The Woman in the Summer Dress

the woman in thesummer dress-2When my eyes partially opened yesterday morning, due to the bright sunlight causing me to squint, I asked myself what would make my Father’s Day special. A woman immediately popped into my mind without any prompting or forethought.

She’s a person who I’ve shared sporadic and trivial conversation with over the past six months. Nothing notable about any dialogue would suggest an interest on her part to learn more about me, but I found a great deal of curiosity on my part.

There was one thing about her that captivated me and I wanted to find out what made her shine in the presence of those she met.

Watching her interact with others from afar fueled my curiosity. At the end of each conversation, everyone she walked away from was left with a big smile reflecting the interaction. She clearly had the ability to listen, care and inspire.

I thought Father’s Day might make her childless for the afternoon and considered that my opportunity to learn about her might be a possibility. My mind went through a dozen scenarios in what I might say to entice a meaningful conversation over lunch. But our paths didn’t cross.

My wondering mind found deep feelings of self-rejection surfacing as I got in my car and started to drive away. I had failed myself and might have to live with the painful feelings of regret for some time. I just didn’t have what it took to attract a woman of integrity long enough to learn about what made her special.

I turned and headed toward the exit of the parking lot. Glancing into each mirror to make sure everything was properly positioned, I noticed the beautiful woman in the summer dress walking toward me. Well, she was walking toward her car that was in the same direction that I was headed.

Instinctively I took my foot off of the gas and slowed the car. I could see her radiance as she walked my direction. Her dress was perfectly suited for the day, both classy and fun in its appearance. Her joyful demeanor caused me to take pause and wonder if my dream about chatting over lunch was viable.

My mind raced with ideas to pull over, park the car and walk toward her, versus appearing like a stalker spotting his prey. Argh!!! I had nothing to offer her except for time and interest, but it couldn’t be enough for someone as energizing as her.

Certainly she required time with only men that could bring great value to her life.

The value a man brings into the life of a woman varies greatly and a man’s viewpoint of it is typically short of reality. Dad used to work extra hours so he could buy the wonderful things mom dreamt about, yet when she bragged about her husband she always talked about the safety and kindness he provided our family.

There was a disconnect between the two.

Dad only needed one simple thing in his life: freedom to be creative. But mom didn’t understand what that meant or how it played out. Unknowingly she squelched all of his dreams. I watched dad deal with the agony of tearing apart the cool secret storage wall he created in the basement after mom nixed the project midstream.

I lifted my foot from the brake peddle as I took my eyes down from the rearview mirror. I had lost the battle within my soul and pain filled my gut more quickly than I could ever remember. There was something special I was leaving behind and I’d never know the answer to what raised my curiosity.

Unconsciously my foot hit the brake again. My heart was crying out for the answer. I had to know why this woman was so important to me. Was she to be a great friend? A lover? A muse?

Her stride was light as her classy dress waved in a pattern of confidence and beauty. Her countenance was alluring and her step had a subtle, yet fun bounce to it.

My heart stirred and I felt my arms turn the steering wheel to park, but my mind overrode those feelings and released the brakes. The car crawled forward to the edge of the parking lot exit. I had lost my internal battle. I accelerated into traffic and didn’t look back.

That afternoon, I sat alone on the couch eating a salad that I picked up from an organic health store, but it made me feel ill. My day of hope had turned into a nauseous feeling of hopelessness. My stomach settled a few hours later and a phone call shifted my mind to a screenplay I needed to rework.

The day became more pleasant when each of my kids called to wish me a happy Father’s Day. My perspective shifted back to a promising future with the day’s hoped for conversation dissipating from the forefront of my mind.

I would be all right without the answers to this woman in the summer dress.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Difference Between Talent and Genius

MemoirsMagic is a word that falls short of explaining the difference between the artisan who is wildly talented in his craft versus the person that is a genius in that same craft. Yet we can understand that Michael Jordan was a genius on the basketball court and Beethoven was a genius in the concert hall.

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer found the distinction between talent and genius easy to delineate.

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

American Novelist Jack Kerouac, a writer who felt he had nothing to offer but his own confusion, found the roles between talent and genius clear.

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.”

