Tag Archives: symphony

List Obsession

 

If I walked up to my 24-year old self and revealed that in 30 years, I would be obsessed with making lists, my youth reply would have been, “Did I get a brain injury somewhere along the way?” As far back as I can remember, I sought experiences for superficial reasons, especially if they would translate into stories I could tell to impress people. This (admittedly) selfish focus meant that I immersed myself in a chaotic world that stressed ego over character. Somewhere along the journey, that focus flipped upside-down.

What is vitally important to me now is order and kindness. Organization, neatness, routine, structure, service-all words that would have sent me running for the hills in the last few decades-I crave in a way I could have never predicted. I am not sure when the shift occurred; perhaps I morphed  gradually through the years after being married to a kind and selfless person like Kevin. I certainly was keenly more aware of the transformation in the months following our mutual job loss, and the recent pandemic likely contributed. After the massive life changes and extra quiet time, some self-refection and enhanced order was inevitable. And for me, order means making lists.

My new job as the administrative assistant to the director of the Georgia Cancer Center has locked in this list-making trend for good. Dr. Cortes is adamant about a high level of meticulousness and is accustomed to an exact process in his daily work. This trait is reasonable and expected of a successful Doctor and Scientist, and one that aligns with the environment I was seeking for myself when I made a career change. Any culture shock in the transition between the car business and the world of academic health care pursuits, while difficult, have been truly been suited to the new paradigm of my life.

My brain now works completely in terms of lists. As I work, I follow a checklist of activities I want to perform daily, even if I am only make small, incremental progress. The beauty of my day is that I am likely to be undertaking many different tasks from one moment to the next, but in a way that is ensconced in order. I methodically transition among tasks, documenting progress along the way, an obvious shift from the environment I cultivated in my past career, one I often compared to a juggling act, with plates crashing around me.

In addition to not wanting to forget a step in my day, I admit I also just enjoy the feeling of marking my progress on a list. A hugely daunting day, broken down into easy manageable chunks, becomes a pleasurable flow of one small victory to the next. I have daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, priority, pending, long-term lists and spreadsheets. I make lists for each day, lists for days off, weekend lists, grocery lists, lists of people I need to meet and lists of people I want to stay in touch with (a particularly important list right now).

Friends and family might not appreciate knowing that they are also part of a master list, but I would hope they see it as I do-that I care enough to want to make sure I don’t miss them in my ongoing communication. I strive to not let too much time pass without texting hello or letting them know I appreciate them or seeing how they are doing. When holidays approach, I am looking at the list constantly, making sure that everyone receives a small acknowledgement from me (including my friends at various businesses like the dry cleaners).

Finally, I enjoy thinking of my lists of favorite things. When I hear a song in my car, I consider including it on one of my many playlists. When I watch a movie that blows me away, I consider adding it to my preferred flicks. These lists are dynamic, subtly changing over time, but the core of them stays strong. Casablanca will always stay on the list of Angela’s fave films, Rick Springfield will always be considered one of the top musicians, David Sedaris is a permanent entry in my collection of treasured writers. Some others may fall off, join or re-join through the years, but for now, I have curated what I consider to be a Masterpiece List of Lists, and offer them here as much to have them documented for myself as for sharing with others. I am not sticking to just 10 anymore,  either. If I want to have 11 or 12 favorite songs, then so be it.  I consider them to be a significant statement about myself: as John Cusack says in High Fidelity: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like…books, records, films..these things matter.” Yes, they do. And for that, as well as many other quotable lines and intelligent performances, Mr. John Cusack has made it into one of my lists.

You will notice in my list of favorite books, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. I reference this book often, and did even before working for a healthcare provider. Dr. Gawande presents a compelling case for checklists at work, explaining that while our egos don’t like to think that we need a list for work that we do every day, our brains need that safety net, especially when the stakes are high. Pilots who have been flying planes for years can still get careless and omit an essential pre-flight procedure. Surgeons performing a repair they have done countless times can easily skip a life-saving protocol. Our brains spin too fast, our egos distract us, and we do not always operate on all cylinders…the opportunities for error are endless. The one cure for these errors is the checklist.

