselves from our own environment and it may be at our own expense. We don’t know how to dress for cold, we don’t know of the need for water in the heat, we don’t know of the dangers of being unprepared.

The control of our environment has allowed us to make technological progress, it has allowed us to alter our work habits, it has allowed us to remove the environment from our worries. I’m not sure Maslow ever thought about this. How would he respond to it. We move from the heights of comfort and safety to fear, anxiety, and sense of loss in just a moment. Several years ago we were forced to leave our hotel because of a tornado alert. We worried about our safety, we could get no word. Technology came to the rescue. 1500 miles away my daughter accessed weather.gov and gave us ongoing updates on the storm. We knew what was going on.

Our comfort breeds a contempt for natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina is an example. People scoffed at the idea of listening to the warnings of those who knew the dangers. When the worst happened they pointed fingers at others. Who was right and who was wrong? Both and others have been pointing blame ever since. Again, another topic for another day.

So how hot is hot? It’s a matter of perspective, experience, and our ability to control our exposure to it. Sitting in an non air conditioned trailer in the middle of the prairie, it is HOT! Sitting in a hotel room looking out the window, having turned the AC to a warmer temperature so I’m not cold, it’s not so hot. Or is it?

Traveling

June 26, 2006

Saturday, June 24, 2006 12:16 PM
I’m sitting in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and there is a flurry of people around. The World Cup is in full swing. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I was anticipating a larger presence of World Cup enthusiasts. I have seen some people wearing their country colors for the World Cup and a couple who were really decked out. I have heard more comments of fans than anything else. There have been Mexico, Portugal, obviously Holland, Japan, England and others. These people are not overly distinguishable from others, of course I’m not going to be on a flight to Germany where I might have a different opinion. I have learned that football whether it is the American power sport or the world finesse sport is treated as a religion by its adherents.
The matches that I have seen on television have been good, but leave it to American networks to run two games simultaneously so you can’t watch both of them. Yet in American, the world cup has had to compete with the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs, and the college baseball world series, which is still going on. In fact I would appreciate the opportunity to have been able to watch more of the NCAA baseball championships. So, while the rest of the world turns almost all of its attention to the World Cup, it only makes the front of the sports section in the US when we are eliminated.
images
I’m at my destination in Cyprus and the World Cup is very evident. As I walk along the strip every nightclub, pub, and restaurant has a large flat screen plasma television. Last night I was at the beach at a local outdoor restaurant with 2 big screens so you could see the game wherever you were. Between the two matches we watched the Toronto Grand Prix. It’s all in Greek so I’m watching, but I can figure most of it out. England barely pulled it out in their game. It would have been a sad town for all the visiting British had they lost – and I suspect it wouldn’t have been good for business either. I sat with a local crowd and since Cyprus and Greece are not in the world cup they were respectively quiet. My table was pulling for Holland and we thought for sure they would pull it out. I won’t pretend that I know all there is to know about football, but I’m learning. Some of the strategies don’t make sense to me, while others are easily discernible.
Fans are fans, wherever you go. Some are fan-atical while others are reserve. Not being a sport fanatic I find sometimes that the dedication and commitment by fans to teams to be partially unfathomable. I don’t suspect I will soon be a fanatic, but appreciate grows within. Yes, I still long for a good baseball game where I seemingly understand what is happening.

Peter Drucker once said that 95 percent of all that managers do is designed to make it difficult for others to do their job. I’m a manager and I like to think I don’t operate that way, but after the frustrations I have working “through the system” over the last 2 plus years I’m wondering if I have fallen into the 95% trap. I don’t understand why so many organizations don’t trust their employees and why those at or near the top of the organization set themselves up as judge and jury. Peter Block wrote a book a number of years ago called Stewardship. I used it in my graduate leadership class for several years. It hit a resonant note with me about the role of the manager and how to provide leadership in the organization. It also hit a similar feeling related to the behavior of employees. The idea that we are all stewards, rather than leader-follower is a concept that is well developed in some organizations and in other organizations not even a thought that has ever occurred.

I worked for a number of years in an organization that was as close as I have seen to a stewardship culture. I now work in an organization that is loose-tight autocratic. When someone doesn’t follow the guidelines new rules are put into place for everyone to follow. The silo mentality is strongly in place by some executives and not by others. The absence of a leadership model / culture has a significant impact on the organization’s ability to change, grow, and meet new demands. There is a clear absence of leadership at the top of the organization. I see many who want to do what is right, but are confused by what is wanted. I see others who are striving to be creative and to open new opportunities fully frustrated by a system that refuses to recognize change.