The difference between the two elements that rise from deep within the artist does not separate him from the pains that all artisans experience. Jan Swafford shared in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, his tragic and triumphant genius that made him an outsider. She stated that he was “utterly sure of himself and his gift, but no less self-critical and without sentimentality concerning his work.”

Swafford also shared her perspective on talent versus genius:

“Genius is something that lies on the other side of talent… Talent is largely inborn, and in a given field some people have it to a far higher degree than others. Still, in the end talent is not enough to push you to the highest achievements. Genius has to be founded on major talent, but it adds a freshness and wildness of imagination, a raging ambition, and unusual gift for learning and growing, a depth and breadth of thought and spirit, an ability to make use of not only your strengths but also your weaknesses, an ability to astonish not only your audience but yourself.”

Being self-aware, Beethoven described genius in his letter to Emilie:

“The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits; he has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal; and while others may perhaps admire him, he laments the fact that he has not yet reached the point whither his better genius only lights the way for him like a distant sun.”

Skills are taught and will accompany inborn talent, but genius is that elusive element that births the wow factor. Genius is not learned. It is what I describe as a supernatural gift that allows the artisan to create things that no one else considers. It gives him a vantage point on life that no one else can see without him manifesting it within his art.

A good example might be the author who gets writer’s block. He may be a skilled writer, but the talented continue to play with words until the story comes together. The talented has several books inside of him waiting to come out, but the genius has an unlimited supply of stories to share for his lifetime.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Father’s Day Dream

A Father'sA special day is just around the corner for dads. Some are looking forward to grabbing a beer and plopping down in their favorite chair to watch a sports event. Others will be dragged to a family function more geared toward women than men, yet it will all be in the name of honoring fathers. And, there will be those dads who long to capture another moment of life with his kids, no matter what their ages.

My dad, like myself, enjoyed the latter activity. He loved to spend time building special memories with my sister and me on Father’s Day, but my mom often had other plans. The older I got, the more I realized that dad just wanted three things out of Father’s Day: thanks, recognition, and appreciation.

THANKS

Dad sacrificed a significant amount of his free time to make extra money so I could do the activities I loved. He networked with key people in town to get me a job at the camera store where I bought my first professional camera system and used it to win Kodak’s national composition award.

Dad also supported my love for music and connected me with the owner of the music store in town. Within a few weeks, I found myself playing drums for elaborate parties, weddings and jazz clubs. Dad also supported my ability to perform and encouraged me to create a show of illusions that led to a first place award in the regional magicians competition.

And guess who let me use his professional 16mm movie camera to explore the world of film. It was no wonder that I shot my first documentary for CBS by age 18. Having grown up with a camera pointed at me since the age of 11 months, I felt at ease in production settings.

RECOGNITION

Without understanding what recognition was, I’d regularly share stories about my dad’s adventures with hundreds of people I met. I shared stories of his heroics like the Saturday morning we were driving downtown in our village. The bank alarm sounded and we watched a robber run out of the bank with a large bag of cash. The guy ran right past the front of our car causing us to screech to a stop. My dad told mom to slide over and grab the steering wheel as he hopped out of the car.

Since my dad was a police officer and they’re never “off duty,” he pulled his .38 Special out from his jacket and headed into the Woolworth store after the robber. He shouted to the clerk to call the police and headed down the aisle in pursuit. Police officers arrived on scene within moments after my dad handcuffed the bank robber and led him to the front of the store. He nonchalantly walked back to the car and we continued on our way as if nothing had happened.

I also recognized him when I won my first national and international directing awards. After all, he helped me understand how to capture story on film and even taught me simple, yet profound concepts like these words of wisdom he shared, “It’s a motion picture and the camera is made for movement, so if the actor isn’t moving the camera needs to move.”

APPRECIATION

My favorite times were those spent chatting with dad about life. Our talks were deep, precious and always just the two of us. If we were in a group of guys, instead of conversations about life, we took turns telling stories that fascinated every man leaning in. When in a group of women we’d listen attentively and only shared a few words when we could add value. But those times we connected alone, whether for 5-10 minutes or longer, were priceless.

I saw in my father’s eyes great pride when I took his words to heart. He knew that one day he could release me in the world and I’d stand tall, making decisions that would make him proud. In fact, I remember the day he acknowledged my manhood and shared with others how proud he was of me. But more importantly I remember the day at the cottage when I thanked him for all that he had instilled in my life. His eyes were filled with such an afterglow that I never thought was possible.

