“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

Note to readers: I decided to do this blog post as a self Q&A to look back at the last six month after my kidney transplant, self-examination, and the future.   

Q: It’s been six months now since your kidney transplant. You look good. How do you feel? 

A: “Thanks. I feel good. Not 100%, but better than I was when I was on dialysis. I was a walking zombie after dialysis on most days. I was crashing on the couch and sleeping it off.”

Q: Do you feel healthy with the new kidney?

A: “Yes and no. I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been since high school. I’m not out of the woods as it relates to my health. There will be constant monitoring of my kidneys, appointments with doctors, and taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of my life.”

Q: You haven’t talked much about the surgery. How did you learn that you were getting a new kidney? 

A: “My uncle was approved to be a donor at the end of February.  He was the only person, family or friend, who went through the evaluation process to determine if he was a match. The caveat was that the transplant had to take place before April 1st, or he would have to start the donor process and test all over again.

When I received the news that the transplant was scheduled, I hesitated. When I initially met with the transplant team in 2015, they wanted me to lose at least 20 pounds and lower my A1c below 8%. I was internally beating myself up because I fell short of meeting those expectations. I was close, but not close enough in my view.”

We have a hard time accepting and practicing this term.

Q: Were the surgeons upset with you when you admitted that you fell short of the goals?

A: “The surgeons were not upset. They were convinced that I would have a successful transplant. They determined that due to my diligence to do follow doctor’s orders, my mental state, responding positively to setbacks, and a strong support system from my family and a small circle of close friends.

I almost called off the surgery. I irrationally concluded that I didn’t deserve to be transplanted. I fell short of the goals that were set for me. My mother and the post-transplant coordinator had to talk me down from the ledge.  They assured me that I was ready for the procedure. I prepared myself for three years to get to this point. I am a perfectionist. I wanted the situation to be perfect for the transplant to happen.

I took a few breaths, calmed down, looked at both of them and calmly replied “I’m ready.””

Q: Do you remember the day of the surgery?

A: “Yes. I arrived at UIHC (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics) early Thursday morning, March 29th, with my mom. Thirty minutes later, the nurse escorted me into a waiting room, to be prepped. My uncle was next door (I think?) getting prepped as well. He was heading to the operating room first, then I was to follow 30 minutes later. Around 9:00 a.m., one of the surgeons walked in and said it was time. I kissed my mom and they wheeled me towards the operating room.

At 9:30 a.m., the nurses did a final check before putting me under anesthesia. “Is there any last questions before we put the mask on you?” I responded “Nope, Let’s do this.” The nurses place the anesthesia mask on my face.

Late in the afternoon, I awoke in the surgery holding area, where patients who has had surgery are recuperating before being discharged or moved to a hospital room. The first thing I recall is my breathing and hearing nurses talk. I managed to move my head side to side gently to see what was going on. I could feel the staples on my lower right abdomen, where the new kidney was put in.

Around 6:15 p.m., I was transported to my hospital room in the transplant wing.”

Later that evening, the surgeons briefed me on the procedure.  Once one of the doctors used laparoscopic surgery to remove my uncle’s kidney, another doctor cut me open and attached the kidney.  As soon as the tubes and veins were attached, the new kidney started functioning right away.

Mr Tony logo
Yes, Mr. Tony has a podcast…at a restaurant. He owns the restaurant (along with Maury Povich).

Q: Wow, that is amazing. Were you in any pain?

A: “Hell no. I’ve been used to excruciating pain in the past. The transplant was, to me, the easiest thing I endured. I’m insane for saying that, but here’s why. I’ve had two fistulas, had needles inserted in my arm for dialysis three times a week, and five central venous catheters placed in my chest when my fistulas didn’t work properly. If I could endure that many procedures to keep me on this planet, I could handle a transplant.

Those battle scars on my chest and arms are a part of me now. I’m not ashamed of those scars.”

Q: After you were discharged, did you go home right away?

A: “Not right away. I couldn’t go back to my apartment. Being a single unattached person, I did not have a companion or significant other to care for me. That role was designated to my mother and sister. I spent 6 weeks at my sister’s house recovering.”

“Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans.

Q: What did you do for those six weeks? Watch television? Download podcasts? 

A: “I read several books. Currently I’m reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “Leadership BS” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A book that stood out to me was “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors in the design program at Stanford University. The book lays out the concept of “life design”, or designing your life and career by using a design thinking approach being done by design engineers.

As far as podcasts, I usually listen to shows like Tony Kornheiser , “This Is Why You’re Single”and “Introvert, Dear”.  I like smart, sometimes comical, sarcastic, amusing, and interesting podcasts.”

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the three years that you were battling kidney failure, from the start of dialysis to the transplant? 

A: “I discovered that I am a survivor. I don’t consider myself brave or courageous. I didn’t save someone’s life or did something that changed the world. I survived by being mentally strong. I have had a good deal of life events (parents’ divorce, health issues, unemployment) that would make many of us crumble and lash out at others for our failures and issues.

Lashing out doesn’t work for me, nor is getting emotional about my circumstances. I’m wired differently. I have to process information and analyze it before I make a decision, say something, or act.