I suppose that if some leaders of this organization were to take Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Inventory for The Leadership Challenge they would find themselves woefully lacking. Or I might find that I am out of the mainstream of what should be done. I’m not sure that I’ve ever fully embraced the mainstream, but at least I’ve tried to dance around it. As my wife frequently says, “Your the guy who moves the cheese” and while that may be true I am of the feeling that it is sometimes psychologically painful to move that cheese and make sure it stays moved.

Where does all of this put me. I’m an experienced and, by my standards, a successful manager. I believe I have had some leadership moments. I know I have many blind spots and that sometimes I don’t know when to quit (or shut-up). My gut tells me I’m right and I should continue to fight, so does one of my trusted colleagues. My brain tells me I could use the time and the frustration more effectively doing other things and so does another of my trusted colleagues. Yet, where does the decision ultimately lie? It lies with me, as always, after I have given due consideration, spoken with others that I trust, but who will not mirror my feelings. Making decisions are not necessarily hard, but sometimes hard decisions require decisions that are necessarily hard. It is sometimes the easy decisions that are easiest to make.

As I have reflected upon the above writing I’m asking myself am I half-full glass or half-empty glass person. I’ve always thought of myself as a half-full glass, but after reading the above I’m not so sure. My daughter once made a needle-point that says “Limits exist only in your mind.” I’m a firm believer of that. My comments have caused me to reflect more than I have for some time. I have spent several days writing just these few words, yet I’ve put many hours into reflection. Reflecting on some reading I’ve been doing it may be important for me to take the external view and become a disinterested narrator of the process. That is easier said then done. I doubt it would be a disinterested narrator, but a narrator who looks at the process from a different perspective. I’m not sure I can pull this off. Vivian Gornick wrote some excellent insights into the process. I’m going to give it a try. Learning is doing and doing is learning, and writing is combining learning and doing in a narrative format.

Still writing

June 14, 2006

My goal was to write one chapter a week for the new edition of the book I’m revising. It seemed a reasonable approach and I felt if I put in 30 to 40 hours a week I could do it. That assumed I wrote from 6 am to noon then went in to work for a few hours. Educators have most of the summer off, but as an educator-administrator (oxymoron) I need to show up about 3 days a week. Even as late as Friday I was still anticipating completion of the first chapter. By Saturday I was in good shape, but then I had to transfer the writing to edit sheets, revise, revise, revise, and do all the detail work that makes the editor happy. At that juncture I realized the writing is the easy or the enjoyable part of the process. It is these kinds of details that drive me crazy. Determining what photos to include, securing permissions, making sure the endnotes are correct, double checking the edits to make sure I got all the changes. That almost takes the fun out of writing. Almost, but not quite. Okay, too much whining. No more of that!
I am starting work today on the next more challenging chapter. I’m moving from facts to futures. Facts, when presented well and not just numbers but should be a good read. Futures scenarios are creative writing and more challenging. My goal will be to engage the reader in the next chapter in a different way then I have to this point. Vivian Gornick in The Situation and the Story states, “engagement makes experience, experience makes wisdom, and finally it’s the wisdom–or rather movement toward it–that counts” (p. 14).
I am also trying something else in the introduction to the book. I plan to share “first person” accounts of leisure experiences. In doing so I have asked several people to write on a specific topic and I asked them 3 questions. Taken from a request for a NASCAR weekend, I asked the following:

Would you write me a one-page first person account of a NASCAR weekend. Take it from the idea to the actual experience. I want to know how you felt, what where your emotions (before, during,and after) the NASCAR weekend. I’m not so interested in why you do it rather than the feelings that come about from preparing, participating, and reflecting.

These are good qualitative research questions and simply applied without a desire to move through a thorough qualitative research approach. That may come later. I have yet to apply these into the book, but I’m looking forward to its implementation. It will be a creative process and that is what writing is all about. As always, I will keep you posted.

