podcast

T.I.L.T. #150 — It’s Time To Be Novel

I have written twenty-five T.I.L.T.s this year since I relaunched in February. Not every week like planned, but life has a way of getting in the way of my creative genius! Or maybe it was too many Martinis? Hmmm. Who knows. Who cares! At least I am writing somewhat regularly. And on that note, I hereby announce that I am going to write another novel!

Ok, I know, the first novel I wrote last fall is still in its first draft awaiting a second draft, but why finish one project when you can start another? I mean, hey, everyone cooks new meals even though they have perfectly good leftovers in their fridge that should be eaten first, right? Humans like novelty. Hence time to write another novel!

Why now? Well, there’s a fun contest called National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) where people all over the world try to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days in the month of November. The contest is against yourself and the clock using a social media platform website to connect with people and keep yourself motivated. It’s all driven by a non-profit organization which at its heart is about promoting writing and educational programs. You make a donation, get to write and play on their website, and if you succeed then you can order a cool winner’s t-shirt! Woohoo!

How do they know if you actually wrote 50,000 words? Well, when you are done, you upload your novel into their online word-counting program to verify your word count, but really, you could upload the phone book and they wouldn’t know the difference. It’s an honor-based system and if you are so desperate to lie about it so you can send money in to get a winner’s t-shirt to brag to your friends, then by all means, please do so because the money still goes to a good cause!

I did the contest last year and it was galvanizing to realize just how much I can actually write if I just put my butt in the seat and do it. So this year I want to do it again since I hope that maybe if I get enough leftovers in my fridge then eventually I’ll get around to finishing them!

Hmmm, I wonder if paper can start to mold? Good thing it’s all digital these days and hopefully has a shelf-life longer than a martini in my house!

So what will I write about? I have several ideas I’m mulling over. My wifey suggests that I write all about her and how fabulous and beautiful she is and how much I love her. Clearly this idea is well worth considering if I know what’s good for me. But what if that just ends up being another first draft that sits on a shelf for another year or two or longer? Do I want my wifey to be relegated to leftovers? Clearly that would be a worse fate, and besides, I want to write fiction not non-fiction! And since wifey is fabulous and beautiful and I love her so much, then that topic is simply not novel material.

I guess I could change the names but then she might think I was writing about some other woman and then all the martinis in the world couldn’t save me!

Hmmm, maybe I should write The Great Martini Massacre . . . Secret Texan agent, Rex Wonder, is undercover in Germany trying to figure out why nobody there knows how to make a good martini until he meets Romanian Secret Agent, Dynamite Wench, and tries to get under her covers!

Now that sounds like a bestseller to me! Hmmm, maybe I need to keep my brilliant fictive ideas to myself before someone steals my money-making genius! Or maybe I need a martini to come up with yet a better idea!

Hmmm, on that note, it’s five o’clock somewhere and I need to get going but don’t be surprised if I don’t do much T.I.L.T.ing in November. I will need to be cranking out circa 1,666 words a day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days with occasional breaks for martinis and playing secret agent with wifey!

T.I.L.T. #149 — Made In Germany? Watch Out!

Uh oh, seems things were too good to be true in the good old Bundesrepublik. The Fatherland has been riding high the last few years, with the strongest economy in Europe, the best football team in the world, the moral high ground of leading the way by denouncing intolerance and welcoming refugees above and beyond all other western countries, and all the while having one of the greenest environmental and energy policies in the world.

Wow! How on Earth do they do it?

Simple: great PR and marketing to hide the fact that behind the scenes they lie, cheat, and steal!

Yes, the deceitful, world-dominating Teutonic culture of everyone’s nightmares has risen from the ashes! Made in Germany über alles!

Yes, in its drive to become the world’s largest automaker, ’DAS AUTO’ company of good old reliable Volkswagen, has thrown Germany into its biggest identity crisis in a long time. Apparently it’s really hard to build clean-burning diesel engines, which really shouldn’t be so surprising if you’ve ever driven behind any diesel car spewing black smoke into the atmosphere and your lungs. No, instead of just admitting it just can’t be done, VW added software to make the cars act clean when they were tested and told the world they had superior technology! Genius! I guess maybe that’s not lying since software is technology, but that’s about as authentic as state-subsidized school lunches counting ketchup as a vegetable.

Worse yet for the German collective conscience is that VW didn’t just produce a lot of hot air telling tall tales of top technology, but spewed trillions more harmful particles and emissions into our already over-heated globe. So much for leading on the environmental front!