I tackle setbacks with the mindset of “Okay, this happened. What do I need to do to resolve this?” Responding to adversity has become an ally. A month ago, I was hospitalized for a viral infection. I didn’t whine and feel sorry for myself.  I had to re-frame what I was thinking. “I have an infection. Let’s see what it causing it and how to get rid of it.”

Q: Do you have any regrets after what you have gone through? 

A: “I would say no, but that’s a lie. A big lie. There are regrets that I’m working on letting go. I left behind what I would call “unfinished business” in Des Moines that will never be completed. As I look back, it’s alright for it to never be finished.”

Q:  You go back to those things you left behind and restart them, if you wanted to, right? 

A: “The more time that passes, the less I want to go back and settle that stuff. I would have been miserable again. It was a culture of being stuck in neutral.

I was living a life that revolved around status and popularity. The culture of personality, branding, getting noticed for doing big things wasn’t my spiel. However, in order to stay relevant in Des Moines, I had to “act” the part of being extroverted and being “out there” to be noticed. Follow the crowd, or you get judged and discarded.

DSM skyline
Skyline of Des Moines, Iowa.

I couldn’t be my true self: an introvert who is interested about stories and finding a career and life that would bring value and enjoyment. In some respects, I think that introverts are viewed negatively by society. We’re not loud and brash, talkative and attention-seeking.”  Therefore, introverts are not noticed for their accomplishments. Being under the spotlight is overwhelming and exhausting.”

Q: Describe this “unfinished business” that you left behind?

A: “It was self-confidence. I couldn’t find my self-confidence in an environment where I should have succeeded in. I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I was always “flawed” in my own mind.

That mindset cause me to unconsciously seek affirmation and confirmation from individuals who did not have an interest in me. If I reached out to someone for advice or encouragement, my requests were ignored. Ironically, these were people in the business community that most had suggested that I should connect with.

Self-confidence is a slow, frustrating, and weary effort to build. I am confident when I can do a task, drive a car, volunteer, clean or cook. Those are stuff that I can do without hesitation. It’s what I know.  My hang-up was the personal issues: speaking up for myself at work, seeking relationships, and asking for help. It was a “keep your head down and don’t talk” philosophy. It suited me since I am a stutterer. But as time passed, I had difficulty evolving from a personal standpoint.

The lack of self-confidence cost me better opportunities, possible relationships, and a lot more living in Des Moines.  That was a painful lesson to accept after I left Des Moines.”

Man walking alone
Starting over in life is scary, but in life, it’s necessary to reset our compass.

Q: How do you plan on starting over?

A: “I’ slowly started over once I moved to the Quad Cities to begin dialysis. I have a great family, a supportive mental health counselor to help me sort out the personal “baggage” that accumulated for years. I joined an organ transplant support group and a stuttering support group. I spent a year receiving speech therapy to develop new tools to use when I struggle vocally.

I researched online to find a writer’s group to participate in. I found a local group that meets twice a month. Most of the members write fictional novels. I don’t write fiction and I don’t have the focus to write a book. Nevertheless, I attend the meetings to learn more about the process of writing in different styles, structure, and formats.

Now that it’s fall and I’m marking six months post-transplant, it’s time to search for local professional and business groups to network with, seeking opportunities, and compiling a list of realistic goals that I wasn’t audacious enough to pursue.

I want it to be on my terms: what I do want to explore, prototype, and try out? What are the steps to work for an industry or company that I’m interested in? How to effectively network (don’t ask for a job…ask the person about how they landed at their career or story)? Get over my fear of dating, go on vacation alone, and be financially sufficient for the first time in my life.”

Q: That is a lot to tackle, starting from scratch. Has anyone reached out to you? 

A: No. I haven’t reached out to ask for guidance. Before I left Des Moines, I asked one person if they had a connection in the Quad Cities I could meet.  I didn’t hear back at all. That’s fine. I’ll ask someone else, until I have a list of possible business connections.

I am used to “no”, but I still struggle mentally with it. It will always feel like a failure, but as Burnett and Evans wrote in their book, you develop “failure immunity”. You failed. You learn. You try it again or explore something new. Don’t be anchored to a problem where you think there’s only one solution to fix it.

Downtown Davenport.jpg
The Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa pictured)

I want to start over here in the Quad Cities. I will consider going someplace else, but I want to see my nieces grow up. Living in the same city they live in offers me that chance.

I’m unsure what the next six months will look like. The plans and goals we sketch out doesn’t always pan out. We have to adapt and find other ways to get to where we want to be.

Starting over is not a failure. It’s a way to reset our compass and learn from the experiences that worked or didn’t work.

I’m comfortable and at peace with that.”



A Governor For All Seasons

A Governor For All Seasons

I have read books on leadership, have participated in a mentor/leadership class, and have been interested in the evolving nature of leadership.

In my own opinion, what we view as leadership today need to be revamped. A large number of elected officials and those who aspire to run for public office have become obsessed with being a “celebrity” first, public servant second, or third, or fourth, depending on what they feel is a bigger priority.

These days, leadership is not about analyzing and understanding all angles of an issue or topic.  It’s all about who shouts the loudest, and gets the biggest attention. Regardless of political affiliation, there are some good leaders and there are some bad leaders, and there are a certain group of leaders that will make anyone stop and go “That is one hell of a leader.”

Robert D. Ray served as Iowa’s popular governor from 1969 through 1983.

