Stanford has been my best platform

It’s only taken me 97 posts to write about this topic.

The work I do during the day-my day job-as a Faculty Affairs specialist in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University has had as much influence on me as a writer as anything.campus_hoover

I’ve been with Stanford School of Medicine since January 2007. My job is to get neurosurgeons/doctors/professors appointed and privileged to work at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. Or Stanford, California to be exact. It’s like a small city here. Stanford has 16,000 employees and it’s great to be a part of this. There is a dynamic edge in this environment. This place is a thought leader in many areas.

I’d always loved Stanford since I moved to California 15 years ago from Chicago. At first I started taking creative writing classes here back in the Spring of 2002. I remember my first day walking to my first Stanford Continuing Studies-Advanced Fiction Writing.
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For some reason I took an Advanced Fiction Writing class because I thought I was pretty good. After all, I was working on a novel and I’d taken some writing classes in Chicago. I remember walking to my first class. It was a night class and the bells were ringing on Hoover Tower and I was strolling through the main quad. The moon was rising in the sky. It was a moment that stays with you. I loved being back in college after graduating more than a dozen years before from Loyola University Chicago.

That first class I realized I was in over my head. But I stayed with it. A few weeks later they workshopped a chapter from my novel. I think I called it Operation Czech Mate. In retrospect it sounded like a thriller espionage mystery novel. But that’s not my story. After my fellow writers/classmates discussed my work, I remember coming home that night and not being able to sleep. My wife wanted to sleep but I was on fire. Exhilarated. I was a writer (okay, with a long way to go, the story needed a lot of work) but they were talking animatedly about something I created!

I realized the novel title had to be changed so I made it Working the Glass. And by the end of class (class ten) I even taught/led the discussion on Eudora Welty’s short story Why I live at the P.O. The spark was there.

I like being on the intersection of all these outstanding people and ideas. And I’m even luckier to be associated with this group. Neuroscience is a leading edge area and the advances are amazing. It wasn’t easy to get here. My wife went to Stanford and got a job here. Then my lucky break came when I got a call that I was hired at Stanford on the day before Thanksgiving Day in 2006.

I like helping neurosurgeons and there was one that I had the most fun getting a new appointment here at Stanford. His name was Dr. A. John Popp. What an amazing person because he won the Cushing Prize, the highest award in all of organized Neurosurgery. But it was more than that, this busy doctor read the first 12 chapters of my manuscript and he encouraged me along the way. It was kind of like being one of the knights in the court of King Arthur. My sword was my pen. Dr. Popp was amazing and he actually read chapters of the novel while in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He’s still around but just on the east coast now, inspiring me to this day.Above an eagle photo-drone shot July 2014

Finally, my favorite part of the job is working with foreign neurosurgeons being appointed. I was bringing in one Neurosurgeon to work in my group from Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran.) No one around here had ever brought someone in from that country.

I was given the nearly impossible task. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran so this doctor had to trek over the mountains to Turkey to get his visa. It was always in question and took months longer than anyone I’d ever completed. At one point began to doubt if it would ever happen. Then one day his visa was approved and he was able to get on a plane from Iran for the United States (to work at Stanford.)

I felt like I was bringing in the first basketball player from the Soviet Union during the Cold War to the United States to play in the National Basketball Association. He was the Šarūnas Marčiulionis of the Department of Neurosurgery.

But it all began at Stanford for me. It’s made me who I am and it’s been a perfect platform for a battler from the Southside of Chicago.

Happy Halloween!

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Improv, stories and exponential change

connectiontoyou:

Archive Post: I just had my twice yearly dentist appointment this morning. As I scheduled my next appointment six months from now April 27, I realized I’ll be a new person by that time. Great change is in store and something deeper is at play.

My novel Working the Glass will be released on March 17, 2015. A meaningful day because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. But also because it is the beginning of the NCAA Basketball Tournament here in the United States. AKA March Madness. A perfect time to release a novel about Cinderella basketball team in the Czech Republic’s Superliga in 1993.

Read this blog about exponential change that I wrote about 11 months ago on Connection to You.

There is synchronicity and great change ahead! Don’t be surprised if I do a book reading in Wenceslas Square next year. One of my readers, Stella is already there. She’s a 25-year old Australian WordPress blogger of Stella in the Sun  in Praha (Czech Republic). Quite a good writer, too.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

I like to think that growth occurs from within and change takes place outside of us. We are connected by a deep roaring underground river. All of us.

I took a two-day Improvisation for the Writer class at Stanford Continuing Studies in October. That class showed me that uncertainty and delving deeper into emotions open us to greater insights about ourselves and the world. I saw there is a larger wholeness in the world than I understood going in.

During that class, there was a great scene where we had to play a part. We all pretended we were at a party at an art gallery. Half the group was asked to play tentative and not sure of ourselves in every conversation we had. Conversely the other half of the group had to take command of the situation mainly, be confident in every situation we were confronted with. We had…

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Becoming a travelogue novelist on the journey

To write a novel that involves playing for a Superliga basketball team, you have to approach it like travel writer in a sense.