My mom told me later that dad bragged about me to all of his friends for weeks after that day. I suppose it may have lasted longer if it weren’t for the plane crash that took his life at the end of summer. Had I known the power of my appreciation earlier in life, I think he might have glowed for years.

I’ll miss dad this Father’s Day, as I recall more stories than I’ll have time to share with others. He was a servant to our family, a leader in our community, a veteran from WWII, and the best storyteller that I’ve met to date. I couldn’t even begin to think creatively if it weren’t for him.

It’s my hope for fathers all across the globe that this Father’s Day they will be thanked, recognized and appreciated. And more importantly, that they’ll be able to connect with their kids in a heartfelt manner.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Riches of Cross-Gender Conversation

Conversation_with_Opposite_GenderWhenever the entire family got together to celebrate holidays someone would inevitably mention the matriarch we all lived under. The women in the family predetermined my childhood activities and there were so few men that no one argued for alternate experiences.

In Cub Scouts I was labeled a “mama’s boy” and by the time I entered Boy Scouts the words, “Mama’s little cherry tart,” rang in my ears weekly. The repetitive degradation limited my dialogue with guys, but thankfully the women in my life supplied an ample amount of conversation for a young boy.

Not only did I learn to be a good listener, but I also got pretty good at jumping back and forth between non-linear simultaneous banter. My dad’s ability to carrying a conversation exceeded that of most men too, especially when filled with his unending list of stories that captivated everyone in the room. I’m not sure if our skills developed to help us survive living within the matriarch or we were hardwired to communicate from birth.

By the time I received my drivers license, I realized that few men were able to chat for any length of time. I unconsciously developed more female than male friendships. This was probably due to my comfort level conversing with women, but also because I understood that the more people shared, the more fascinating their life story.

Finding a good conversationalist was like discovering a hidden treasure filled with heartfelt pieces of gold. As trust developed through a series of chats, the information shared became more profound and admirable. The level of vulnerability increased and the waves of delight and amazement for the person’s life achievements commanded respect. Meeting a man or a woman capable of carrying on a vulnerable conversation inspired my life and blessed me with great intangible wealth.

But a few days ago, I read a Focus on the Family article that if heeded takes away that treasure. The words were a warning to married men about conversing with women. The thought of not having in depth chats with women to placate someone’s fears was absurd.

The article referenced the “Billy Graham’s Rules” and suggested all men need to follow it to protect their marriages. But the piece wasn’t clear that the rules, actually called the “Modesto Manifesto,” were put together by a group of guys wanting to protect their ministries from any appearance of controversy. It had little to do with their wives.

Vice President Pence’s choice to never be alone in a room with a woman who isn’t his wife was also mentioned. Based on what I’ve read about Pence, he is a man of integrity and does not yield to what he knows is wrong. Surely his wife knows of his integrity too, so why does he avoid being in a room with another woman? Is it because he doesn’t trust himself or women?

Being a man of good character and integrity should give you access to conversations with women, not force you to sever the possibility from life. I’ve learned more from women in my life than I have from men. I can’t even begin to comprehend how little knowledge I would’ve amassed using the alleged protection rule.

Integrity to me means that I will live my life in the same way in public and behind closed doors. I will endeavor to be honest at all times, sustain my moral principles through example, and live uprightly according to godly standards, not man’s. I will also live a holistic life and not present a divided self. I will be a creative person in public and in private.

As for being goofy, since it’s a side effect of my imagination, I will choose when to reveal it and to whom. After all, few people would want me to act goofy at a funeral. But, in keeping with integrity, I have no problem with people learning that I can be down right goofy. Or, as my kids put it—Weird.

So if I were married, I would hope my relationship with my wife reveals who I am. I’d want her to see into the deepest part of my soul where life long trust is built. With that kind of access to my heart, I believe she would trust my integrity and our marriage. This state of partnership would then allow for conversations with anyone I meet.

Now, this is not to say that I’m not careful. I am. I’d be a fool to continue an in depth conversation with any person, man or woman, which does not live by similar standards. If a person is trying to win or persuade me away from what I know is true and right, then I immediately lose respect for them and see no need to continue the conversation. I politely walk away.