Robert D. Ray was one of those individuals in the latter group.  A last of the breed of leaders who didn’t let politics, ego, agenda, or personal preferences get in the way of serving the public and evolving with the times.  Ray, who passed away on Sunday at age 89, served as Iowa’s 38th governor from 1969 to 1983.

One book I’ve read currently was “Leading Quietly” by Joseph L. Badaracco Jr. Leading quietly in a noisy world is a tough job. Bob Ray was a quiet leader and an introvert that (surprise!) “did his job”  without pretense.  Ray listened, looked at  situations from all angles, and then brought in key players to come up with a decision or resolution. Ray was successful because he surrounded himself with a staff and individuals who were well-versed in areas that Ray struggled in.

How many lawmakers do you know would have a weekly meeting with the opposing party?  Ray, as a Republican, did that with the Democrats during his 14 years as governor.

I have yet to hear any Democrats or Republicans doing that today.

How many leaders would say “That’s a good idea” to something that is opposite of what her or his political base believed in?  Ray did that. No one else on both sides of the aisle have been willing to do that, no thanks to our obsession to partisanship.

The point I’m making is this: you have to reach out, even to those who may disagree with you. You may never know if someone thinks that your idea is a good idea. Most people today have way too much ego and pride not to swallow it when they agree with something that is not well received within your own base or “tribe”. We are too scared to speak up, for fear of being ostracized by the groups, parties, or bases that support us.

Governor Ray had little time to bunker up and hunker down with stalling on legislation and playing games. He had a job to do: run the daily operations of the state and provide the best service to the citizens through transparency and accountability.

His first term was rocky. Many felt that he was a genial man, but not a strong leader. As time move forward, Ray gained more confidence as governor.

Beyond opening the doors for the Tai Dam community to come to Iowa after the end of the Vietnam War, the bottle bill, and how he handled and allowed the Wadena rock festival to take place in 1970, did you know about the various changes and creations that was done under Governor Ray’s tenure? (courtesy of KCCI-TV)

  • Reformed Iowa’s tax code.
  • Changed the way K-12 education was paid for, having the state pick up a larger portion of the tab.- Made food and prescriptions nontaxable.
  • Created the Iowa Department of Transportation, which became a model for other states.
  • Created the first Energy Policy Council in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s.
  • Gave rise to the Commission of the Status of Women.-
  • Created the Iowa Ombudsman’s Office, where people could turn to if they had problems with state government.
  • Helped form Iowa Public Television.
  • Helped form the Iowa community college system by expanding on the accomplishments of his predecessors.
  • In 1972, he grounded 95 planes and 1,625 vehicles assigned to the Iowa Air and Army National guards until the federal government paid for the damages sustained after two military plane crashed and destroyed the homes of two Iowa farmers.
  • Was approached several times to be either a Vice President or a Cabinet member. He turned those opportunities down. He was a low-key guy, who never wanted the limelight.

Ray’s approach was simple.

Ray once said that his approach to governing was simple: leave politics out of the decision-making process.

“I used to tell the staff, whenever we would talk about something like that, that you don’t start talking about politics at all,” Ray told The Associated Press during an interview in November 2011. “Let’s just decide what the right thing to do is, and then we’ll decide how to promote it.” 

Excerpt from Politico, July 8, 2018

Most millennials and Gen Xers would do a double take and say “There’s no way in hell a Republican would do all of this?” Bob Ray did. You know why?  Ray understood that Iowa had to evolve and get up to speed with the modern era.

Harold Hughes served as Governor and U.S. Senator. A recovering alcoholic, he left politics to go into religion and helping those who were recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. 

His predecessor, Harold Hughes, had the same view as well about pulling Iowa forward into the modern age. Hughes, a Democrat, and Ray, a Republican, ushered in a new era for Iowa for which it has been unmatched to this very day.  Hughes was instrumental in one of the most controversial topics in Iowa at that time: the “liquor by the drink” battle.

Ray would have not been elected governor in 1968, had he not survived a plane crash near Mason City while campaigning during the primaries. At that time, Ray was in third place in the primary. His campaign received a huge boost when Des Moines radio deejay Frosty Mitchell joined the campaign and singer Marilyn Maye, a Des Moines native, changed a few lyrics to the song “Step to the Rear” and it became “Let the Leader Lead the Way” a staple of the Ray campaigns.

As he served as governor, Ray reorganized several departments, created the Iowa Department of Transportation, and was accessible to everyone: lawmakers, media, citizens, visitors. During his final week as governor, the media threw a party for him in the press conference room. The media lauded and criticized him during his tenure, but he showed no hostility towards them. They had a job to do, much like he did.

During his fifth term, Ray knew the landscape was changing. The economy was down, the farm crisis was looming, and making painful budget cuts were among other things he had to deal with.  There were strong speculation that Ray would seek a sixth term in 1982. A “Ray watch” percolated, to which the Des Moines Register was convinced in December 1981 that Ray will run again.

Ray, Robert D.
Governor Bob Ray (left) announcing his intention not to seek a sixth term as governor at a press conference in Des Moines. Listening to the governor are from left: his wife Billie, and daughters Vicki and LuAnn. February 18, 1982.

