I've Been Meaning to Write, Really I Have ...

Knowledge is what matters

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An Open Letter to Organ Donors Everywhere

Less than a week from now, my only child will celebrate her twenty-first Birthday. Less than a year from now, she will graduate from college.

Thanks to the generosity of someone lost to you nearly two years ago, I am alive to be part of that Birthday celebration, and I have every hope of being among a group of parents and others bursting with pride and love and no small amount of trepidation concerning the future for the young people who graduate on that Spring day in 2013.

It seems inadequate to merely say Thank You or God Bless You for the gift that I’ve been given. The fact is, I have tried desperately for nearly two years to think of a better way to say it. You see, one of the ironies of the whole situation is that I’ve made my living for much of my time on Earth as a writer, finding just the right words to explain or convey complex ideas and emotions in ways that resonate with literally millions of people I don’t know and likely never will meet.

I keep thinking I should be able to find words to express eloquently or movingly the depth of humility I’ve learned … or the hours I’ve struggled with the concepts of Life, destiny, appreciation, and indebtedness.

The simple fact is: I can’t. 

And I can’t wait any longer to let you know that my inability to find better words in no way diminishes the feelings I have.

So I’ll just leave it at that.

Without the organ donation which literally saved my life at the proverbial “eleventh hour” back in December 2010, my family and I would have missed sharing the two milestones I mentioned at the beginning. And countless others yet to come.

For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank You.

And, though I am not a particularly religious person, I have become quite spiritual, so I’ll add “God Bless You.”

I am now and will remain,
Indebted for Life

PS – although I will obviously never know you or the person you lost, I sincerely hope it will be some small consolation to hear what this gift has meant to me and countless others. Organ donation is one of those ultimate expressions of selfless love for others, a contribution to our fellow human beings which shows what it truly means to care. To many recipients, it is an act akin to that of a soldier on the battlefield or “first responders” to a fire or a crime.




Filed under organ donation

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“GOING PLACES” … Or Going Too Far?

I’ll start with the obvious. I am (and have been since the early ‘80s), a lover and great fan of almost all things Apple.®

Although I first programmed with punch cards on an IBM® mainframe and have owned and/or operated numerous PC-compatibles and WinTel machines over the years, the simplicity and elegance of the Macintosh (and subsequent PowerBooks, iBooks, MacBooks, MacPros, etc.) won my heart long ago. And this includes the universe of “gadgets” such as iPods and iPhones. The newest member of this family, the iPad, is the current object of my affection.

Yet, it was with a strange feeling of sadness and no little trepidation that I experienced two events over the past few days that have left me wondering about the future.

The first was the announcement of Apple’s newest educational strategy, dubbed a “Garageband for ebooks” by Chris Foresman at Ars Technica. This combination of tools and partnerships with textbook publishers promises to make subject matter available to teachers and students in new, dynamic, engaging ways. It’s hoped that expanded support for standards-based formats will at least help keep these new “textbooks” from becoming isolated in nature.

Initially, at least, I read and listened to news about the announcements with rapt interest and even excitement (full disclosure, as they say, forces me to admit I have a college-age daughter, for whom the obvious advantages of lower cost, lower weight media are always welcome).

Then, merely days later, I saw an ad in the current issue of the New Yorker (yes, thanks to some dear friends and their Christmas/Chanukah gift subscription, I still read the print version). Headlined “GOING PLACES” and promoting Great Adventures, billed as “an anthology of great travel writing from the magazine’s archive,” the ad copy slipped in the not inconsequential fact that this is an “iPad-only collection.”

Where’s the disconnect, you ask? What’s the problem?

The liberal, non-capitalist part of my brain wonders what those without iPads will read. Whether the constant jockeying for market share will lead Apple down the same roads as the proprietary past. Whether the future will bring increasingly compartmentalized silos of knowledge or opinion rather than greater, more open access. See what I’m getting at?

Filed under iBooks Author eBooks Apple

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“Be Careful What You Ask For” … With a Vengeance

This is the story of how I talked myself into one job and out of another. It was inevitable, actually. You see, my career path was never particularly well defined.

I went to Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin straight out of undergraduate school. That is if you consider flipping a coin to decide between pursuing a Ph.D. rather than going to Law School to be “straight.” But that’s a story unto itself.

