Word Phobia Kills Creativity

Words have power. 

As a public speaker in Toastmaster clubs for over 25 years, I understand and appreciate the impact of a well-crafted phrase.   Words have the immense power to inspire, educate, persuade and entertain.

Now certain ideas, phrases and books are deemed inappropriate and unacceptable.   Entertainment in the form of humor and satire is slowly being extinguished.   The creative spark of many minds is being snuffed out.

In the name of “compliance” and “correctness” we have limited and constrained our ability to share and discuss ideas.  Only the government-approved ideas are allowed on the most powerful and prolific platforms.  Those in power control the narrative and are now limiting the free exchange and expression of thought.

Like the lockdowns of the past year, this is not a healthy trend.  The impact of the current silencing is devastatingly sad. 

Some say that laughter is the best medicine.  Entertainment and light-hearted comedy can help heal our lonely and wounded souls. 

Humor is a uniquely human superpower that is being taken away when we need it most.

Photo by Steve Smull

I do not condone angry, hurtful speech but the recent crack down on “violations of community standards” is a bit harsh and extreme in my view.  

Why do some powerful entities want to keep everyone so sad, anxious and upset?  Do they want people do remain lonely, isolated and frustrated?

More and more I am witnessing creative creators being suppressed.  These creators have been a shining light of entertaining wordplay and comic relief through out this year of dark fear and despair.  These fun and joyful voices are now stifled and suppressed. 

The fear of the virus is now being replaced with the fear of words.   The wide, rich and expressive vocabulary of the English language is being brutally pruned by oppressive control freaks.  

At the rate things are going, I soon won’t be able to write or speak the words “oppressive control freaks” without being banned or punished.

As I continue on my creative journey of expression, I hope that my courage and resolve remain steady and strong in the face of increasing pressure to conform and be quiet.

Word phobia is a sad new condition that I hope will be treated by an infusion of ingenious humor and reasonable common sense.

As the world begins to heal and open up, freedom will beget happiness.  Happiness is sustained by fun entertainment.  

Words have the power to entertain, let’s not take that potential away.

The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling book, but I don’t want a world of the Quieting of the Sheep.

Photo by Steve Smull

Ways to Connect

There are many ways to get your message to others.

Written words, spoken words, gestures, music, songs, drawings, photos, smoke signals, flags and sign language are methods to communicate with others.

Today, I’m experimenting with a new way to connect.

Click below for my first 30 second emoji video.

More thoughts, ideas and messages to come in this short, fun format. There are so many cool animals and avatars to choose from.

Ernie our hedgehog is ready for Spring

Below is Ernie playing shuffleboard at a VFW post in Leander, Texas.

A Marvelous Facebook Universe

Step right up! Don’t be shy!  

Dare to venture into the wonderful world of social distortion, um, I mean media. 

Ah yes, social media, the place where healthy and productive conversations go to die.

If you are tired, frustrated and/or annoyed with your Facebook newsfeed, I have some good news for you.

I welcome you to join me as we enter Steve’s Emporium of Internet Delights.  My best friend and husband, Steve, has been the driving force behind what I’m about to share with you and I have been a behind-the-scenes contributor and co-administrator to these shenanigans.

Steve Smull, Creative Word Master

To revitalize your Facebook experience, I encourage you to check out the Groups.  

The well run, upbeat Facebook groups are where it’s at if you are looking for a positive, entertaining and creative place to let loose. 

Steve has created six lively Facebook groups that are cheerful, happy islands for people around the world. These communities are relatively small and have active, spirited participation.  Though the groups are lightly moderated with minimal rules from the admins, rude, intolerant or aggressive behavior is rarely, if ever, seen.

Below are the six zany groups that we shepherd:

  • Ernie’s Oasis– Started in 2016 as Ernie’s Fake News, this group is my all-time favorite and features the ongoing antics and silly stories of our adorable hedgehog Ernie (see photo above).  This humorous site is truly a happy-place getaway for many people. 
  • Dysfunctional Communicators– This newly formed group takes satire, sarcasm and word play to a new level.  Here the admins leverage their Toastmaster experience to assist with communication challenges.
  • Lame-0’s– A cross between Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Beavis and Butthead. Serious adults need not apply.
  • We Are Not Aliens From Outer Space– Out of this world photos and discussions of other galaxies.
  • Run Away and Join the Circus– A free-wheeling group with escapist themes.
  • The Reasons Why We Are Leaving This Group– A never ending list of reasons why people are exiting stage right.