Summer Writing

June 4, 2006

I’m in the midst of using the summer to revise 3 books simultaneously. Some would consider that reason enough to commit me to a hospital and in lucid moments I consider them not far off the mark. Sometimes forces conspire to overwhelm us and when you have difficulty saying no it makes it all the easier to be overwhelmed. I am not I have a plan. How well will it work? Keep up with me this summer as I share my experiences.

I have put off the revisions for 2 books for far too long. As a result sales for one are dismal and for the other sales continue to be surprisingly good. They both have a demand among students and academicians. I feel compelled to endure a summer of writing to update my work. I have put off vacation, relaxation (well mostly), and travel (except when required), and have hidden from my secretary to accomplish this work. I should turn off my cell phone, but I’m not a monk. I’m just another author who enjoys seeing his name on a book. I will keep you posted on my challenges and successes as I write this summer. Watch my blog “Dan’s Mussings”.

Climbing the wall
Even us authors need a break to climb a wall once in a while.

Classroom visit

May 15, 2006

This past week I had the opportunity to visit my sister’s elementary school. Just for clarification, she is the principal. This afforded me a little different perspective of the visit, and I came away very impressed with the quality of what I saw happening in the classroom and the among the students and faculty. This is a year-round school located in central California. My sister shared with me what was happening as we toured the classrooms and observed teachers in action. For a college professor this was an eye-opening experience. All of my children are grown and gone. I see the products of our educational system and while many in our society seem to be able to find much fault with the educational system, I find much success. Granted, I am at the top of the heap receiving the best that high schools have to offer and not what doesn’t make it through. If I was managing a business where we had high turnover of high school dropouts I might have an entirely different perspective. Back to my visit. . .

As I watched kindergardeners practicing words and sentences I kept reminding myself that when I entered first grade I still couldn’t count past 10. Now these kindergardeners are expected to be readers by the end of that first year of half-days. In a society where English may not be the first language for 50 percent or more of them, that is a daunting task. It is one I believe they are accomplishing. If not, it is not because these teachers are not working hard with the students. Considerable resources are being expended to make our children successful. We should all be thankful for that.

Wandering around the classrooms we got to visit with students, teachers, and support staff. They all radiated a sense of commitment to what they were doing. I even met a university professor visiting student teachers. There was an easy confidence among the faculty. The faculty knew their students and my sister knew every student (and I was impressed) by name. They knew the students strengths and weaknesses, what motivated them (in most cases), when there were problems at home, what needed to be done to help the student grow, and much more than I can share in a short blog here. One young teacher was keeping a photo journal of her class.

For those that suggest American education is failing, I would argue just the opposite. It is succeeding and succeeding quite well. I can’t speak for high schools, but I can for one elementary school in California. I know that my children received a better education than I did and my grandchildren are receiving yet a better education. It may be that in this highly competitive society we need to keep pushing the limits of learning. I don’t believe we have hit those limits yet and as technology improves so will our ability to deliver learning. I was struck by the limited technology being used in the classroom. I saw overhead projectors that were little changed from when I was a student, yet the overhead transparencies were improved. I saw none of what we call smart classrooms. When I asked my sister about this she said it was beyond their budget capability. Do smart classrooms make students smarter. No, but their use can enhance the opportunity for learning. I need to be careful here as I move into discussion areas I am not qualified to discuss.

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It’s Golden Fields

May 9, 2006

Flooding Tuolumne River by A. Passalaqua
Was it just yesterday that I was writing about watering and cutting grass and complaining about the California influence. And here tonight I sit in the central valley of California. I’m always struck by how “brown” California is. As we flew into Oakland the western hills were green – part of the coastal prairie – and then as we drove further east on Interstate 580 we moved from the coastal prairie to the central valley the hills turned that California gold. As we drove south on Interstate 5 and then east on California 132 we were struck with how much flooding was apparent along the Tuolumne River, on both sides of the road. Of course because it was California there was flooding, from the snow runoffs and rain, but mostly the former. Right across the highway from the flooded river basin and just down from the flooded fields a farmer was out making sure his irrigation was in place. Even though we are Californians, we sometimes wonder about the incongruity of it all.
Yet if you are raised with it, do you really wonder. One of my daughters recently moved to Idaho and at church she heard regular prayers for rain. Of course Idaho had been in a drought, but this idea of praying for rain, when you live in a desert, well that was just a little much for her and told a few folks that. Her husband explained to their friends, “You have to forgive her, she is from the midwest.” Perception is everything – it is what we believe and what we act on. Changing beliefs, experiences, and perceptions are all linked.