But if you look a bit deeper, it’s not just the VW scandal. The last couple of years there’s also been a gambling scandal about match-fixing in the top German football leagues. And the welcoming refugee PR campaign is starting to reveal policies that are emerging that let everyone come in, but then they will be screened, checked, analyzed, and only the best, most educated, who can fill the the gaps in an economy-threatening dwindling German workforce will get to stay. The rest will be, how should I put this, eliminated? You know, deported, sent back to whatever bleak existence that made them flee their Motherlands in the first place. Only the those with the right profile will get to stay in the Fatherland…

Hmmmm.

The only thing that seems to be authentic for now is a strong economy. Must be all those VWs they sold!

All this makes me wonder whether there is some truth to the long-held  euro-skeptics view that Germany’s efforts to integrate and strengthen the European Union as a way to make up for all its past sins of trying to rule the world at all costs is, well, just another way to rule the world at all costs?

Honestly, I don’t think so. I don’t think Germany is doing anything worse than countless other countries in the world.

There have been many automotive scandals – most of them in the USA.

There are many international companies out there which are much less ethical and even worse for the planet and humans in general than VW.

And Germany is hardly alone in its refugee roulette, the rest of Europe is no better.

And football match fixing scandals, or any sporting scandals for that matter, are so common all over the world its funny anyone even writes about them any more.

Where does this leave us with the current German identity crisis? Is Germany really such a bad place? Not at all if you ask me. It’s still one of the most peaceful, tolerant, clean, abundant, and generous societies in the world. I think the only problem that it has is a tendency to think itself somehow superior. Of course, is that just a German thing? I know America still likes to think of itself as the greatest country in the world and is happy to tell the world this in almost every major political speech in the last century but the truth is most people think they come from the greatest country in the world – their own of course.

So, next time you see ‘Made In Germany’ and think, “Whoa, watch out!” ask yourself if it really makes that much difference if it says ‘Made In China’ or ‘Made in USA’. As far as I can tell, scandals and hypocrisy are a global currency, and soon the latest smoke of the latest scandals which happen to be in Germany will blow over and give way to the next topical tragedy somewhere else for all of us to shake our heads and wag our fingers at.

Who knows, maybe next thing we’ll learn is that all of this is just a mastermind Japanese plot to sell more electric cars made by refugees and convince the world that Sumo wrestling is the greatest sport in the world.

T.I.L.T. #148 — Trump Is German and His Mom Is An Immigrant

Red alert! Red Alert! Donald Trump is not an American!

OK, so he was born in New York, but his mother is from Scotland and his grandparents are German!  His family name was originally ‘Drumpf’ which for those of you who speak German sounds like a strange sock or a stupid smurf.

What’s more, most of his multiple wives have also not been born on American soil but rather in exotic eastern Europe famous for super models and dare I say socialism! His first wife’s name was Ivana, which to me sounds a lot like Osama, or even worse, Obama!

The horror, the horror!

And this man wants to be President of the USA riding a platform of anti-immigrants and bigots who seem to think that if you’re Muslim or Mexican you’re a terrorist or rapist?

Seriously, has anybody checked his birth certificate? Maybe he wasn’t born in New York at all but actually on a boat from backwards Europe!

He actually lied about his heritage claiming his family was originally from Sweden. Apparently something is wrong with Scotland or Germany or he just also has an affinity for super Swedish models. Who knows.

All I know is that I find it stunning that this man has somehow captured the collective imagination of people who preach that they are somehow more American than other Americans because they are not immigrants. Which makes zero sense because the only people in America who are not immigrants are the Native Americans already fenced in on their reservations!

Really, when did such a large part of America become so incredibly stupid? I left America in 2001 and I can only say that since 9/11 there has been a steady seismic shift in the way America seems to view the world through more and more myopic glasses. The whole ‘you’re either with us or against us’ hyperbolic flag-waving-get-rid-of-all-the-foreigners mentality is frighteningly reminiscent of good old Germany of the 1930’s.

Hey, wait a second, maybe Donald Drumpf would be the perfect President of the United States of Anti-Immigrants . . .

Just imagine, President Drumpf striding up the podium to give a speech at the United Nations in New York City. He stops and runs his fingers through his toupee (which he also lies about), and then puts on a big red-white-and-blue baseball cap emblazoned with the words ‘I RULE’. He grins wide his unnaturally white teeth and speaks . . .