At any rate, my plan, such as it was, involved seeking a Master’s degree and ultimately the Ph.D. en route to teaching at the college level (and possibly coaching a little competitive intercollegiate debate as well). After all, a debate scholarship had provided a “full ride” of tuition, room and board through my undergraduate years at the University of Pittsburgh, based on a highly successful High School Debate career. And I’d achieved a similar level of competence and recognition for my four years of competition as a member of the William Pitt Debate Union. With an assortment of partners over the years, I’d won tournaments and individual Speakers trophies, culminating in attaining the Octofinal elimination round at the National Debate Tournament my Senior year. 1

But life does not always turn out the way you plan, even if your planning “process” is really just a haphazard way of rationalizing past decisions. 2

Nevertheless, in this particular set of circumstances, my path was ultimately the result of a combination of two things: (1) a too-good-to-be-true job offer for my wife in Washington, DC (that’s my first and now ex- wife for those of you who are counting), and (2) the growing realization that I really hated facing classrooms full of college kids who were terrified of Public Speaking (and who therefore hated the classes mandated by, for example, the School of Engineering, the Nursing School, and other academic departments at the UW). Certainly I enjoyed teaching the upper level, elective courses, where the students were enrolled because they wanted to be. But the prospect of at least seven years of teaching intro-level courses while I sought tenure at one or more universities was not exactly appealing. These facts were leading me to the conclusion that maybe Academia wasn’t right for me after all. 3

After staying behind in Madison one final semester to fulfill my teaching commitment (I taught and coached the debate team for four and one-half years while a graduate student) and to sell the house my wife and I had purchased, I joined said wife in DC, where she had rented an apartment. Three months of fruitless job search finally resulted in my taking an entry-level position as a copywriter at a Northern Virginia advertising agency for the princely sum of $15,000 – and on probation at that!

Naturally, it was with a great deal of trepidation that after only three months I responded one day to a summons by the Agency’s President, himself a Copywriter of some renown and the individual who had hired me. After all, I had zero advertising experience, and my writing prior to this job was entirely academic in nature. (As an aside, I had essentially BSed my way into the position in the first place by making a great deal of the fact I had studied theories of Argumentation and Persuasion from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. I went so far as to claim that – unlike other candidates for the job – I would base my writing on solid understanding of the human psyche and not on some seat-of-the-pants approach to flying.) Turns out the BS actually had some truth to it.

I had been summoned to hear that, because of difficult economic times, the Agency would have to terminate one of three copywriters then on staff. And although I was the junior member of this group of three, the Agency felt I was making extremely rapid progress and therefore was betting that I had better long-term prospects than did the other two (modesty forces me to admit that I also was a Hell of a lot cheaper to retain, even with a $3,000 raise, effective immediately). Not being too modest, I immediately inquired as to “what was next?” in my future. I was told that I would be evaluated again in another three months and compensated based on my continued progress in learning the “ad game.”

Frankly, no one was more surprised than I to discover that I actually loved advertising, particularly because the Agency primarily served clients in various fields of what was just beginning to be called “high technology.” Organizations involved in selling sophisticated products and services to business and government buyers demanded the ability quickly to understand both complex subject matters and the intricate, often arcane purchase process. And one then had to translate that understanding into clear, compelling reasons to prefer our clients’ products and services to those of competitors. No soap power or corn flakes here!

Because of my enthusiasm for what I was learning and my success in applying what I already knew, I was quite successful in dealing with Agency personnel and clients alike. I quickly was promoted from the sort of Copywriter who stays back at the office in a small cubicle working tirelessly at banging out ad headlines and text to a Copy/Contact person. And the “suits” (sales and account management staff) that typically were leery of allowing their clients to actually interact with the “creatives,” often thought to be too undisciplined and even zany to see the light of day, quickly began requesting that I work on their accounts and take active part in client meetings. I even was allowed to talk!

Soon, I began to acquire an increasing load of actual account management tasks of my own. Not only was I doing all of the writing, I also began to create the marketing strategies and tactics, based on research I did myself, and then presented results to the clients without any “filtering” by the suits. Along the way, I continued to receive raises on a scale averaging well over $1,000 per month, and soon was earning more than many people higher in the Agency pecking order. This was 1982-84, mind you.

