Sunday, September 27, 2009

The art of paying attention

I was watching the last couple of minutes of a rerun of a TV sit-com last night as two people chatted away, while the people to whom they were speaking were spacing out and thinking about something else entirely. It cracked me up because lately I've been wondering if anybody ever pays attention to a word I say. Men, in general, seem to have a very short attention span.

I first noticed this years ago with my Dad. I'd fill him in on some upcoming event, make a comment on the news, tell him some piece of neighborhood gossip to which he might eventually say something like, "What did you say?" That's if he noticed I'd been talking at all. Mostly he'd come back to me days later and tell me the same thing I told him, completely oblivious to the fact that I'd said it days before. He also had what we liked refer to as selective hearing. He might not hear anything I said to his face, but let me whisper something on the phone while he was at the other end of the house and he could repeat every word I'd said.

A male friend once called me really excited about a plan he thought we ought to consider for an organization to which we both belonged. "What do you think?" he asked, clearly thrilled with himself. "Great," I told him. "I thought it was a fabulous idea when I told you about it last week."

This week two people -- yes, men -- with whom I speak regularly reacted with great surprise when I told them the target date for my Florida departure. I'd told them both more than once. My life and my plans are hardly ever announced for last-minute shock value, yet you'd think I'd done that this time.

Short of shaking the person to whom I'm speaking to make absolutely certain I have their full, undivided attention or writing notes on their hands, I'm at a loss. If anyone has mastered the art of actually being heard, please tell me about how you accomplished it. Hurry before I decide to go into seclusion and talk only to myself.

Sherryl Woods

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Give my regards to Broadway...

I'm just back from a week in New York, mostly doing some business, but also helping a friend celebrate a milestone birthday. If you're going to celebrate, this is the place to do it, especially if you love theater as we do. We managed to cram in three shows, plus a very special jazz performance. And all of it reminded me of just how much I enjoy this kind of thing, though I must admit I came home exhausted. Being in NY pretty much requires that I stay up long past my preferred bedtime.

Still, if a New York trip happens to be in your future, I have some recommendations.

We started with the Tony-winning musical, Billy Elliot, which has not only some amazing dance and performances, but everything from broad humor to moments that brought me to tears. It was fantastic and deserved every single award it won. Can't get to New York? Try the movie, if you haven't already seen it. Music for the play, by the way, is by Elton John.

The next night we saw Burn the Floor, which is strictly ballroom dancing, rather than a play. The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know. The international cast of dancers is absolutely incredible. Though stars from Dancing with the Stars appeared early in the run, it was Anya and Pasha from So You Think You Can Dance, who appeared in this version. We were in the second row, which meant on occasion we were just about literally surrounded by dancers. Anyone who doesn't think of dance as exercise or athleticism hasn't seen these dancers up close. Oh my!!!

From that, it was on to South Pacific at Lincoln Center on Saturday. This lovely musical, filled with memorable songs, was first on stage in 1949, but this revival managed to feel contemporary with its issue of racial bias at its core. After seeing it, I discovered that the lead actress had actually been on the NBC show which cast for the revival of Grease a couple of years back. She's obviously made her mark on Broadway with this award-winning production on the heels of doing Grease.

That same day we went to Jazz at Lincoln Center for performances at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. The quartet was terrific, the pianist/leader absolutely amazing (somehow keeping four different beats at once -- one per hand and one per foot), but the show stopper for me was the night view of Central Park and the Fifth Avenue skyline just behind the band.

In the midst of all this, I stumbled upon the American Folk Art Museum, which has the 9/11 Tribute Quilt on display in the lobby. To see it on the weekend of all of the memorial services was especially touching.

Even though the weather was often dreary, the cab rides terrifying or annoying, and the crowds at times overwhelming, there's just nothing like a visit to New York to reenergize me. Whenever I go, it makes me wonder why I don't go more often. Once a year isn't nearly enough to go everywhere I want to go and see all the plays I want to see.

New York, New is indeed a wonderful town.

Do you have a favorite destination, one that always energizes you? If so, share your travel tips with us by clicking on comments below. I'd love to hear about them. Or if you, too, love New York, tell us about the first time you went there. I remember my first trip...seeing Julie Andrews in The Boyfriend (she and I were both very young!) and having dinner at the famed Stork Club.


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Monday, September 7, 2009

Making the minutes count...not counting the minutes

How many times, while waiting for something special to happen in your life, have you told someone, "I'm counting the minutes until...?" We've all done it. Lately, though, I'm wondering if we're not thinking of time in the wrong way. Maybe instead of letting it pass to get to whatever event we're excited about, we should be focusing on making all of those lost minutes count.

Just yesterday, I was having my usual Sunday morning breakfast with a friend, who happens to be a minister. He was telling me that a friend had just suggested to him that he write an article for a publication he much admires. His response? "Where would I find the time?"

That conversation reminded me yet again that we all make time for the things that matter to us. If we shrug off an opportunity with the excuse that there's no time, it's because we're just not that interested in doing it.

Every single one of us leads a busy life. We have work and family obligations. We have things we enjoy doing, whether it's watching sports on TV or gardening or reading. We have the little things we've agreed to do for a committee at church or school. But when it comes to those extra commitments, sometimes the ones that matter most, we seize on just how busy we are to excuse ourselves from taking on more.

I recall years ago hearing the adage that if you want something done, ask a busy person. It's because the busiest among us have learned to organize their lives, to fit in what matters. I thought of this again in watching the coverage of Senator Ted Kennedy's death, or, more importantly, his life. Listening to his sons talk about how he was there for them, listening to the Massachusetts families who'd lost a loved one in 9/11, talk about how he'd reached out to them and kept in touch, and listening to school children in Washington, DC talk about their friend who came to school on his lunch hour to read with them, I realized all the ways in which he made time for the things that were important.

My schedule is far less cluttered than Senator Kennedy's. It may even be less cluttered than yours. There are minutes and probably hours in there that could be put to better use helping a child to read or comforting a sick child in a hospital or any of a hundred other things that really matter. I just have to readjust my thinking and stop counting those minutes until the special events, and making all those little minutes count.

How about you? Are there things you've said no to doing that would make your life richer, or maybe the life of someone else? Think about it next time someone offers you an opportunity to help. Better yet, go out and find that opportunity.


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