“Whoa, look at all the brown people in here – quick, somebody call homeland security! Ha, ha, ha. I’m just kidding, I know you all can’t help it that you’re not lucky enough to be American. But don’t worry, as President of the USA I know that I am also President of the World and need to take care of all who are unfortunate not to be American. And today I am proud to announce that I have a plan for world peace that will integrate us all! I hereby announce the annexation of all the countries of the world into the United States of Drumpf! Yes, there will be no more countries, no more wars, just a giant global resort with free golf for all! The first step will be converting this United Nations building into my new headquarters called Drumpf Tower! Then we will create billions of jobs for all based on a simple scheme: the more sunscreen you need to not get a sunburn the higher up you will live in the tower since you will need more money for all that sunscreen. The less sunscreen you need the lower you can live in the tower or in the dungeon if you get my drift. Then we will have a Miss Drumpf beauty contest to make sure all the best women also get to ride to the top if you know what I mean, heh, heh! It will the greatest society in the history of the world — it will be bold, it will be big, it will be Drumpf!”

Hmmmm. Think I’m joking? The way things are going in the polls right now, it might not be as crazy as it sounds. Thankfully there is a whole more year of campaigning left before the election to hope that America might come to its senses. Or a whole more year to get nuttier and nuttier. Dare I say, Drumpfier…?

OK, T.I.L.T. fans, that’s it this week from Germany, where a pro-immigration government and society are welcoming the poor, tired, huddled, masses of refugees. A truly inspiring thing to behold given the history of Germany. Hmmm, all we are missing is a Statue of Liberty.

T.I.L.T. #147 — Action Without Action

Let the floodgates open. Fireworks just went off outside my home. Or were they all just in my mind? The wind is blowing now, rustling and shaking the large trees outside my window. The active sounds of the Earth come and go but is the Earth actively doing anything? Or is it just, well, is?

A booming voice flies across the sky, the announcer of a local football match at the sports fields across the street. I can’t hear the words, just the sounds of the announcement. But am I listening or do I just hear it?

I’m trying to practice the age-old art of detachment. I have been so overloaded by the external world recently due to the intense hyperactivity of the last months of moving, traveling, setting up house, and working too many days in a row at my day job trying to survive the onslaught of a new semester, a new batch of students, my sixth new boss in the last year, and all the fun that comes with trying to explain everything again and again and again. My internal world has in turn become very fractured and frazzled with all the competing input vying for my attention. In short, I need to tune out. I need to slow down again and find some time to not think.

This doesn’t mean I want to be inactive. On the contrary, I’m trying to put into practice what is at the heart of several Eastern philosophies and religions — the idea of stillness of the heart and mind in the midst of action, work, service. Productive in what you do, not in what you think. In short, turning off the chatter of the ego of the mind with all its emotions and opinions and worries and doubts and fears. Focusing on the now, the task at hand, the present, and not the unchangeable past and the unknown future. Zen, baby.

In a way, it’s like trying to be a tree. Outside the window of my new study I have a great view of lots of tall, large trees: oak, maple, beech, sycamore, and God knows what else that I can’t name. They are constantly changing, growing, striving to reach the sky. Their deep green leaves of summer are just now starting to shift, to tilt, to yellow, orange, red. The trees are very busy. But somehow they don’t seemed stressed about it. They just go about their business no matter the weather or what people may think of them. They don’t seem to have much ego as far as I can tell.

Same with the insects that seem quite attracted to the lights in our windows or the warmth of our home now that the weather is cooling. They come in, make webs, fly around, eat each other, try to eat us, all in the non-stop mission to survive. Are they stressed? Perhaps on a primitive level. But I don’t think they’re wasting any time worrying about what they need to do. They instinctively know when they need to do what and just do it. Animals would be great athletes if they were inclined to compete without human interference. They don’t need to spend hours visualizing or working with a coach or sports psychologist. They just run, fly, jump to the best of their ability without worrying about how good they may be or may not be at running, flying, or jumping. At least as far as I know. Ever seen a three-legged dog? He knows he’s missing something but he doesn’t waste time missing his leg, he just keeps on going.

The clearest way to observe the serenity of animals is watching them sleep. I’ve never seen a cat or a dog or any animal who looks like it has insomnia. When they need to sleep, they sleep. When they don’t, they don’t. That’s one skill I wish I could master. How many countless hours have I rolled around in bed thinking, ‘I ought to be sleeping’? What is the point of that? Either sleep or get up and do something, silly old man!

Yes, man is a silly creature. We’ve evolved to the height of consciousness that for the most part of our lives we’ve lost touch with the ability to live without needing to think about everything to death. Hence one of the reasons mankind has found many ways to alter its state of mind with escapist habits like drinking, taking drugs, or healthier pursuits like yoga and meditation. Either way, our modern nature seems to have lost a good part of mother nature’s ability to just be without thinking about being. The curse of man’s philosophical nature.