Four days after Valentine’s Day, February 18, 1982, Governor Ray dropped a bombshell during his weekly press conference.  Flanked by his wife Billie and their daughters, Ray calmly said he will not run for a sixth term.

That sent the political world into a tizzy. State and national GOP leaders pleaded with him to run again. Democrats were floored. Everyone assumed that Ray would run again.

Except for Bob and Billie.  They knew it was time to move on. It was time. He never got the chance to know his neighbors, his time was consumed by the job, and he wanted to start a new career.

“In many respects the governor’s job is a lonely job. Most of the time you’re with people, you’re at events, you have a schedule that’s full, and people wonder why anyone could be that lonely. But it does get lonely. You don’t spend time with good friends, you don’t go out for dinner, you don’t go to movies, you don’t do the things that you would do normally in life, cultivate friends.”

-Bob Ray, from “Governor: An Oral Biography of Robert D. Ray” by Jon Bowermaster

After leaving office in January 1983, Ray left to become President and CEO of Life Investors (now AGEON USA). The Rays moved back to Des Moines where he assumed a similar position with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa (now Wellmark). He served in other positions in Des Moines, notably completing the term as Mayor of Des Moines after the death of Arthur Blank, interim President of Drake University his alma mater, and served of many boards.

Bob Ray owned or co-owned several radio stations. One of them included WMT-AM in Cedar Rapids, one of the legendary stations in Iowa. Mitchell got Ray, who was then a trial lawyer in Des Moines, to be his color analyst for Iowa football games on radio for several years in the 50’s and 60’s.

Governor Ray on the phone in 1979. (Des Moines Register)

He picked up photography and publish a book. There are two books, one about his career, and his efforts to bring the Vietnamese community to Iowa, where other states, Democrats and Republicans, were hesitant to do it. Sometimes, when you are a person with thoughtful convictions, you are mostly alone in that journey.

He preferred McDonald’s to a fancy upscale restaurant. I would stop at the Grand Avenue McDonald’s for breakfast various times. His wife Billie and him would sit by themselves, or have their kids and grandchildren with them.  Occasionally, someone would stop by and say hello to the Rays.

Running for public office and being elected to serve is a lonely job as Ray noted. There are a few people I know who aspire to run for public office. It may be exciting, but it does come at a cost. You’re so busy with committee meetings, debates, passing bills, running a department, and on and on. You are expected to be in the limelight, answering tough questions, answering to constituents and fellow lawmakers.

You don’t have a life to go home to. You lose touch with friends, neighbors move and new ones move in. Personally, that is what keeps me from politics.  The constant grind, the shouting, the egos, the lack of sensibility these days. I’m not wired for a political life. Similar to Ray, I am a quiet person who prefers to process information, analyze it, and bring stakeholders together to find a solution.

Some will say that politics is not for quiet leaders.  Bob Ray proved that to be false, but in the long run, you have to know when it is time to walk away and reclaim your life. Politics can chew you up and spit you out. Anyone can love politics…but politics does not love anyone back. 

Bob Ray, at his inauguration in 1969. 

The usual crying call of “we need leaders like (fill in the name) again” quickly filled the airspace after Ray’s death. Sadly, those calls will go away until Election Day, come right back up, and then go away again.

Truth to be told, there will never be another Harold Hughes or a Bob Ray to grace our presence again.


Their leadership and humility doesn’t fit into the puzzle of today’s fractious world. The recent news of public officials calling citizens to harass other public officials, constant backlash via social media, and the public discontent leads to a probable conclusion:  maybe it isn’t really the politicians that have caused most of this mess.

Maybe it’s us, citizens, who need to do a smarter job of electing better candidates who are willing to serve…and not be mesmerized by wannabe political celebrities trying to climb up the career ladder.  We, the citizens, have become more partisan and dismissive of different views. We prefer to cast off those who may slightly disagree with us than ask “how do you see this issue?” and understand their views.

The view of the citizens are reflected in the views of the elected officials we put into office. George Carlin bluntly put it this way about the public and how we behave with regards to politics in this clip.

I will offer one advice for aspiring leaders, whether in business, politics, or where ever you are at:  “The toes you step on while climbing the corporate or political ladder may be attached to the ass you’ll have to kiss on the way down.”

Be humble, be respectful, don’t talk and listen, understand the topics from all sides, and have key people around you to make decisions.  And, don’t burn your bridges. You may them before they need you. That is what a leader does.


It was once said that people didn’t ask “who is the Governor of this state?” They would ask “Who is the ‘GovernorRay’ of this state?”

That said a lot about Governor Ray to a generation of Iowans.

In conclusion, the legacy and the life of Bob Ray is multi-fold and vast. It wasn’t always sunshine and flowers as we are prone to paint the narrative.  There was struggles and achievements, situations that were sticky, unpopular decisions, and butting heads with lawmakers and department heads.

Robert D. Ray was a quiet leader who navigated and guided Iowa through an important chapter in the state’s history. An individual who was revered and admired for his leadership, civility, and humility. A governor who wanted his citizens to be proud to be from Iowa, not be embarrassed about being from a place where agriculture and large urban areas can exist.

A decent man who was open to everyone and everything that interested him.

A Governor For All Seasons.

In Need Of…Anger Management

On Wednesday, I pulled up an entry I wrote in December 2012 about America’s mental fascination with guns and violence.