If you are craving light-hearted banter, productive dialogues, satire, unusual angles, great photos and fun stories with witty wordplay in a tolerant, supportive environment, these Facebook groups and others like them are the place for you.

Come have a marvelous time in the positive Facebook universe where you get some relief from the stress and strife of tedious newsfeeds.  

 Ernie is waiting for you with a big cookie and a smile!

There are also various animals to help you be a better communicator.

Now More Then Ever- The Importance of the American Legion’s Mission

In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.

Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:

  • Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
  • Advocating patriotism and honor

In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong. 

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor.  By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.

Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion.   The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.

I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”

“In her own good land here she’s been abused 
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in

‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right

On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”

Photo by Steve Smull


Wise Wishes: 3 Gifts for 2021

As millions of people around the world celebrate Three Kings Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, I reflect upon the power of three.

As is written in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, three kings/wise men/magi came from the east to Bethlehem to present three gifts to a new born child named Jesus.

If you were magically granted three wishes, what would they be?

More than anything, I want the following three things for our world in 2021:

  1. Trust
  2. Courage
  3. Common Sense

These simple values are mighty and powerful and are sadly in short supply.

The global pandemic of 2020 has frayed the fabric of society’s faith and confidence in so many governments and institutions.

I pray that our world leaders, families, friends and neighbors can receive this trinity of goodness.

Trust, courage and common sense are invaluable in the face of today’s immense challenges.

What Is Truth? Data Quality Takes on New Importance

Before the pandemic, I was planning on writing an article about Truth.  I was inspired by Johnny Cash and his song “What is Truth?”.   There was a interesting documentary about this song and when it was rebelliously performed in 1970 by the Man in Black for the President at the White House. The story of Nixon’s music requests and Johnny’s defiance struck a chord in me. johnny_cash

 

After 5 months of COVID-19 devastating health and economic impact on the entire globe, there is great attention and a need to know what the facts are so our leaders can make informed decisions about response, mitigation and reopening plans.

Knowledge is Power and Data is King but I continue to ask “What is Truth?”.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Everyone wants our local, state and federal officials to “follow science” and make data-driven decisions but not everyone agrees on the numbers, patterns and trends.  Not everyone agrees on what “settled science” is.

One expert proclaims one set of conclusions while another presents a compelling argument discounting it and supporting an opposite view.

Who is right?

Which set of data is the truth?

These profound, global questions are now front and center at my job where I am on a committee tasked with Improving Data Quality.  The main objective of this key 2020 initiative at my workplace is to ensure that the underlying information and data in our system of record (Remedy) is consistent and accurate.

As with the global heads of state, this quality data is crucial for the company’s leaders to identify gaps, patterns and trends so that they can make the best decisions for prevention and improved outcomes.

As I reflect upon my work team’s new mantra:  Restore, Prevent and Protect, I can’t help but think and reflect upon the world’s current challenge with COVID-19.

At my company, my role is to manage a team of Incident Commanders.  We are like digital firefighters and paramedics and work to restore service for our clients.  When a software or hardware system goes down, we mobilize support teams on a recovery call and facilitate the fixing of the problem.  We strive to “put out the fire” and revive the “patient” as quickly as possible.

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Recently my team expanded its role of Incident Management into the Problem Management space.  Once we resolve the issue, we help find out the Root Cause and focus on ways to prevent the outage from happening again. We restore, we prevent and we protect the production environment.  Production means live and customer facing systems (websites, stock trading platforms, etc).

To enable us to do the Prevention and Protection piece, we need to capture all of the information and data about what happened.  What caused the problem to occur?  Was it a result of a recent change?  All of this root cause analysis is captured in a centralized system of record that drives a crazy number of dashboards, charts and graphs.   The underlying quality of the data is so important because so many long reaching decisions are based on them.

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Every day for the past 4 months, I have been logging into my state’s Department of Health Dashboard to see what the current COVID  numbers are.  I look at the percentages and the rates per 100,000.  I look at the total deaths and the demographic breakdowns.

Most of all I care about the trends because I know that this is what my Governor is looking at when making decisions and executive orders about what businesses can be opened and when students will be permitted to have in-person instruction.

I was a bit confused and concerned the other day when I saw that the COVID dashboard had a -1 value in the daily death count box.  How could this be? What is a negative death?  What was the quality check on the data?  What this an automation mistake or a human error?

So many people are questioning the accuracy and validity of the numbers as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and I am afraid that the hyper-polarization in this US election year will only continue to make the situation difficult.

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In the end, all that I can do is focus on and improve what’s in my control. 