Then again, without the ability to think too much like we do, would we be able to enjoy life the way we do? To just stop and enjoy the beauty of the trees? Or muse about whether they think or not? Who knows, maybe I have it all wrong and trees and insects and animals think just as much as we do or even more and mankind is just too dumb to understand them.

I can tell you this though, sitting down, thinking about such things, focusing on such trivialities and writing them down, is very relaxing for me. For a while I forget about all the chatter in my head. Like, damn, I ought to be writing more and why don’t I just sit down and do it rather than think about doing it and letting myself get distracted from doing what I actually like to do when I finally manage to get down to doing it?

Ah, the vicious circle of thinking too much. It reminds me of one of my favorite Garfield comic strips my mom cut out and put up on the wall of the bathroom years ago. Garfield is lazing in bed trying to get motivated to get up and go jogging. He goes back and forth about the pros and cons of the jogging with the cons far outweighing the pros. It’s a stressful debate in his head. Finally he admits that jogging probably wouldn’t be so bad, but the anticipation is killing him.

Hmm, funny how a comic strip can sum up in a few pictures and words the same point I have been trying to make in about a thousand words. Maybe I should be a cartoonist. Hmm, there I go thinking too much again! At least some things never change.

T.I.L.T. #146 — There’s No Place Like Home

Hello again, faithful T.I.L.T. fans, your intrepid author is back after a much-needed vacation and comfortably settling into his new home. The last weeks, months — year? — have been a whirlwind of activity of change, change, and more change.

On the home front, it’s been a fun and fabulous first year of marriage, filled with domestic bliss and challenges as my professional world ended up in us moving our home front. See, we just moved onto the campus of the university I work at after a year in which I had six new bosses. To say that I really had no idea what the next day would bring would be putting mildly. Not that anyone ever does, but for way too long there was so much uncertainty about everything professionally that the home front and where it should be came a lot into question.

I thought a lot about saying enough is enough and moving back to America. Something I think about more and more about in general since I have been an ex-pat now for over fifteen years. Will I ever live in the States again? The longer I live in Germany, in Europe, the more I miss the States. I miss the American language. I miss being able to buy anything I want twenty-four hours a day. I miss the food and silly things like Monday Night Football. And of course old friends and family.

Yet now I’ve been gone so long, that when I go back to the States on vacation, I feel like a stranger in a strange land staring in fascination and disdain. The super-sized portions. The commercialized everything. The apathy about gun violence and antipathy about the socialized healthcare. At the same time, I have never felt quite at home in Germany, like I’ve been on some odyssey vacation that never seems to end. Just when will Homer go home and where is that anyway? Will I ever truly feel at home anywhere again?

People say home is where the heart is, and that’s true to be sure on a personal relationship level. I am very at home with my lovely little wifey. But home nationality-wise is another thing. Wifey is in the same boat since she’s from Romania. Both of us are ex-pats. Both of miss similar things but then miss nothing at all since Germany is a beautiful, peaceful, and stimulating place to live and work. And our new home is spacious with all the amenities and even a great view of green trees and wide skies. But it too is new compared to our old apartment, so it’s still not quite like home yet. But I do think wifey put it best after our vacation when we came back to our new place after a slew of hotels and she said that home is where your bed is.

All of these thoughts were mixing and mulling and musing in my brain the last weeks as we went through upheaval and disorientation, moving, vacationing, living on the go go go, the scenery ever-changing, wondering when we would land on our feet and feel at home again. And then we got a special guest late the other evening who, for lack of a better phrase, brought it all home for me. A lost homing pigeon landed on our balcony. At first I thought it was just a very tired and not shy local pigeon. But when  I tried to shoo him away he just came closer, showing none of the normal reactions I’d expect from a wild animal. Then I noticed he had metal identification bands around his feet and was clearly domesticated. At that point, based on trusty advice from the internet, we gave him water and unprocessed grains and seeds and put him in a box for the night to let him rest and see if he would make his way on his own the next day. We cooed over him and nicknamed him Churchill.