I’ve traveled to some of the places in the Czech Republic like Prague and Cesky Budejovice back in 2004. But for the rest I used guide books and imagined. After all, I am a fiction writer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All the places are real in the novel except Svet. Svet is the team Frank Savek plays for. That way I could create the little town I wanted in the north of the country in a football shaped canyon with a river running through it.

I had to be a kind of travelogue novelist. You have to know the place to render it real but not get bogged down in details that a tourist would be looking for.Soviet Worker

Here is a scene from near the beginning that gives you a feel of where things are headed.

When we got back to my apartment, Josef pulled out a letter from the Svet Sports club.

“Here is that letter. Let me read it to you,” he said.

17 April 1993

Dear Mister Josef Savek,

We have heard very positive things about your recent play in the Inter-England league. Congratulations on your fine season! You should be very proud of your accomplishments. This letter is a follow up to your phone conversation on March 30 with our representative Bryan Wexford from Manchester, U.K.. As the head coach of the Svet Basketball Sports club I would like to introduce myself to you.

Svet is an idyllic town of 30,000 located in the Czech Republic in the Krakonce Mountains. We are 175 kilometers northeast of Prague. Our basketball club welcomes a player with your abilities. We think you will be able to help us be more competitive in the ten-team Czech Professional Basketball Superliga. Last season we had a strong team. We play a 40-game season. Your compensation will be 5,000 Crowns per month. Your accommodations will be dormitory style in housing provided by our team owner, Mr. Milos Koliar.

Our season begins 17 August. We are beginning our training camp 15 July but we would be willing to have you come two weeks prior to our first game. The best arrangement would be to meet you in Vienna, Austria on 24 July and drive you across the Czech border to Svet.

We think that you will find that Svet is an enjoyable place to live and play in the upcoming season. We hope to speak with you very soon to confirm your intention to join our team.
Sincerely,

Jiri Hasek
Coach/Director Svet Lions Sports Club

“Any more info on it?”

“Yes, here are the teams in the league,” Josef said.

He handed me a league schedule that listed the ten Czech teams on the front.

Brno
Cesky Budejovice
Hradec Kralove
Olomouc
Ostrava
Pardubice
Plzen
Prague-A
Prague-B
Svet

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Holding on to a piece of myself

connectiontoyou:

Archive Post: Letting go is not an easy thing. I think that as you gain wisdom, you have to release parts of your self from your grasp.

For example, I’ve always conceived of myself as an athlete and warrior. Those are certainly archetypes that have carried me this far on the journey. And I’d like to say our society cherishes these ways of being as well. But the age and the days ahead call for a wiser me that can interpret this vastly changing world we face in 2014.

These prompts and this post came from an Improvisation and the Writer class I took last Fall at Stanford University. Since then I’ve lost another cat and my first writing teacher Jerry Cleaver mentioned in the post died earlier this year but I’m closer to my goal of completing the novel here in California.

Originally posted on Connection To You:

writer's loft chicagoriver snow chicagoCardinalThis is a post about:

Cardinals

A Cat

Basketball Shoes

Relationships

My Novel

One by one we lose the things that are important to us on the journey. And the things that are left become more dear to us.

Once upon a time I lived in Chicago. I grew up there and spent the first 34-years of my life in that bustling city of three million. I entered into married life there. One of our first apartments as a couple was in a gray stone that had old-world character with high ceilings. We paid $875 per month and had the whole first floor. We had so much room and so little furniture that our footsteps echoed off the plaster walls as we walked on the hardwood floors. And it was situated in a great neighborhood known as St. Benedict’s.

I set up a bird feeder outside our front window. A…

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Mobilizing against powerful forces, we will succeed (together)

Last weekend I saw the movie Guardians of the Galaxy.  As a writer there is a lot to learn from this story.

I’m not one to see science-fiction movies like this one. Or ones with fantastical scenarios, cartoonish characters and that have been newly released at the theatre. But as a writer, I have to take a risk sometimes for strong writing and a compelling story line.

I thought this film Guardians of the Galaxy was worthwhile seeing. The forces are great against this Peter Quill and others in the universe. I’d say this is some new version of the Jesus story.Galaxies

In 1988, a young Peter Quill’s mother dies. That was a powerful opening that draws you in to the story. You align emotionally with that Peter Quill character for the the rest of the movie because of that scene. What a great start! A lot of science fiction films or people don’t draw you in because they keep everything in the rational/cold/calculating realm.  The personal and emotional touches are great.

In the very next scene, this young boy is abducted from Earth by the Ravagers, a group of space pirates led by Yondu Udonta. Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, Quill steals an orb, after which he is intercepted by Korath, a subordinate to the fanatical  Kree, Ronan. Although Quill escapes with the orb, Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture, while Ronan sends the assassin Gamora after the orb.

We think we are out there on our own. The myth of the one man or woman creating. We’ve made this whole kingdom and it’s no one else but our own greatness.  That’s especially big here in Silicon Valley where I write this from. Steve Jobs had the vision but there were many people who joined behind him. He didn’t do it alone. Nor do you or I.