I’ll reluctantly admit to becoming more than a little cocky about my self-perceived importance and role in the Agency’s growth (from eighteen employees billing some $12 million per year to over fifty employees billing in excess of $100 million per year in a five year period). I essentially demanded and received promotions to Assistant Account Executive, Account Executive, Account Manager, and, eventually, Vice President/Account Supervisor. I was responsible for the Agency’s second largest account and account load (read revenues and profits), and soon I had a six-figure income to go along with the titles. All this, mind you, in less than four years!

This rather lengthy (and I hope, not too boring) history is presented as background to the real story. In the mid-eighties, public relations and advertising agencies began to face the need to explore, learn, and adopt the emerging tools of “desktop publishing” and personal computing in general. Suddenly, it seemed, highly specialized tasks such as typesetting and mechanical “paste up” of “camera-ready” art materials could be accomplished by anyone with a desktop computer, a monitor, and a mouse. Or at least that’s what some clients proclaimed as they sought either to bring projects in-house or at least get our work for less money.

Naturally, that meant we had to learn to be better, faster AND cheaper in a hurry.

Because of my direct experience in selling Apple Computer products to the Federal Government on behalf of one client, I was well aware of the potential of these emerging technologies. I soon became intimately involved in helping the Agency to evaluate various options and to acquire and learn to use these tools in the creation and production of marketing materials. Many late nights and weekends were spent in setting up new computers (hardware and software) and then stringing cables for nascent computer networks within the Agency.

Soon we were hiring Systems Administrators instead of more Creative personnel, and the Agency began to see that computer-assisted writing, design, and production were inevitable parts of our future. And that brings me to the real point of the story. About the time I became truly successful in my chosen niche, I found myself talking my way out of that job and into a job as the Agency’s first Chief Information Officer. Or, as the title I selected for myself and sold to the Agency’s senior partners – Chief Knowledge Officer. (I’d read an article in Fortune magazine about the first such position in an Advertising Agency, and it sounded much more impressive and integral to the Agency’s future success than CIO.) After all, lots of people have lots of information, but the truly effective and important in the business world are the ones who can interpret the information and create knowledge as the basis for action.

Why do I say, “be careful what you wish for”?

Probably has something to do with the 80-hour workweeks involved in building the Agency’s infrastructure and dealing with the incredibly rapid pace of change that dominated the end of the Twentieth Century and the beginning of the Twenty-First (don’t forget, it was in 1994 that a little thing called the WorldWide Web was invented, requiring its own set of technological adjustments to business as usual). All that necessitated hours spent in super-chilled server rooms rather than interacting with people … including my own family. Believe me, that’s the biggest regret of all.

1. That’s “Sweet Sixteen” or Pre Quarter-finals for you March Madness fans. Losing in this round means, essentially, tying for the fifth place finish with the other three teams eliminated at this point of the tournament.

2. John Lennon is perhaps the most famous enunciator of this principle in the lyrics to his song Beautiful Boy: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

3. Oh sure, I told myself I could finish my Dissertation anywhere. After all, the Prospectus outlining the field of research/study had already been accepted by my Advisory Committee and the approach mapped out. What could go wrong? Other than a decision that if I wasn’t going to be seeking academic employment there was no rush. And the pressures of actually finding a job for myself in DC at precisely the wrong time. You see, the transition from the Carter Administration to the Reagan Administration was just getting underway, and literally thousands of people with valuable Administration or other Capitol Hill experience also were competing with a 26-year old from South Carolina via Pittsburgh and Madison. But that, too, is another story.

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I’ve Been Meaning to Write, Really I Have …

When you’re the recipient of an organ transplant, you can’t help but wonder about the donor. What was s/he like? Was s/he healthy? Happy? Did we have anything in common (other than A+ blood)? Would I have liked her or him? Would s/he have liked me?

You’re told at the outset that communications with the donor family will be strictly limited. In practice, this means that – if you want to contact the family – you can send a letter through the organizations that oversee the transplant list (in my case, the Washington Regional Transplant Community and the United Network for Organ Sharing). They forward your letter, and it is the family’s prerogative as to whether or not to respond – indeed, whether they will even read your letter.