But the next morning he was still there, seemingly quite at home, so I set about trying to figure out where his real home was that he seemed to have lost. Thankfully one of the numbers on his legs proved to be a phone number and he was from a city on the other side of the river about twenty kilometers away. This may seem like a long way for him to be off, but apparently he was on his way back from Basel which is in Switzerland and just about 800 kilometers as the crow flies. I have no idea how many kilometers it is as the pigeon flies since Churchill did not land at home, but considering he was less than a year old and on his first trip flying on his own across a continent, and apparently does not have a modern GPS, I’d say he did pretty darn well. If you’d let me go at that age in Switzerland and told me to find home, well, I would either be dead by now or would still be in Switzerland yodeling for my mother — Mutti-where-are-you—hoo-hoo?!

Anyway, Churchill made it home after all his travels and so did we even though none of us were really were sure where that was right then. We do know now — home is where your bed and heart and head is. Yes, there’s no place like home.

T.I.L.T. #145 — Don’t Forget To Pack Your Brain

Greetings from America, faithful readers and listeners. Sorry for the absence the last couple of weeks. I have a lot of excuses like the fact that I moved house and then went on holiday. But the real truth is that somewhere along the way, I lost my brain.

Now how can you lose a brain, I hear you ask?

Well, when moving or going on holiday, you have to pack and unpack countless boxes and bags and suitcases over and over again, and inevitably things get misplaced.

But isn’t your brain inside your head?

Well, most of the time I think it is, but it’s really hard to say since I’ve never actually seen it. But recently, I swear it seems to be missing, so I am hoping I find it in the next box I unpack.

But how can you think without your brain?

Who said I was thinking? I’d say the last few weeks have been more or less run on some sort of primal-auto-involuntary-pilot-system. My body has been going through all these motions from morning till night, hours and hours, day and days, and weeks and weeks on end, just moving things from point A to point B, that somewhere along the line the point of having a brain must have become pointless and I think I accidentally packed it in a box marked ‘fragile’.

Did you wrap it in bubble wrap? Or newspaper? Or pack it in Styrofoam popcorn?

No idea. I really don’t have a clue since I lost my brain.

That sounds kind of nice actually.

Nice? To lose my brain is nice? What kind of idiot are you?

You tell me.

Hmmm.

I mean, you’re done moving now, right?

As far as I know.

And you’re on holiday now, yes?

Yes.

And you’re in America, right?

Yup.

So why in the world do you need your brain? Just relax and enjoy the scenery. No need to worry about email, phone calls, meetings, and endless to-do lists. Take a break!

True, but, well, I have to write this T.I.L.T. somehow.

Oh, please, you know your worst writing is when you over think things. The best is instinctual. Butt in seat and let the words just tumble out of that magical place of muse. Poets do not write with their brains.

You call this poetry?

The last T.I.L.T. you wrote was your anniversary poem.

True.

People seemed to like that, so really, forget your brain, it’s overrated.

I suppose. I am really tired of thinking so much all the time.

You see, you do need a holiday.

I suppose. But at some point I really do need to find my brain. I may not need it for poetry, but it’s certainly useful for other things.

Like what?

Finances?

Oh please, that’s what they make calculators for.

Maybe, but I do need to keep track of things somehow.

Isn’t that what your smart phone is for?

I suppose. But I keep losing my smart phone.

Maybe it’s with your brain.

See? It’s a vicious circle. I need my brain to keep track of my phone and my phone to keep track of my brain. This is exhausting.

You’re telling me. My brain is just starting to hurt thinking about it.

What? How can your brain hurt if your lost it?

It has a mind of it’s own.

I am really confused now.

So am I.

I really do need a vacation.

Yes, so why don’t you stop worrying about where your brain might be and just be happy to be on holiday already.

Right. Good idea.

Thanks.

Yes, there must be lots of things I can do which don’t require my brain.

Yes, like napping, or hiking, or talking to my wife.

Whoa! Watch out you don’t get in trouble there!

What?

That last comment you made about talking to your wife.

What are you talking about?

Oh. Uh, I’m not sure, I, um, can’t seem to remember?

Hmmm, you know, losing my brain might not be so bad after all.

You think?

No, I don’t think at all. And, well, it’s kind of nice for a change.

T.I.L.T. #144 — Happy Anno Uno!

Today is my one year wedding anniversary, which according to tradition is the ‘paper’ anniversary. To honor the occasion, I dedicate this week’s digital paper T.I.L.T. to my loving wife in the form of an old-fashioned poem.

Happy Anno Uno!

