Archive for April, 2010

What are the “Ouija Boards” in your life?

Back when I worked as a consumer respondent for Parker Brothers games in the late 1980s, there were days when the title “Ouija Board Therapist” would have been more accurate.

Just when I thought it was going to be a normal day answering questions about Monopoly rules (“No, you can’t put two hotels on a property”) or writing replies to long letters from Risk geeks, or getting another broken Merlin in the mail to have to deal with, I would get a Ouija call.

For example, the time a young boy called to ask, “The Ouija board said I’m going to die tomorrow, what do I do???????”

Or when a middle-aged woman hysterically told me, “The shape of the Ouija indicator appeared in the middle of my fogged up window on my car!!!!”

I fielded many desperate calls like these. I always told them to mail their Ouija board to me and I’d send them a game of their choice at no cost.

They never did.

I often told them to talk to a parent, minister, counselor, or teacher if they were really freaked out but they never responded to that. They were too caught up in telling their Ouija story.

They just needed me, a stranger, to listen to them and I suspected that their real problem had nothing to do with the Ouija board at all.

Then there were the calls from the curious people. The #1 question people asked about Ouija, almost every day, was, “What makes it work?”

This was in the days before Google and Wikipedia so it was up to me to come up with some sort of answer other than “Who knows?”

Except my answer never satisfied them, of course, because it was always just a version of “Who knows?”

Then there were the angry consumers. They would go on about how evil the Ouija board is and threatened to never buy another game from us again unless we yanked the demonic Ouija from the market.

In an attempt to diffuse their ire I would sometimes distract them with the story of how Ouija boards became popular during World War 1 because widows and others would use it to try to communicate with relatives killed in the war.

I hoped they would see that their frenzy over ridding the world of the Ouija board wasn’t all that different from the frenzy people were in during World War 1 when they turned to the Ouija board in desperation.

Of course they never saw that.

At the very least I hoped the talk of widows and such would make them chill a little.

Of course they never chilled.

Even if Parker Brothers had withdrawn Ouija from the market (they still sell it today), these people would have found some other thing to become incensed about.

The curious consumers would have found other things to make them ask unanswerable questions like, “But how does it work?”

The freaked out folks would have come up with other stories to tell to strangers, stories that had nothing to do with their real problem, because they just need someone to listen to them for a few minutes.

I guess we all have Ouija boards in our life, so to speak.


This letter was written in response to a parking ticket received a mere 30 seconds after parking his car:

Source: Huffington Post


Self-awareness vs. Introspection

As a follow up to my post about acedia, it’s worth noting another concept Abbot Christopher Jamison talks about in the acedia chapter of Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life

Jamison makes a distinction between introspection and self awareness:

Introspection is only looking at me, whereas self-awareness involves considering how I interact with the world around me.

Also, our inner worlds aren’t as private as we think they are and can lead to harm.

Simply being angry, for example, is bad for me and bad for those who have to deal with me; the vibrations of my anger affect others even if I never do anything bad.


I can think of a time or two (ahem) that I’ve stifled feelings of sadness or anger, thinking I was sparing the people in my life from my negative thoughts and even marveling at how my outer mask concealed my inner turmoil. Probably not such an effective strategy after all.

We have to enable each person to live out the discipline of self-awareness not only for personal happiness but for society’s happiness.

So it boils down to training your thoughts and changing the story you tell yourself about yourself.

I don’t think this means we should never indulge in introspection.

I think it’s that moments of introspection are more like writing a poem, where your viewpoint is the main attraction.

Whereas self-awareness is more like writing a short story, where you are just one character, you have particular roles and you’re forced to think more how your actions affect others.


If you played a musical instrument as a child did you ever have to perform for relatives at family gatherings?

I did and I always hated it.

When I was a junior or senior in high school and the request came yet again to perform for my grandparents, who were visiting that weekend, I rolled my eyes.

I played violin and my brother, who was in junior high at the time, was a cellist.