If I have a favorite list in all these lists, however, it is the last one-my list of most important quotes. My current focus quote is by Ram Dass: ” I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” I suspect the shift from random adventures to thoughtful order is one of shifting priorities and general maturity. With clarity, I see the pages of my life’s story shift as I look back and realize the impact of my actions on others, and become less proud of my past and more hopeful for the chance to make amends and build character, seeking compassion for others and finding joy in kind gestures.

Let me know some of your favorite lists-do we share anything in common? The root of compassion is finding common ground and an easy place to start is finding things we all love the most. I would love to hear yours, and I here offer mine. Perhaps my 24-year old self should have learned to appreciate lists before madly chasing grand adventure. In the words of Gretchin Rubin: “Outer order contributes to inner calm”.

List of Favorite Movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. A Little Chaos
  4. Beauty and the Beast (Disney version)
  5. XXX
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Darjeeling Ltd
  8. High Fidelity
  9. The Invention of Lying
  10. Grosse Pointe Blank
  11. The Longest Week
  12. Mulan
  13. Now, Voyager
  14. Truman Show
  15. Pleasantville

Favorite Songs

  1. Show Must Go On by Queen
  2. Show Must Go On (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
  3. Life is Beautiful by Sixx AM
  4. It’s My Life (ballad version) by Bon Jovi
  5. Northside by Tim Brantley
  6. Hold On To Your Dream by Rick Springfield
  7. 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train
  8. And So I Pray by Jem
  9. I’m Not Ok by My Chemical Romance
  10. Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
  11. A Song for You by Ray Charles
  12. Comfortable by John Mayer
  13. Sonata in G Minor by Tom Barabas
  14. American Tune by Paul Simon
  15. Song for the Road by David Ford

Favorite Places to spend money

  1. Target
  2. Clinique
  3. Publix
  4. Hallmark
  5. Michael’s
  6. Stein Mart
  7. Dillard’s
  8. Art on Broad
  9. Book Tavern
  10. Barnes and Noble

Favorite Causes

  1. Miller Theater
  2. Georgia Cancer Center
  3. Golden Harvest Food Bank
  4. Augusta Symphony
  5. Leadership Augusta
  6. Child Enrichment
  7. Leukemia Lymphoma Society
  8. Friends of Augusta Animal Services
  9. Salvation Army
  10. Safehomes
  11. Heritage Academy

Favorite Writers

  1. David Sedaris
  2. Will Schwalbe
  3. Fr. Gregory Boyle
  4. Adam Grant
  5. DH Lawrence
  6. Atul Gawande
  7. Russell Brand
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Anais Nin

Favorite Bands

  1. Queen
  2. Sixx AM
  3. Linkin Park
  4. Bon Jovi
  5. REM
  6. Matchbox Twenty
  7. Edison Project
  8. Styx
  9. Journey
  10. No Doubt

Favorite Singers

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. Jem
  3. George Michael
  4. Russ Taff
  5. John Mayer
  6. Stevie Wonder
  7. Tim Brantley
  8. David Ford
  9. David Owen
  10. Sade
  11. Edith Piaf
  12. Gary Moore
  13. Johnny Cash
  14. Babyface

Favorite Hotels

  1. Charleston Place
  2. Chateau Elan
  3. Margaritaville Nashville
  4. Vendue Charleston
  5. Hermitage Nashville
  6. Proximity Greensboro NC
  7. Ritz Lodge Lake Oconee
  8. Studio 154 Nashville
  9. Shamrock Ocala
  10. Four Seasons Whistler