If you accept the limitations of this approach and choose to write … well, that “opens a whole ‘nother can of worms” as my Mother (and her Mother) used to say. The fattest worm is, quite simply, what do I say?

Do I start by telling them I would have written sooner … if it hadn’t been for the fact that I went crazy shortly after the transplant? You see, I had an extremely negative reaction to the drugs the doctors gave me to suppress my immune system and keep my body from rejecting the “gift of Life” that their loved one had given me. I hallucinated for weeks, and I became so paranoid for awhile I honestly believed my wonderful wife and my beautiful daughter were conspiring with a host of other people to do me harm. (As an aside, I actually imagined that my daughter and her friends had invented an incredible new technology, whereby a simple device could allow them to move around my home and even my hospital room with total stealth. In my delusions, I carefully considered every detail of the gadget and it’s implications. I even went so far as to conduct extensive internet searches to see if anyone else had invented similar technologies.)

When I finally was hospitalized (to wean me off the “bad” drug and start me on the second choice, less effective ones), I begged the nurses not to let anyone in my room because I honestly believed I was being “visited.” During these visits, various people from my past would come into my hospital room for extended conversations and to change things around – even radically changing the perspective of the room, the way the furniture was arranged, where doors and windows were located, etc. Since I knew with absolute certainty that I was always in the same room, no matter how different it appeared, obviously there was a conspiracy to convince me that I was having difficulty processing “reality.” Reportedly, I even shoved and/or hit a nurse who tried to convince me otherwise. All of this found it’s way into my hospital chart, so each new rotation of nurses approached me more and more warily. (By the way, I have NO recollection of even touching a nurse!)

Or should I start with the month-long battle with a viral infection which could have killed me or left me blind? It still could, in fact, as it will be with me as long as I live. Who knew that CMV (the CytoMegaloVirus) is present in 85-90% of all Americans in varying amounts or that it’s no big deal unless your immune system is somehow compromised? Solution? Bombard the body with anti-viral drugs and steroids. Build back up the very immune system you and the doctors had worked so hard to suppress in order to prevent rejection

Or, finally, should I start with my body’s acute rejection of my new liver? In late September, my immune system decided that if it was strong enough to kick CMV it was certainly strong enough to deal with the “second team” drugs I was now on. My body decided to deal with the foreign liver once and for all. That took another eight days in hospital, this time to wean me off the less effective immunosuppressives, starting me back on the first choice drug bolstered again by massive doses of steroids. Did I mention that was the same drug that made me nuts last January?

This time around, they assured me, would be different. Surely the problems the first time around were the result of the cumulative stresses I was undergoing – almost dying in the first place, being in a coma for four days and totally de-hydrated, three (that’s right, three!) aborted transplant attempts (the liver in each case proved unsuitable for transplant, once when I was only five minutes away from being wheeled into the operating room), and, oh yeah, let’s not forget the physical and mental stress associated with the actual transplant itself.

Finally, maybe there’s really no reason to mention that the Social Security Administration has so far denied my claims for Supplemental Disability assistance. Seems the fact that I’ve been deathly afraid of doctors (no pun intended) kept me from realizing just how sick I was until after my eligibility period had expired. All that because both my parents spent extended lengths of time in one hospital or another, fighting to overcome not only their actual illnesses but also a series of mistakes made by medical personnel, including misinterpretations of test results and administration of the wrong drugs. In my Father’s case, the wrong drugs caused both kidneys to shut down and nearly killed him. But that really doesn’t change procedure, now does it?

Stress? Yeah, I think I know a thing or two about stress.

Maybe I should just be happy with saying THANK YOU. It’s been a year now since the transplant, and I’m making real strides in trying to put my life back together.

And although I still can’t find the words to express the gratitude I have for the individuals and their families who become organ donors or support the decisions by loved ones to become organ donors, I know with a certainty I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the generosity of spirit these decisions represent.

Maybe that’s all that really needs saying. And maybe the words are starting to come back after all. 


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While the techniques of communications change, the principles do not. Knowledge is what matters.

While the techniques of communications change, the principles do not. Knowledge is what matters.