So I grumpily flipped through my black orchestra folder and plucked out the sheet music for Cavatina by Joachim Raff simply because that was one of the pieces my school orchestra was working on at the time.

My brother hadn’t played this music before and I doubt we rehearsed it together ahead of time.

In my self-absorbed teen state I probably hoped we wouldn’t play it well and that it would bring an end to these requests for command performances for relatives.

As we sat down to play I announced in a matter-of-fact way to the relatives that this piece was from an opera and that the singer sings this song right after learning he will die soon.

So we started playing and a short way into the piece my grandfather started crying.

He was not a man given to tears. He was a gruff man much of the time and I was often afraid of him.

Even in my self-absorbed teen state his tears made a huge impression on me.

I later learned that not long before this performance, my grandfather had been diagnosed with a medical condition for which he declined treatment. It would have required major surgery and he didn’t want to go through that and risk post-surgical complications or dying during surgery.

So he knew he was a walking time bomb. He was obviously contemplating these things as we were playing this piece because he, like the opera character this song was about, knew he didn’t have much time left.

I saved the sheet music and have always cherished the memory. My brother and I discussed the memory over the phone the other day and we went searching and found a video of this song online:

I hadn’t heard this song since performing it in high school and I wept all the way through it because it brought back the memory of my grandfather’s tears so strongly.

I’m not sure there’s anything more powerful than a song in the ability to bring back a memory. I cherish that kind of memory more than the stuff that gets handed down after someone dies, like china, jewelry or even cool basement bar items such as windup coasters (like my grandfather had).

My grandfather’s time bomb went off a few years after we performed for him. It just so happens that my brother was the one with him during his final conscious moments. As they sat on my grandfather’s couch watching a sporting event together on his 82nd birthday, my grandfather slipped peacefully away.

I don’t think my grandfather could have scripted a better death for himself.

And I can’t help but hope that we’ll have the opportunity to play Cavatina for him again someday, somehow…


On Acedia and Mother Theresa

I’m reading Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life by Abbot Christopher Jamison (a book that’s not at all shallow as the title might suggest) and there’s a chapter about a word that is not used much anymore: acedia.

Acedia means loss of interest in the spiritual life.

While doing research yesterday for a writing project for a client, I came across this article from 2007.

As you will recall, letters that Mother Theresa wrote to her friends, superiors and confessors were made public after her death.

As I read through this article I couldn’t help but notice the acedia that Mother Theresa describes in her letters:

Where is my faith?” she wrote. “Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God — please forgive me.”

Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.

“Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal,” she said.

As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.

“What do I labor for?” she asked in one letter. “If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

I take some comfort in knowing that the greatest humanitarian of our time was able to accomplish much even while in the throes of acedia.

It’s also worth noting that she was able to be transparent about it to certain select people and, just as importantly, to herself.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder… would she have accomplished as much if she hadn’t struggled with acedia? If her letters had instead been filled with nothing but enthusiasm and descriptions of her accomplishments, would she still be a candidate for canonization?


Reflections from the ATM machine

While making a deposit at the ATM  machine a couple of days ago, I glanced out the passenger side window at this view of the cemetery across the street:

View of Roselawn Cemetery in Monona from the UWCU ATM machine

The proximity of the cemetery to these ATM machines is always a good reminder to me that you can’t take your money with you when you’re gone.

It’s only money so I shouldn’t worry so much about it.

And it makes me feel grateful that I’m still vertical and on the ATM side of the street.


Ferdinand the Bull: Champion of Introverts

The children’s book Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf, was my favorite book when I was a young child.

I also had a recording of the story on a 45 and listened to it countless times.

Ferdinand is a young bull in Spain. Unlike the other bulls, he prefers to sit quietly under the cork tree all day and smell the flowers.

His mother “was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow,” and let him sit quietly all day.

But due to a misunderstanding (aren’t introverts often misunderstood?) he is dragged by five men in funny hats to Madrid to fight in the bullring.

Of course he just sits quietly in the middle of the bullring.