I’m glad to be in California for a week. The land of brown hills, green cities, busy freeways, and no humidity!

P.S. – The photo is by my nephew and shows the Tuolumne river overflowing near his home.

I’ve been out walking around in my lawn barefoot. I love to walk around barefoot and with the advent of spring, the barefoot experience is awesome. The long grass is cool to my feet, soft to walk on and I don’t tire of it. Yet, today I’m out watering the lawn and no, I don’t have a sprinkler system. I have neglected my lawn for a number of years and my wife has finally gotten to my “it could look better” ideals. So here I am, living in an area where we exceed 40 inches in rain a year, watering the lawn and living in a house with toilets that only use 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush – for you less initiated). I figure once I get the lawn in and established properly with a good solid base my watering days are over. Maybe, but we do get droughts in the midwest – you know 4 to 6 weeks.

just mowed lawn

Growing up in the midwest I never saw anyone water their lawn. Why would you, it is just going to rain. But then we were brainwashed into believing that California looking lawns were beautiful. Who did this brainwashing. I don’t remember in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s seeing any lawn fertilizer companies going up and down the streets – or any little flags in front of houses indicating the lawn had been fertilized. Sure, golf courses always looked great, but parks, lawns, and neighborhoods had dandelions. I do remember my grandmother digging out those pesky weeds. I guess the brainwashing notion may have to wait for another post.

In a way I’ve always envied my western family members. Not because they have to water their lawn, but if they decide they don’t want something to grow, they just don’t water it. But no, not where we get 40+ inches of rain. If we leave a spot alone it will grow everything and none of it will look good. For years we planted a small garden, trying to do our part for a more environmentally friendly neighborhood. We felt like we needed to do that. Then we would be gone for a month and come home to the biggest weed patch ever. We finally decided that planting was okay, but harvesting wasn’t all that it was made up to be. Now, we just run down to the farmers market or Walmart and purchase what we need.

Got to go, time to change the water! I hope this grass grows soon!!!!

On the Road, Again

April 29, 2006

The truth is, I lead a pretty sedentary life. I don’t travel much, I enjoy being at home, and I enjoy the opportunity to focus on my community, which is mostly the university. Trips are not an interference as much as they are an opportunity. Herein lies what seems to be an overarching theme – a chance to grow. This past week I’ve spent time in Utah and California, visiting with family and a university in that order. In the former I had the opportunity to spend time with two of our extended families and their children.

As I visited this morning with a former parks and recreation director he said, when it is all said and done, what is most important is family. That was refreshing to hear. I don’t hear it nearly often enough. We get so caught up in our day to day activities, in our goal to be or do better. It is families that we find an eternal perspective. I don’t know my great grandfathers or their great grandfathers, except as names on a genealogy sheet. However, I did know my grandfather and somehow I sense that he knew his grandfather and that through his life he honored both his father and grandfather. Okay, I know that is a broad and probably highly erroneous assumption, but some of us like to live in the world of assumptions – for good or bad.

Nonetheless, I do believe that the time I spend with my family strengthens their knowledge of me, strengthens me as I see their personal growth and development – physical, emotional, and spiritual. I revel in that personal growth – just as I revel in the personal growth of my spouse. I have come to the conclusion after my time in Utah that my wife’s frequent trips to visit children are all important.
I'm So Cool

Coming back to my theme – I do learn from my children and grandchildren. I’m also reinvigorated by their personal growth, by the knowledge they share with me (directly and indirectly). As I watch my children interact with one another and with their spouses I see reflections of their mother, and of their father, but I like to think the really positive things in their life come from their mother.

Learning, then is not always something new. Sometimes it is a feeling or a focus or a sense of time or place. Learning sometimes comes as a reinforcement to existing knowledge, other times as a side trip that turns into excitement, or yet other times as a rude awakening. Yesterday as I sat reading a report describing low enrollment in an academic program it was couched as “being at the end of a product life cycle.” I have always pursued enrollment declines as a cyclical issue rather than a marketing issue. This was startling to me and has caused me to begin rethinking who we are. If the park and recreation academic marketplace is at the end of a product lifecycle, then sport management is very much at the front end of its product lifecycle. The challenge becomes how do we reposition ourselves to reinvigorate the lifecycle? That’s a discussion for another time.