At work, I can help my team improve the data quality of our incidents and problems by providing clear guidance, standards and training.  We can enhance our processes to conduct frequency reviews and quality checks of the information we capture.  With an Agile mindset, we can focus on continuous improvement through experimenting inspecting and adapting.  We can work to have better accuracy and hit our targets.

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I wish I could have an influence on the quality of the health statistics at a local, state and federal levels but that is above my pay grade.  All I will continue to do is make the best personal decisions I can for myself and my family based on what I believe to be true.

But again, What is Truth?

Is there a way to guarantee the accuracy and consistency of the test results and confirmed causal deaths across 50 states and over 150 countries?

I’m not so sure that this is even possible, so why should I worry and fret about it?

In light of this, I’ll leave you with some quotes on statistics.

It is my hope that you are safe and well and are making the best possible decisions you can based on the data and information that our medical experts and government leaders are providing us.

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” 

– Mark Twain

 

“We must be careful
not to confuse data
with the abstractions
we use to analyse them.”

– William James

How my Positive Pathway Project Led to Many Matrix Probes

In an effort to be more aware of my thoughts and be “more positive”,  I increased my focus, followed a new trail and ended up expanding my understanding of reality.

What started out as what I thought was a simple Toastmasters Pathways Level 3 project morphed into a complete reevaluation of my worldview.

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I feel like we are living in a multidimensional matrix where there are countless numbers of people plugged into a multitude of different “systems”.  Could it be that if you are connected to one system then you completely unaware of and can’t even communicate with people attached to other systems?

Is a shared view of humanity an illusion?  Are shared values possible?  Can there be positive national identities?

Is anyone truly aware of the genuine nature of the world or do we all have our own unique perceptions and lens with which to comprehend and experience it?

As author and heavyweight boxer Ed Latimore wrote in his book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower,  “Many people have no desire to wake up.  They enjoy the lie and the comfort it brings.  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix”,  “The matrix is a system.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save. You have to understand,  most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to keep it”.

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As I pay attention to my thoughts and focus on trying keeping a positive outlook, I can’t help but wonder- is that even possible?

Is it realistic to be optimistic in the world today given the various limitations (blind spots) on our view of reality?  Or will our connection to the “system” provide us with the ability to stay content in a comfortably numb but happy bubble?

What about people who seem to be plugged into a system that keeps them perpetually upset, negative and anxious?  How will they become aware of a different and more productive matrix?

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I dislike the binary choice of a “blue pill” or a “red pill” and it is my hope that humans can wake up and take a “clear pill” so that they can see things in a perspicuous and unimpeded way.

How’s that for “staying positive”?

 

Coming Out of Lockdown

No one in the world was ready.

Not a single person was perfectly prepared for the tsunami named COVID- 19.
Some early warning was given, some was heeded, some ignored.  It was the Lunar New Year after all.

The consequences of so many leadership decisions worldwide in January and February 2020 will be analyzed and scrutinized for years. The unintended consequences will be felt for decades.

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Photo by Sean Sandoval on Pexels.com


The past 100+ days have been a challenge for everyone. The world is united in its suffering and we all are experiencing it our own unique way. Our own personal lens and experience defines how we view and perceive the dreaded coronavirus.

I’ve been hit harder on an emotional level than I thought I would be.

My writing had ceased. My creativity was squashed. The pandemic lockdown rocked my perspective.


I know I am not alone. My problems are not unique. I’m not a snowflake but I do feel more fragile than ever.


I am not alone. This sucks for a lot of people on the planet. But what choice do we have? We survive, we cope, we endure, we adapt. That’s what humans do.


I’m writing again, and you are some of the first people to read my words this year.
I am writing again and it won’t be perfect but it will be real, raw and heartfelt.


The reality is that I feel a rainbow of emotions each day. Some warm, some cold, many are red hot.


I’ve recently resolved to be more positive (it’s also part of a Toastmasters level 3 Pathways project) and I have to confess –  it is extremely difficult to be positive in the world today.


I’ve never had to isolate so much and sever my physical connections from my family and friends. It hurts.

But now, as July approaches, I have new resolve and clearer focus!

I endeavor to pay attention to these 4 areas:

  1. Creativity
  2. Grounding
  3. Writing 
  4. Discipline 

I was inspired by a great quote from Ed Latimore which proclaims “Self discipline is freedom”.  I like that since the only thing I can control is myself- my own behavior and habits.

And so, I work on myself and my reactions to the external and often negative input and stimulus.  I work on my own thoughts and actions and I pay attention to what I consume (digitally, emotionally and physically).