Favorite Foods to Eat

  1. Cinnabon
  2. Shells and Cheese
  3. Takosushi Kevin’s Roll
  4. Guacamole and Chips from Caesar at Poblano’s
  5. Fluff (mine)
  6. Pancakes (mine)
  7. French Toast
  8. Lefse (Dad)
  9. Egg Breakfast Food (Mom)
  10. Lasagne
  11. Birthday cake

Favorite Books

  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  2. Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. Selected Poetry of Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
  6. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
  7. Everything that Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
  8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  9. Naked by David Sedaris
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  11. Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Favorite Songwriters

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. David Ford
  3. Paul Simon
  4. Richard Marx
  5. Billy Joel
  6. Jon Bon Jovi
  7. Elton John/Bernie Taupin
  8. Mike Shinoda
  9. Tim Brantley
  10. George Michael
  11. John Mayer
  12. Lyle Lovett

Favorite Actors/Actresses:

  1. Jason Bateman
  2. John Cusack
  3. Jane Fonda
  4. Judi Dench
  5. Morgan Freeman
  6. Emma Thompson
  7. Jim Carrey
  8. Nicole Kidman
  9. Ewan McGregor
  10. Renee Zellweger
  11. Adam Driver
  12. Adrian Brody
  13. Mark Ruffalo

Favorite Quotes:

  1. Choose being kind over being right, and you will be right every time. -Richard Carlson
  2. I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies. -Ram Dass.
  3. May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears. -Nelson Mandela
  4. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. -Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. -Rabindranath Tagore
  6. Don’t just ask whether you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Ask whether you’re proud of how you achieved it. -Adam Grant
  7. It takes grace to remain kind in cruel situations. -Unknown
  8. The past from intensity to greatness passes through sacrifice.-Kassner
  9. Perhaps everything terrible is something in its deepest being something that needs our love. -Rilke
  10. The more simple we are, the more complete we become. -Auguste Rodin
  11. The objective of cleaning is not just to clean but to feel happiness within that environment- Marie Kondo
  12. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, to have made a difference. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Best Board of Directors Meeting

I have served on various Boards through the years, and it fascinates me how different each one is. Group dynamics vary with the size and personality of the organization, and I am always keen on finding a Board that matches my skills and interests. I tend to like a structured format, and now that I have enjoyed the efficiency of that type of group, I’m sure I would  find it difficult to go back into something less formal.

For the sake of comparison, I will tell you about one of the less formal Boards I have encountered. They had many issues, most notably a lack of fiscal responsibility and an excess of drama. I will not name the organization, because I would hate to cause them any grief. They just weren’t a good fit for me. The meetings never lasted less than 2 hours and often teetered close to the 3 hour mark. I rarely stayed to the bitter end. Even if I didn’t have anything pressing to do, I would get up and leave early as a statement of silent protest for the length of non-productive discussion.

By contrast, the most formal and efficient Board I have experienced is the Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA). I assumed a spot on the Board after my boss’s term came to an end; the dealership needed representation with the organization we support the most. When I received the welcome letter with a copy of the organizational guidelines, I was impressed. When I participated in the new Board member orientation, I was pleased. In the 2 years since then, I have found the group to be productive, organized, and appreciative of the people who serve.

At the time I joined, SOA was undergoing an intensive and detailed study to assess the feasibility of renovating the historic Miller Theater downtown. Having fallen into a state of disrepair, the building was purchased and saved by Peter Knox, who generously offered it to SOA as a home for their performances. Mr. Knox wisely knew that if this amazing structure was to ever be resuscitated, it would require a group as solid and well-connected as the Symphony. The building needed a purpose, and SOA needed a home. It was an odd pairing, though: this artsy, run-down architectural wonder with a conservative cultural establishment. I loved the building long before I joined the Symphony Board, so witnessing the amount of work they were putting into the study of saving it made me even more impressed with my new Board family.