We haven’t a learned a thing about it. When I looked at the stats, a total of 31 people clicked on the blog to read the post.

Thirty-one. Five years since it was written.

Nevertheless, I’ll link this entry again, this time with some added observations below.

It has become unnerving to read the many narratives, the dismissal of narratives, and the over-emotional shaming that people have resorted to on social media about the latest incident in Florida. The listed reasons are plenty.

“It’s a parenting problem.”

“It’s mental illness”

“Gun control”

“Angry white male”

“The boys are not all right (this from the NYT op/ed piece)

I got news for all of you…it’s not one specific thing.

It’s everything.

Parenting, gun control, isolation, disconnection, bullying, labeling, and on and on.

All of the vitriol is a perfect storm. How we behave, think, and view others and the world around us is predicated on how we react.

We are a bunch of angry people, plain and simple. 

The common denominator to all of this is anger.

When I sift through all of the factors, it isn’t too hard to see.

Being angry about anything that sets us off.

Anger didn’t occur when the gunmen were able to get access to guns. It started in the classroom, in the home, the office, where ever.

It started with the kids. There are kids who are bullied, picked on, slighted, and ignored, because they are different

Adults, on a daily basis bully, harass, and demean other adults. At work, in the store, and on the streets. In the bar, at a concert, and in front of the kids. Kids pick up the traits of their parents. If a parent was a bully in school, it’s likely their children will be one. If a parent was picked on at school, their children is likely to emulate their parents, or become bully themselves.

It’s about control and a self-sense of power.

When adults and kids are made fun of, bullied, and rejected, the resentment grows to where there are two ways to resolve it: internalize it, drive themselves out of control, and give up…

…or lash out as a means of revenge. “I’ll show them. No one will laugh/harass/talk about me like that anymore.” The seeds of violence were already planted before the irreversible decision to walk into a hallway and open fire.

Michael Douglas, as William Foster, in “Falling Down” (1992). (Cineplex)

Anyone remember the movie “Falling Down” starring Michael Douglas? Douglas played William Foster, an unemployed defense worker, on his way to visit to his daughter’s birthday party at his ex-wife’s house. He encounters a series of events, trivial or provocative, that sets him off and he goes on a shooting spree. This is where the “white male anger” narrative got tossed around for the first time.

The “angry white male” narrative, though prevalent, has given way to people of all walks of life feeling like William Foster. The real narrative is that we are angry. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, lesbians, straight, man, woman, and child.

Everyone is angry as hell about everything.

Angry about a breakup, being fired, being laughed at, losing a game, facing discrimination. Angry over an election didn’t go their way, a tweet, an opinion…

Everyone’s pissed off about something.

Most of us don’t know how to handle our anger. Some of are not violent, but we go on social media to attack people as a way to unload our anger. The scary part, as sports talk show host Steve Czaban pointed out (48:10 mark), it’s smart educated people with good jobs and lives who turn into monsters behind a keyboard, going apeshit about anything that sets them off daily, small or big.

The “dark side” of social media is an expose of people who feel that they are losing control of the world around them and feel the need to say whatever they want, without filters. They forget that there are consequences with words and actions. It doesn’t matter if they are white or black.

These are the people who have lost all sense of reality. Demeaning those who are not as smart as they are (anti-intellectualism), labeling others for having opinions that are not aligned with theirs, and shaming people for small or egregious mistakes.

This stood out to me in that blog: “We can pass tougher laws, but making it harder to prevent the wrong people from having them isn’t going to stop them.” We can’t stop all wars, robberies, and murders , and we can’t stop all violence, unless we don’t look at how mentally screwed up we are in our actions and behavior.

The above tweet was at the heart of my counseling session this week. I overheard my therapist and the office manager talking about the past week’s events. I felt comfortable enough to tell my therapist my thoughts about all of this. I’ll get to this tweet later on.

Thank goodness I’m not telling this to an irrational emotional angry person who will fly off the handle without giving it an opinion a considerable thought.

In reviewing that 2012 blog, I brought up something that should be of concern: our mental fascination on using guns as a way to resolve our problems. Breakup with your girlfriend? Hunt her down with a gun. Lose your job? Shoot up the workplace. Get bullied and treated like a misfit? Gun down the jocks and the homecoming queen. Someone spill a drink on you at the bar? Walk out to you car, and come back “packing heat.”

How can we be a nation that want gun control, and yet when we go to the movies or watch television, we celebrate and glorify the bad guy who gets shot up or a machine gun takes out a fighter jet? Our need to have a weapon in our hands gives our ego and confidence a boost. 

Which leads me to repost a important scene from the comedy movie “Friday”. Craig (Ice Cube) tells his dad (John Witherspoon) that he is carrying a gun to protect his pal Smokey from being roughed up.  Craig’s dad shakes his head, and tells his son that there is another way to protect himself and to resolve a conflict.

We’re so quick to pick up a gun to resolve problems in this society. When was the last time you witnessed two people squaring up to settle something…with their hands?  “You win some and you lose some, but you live to see another day.”

The tweet above is very important to me. I have battled mental illness for a better part of 25 years. While I do think that there are individuals with mental illness who are likely to commit violent acts, there is a difference between “mental illness” and “mental health.” Mental illness is a condition that a person has that affects them. Mental health, in general, is how we mentally view things and act upon those feelings and actions.