A few years after my divorce, I remember meeting a woman that was super hot and equally as sweet. My integrity told me to walk away, not because she wasn’t of value, she was, but there was something about her that stopped me from being me. I had to continue living an integrated life based on the principles that I adhere to and her presentation was hindering my moral success internally. Left unchecked, it could eventually dampen my morals externally.

I do not want to be a moral failure. Nor do I want to cut out the riches in my life because some men were fearful they might do wrong without a pact. I do not make fear-based decisions. I do not answer to how an organization, author or a group of men think I should live. I answer to only one person—the creator and protector of my soul.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Oddity of Friendship

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Seneca, Roman philosopher

In the world of entertainment there are fans and super fans, all of which become “friends” in social media. In the world of business there are co-workers and managers, also listed as “friends” in social media. This is also true in religion, government and education.

But is it meaningful?

How friendship looks through the eyes of 21st century inhabitants seems to be dictated by mobile devices. The art of friendship has disintegrated through the politically correct posturing of social media and the lack of personal attention given to others.

My recent trip to Michigan in support of a long time friend caused me to wonder how many of my “friends” I would support through their grief. More perplexing to my psyche was the question about which ones might support me.

I came to realize that the depths of friendships we have are solely of our own making. Oh, it’s a two way street through the give and take of life events as they unfold, but we still choose our friends. We also determine how much vulnerability and intimacy we bring to each relationship.

I heard one person say that they only look for friends that will not judge them. Yet, everyone judges whether or not a person is worthy of his or her time and friendship, and rightfully so, as we only have time for a couple intimate friends.

The first-century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote letters on the two pillars of friendship: “a friend is a person with whom (one) may be sincere;” and, “one who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.”

I’m all too familiar with the person who wants to strike up a friendship to advance their career or social status. Fair-weathered friends are far more common than most think and happens within all levels of society. We can even lower our standards for the sake of what we too can draw from a relationship.

But let me be clear, I’m not condemning partnerships designed to move businesses forward or give life to charities, but rather I’m speaking to that intimate level of friendship that we all desire deep within our hearts. I’m speaking to the friendship where each involved will willfully give their life for their friend should circumstances require such a compassionate resolve.

True deep friendship is not about what we might gain from the other person. It’s about what we give of ourselves to maintain the relationship.

Seneca said, “He who regards himself only, and enters upon friendships for this reason, reckons wrongly.”

My recent travel out of state was a seed sown into my friendship that may or may not ever be reciprocated. I was okay with that idea, as I was giving to the friendship not drawing from it. The day I need to draw from it will come soon enough in the scope of life’s ups and downs, but for now I needed to make a compassionate deposit.

Seneca had additional thoughts on how to capture more true friends than false ones when he said, “If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means… When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who … judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself… Regard him as loyal and you will make him loyal.”

Judging a person by their character and ability to maintain information as a confidant is of great value when deciding to let them into your heart for a meaningful relationship. Guarding your heart from those who don’t qualify for intimacy is even more critical.

Over the past few years I’ve met many good listeners and people of good report. The character of many has caused me to step up my personal efforts. But, finding a person who will not share my inner most thoughts with another person has come up empty all too often.

Most people of good character, in the name of love and wanting what’s best for me, report back to someone who tries to watch over me. Oh, I don’t mind a mentor or two, but I long for that one person who will keep my comments to themselves—someone who is willing to be a true friend.

The oddity of friendship is perplexing. We all have lots of secondary friends that are of great value. We have even more fair-weathered friends who support us circumstantially, which can be helpful. But, so few of us have that one friend who will keep our deepest, darkest secrets.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Mere Man

a mere manMy travels took me on an adventure that I’ll never forget. The wisdom I gleaned as the trip events unfolded took me from the somber depths of death to the invigorating honor of eternal life. I saw what few men today have an opportunity to witness and yet it came without pomp and circumstance.

To support a special friend of mine, one who has endured much and was still found with love in her heart toward mankind, I hopped in my car and headed off on what a map program suggested would be a five hour trip. Eight hours later I arrived at the funeral parlor where her father’s viewing had gathered countless souls.