Although the building was offered as a gift, the organization did not accept it right away. For 2 ½ years,  as community patience ran thin, SOA took meticulous care to assess if it was a wise move. Assuming responsibility of bringing the theater back to life was a risk, and a costly one-both from a financial standpoint and a PR standpoint. It took a great deal of vision and even more faith to think that we could add “managing a multi-purpose theater” to our already ambitious list of obectives.  We were fortunate that a generous benefactor covered the cost of several consultants who guided us in our decision-making. They helped answer questions about acoustics, sustainability and fundraising. The entire process was incredibly arduous, but fortunately (again) for us, one of our Board members volunteered his time to lead the adventure, and his dedication and tenacity would ultimately determine the Miller’s fate. I’m speaking, of course, of the intelligent and amazing Levi Hill IV.

Levi articulately reported on his progress at each Board meeting throughout that 2 ½ year period. Toward the end of that time, as the consultants reports began to take final form, his team held coffee meetings with Board members to have in-depth dialogue about the pros and cons of the project.  I was blown away at the due diligence that was going behind this one simple question: do we accept Peter Knox’s offer to give us his beautiful and run-down building?

It may have been one question, but the answer held enormous potential. The Miller could save the Symphony by giving us relevance and new connections in a time when symphonic organizations all across the country are struggling with their old business models. The SOA could save the Miller by giving it the strength of a 50+ year heritage of excellence. The Symphony would have a home, and the Miller would have a new lease on life. As an added bonus, a struggling downtown would have a growing theater district, and Augusta would have a new venue to fit perfectly in the spectrum of other performance halls available in our area. The risk was high, but the potential for positive results was even higher.

In the end, the consultant’s report came back with a reassuring message: this can work. There was a caveat to that message, though: it will only work if you commit to it fully, and believe in it completely. Within the SOA organization and board, we cannot afford any dissention or doubt. You are in or you are out. Do not accept this building half-heartedly. It has to be passionately agreed upon, or rejected. After years of study and debate, it was time to stand up and be counted.

The date was set for a Board meeting called especially for the multi-million dollar decision. At 5pm on September 22nd, 2011, we met at the SunTrust Board Room downtown. Any board or staff member who could not physically be there dialed in via teleconference. I never thought I would see the day when I would be excited to attend a Board meeting. There was no way I would have missed it.

Board President Joe Huff called the meeting to order. He welcomed the group with his rare gift of balancing the gravity of the moment with charm and lightness. He meticulously explained the rules of how the meeting would proceed. He gave a clear message to us that if we voted ‘yes’ today with our voices, we would be asked to vote ‘yes’ tomorrow with our wallets. It would take all of us contributing to the project with our time, talents and resources to pull off this miracle.

Attendance was called and everyone was accounted for. Joe instructed us to go around the room and offer a comment regarding the choice at hand. Each person had the chance to voice their spin on the decision, revealing their hopes, doubts and fears.

You would think that having so many individuals offering their opinion on a single topic would be drawn-out, boring drudgery, especially toward the end. The exact opposite happened. As each person spoke, we began to feel the momentum build. To our amazement, each person expressed hopefulness for the project. Despite many who admitted to severe reservations early in the process, they also described how their concerns were addressed, fears were abated, and enthusiasm grew. My mood changed from trepidation that the vote might not pass, to excitement as it began to look like it might even be unanimous. I was going to be a part of history, and it was unfolding before my eyes.

Finally the last person had shared their thoughts, and it was time for the official vote. Each member’s name was called out, and they responded with their final and official answer. Do you want the SOA to accept the gift of the Miller Theatre, make it our home, and assume responsibility for a revitalized theater in downtown Augusta? Name after name was called, and we all felt honored to offer our enthusiastic “Yes”. The power in the moment of knowing the decision was unanimous is not one I will ever forget. Symphony Orchestra Augusta was entering a new phase of collaborations and involvement in the community. We were going to have a home, downtown was getting a theater, and Augusta was saving a piece of her history. That’s the power of an efficient Board.