America has a mental health problem with gun violence, and violence in general. We see it as the ONLY way to end a dispute, get revenge, and feel good about it.

All because we are angry about everything. People makes us angry, issues makes us angry, that damn remote control that doesn’t work propels us to hurl that against a wall.

A former colleague posted on Facebook that that he’s tired of being told to “calm” down about the latest school shootings. It took a lot of restraint from me not to reply back. Only because I do not want anyone to tell me that I need to show “anger” about something I can not control. I understand his anguish, but that is not how I deal with a sensitive topic like this one. I need time to process the information, look at it in a calm manner, and then offer a thought.

In which I did by typing this entry. Flesh out what I know to this point, read and understand it, and write my observations.

I don’t know everything. Neither do you.

I am in counseling because I have internalized being slighted, discriminated, and being verbally abused for most of my life. When I was younger, I was prone to losing my temper. Later on in my life, I kept all of that miserable crap to myself. I had no outlet to unload my anger.

I was too afraid that my anger could do harm to myself and others.

I had to find help. I made a choice, as an adult, to get help. Kids are not that lucky.

By hearing the stories my niece tells me about junior high today, I understand why students in today’s schools are stressed, disillusioned, and angry. Many resort to going online to find a community that accepts them for who they are when those in real life (IRL) rejects them. Then when those online starts to reject them, they are faced with “fight or flight”. Some will take their own lives (flight) to end the bullying. Other commit acts of violence against others (fight) to stop it.

The adults experienced those feelings as well. Who uses Facebook or Twitter more?  Adults. Who gets upset more easily? Adults? Who refuses to get help?  Yeah…you got it.

There is no middle ground.

That’s where we need to start at, whether anyone wants to or not.

The middle ground when it comes to understanding how to handle our anger and stop taking it out on others and on ourselves in a destructive manner.

Which is far too often these days.


Murder and Fire: A Dark Night

Murder and Fire: A Dark Night


My dad walked into the house on the evening of January 10, 1983. The week before, I turned seven years old. I don’t recall what I did on my birthday, only that I had cake and ice cream while watching the Rose Bowl. It was a yearly tradition for me.

Dad came through the garage into the kitchen with a stunned look on his face. Mom was in the kitchen prepping dinner. She noticed his face. She asked him what was going on.

“I can’t believe it. Al Davidson was shot and killed a half-hour ago,”  Dad said.

I was watching television in the spacious living room in our house on the corner of Logan Avenue (U.S. Highway 63) and Arlington Street. Overhearing the dad’s announcement, I flipped the channel from Iowa Public Television to KWWL. Live cameras were at the scene in front of the Russell Lamson Hotel Building off of W. 5th Street. The popular Brown Bottle restaurant was on the first floor and apartments and offices were on the 2nd floor and above.

Map diagram drawing of the location of the slaying of Alvin Davidson (Waterloo Courier)

An olive colored tarp covered what it looked a body in front of the main entrance into the Russell Lamson. Crutches were to the left of the tarp.

Thirty-five years ago tonight, the body of Black Hawk County Public Defender Alvin Davidson lie on the cold concrete ground as a crowd gathered around the block, bewildered of what they were seeing.

Alvin Davidson was an assistant public defender for Black Hawk County. Davidson was best known as the man who defended James Michael “T-Bone” Taylor in the trial, he was convicted in, for the double slaying of two Waterloo police officers in July 1981.

Noted as a calm and knowledgeable public defender, he was well-regarded in the courtroom by county attorneys, judges, and other within the local legal circle.

While his execution-style slaying stunned the Cedar Valley and Iowa, the circumstances that led to his death could have been ripped from a Hollywood movie script.

Months earlier, his brother-in-law, Jay Hollins attempted to run over his ex-wife, Sears Lockett. Davidson was at the scene when Hollins arrived. Both exchanged gunfire during the incident. Hollins was scheduled to go on trial in February 1983. Davidson was not only slated to testify, but he was also facing charges in connection with the shootout with Hollins. Davidson was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. What made things more sticky was that Davidson and his wife, Virginia, had separated.

Virginia was also a public defender for Black Hawk County…and was Jay Hollins’ sister.

Hollins’ brother, Jan, was in jail facing charges of attempted murder. He shot Davidson in the foot on October 4, 1982, hence the crutches on the ground next to Davidson’s body in the picture above.

Davidson TBone
Al Davidson (right) with Dean Olson, walking from the federal courthouse in Council Bluffs, Iowa in October 1981 during the James “T-Bone” Taylor trial. Taylor was convicted of the slayings of Waterloo police officers Michael Hoing and Wayne Rice. (Waterloo Courier archive file photo)

A tangled web was unfolding.

On January 3, 1982, Jay called up Ronald “Joe” Brown to come to Waterloo. Brown met with Hollins and Ennis Montgomery. The meeting was to plan on finishing what Jan Hollins tried to accomplish…kill Alvin Davidson. After days of monitoring Davidson’s routine and schedule, Hollins, Brown, and Montgomery were set.

On Monday, January 10th, Davidson left the courthouse and drove towards the Russell Lamson Hotel, where he was temporarily living after separating from Virginia. Earlier in the day, the three suspects did a dry run practice of how to go with their plans.