I don’t know what the future holds but at least I am writing again and I hope that this messages reaches a few people around the world and lets them know that they are not alone in their suffering. We are not alone in our difficult challenges.

I may not have been ready for this pandemic but I am certainly adapting and modifying my thoughts and behavior to survive the storm.

In closing, I’m looking over at the wall hanging in my office which says,

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass,

It’s learning to dance in the rain”.

– Vivian Green

I’m dancing and I’m writing and I hope that you will join me.

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Strong Connections, Healthy Brains

A 3 Point Inspection Plan for a Battle Ready Body

One of the things that surprised me most when I served in the US Army was the insane amount of time spent cleaning- whether it was cleaning our equipment, our weapons, our boots or the bathrooms,  it seemed like we always polishing, maintaining and recovering things. At the time, I didn’t fully understand and appreciate why there would be so much focus on Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services otherwise known in the Army as PMCS. The sergeants and officers in my unit were obsessive about this and we had these checks on the training schedule more days than not. And so my platoon did Physical Training (PT), inspections and equipment maintenance nearly every day. Why did we do this? To be in the best, most high performing condition and ready for battle.

Now let’s think about how many cars you’ve owned in the last 25 years? How many oil changes, tire rotations and maintenance checks have they had?  How many 15 point inspections were done?  How much time and money have you spent to ensure that your vehicle was in good condition and ready for a road trip?

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One of the things that puzzles me about American society today is how much time and energy people put into the care of their motor vehicles and how much less effort and focus is put into maintaining their bodies.

Speaking of bodies. So far on this planet, how many human bodies have you had?

Last I checked, we only get issued one body at birth.

The good news is, unlike a car or machine, our bodies are self-healing and adaptable, we just need to give them the proper care and attention.

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I am excited to share with you a simple 3 point inspection plan to help get your body battle ready.

One of my favorite bands of the 1970’s is Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and this is how you can remember the three points:

  1. Connect

  2. Care

  3. Recover

First let’s talk about the importance of Connections.  What I miss most about being in the military is the camaraderie, bonds and cohesion. I always felt like I was part of a supportive team.  Someone always had my back.  The value and benefit to having a strong circle of good friends and family should not be overlooked in today’s virtual world.

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Positive support, help and encouragement from others is shown to increase our immune systems.   People with a positive network of friends and family that they can personally connect with have longer life expectancies.

Organizations like the American Legion, VFW, Toastmasters International, Rotary Club, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) like the Military Veterans Network (MVN) at my company Charles Schwab help bring people together and promote common bonds.

 

The second point in the Inspection Plan is Care, specifically self-care.  We have all heard about the importance of eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting enough physical exercise.  I’d like to highlight and focus on two other factors that have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing- Sleep and Stress.  The importance of a good night sleep cannot be overstated since stress and sleep are often inversely proportional.

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Quality sleep plays a vital role in the body’s ability to heal and repair itself and is necessary for the brain to rebalance by clearing out harmful toxins.

Recover is the third point in the plan and involves rebalancing and restoring your body, brain and mind each and every day.   I find this to be the most interesting area with the discovery and application of new science and technology.   Advances in neuroscience have fueled the emergence of new Brain Performance centers across the country.

Last year, I took part in a six month program for military veterans at a Vitanya Wellness center in Tempe, AZ where I experienced the benefits of reducing my stress, increasing my sleep and restoring my neural balance through a combination of brain health supplements and brain wave entrainment devices. By consistently taking care of myself and leveraging these new techniques and protocols, I found that my resilience, mental sharpness and memory improved in ways I had not thought possible.  For more information click here.

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Technology aside, there are many things you can do each day to help yourself to recover and rebalance including yoga, meditation and other restorative activities.

One of the things that perplexes me most about my fellow humans is their ability to learn and gain so much knowledge about what is good for their health and well being and then how rarely, if ever, they apply it!

It is my hope is that you will remember the importance of a daily PMCS- just like I did while I was in the Army.

Take care of the one body you were issued at birth because there is no plan B- there no spare one sitting in your garage.

Do your Preventative Maintenance Checks and Service and the daily 3 Point Inspection to have a battle ready body for as you travel in your journey of life you will encounter twists and turns and the inevitable steep hill.

Know that positive connections, proper self-care and recovery can give you the strength and resilience to power through the tough days and overcome whatever obstacles cross your path.

Connect, Care and Recover with spirit and zeal.

Take care of your amazing organic being and let it take you on the ride of your life!