Has it really been a year, my dear?
Are you weary of me yet?
I bet some habits of mine do not age well like wine.
Like farting or whining or too much criticizing, never realizing that life’s satisfying enough.
Am I too tough on you?
Too rough with you?
Never get enough of you?
I know I should learn to listen more.
Don’t think I’m bored when I seem adrift.
It’s just my poet’s mind riffing, lost in my own times and rhymes.
Thinking of you, thinking of me, thinking of we.
And when will baby make three?
I love our love life, my loving wife.
And I don’t mean the sex, which has always been exciting, exhilarating, existentializing.
No, I mean love-the-emotional-verb life, where every day as husband and wife we go toe to toe betrothed and dance our romance through the highs and the lows and the whys and the noes and the crying and the laughing…
You know, loving in all its endless forms.
Is this the norm?
Or have we struck gold?
And we will grow happily old together through all sorts of weather to behold more anniversaries?
I’d like to think so.
I’d hope so.
I’d like to think I know so.
Time will tell but for now all is more than well.
So to hell with useless worries about how to live happily every after.
After is never as interesting as happily ever now.
And somehow, Thank God, we got that, you know?
So pop the champagne, break out the kudos, and let’s celebrate Happy Anno Uno.

T.I.L.T. #143 — Graduation Speeches Sans Jobs

We just celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2015 at Jacobs University. It’s the 8th class I’ve seen complete their studies. The 8th graduation ceremony I’ve helped produce. And the 8th time I’ve heard one graduation speech after another trying hard to entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

Graduating from university marks the end of formal schooling for many people. From childhood to young adult, your main activity and occupation is to be a student. Then, after all those years of hard work a ceremony called graduation comes along and — voila! — you are deemed educated and no longer need to be a student. In theory you’re ready to take on the world and do whatever it is you are meant to do beyond being a student. For most it is a proud and exciting day. But for many, it is also quite terrifying.

Every year I have a conversation with a student that goes something like this:

ME: Congratulations!

GRADUATE: Thanks!

ME: So what are your plans?

GRADUATE: I have no idea.

ME: Oh, well, don’t worry about it, you’ll figure it out.

GRADUATE: I don’t know. I mean here I knew who I was, where I fit in, how I belonged, but now? Who am I?

ME: You’re still the same person you were, now you just have a degree instead of a cheap bus pass.

GRADUATE: But what am I supposed to do with my life?

ME: Something besides study?

GRADUATE: But that’s all I know how to do.

ME: But what did you study?

GRADUATE: I, I, I don’t remember.

ME: Hmm, that’s OK, neither do I. It doesn’t really matter for most of the jobs in the world.

GRADUATE: Then why did I go to university?

ME: I don’t know. To make your parents happy? Because you had nothing better to do? To prove to potential employers that you’re smart enough and disciplined enough to get a degree even though you may never need it? To put yourself in so much debt that it forces you to figure out what to do to make a living?

GRADUATE: I think I’m going to cry.

ME: Tears of joy, I hope! Come on, today you succeeded. Drink some champagne and celebrate. Tomorrow you’ll wake up bleary-eyed and hungover and be ready to take on the world!

GRADUATE: Yeah, you’re right. I’m a graduate! Party! Woohoo!

And then they run off blindly into the future and the never-ending pursuit of happiness.

This watershed moment of transforming from student to non-student, this mix of joy and terror, the thrill of success, and the uncertainty of the unknown, is the reason why all the speeches you hear at graduation try to entertain, enlighten, and inspire. The speakers have the nearly impossible task of trying to teach in a few minutes what the graduating class apparently haven’t been able to learn in a lifetime of schooling and to set them on the right track to succeed for the rest of their lives. Most graduation speeches fail miserably in this regard and bore the audience to the point of wishing that they could just stay students forever rather than have to sit through any more graduation speeches.

Very, very few graduation speeches transcend the mundane and hit the mark of the inspired. One of the most famous graduation speeches ever is the one that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford. It’s a really good speech which you should definitely listen to if you’re looking for some advice on how to drop out of college and still become one of the most successful people ever. An ironic theme for a graduation speech but Steve Jobs specialized in thinking differently.

What makes it even more ironic is that nearly every graduation speech I heard at this year’s ceremony referenced Steve Jobs or quoted from his famous graduation speech. One speech even got a big round of applause at the end of long quote from Steve Jobs as if the speaker had been the great thinker behind the words rather than just repeating what someone else said. This really made me wonder if the well of inspiration has run dry. How is it that several very well-educated people who have the opportunity to give a graduation speech which in theory should espouse the virtues of a higher education, end up using a college drop out as their touchstone to talk about how to succeed?

Maybe it’s because Steve Jobs had the boldness to flip the equation of trying to figure out what he wanted to do before he pursued an education of his own design. Maybe it’s because as in most things in life, it’s easier to copy than to create. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because the speakers themselves aren’t sure what they’re doing with their lives and are still in the pursuit of happiness and need to look others as sources of inspiration rather than themselves.