The suspects pulled up in a van in the alley between Central Battery & Electric and the hotel. Davidson walked up to the main entrance, when Brown, dressed in an Army coat, blue jeans, and a ski mask, pulled out a shotgun, aimed it at the side of Davidson’s face and fired at point-blank.

After Davidson collapsed and died instantly, the suspects fled in the van. Brown took a bus to Des Moines and fled to Arizona. After an investigation and search, Hollins, Montgomery, and Brown were arrested and put on trial. Montgomery took a plea deal and testified against Hollins and Brown. Hollins and Brown were convicted of first degree murder.

Slaying pic
A blanket covers the body of Alvin Davidson, assistant Black Hawk County public defender in front of the Russell Lamson Building, January 10, 1983. (Waterloo Courier archive/Mike Weber)

The T-Bone Taylor police slaying and manhunt captivated many, including me, however the Davidson slaying was so unreal and jaw-dropping, and a bit sordid, it took me years to understand the events that led to the slaying and the aftermath. Frankly put, it was a murder-for-hire amid a very messy family situation, that made this story fascinating and tragic.

The surrealism of having two publicized slayings within an 18-month period in your hometown sounds inconceivable.

Then again, anything bad can happen.

(Note: credit to be given to the website “The Dark Side of America”/“The Dark Side of Iowa” for the details of the case, and to the Waterloo Courier. It always helps when you keep newspaper archives in your possession to reference to when you need it.) 

Hours later, in the early morning hours of January 11th, the Cedar Falls Fire Department received a phone call. A building was on fire. Not just any building. The popular Simpson’s Furniture store on Main Street was ablaze.

Snow flurries fell as the Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Waverly fire departments battled in the cold brisk wind to end the fire. It was largest fire in Cedar Falls history since old Gilchrist Hall at UNI burned down in May 1972. What made the Simpson’s fire unique was that it was a Cedar Falls institution. The original Simpson’s was a total loss, but they rebuilt and continued to be in business until 2016 when the store closed and reopened as a national retailer under a different company.

Two events, 12 hours apart. A cold night.

A cold dark night.

Nobody Won. Stop Acting Like We’ve Won.

I have watched, from afar, the outrage over sexual harassment in America.

And, par for the course, the real message got lost in the silliness.

I have a few things to say and I’ll go back to reading a book about baseball.

First of all, the people who are celebrating Roy Moore’s defeat in Alabama need to remember something….nobody won. Doug Jones may have been elected senator, but there were no winners.


Because Americans have refused to seriously have a conversation about how we view sexual harassment. Trying to politicize and rationalize sexual harassment is the biggest bunch of bullshit going right now…along with race and gender. No one wants to talk about it….only to use shame and outrage as an easy way to make a statement.

And no, Americans did not do the right thing. Americans did not vote in the Alabama senate race. The people of Alabama did. Take your pontificating heads out of your asses, America.

Sanity did not win, as many on my Facebook were posting.

We still lost.

Republicans and Democrats, and the people who fall on either side have chosen to ignore what is the real issue: how do we address sexual harassment and improper behavior.

We didn’t win shit, folks.

We still lost.

Much ado about a pithy ass election to point fingers. Start pointing the fingers at yourselves, along with me.

“Leading Quietly” in a (Very) Loud World

“Leading Quietly” in a (Very) Loud World

“I’m not a leader.” 

Everyone aspires to be a leader. We read leadership books, take leadership classes, and search for mentors and sponsors who display and exudes “strong leadership”.

I’ve done all three things noted above, except finding a mentor or a sponsor. For some odd reason, I do feel “lost” about leadership. I don’t feel I am worthy of being called a leader. I am not the bold, loud, and dynamic type that most people dream to be.

Or is that a good thing?

I recently read “Quiet Power” by Susan Cain and “Leading Quietly” by Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.. In “Quiet Power”, Cain explores the ideas and skills that young introverts can utilize at school and home. The book is a great reference for adults who struggle with finding where they fit in the world as introverts.

Badaracco, in “Leading Quietly”, writes that our view of a leader usually falls under the archetype of  “hero”, and these heroes’ larger-than-life accomplishments is not what makes the world work. It is the individuals who make small yet meaningful decisions in areas away from the limelight each day.

Courtesy of Karl Moore, Associate Professor, McGill University Associate Fellow, Green Templeton College, Oxford University

These “quiet leaders” are people who choose responsible, behind-the-scenes action over being a public hero to resolve tough leadership challenges. Quiet leaders don’t fit the stereotype of the bold and gutsy leader, and they don’t want to. What they want is to do the “right thing” and in the “best interests” for their organizations, their coworkers, and themselves–but inconspicuously and without casualties.

My cousin, who works in higher education, commented, after interacting with a student,

“Introverts are leaders too”.

That statement made me reflect on the difficulties of viewing myself  as a leader.

I don’t consider myself a leader. I am a quiet person who observes and internally process things as they take place. Whether it’s in a meeting or at a party, I see and think about almost everything that intrigues me.

I am stickler for guidelines though I can flexible when bending the rules (slightly) are necessary. Though I never felt I had the confidence to be a dynamic leader. I lead by doing my job. In Badaracco’s view, I am “leading quietly”. I view complex problems and work towards finding complex solutions that are not a clean or easy.