The plush Ferdinand you see in the photo up there has been for sale on eBay for at least a couple of years. The asking price is $999. So I’ll just have to sit quietly and look at the photo of it instead.

Here’s my favorite video of a reading of Ferdinand the Bull. The illustrations in the book are wonderful and you’ll get to see them all here:


Fun Friday: The Oatmeal

A couple of weeks ago I discovered The Oatmeal blog, which is a “viral wonderland” of comics created by Matthew Inman.

This blog is wildly popular and the comics are hilarious. Here are some of my favorites:

10 Reasons to Avoid Talking on the Phone – I hate talking on the phone so I really liked this one. Reason #5 made me laugh until I got tears in my eyes.

10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling

15-ish Things Worth Knowing About Coffee

How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell – anyone who has had clients will appreciate this.

If you’re a cat lover then you’ll like these:

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat – I didn’t know any of the 17 facts on this list.

If you’re already familiar with The Oatmeal then you’ll enjoy this recent 3 minute interview with the creator, Matthew Inman:


When I check my blog stats I see that a number of people find this website by searching “Kitchen Table Wisdom discussion questions” and “Kitchen Table Wisdom quotes.”

So I thought I should devote a post to that topic.

First, feel free to download my mind map of Kitchen Table Wisdom. It contains important quotes from each section of the book and helps give the big picture.

Next, glance through the posts I’ve written about the book. You might get some good ideas for discussion topics.

A book like this tends to generate much discussion on its own without having to ask questions. You could go through each section and discuss one or two of the stories that made the deepest impression on you. So it helps to write down a list of your favorite stories if you’re the leader of the discussion.

For me, the biggest takeaways from the book were the following (these might make for good discussion points):

* Approval is as damaging as criticism.

* Death is the great teacher and the great healer. Dying people have the power to heal the rest of us in unusual ways.

* We don’t always have to run to the experts. We are wounded healers of each other.  We won’t truly have universal health care until we realize that we are all providers for each other’s health and value what we have to offer each other as much as we value what the experts say.

* Wholeness rarely means we have to add something to ourselves. It’s about freeing ourselves from beliefs about who we are.

Here are 10 of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Prognosis may not be the reality anymore than the map is the territory or the blueprint.” p. 13

“Stress may be as much a question of a compromise of values as it is a matter of external time pressure and fear of failure.” p. 76

“We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

“Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten. Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves. It is more an undoing than a doing, a freeing of ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves to know who we genuinely are.” p. 108

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. Most of us don’t value ourselves or our love enough to know this.”

“We are all wounded healers of each other. We have earned the wisdom to heal and the ability to care.”

“I do not think that we will be able to attain health for all until we realize that we are all providers of each other’s health, and value what we have to offer each other as much as what experts have to offer us.”

“Death is the great teacher and also the great healer. Death may be the final and most integrating of our life’s experiences.”

“Cleaning up one’s act may be far less important than consecrating one’s life.”

“Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than to happiness.” p. 172

Enjoy your book discussion! Feel free to post your favorite quotes in the comments.


If you enjoyed the Kitchen Table Wisdom book and this is your first visit to my blog, please consider subscribing to get each new post by email or feed reader. It’s free and I think you’ll like it here. :-)


Is your blog an introvert or an extrovert?

I came across this Myers-Briggs test for blogs, where you type in your blog link and it figures out the Myers-Briggs personality type for your blog.

A couple of my friends have told me that my writing voice is very different from my in-person voice. Specifically, they said I come across as fun in confident in my blog posts and in email. Which I guess means I’m boring and timid in person? :-)

I see this test confirms that. My Myers Briggs personality type is INFJ yet the type for my blogs is the exact opposite, ESTP:

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I’ve thought of my blogs (this one in particular) as a place where I’m totally myself as a writer. Yet the blog’s personality is opposite of my actual personality, which is amusing. Maybe there’s a diagnosis for that? :-)

By the way, even if you don’t have a blog, it’s fun to run the links of your favorite blogs through that analyzer to see what their type is.