I wonder what I would say if I had the chance to give a graduation speech. Hmmm. Well, I could use lesser-known quotes from Steve Jobs like, “You guys don’t know what you’re doing.” Or better yet, “Everything you’ve ever done in your life is shit.”

Hmmm, no I don’t think that would go over very well. No, I think I would sit down and try to come up with something original, like, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Wait. Wasn’t that Ghandi? Ummm, I know, how about, “Money can’t buy you love.” Wait. That was the Beatles. Or was it my wife? Hmmm. This is hard. I guess the best thing to say would be nothing at all, to just shut up and let them figure it out for themselves, I mean, hey, they are college graduates, right?

Congratulations, Class of 2015, may inspiration be your own creation! Hey, that’s not half-bad… Hmmm.

T.I.L.T. #142 — Costume Changes

Last night I had the pleasure of watching my talented wife perform on stage in a play. She was playing a queen in a fairy tale. The role seemed to come naturally for her. This shouldn’t be surprising, though, since she is of course the Queen of our daily home life. Depending on the day, I get to be the King or the Fool.

When she first walked on stage, I had a surprise moment of recognition as I admired her costume: she was wearing her wedding dress. Now before you imagine some large, lacy, puffed up, peacock-in-white like image, and wonder how that would possibly look on stage as a queen in a fairy tale, let me say my wife had a very simple wedding dress. Actually she had two simple wedding dresses since we had two weddings. Actually we had four weddings if you want to get technical. One in an amphitheater up on a mountain in Colorado dressed up like cowboys; one in a Romanian Orthodox church dressed up like good Christians; one in the local city hall of Bremen dressed up like law-abiding citizens; and finally one in TheaterSpace wearing a combination of the previous costumes to celebrate with those who missed the first three chances and where we promised to never get married again!

So when I first saw her onstage in wedding dress number one, a simple, flowing, creme-colored gown, I was transported back to the joy of the moment when I first saw her on our wedding day when she was a vision of radiance. But here the dress was suddenly serving a new purpose in a new combination. Since the play was done in an anachronistic style because there was no budget for real period costumes, she also put on a black suit jacket to give her queen character some ruling class, business edginess atop her overall elegance. A small, sparkling headband she wore from our last never-again-wedding in TheaterSpace made her look appropriately regal.

Seeing this reminded me of an age-old truth of how costume changes can have a dramatic impact both on stage and off. You’ve probably heard the adages, ‘You have to dress the part’ or ‘Dress for success’ or ‘Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have’. Like it or not, the clothes we wear, our daily costumes, project images to the outside world that people will associate with one thing or another. It’s why uniforms exist. How else would we recognize who is a policeman or a fireman or the fry guy at McDonald’s?

I’ve worn many costumes in my life. In addition to all the theater fun I’ve had over the years where I’ve had the joy of wearing tights and wigs and ludicrous outfits of all kinds, I’ve had forty-seven different jobs in my life, all with their own particular needs in terms of what I had to wear for functional and identification purposes. There are world’s of difference between being a stage hand or a vegetable vendor or a lady shoes salesman. Yes, I sold ladies shoes, which also taught me just how much a pair of high heels can transform a woman from feeling frumpy and fat to sexy and stylish.

See it’s not just about how clothes change the way the outside world perceives us, more importantly, it changes how we perceive ourselves. I have an interesting job right now running the non-academic life of a university campus, overseeing a wide array of extra-curricular activities as well as the overall residential system. Everyday is different, and sometimes I find myself changing costumes multiple times during the workday to make myself feel right for the various parts I play during the day. I have a closet in my office where I have a couple of stock items at the ready: a nice dark blue blazer if there’s a more formal meeting with external guests; a casual sports coat for internal meetings with colleagues where I feel the need to have some business-like formality; a collegiate hoody with the university logo for informal activities and meetings with students where I want them to be at ease and not see me as ‘a suit’. The challenge is making sure I wear the right shirt and trousers each day that I can mix and match as needed with the various tops. Will there be an important meeting where a ironed and collared shirt would be most appropriate? Or will I be just working with my team and students and can wear a fun t-shirt?

In addition to this I keep a pair of dress shoes in the closet which I pop on and off as needed based on the level of formality. Over in the theater scene shop I have a set of grubby workmen’s clothes I put on to literally get my hands dirty as I continue to build the venues with students. In short, sometimes I dress to impress, sometimes I dress to make a mess. The trick is to not see the change of costumes as a burden, but the chance to reinvent yourself for a bit, to play another part on the world’s stage. It can actually help motivate you if you approach it right.