Snoopy Introverted thinkers

Introverts are viewed as not good leaders because of their demeanor. They do not rush into decisions. They make assessments of a problem, address it to those in charge (unless they are in charge themselves), and set about making decisions that are not easy.

It is not about doing the “heroic” thing, as many are prone to do. It’s about doing the right thing when it is necessary and consistent, without seeking attention.

There are quiet leaders who toil in the mundane or pedantic world of work who face problems every day, not some big scandal. They succeed by managing their political capital, buying themselves time, bending the rules, and more.

Maybe I am a leader, but in a different way that may not be suitable for many.



All It Took Was A Smile

All It Took Was A Smile

All it took was a friendly smile.

I had nothing else to do on a spring Saturday in May roughly about 7 years ago. I decided to walk and visit the shops and places in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood. The State Historical Building and the Olympic Flame restaurant were the only two places I knew and went to. When I interned at the Iowa drug czar’s office in college, I was introduced to The Olympic Flame. That was my only remembrance of East Village until I moved to Des Moines a year later in 1998.

After a few stops, I was in front of a store that was on the corner of E. Grand and E. 5th.  The store looked small. It was filled with lotions, soaps, and other items that I was ashamed to admit that it smelled so good. The store was laced with the scent of lavender, citrus, parfum, different types of exotic oils, perfume and cologne.

Rather than keep walking, I was curious enough to foolishly walk in. After about three minutes of standing in front of a table of fragrant soap, the owner notices me and asked if there was anything she could help me with. Being a mild stutterer, I was caught off guard and I stammered out “No thank you. I was looking.” I quickly left and went about my way.

Not long after that, the store moved to its current place on East 6th. The place was a little bigger and brighter. White and light tones dominated the inside of the store. The signage outside was hard not to ignore.


Simplistic and yet it had a charm and an identity that would have a hand in the evolution of East Village.

I walked inside, once again curious as hell as I meandered past the tables and shelves of shampoo, soap, candles, and children books. The owner, as she did the last time, asked if I needed any help. I didn’t quite remember her, only because I kept my head down in embarrassment. I don’t recall what I said, but it had something to do with soap or shaving cream.

What I remember about that exchange was that she smiled.

Jennifer Hansen had a smile that made you feel welcomed, whether you were going to buy something or wandering around like I did.

After that, I became a fan and a supporter of eden. I learned how she was inspired to open eden: her grandmother visited Paris and told stories about Paris. Years later, Jennifer would visit Paris. Paris was the inspiration for her to open her own store. Holiday parties, special events, and First Friday were “must-go” for friends and acquaintances to stop by. First Fridays in the summer was on my calendar, not to shop, but to sit in the back with the men, as her husband John grilled hot dogs or steaks. In the front of the store, the shop girls and Jen would provide homemade cocktails.

eden 2
Courtesy: Historic East Village of Des Moines (eastvillagedesmoines.com)

A large poster of Audrey Hepburn and a red scooter (Vespa, I think?) were the first things to greet customers when they walked through the doors of eden.

Three visits stood out to me as memorable. The first was when I was looking for a birthday gift for my youngest niece. I walked out of there with a stuffed brown dog with ears that flapped all over the place. The next purchase was a gift basket for my mother for Christmas. Jen helped me put together the basket. The third one, and this is important to me, was when I got up the courage to ask Jen and a friend who also had a shop in East Village, if it was possible for my non-profit to have our walk through East Village.

That ask came before I was diagnosed with advanced stage retinopathy. I struggled to see anything in focus. On the day of the walk, I didn’t get the chance to see the walkers walk through and experience East Village for the first time.

I wasn’t allowed to drive or bike. I had to call a cab if I needed to go somewhere. After the walk was over, I walked the nearly 7 blocks through downtown, across the bridge over the Des Moines River, to thank Jen and Alyssa for their help. The walk event wasn’t a huge success, but the confidence to ask for support and ideas were pretty special.

Jen was a Sherman Hill apologist through and through. John and her also loved camping. In fact, she gave their camper a name. The camper was part of her family along with the cats who lived in their Sherman Hill home.

Before I met her, there was one unwelcome guest that never seemed to leave: cancer. Yeah, that guest. When I learned I had retinopathy and later kidney failure, I privately thought of Jen and how she kept a smile on her face despite chemotherapy, days of physical drain, and when she had to rest at home, while the shop girls ran the store.

In essence, showing kindness through adversity. Adversity is a box that contains stuff that we do not want, but rather than sit and stew about it, we find ways to understand, accept, and eventually part ways with that box.

The last visit I made to eden was a year ago, in October 2016. I was in town for an event, and it was First Friday. I stopped by, quietly, as Jen, the shop girls, and the customers were mingling.

Why ruin something that is, well, just perfect? Everyone was in good spirits. There was no time to talk about illnesses.

Until Monday morning. The unwelcome visitor, cancer, left for good.

And took Jennifer along.

Cancer sucks, but no one here on this planet is going to put their boxing gloves down for anything. Cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, and other unwelcome guests.

As I remember Jennifer Hansen, the large poster of Audrey Hepburn and the scooter in the window front doesn’t make me mourn. I can see in my own mind Jen riding on that red scooter…with Audrey hanging on as they ride down Locust Street in East Village.

With a smile on their faces.