Neverthless, we/many of us believe in the sovereignty of the self.  Forget nations. Or anything larger than themselves. But then how come we give so much of that sovereignty away to the Sily-con Valley groups that cheapen the experience and thwart us from going deeper? We’re complicit in  enslavement. So much freedom in theory but so little on the other end.  The irrational is not dealt with. Rational inside but externalizing the irrational.  Destructive stuff. But that’s the monoculture we need to escape and battle against.hermes2

At our best, we imaginative human beings, are threshold creatures embracing the visible and invisible. Drawing out unspoken truths that others can’t. This leads to insights and breakthroughs. The poetic language and stirring that the world needs. A writer with soul can penetrate any darkness, any castle of the tyrannical order holding sway. I need you and am not doing this by myself. If I think that I’m doing it alone, it’s false/an illusion.

The guardians accomplished their goal of saving the universe by believing in something bigger than themselves, each other. These guardians were by no means perfect. We see many examples of their shortcomings.

Nevertheless, they race in on their starships. And a whole force of guardians follow. They spent their lives to that point surrounded by enemies but now as they face death; it will be with a force of friends.Lith basketball

You and I together can create something wonderful. It’s only through the force of agile teams that dynamic energies become activated. It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s us together.  There is genius in the group motif out there in the universe.  The Guardians of the Galaxy and this blog  are examples of that.

We’re going to do great things in the days ahead.

 

 

 

 

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The secret of creativity comes from solitude

connectiontoyou:

Archive Post: Over Christmas and passage into the new year 2014, I was reading Beauty by the writer, priest and philosopher John Joseph O’Donohue. That influenced this post on solitude. He said that your hidden powers and wholeness can’t emerge without some kind of private silence. He also wrote it’s not connection we want but communion.
O’Donohue died too early in 2008, four years after he wrote this book. He didn’t quite complete his work/flesh out/go deeper on the concept of communion. He was just starting to hit something great and needed with that. We have to take up that mantle and explore that dynamic idea in our work!

Originally posted on Connection To You:

Burning Candle

It’s essential to know what is vital and alive in us and shape our lives on its image. Just as you have to really know aloneness to know the value of real relationship. Creativity cannot take hold in us without silence.

Perhaps it’s true that greed and impatience are pushing writers to produce works that are stillborn and without soul. Maybe overanxious writers are rushing their works into production before they should. The biggest culprit in this trend: absence of silence. 

Solitude leads to awakening. For me it’s the silence of the night and threshold into the morning that leads to my breakthroughs. Ideas come and solutions flow in the predawn hour like no other time in a day. 

The place of the inside/soul and outside of a person overlaps. Creativity emerges. Vibrancy, voice and power, too. I’m forced to face sides of myself and let go of things that…

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Don’t let labels thwart you

hermes2

Writers hold themselves back by listening to labels. Like being called a hack.

But what is a hack exactly? Somebody that makes grammar and spelling errors when they blog? If that is a hack, then I’m guilty of it because I post a blog and then fix it up from there.

My methodology is to write it, post it and make it better when I see the post. I do that because I’m visual processor. When the “story” is in position with a headline and text of the post; I see it better. Then I can edit it. Sorry. That has subjected those that signed up to receive email of my post (my followers of this blog) to some flawed first drafts!

But if you read later versions up there you would see a greatly improved version of that initial email to you. So I’m really not a hack.

Nevertheless, in the US, the term “hack” is used to attack writers, journalists, bloggers, and comedians. There is a hierarchy there, that those calling the names want to maintain.

It’s certainly used in the publishing world, too. Editors at conferences will say, “With all this craze to publish-on-demand and self-publish, there is a lot of dreck out there.” There may be some truth to that but it seems to me to be the wrong perspective. writer's loft chicago

The term can also be used in bicycle riding. I have some recent experience on that as immersed myself in that world in September for a local ride for charity. If you are good athlete, but ride something less than the newest bike, you’re called a hack by bicycling purists. It’s the only sport where if you spend a lot of money, you can have the illusion of being good! My older bike rides well. But there is tremendous pressure to replace it.

In basketball, you can be called a hack as well. And it’s not good. A hack, in that context, means you survive by bodying and fouling better, more skilled players. And you, the athlete, aren’t much of a player/don’t have much skill. Other than fouling that is.

In truth, when I played basketball I was a scrappy rebounder and defensive specialist that helped teams win with his spark. So in that realm I was a lot of things. But not a hack

There is an elitest camp out there across many sports of play including writing. They possess a strange mix of elitism and an insecurity in a changing world.

They are the same people that say you are not writing about the right topics in your blog posts. There is blog expert who claims 2,000 WordPress followers. He says if you want to make money fast and build an audience, you have to do it X way and write X topics in your posts. He calls people hacks if they are not doing it correctly. Do what exactly? This is an art, not science. Yes, I’m all for staying on message in your communications (blogs and social media) as a writer. Writing depends on having courage to produce something on the page. Then on improving/revising.

Good relationships and blogging are based on being authentic and human. And tolerance for not being perfect. If someone calls you a hack or hackette, don’t believe them. Keep creating.

Write me with your thoughts on this. 

 

letters in mailbox

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