Don’t feel like going to the gym or jogging? Well just put on your sports costume and running shoes and see how that makes you feel. You’ll be surprised how quickly the person who didn’t feel athletic, will feel an increased heart rate and adrenalin and run right out the door.

Now it’s time for me to get out of my lazy Sunday afternoon writing costume and get ready for some dinner guests. Hmm, how formal shall I be this evening? I guess I’d better ask my Queen.

T.I.L.T. #141 — Change Your Underwear

I’ve come to realize more and more lately that change, in its endless variety of forms, has always been a central theme in my life. I’ll bet its true for many people whether they realize it or not. Hence, I’ve decided to focus T.I.L.T. for the foreseeable future on the processes and challenges and rewards of change.

Several of my recent T.I.L.T.s have actually been about change if anyone was paying attention. Not that I was, I was too busy changing!

Looking back even further, the essence of T.I.L.T. has always been about change, about seeing things from a different perspective, be it living as an outsider in London or in Germany. Change is inherent in the word ’tilt’ which means to adjust in one way or another in comparison to the world around you, be it standing on a ship in a storm or wearing a new pair of shoes to a ball. Maintaining your equilibrium in body or mind, means to tilting and changing all the time. If you don’t, you’ll get seasick and be a lousy dancer.

To mark the occasion of what I hope will help T.I.L.T. hone its message and find its niche, please note that today is not Friday, the day T.I.L.T. has traditionally been published, but Sunday, traditionally a day of rest. However, Sunday is also the day when some of the best columns in the world get published in the New York Times, where obviously T.I.L.T. belongs if the Times had better editors. But even though I’m not published there yet, I may as well move T.I.L.T. to Sundays so I can get used to what it will feel like when those bozos finally do get in touch and thank their lucky stars they discovered the thrilling world of T.I.L.T.!

Another reason to move to Sunday is to change my writing schedule. Cranking out T.I.L.T. during the week has always been challenging due to my day job which often expects me to work nights. And let’s not forget making time for my daily and nightly wife!

In short, there’s more time on the weekends to find the circa three hours it takes to produce T.I.L.T. each week for your reading and listening pleasure. Who knows, maybe you’ll have more time to enjoy T.I.L.T. on the weekends as well.

Now, let’s get down to the business of change and today’s main message. About twenty years ago an amazing actress I worked with taught me one of the most valuable lessons about change. Simply put, she told me, “You can change your thoughts as easily as you change your underwear.”

At first I thought she was making a joke. But she was serious. She was adamant that all our thoughts and feelings could be taken on or off as easily as we put on fresh panties whenever we feel the need.

This was a radical idea to me at the time. The thought that I could control my thoughts, my feelings, rather than my thoughts or feelings controlling me was very hard to get my mind around. Where do thoughts and feelings begin or end? Can we really control them? What about instinct? What about emotions? If someone sneaks up behind me and screams, “Boo!”, won’t I jump and be scared?

On a primitive, biological, fight-or-flight level of thinking, we’re programmed to survive. But for the vast majority of modern life’s stresses, it really is all in our heads. This can be seen in how different people react to the same situation.

You’re in the kitchen and you knock a glass off the counter. Crash! It shatters on the floor.

Do you get angry and upset at the mess and loss? Or do you laugh and think that shards bring luck? Same story, two different endings. Why? Because we have free will. Everyone will jump the moment the glass shatters, but once the primal reaction passes, and any real threat is gone, we can choose how we react to pretty much anything.

For the actress who taught me this, being able to control her thoughts and feelings and reactions was the everyday business of her profession. But she’d learned to apply it to her whole life. Does this mean she was pretending all the time? Not being honest? Not at all, the contrary was true. The more she learned to control her reactions, the more she could live in a manner that she wanted to, free to be the kind of person she really wanted to be. She was always feeling good about herself and her underwear.

For twenty years I’ve been working to get to that level of mental liberty. Sometimes I’m too wrapped up in things to stop and tilt my mind and check my balance. My thoughts and feelings run rampant, taking me on a roller coaster ride of my own creation. Other times I’m able to step off the roller coaster and have a good laugh at whatever life is throwing at me. Humor has always been my favorite weapon to combat life’s stress. I just have to remember to stop, tilt my head, choose to smile, and change my underwear.

Until next Sunday, faithful fans. May all your underwear always be fresh.