I quietly stepped into the room. The polish on my shoes looked dull compared to the luminous look of joy on my friend’s face. We embraced, as long time friends do, and she scurried me off to meet members of her family that I had never met. Each face reflected thankfulness for my long journey and desire to be of encouragement. But it was I who was encouraged.

One sister attempted to share the value of my attendance, but her eyes suggested that her words fell short in explaining what the moment meant to her sister and family. Her eyes seemed to search for better words, but all she could do was give my hand a gentle squeeze and share a genuine smile.

Her mother received me with open arms and a warm heart. In the midst of her grieving she temporarily set her pain from the loss of her husband aside and showed me compassion. She too was generous with encouraging words and I realized that my presence meant more than any feeble attempt I might make speaking words of comfort.

The generosity of shared love within the room was overwhelming and I quickly forgot I was in a funeral parlor. Somber comments mixed with the jovial soon filled the air as people took their seats and listened to many shared life experiences with my friend’s father. Each talked about their encounter with him and the changes he instilled in their lives. And a few, after sharing their personal growth, pointed out his humorous idiosyncrasies.

Laughter filling the room did everyone’s heart good like medicine. The humble setting was permeated with honor for this man of God. All in attendance recognized his humility. Those who heeded his advice to pray and read the Word of God daily gave amazing testimonies. The number of miracles I heard caused my head to spin.

And yet, he was a mere man.

Eager to hear every life-changing story, I mingled for some time after the service ended. I listened attentively to numerous people and shared few words of my own. My confidence in this man’s legacy was resolute. He indeed was a god-fearing man that was led by the Spirit of the Living God. I had no doubt and I wanted to be a mere man, too.

Moments later I found myself chatting with a woman whose life had been ravaged for the past several years. In a last ditch effort to survive the stream of abuse she endured, she filed for divorce. Our conversation reminded her of what “life” was supposed to look like, which greatly contrasted her present conditions.

Relief came over her face and a glint of hope sparkled in her eyes. It had been too long since she had something to look forward to in life, but on this day hope welled up within her soul. She sensed that the next chapter in her life might be about beauty in place of ashes. She thanked God for our divine appointment and left with great expectations to see what He had in store for her life going forward.

“A divine appointment.” That’s what she called it. Something astonishing had happened and I knew it had nothing to do with me. I felt like a mere man.

Then it dawned on me.

My friend’s father was a man who believed in truth, spoke words of love into the lives of those around him, and made himself available to be an encouragement during their times of need. He was far more than a mere man—He was a man who chose to engage with those that needed encouragement.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creating a Polished Presentation

I was thinking about what it would take to create a polished presentation that would “WOW” the socks off of people. The work would require a new creative approach to take people on an emotional and educational ride that they’ve never been on before. The new method in and of itself would be refreshing.

My mind jumped to a chapter from “The Imagineering Workout” by the Disney Imagineers. Susan Dain, an Imagineer Show Designer, shared some of her notes about how to produce the perfect finishing touches to make a magical product. I took sketchnotes as I reread her four paragraphs, but I used my perspective of creating a polished presentation as a filter.

Here are my sketchnotes followed by an example:

 

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After reviewing my notes, instead of giving a polished presentation example, I’ve decided to share a creative example from my son and his family’s recent move. When I walked into my granddaughter’s new bedroom I was elated with the uniqueness of its layout. It made the room special, which in my mind requires an extraordinary design.

Using everything stored in my brain and heart, I started to dream up several ideas. More specifically, I wondered how the room could be designed to cause my granddaughter to smile from ear to ear like she does every time I visit her.

Creating a design that would make someone smile in that special way takes a tremendous amount of energy to apply all the information it would take, plus the use of skills and whatever talents can be tapped into for the project. And then, it’s time to figure out a fresh new way of combining everything into the purpose of making her smile every time she wakes up and every evening before closing her eyes at bedtime.

It would take brainstorming and mock ups galore. Until that moment when I’d realize that the best idea has been captured and figured out. Then, and only then, would it be time to approach her room with paint, thing-a-ma-bobs and do-hickeys.

But alas, I wouldn’t be able to do it, as her parents would want to help her design the room as a family activity.

It’s a good thing the creative process is fun and rewarding.

I can’t wait to see what she does with her room.

© 2017 by CJ Powers