Air of November by Denise Levertov (pocket poem)

Air of November
by Denise Levertov

In the autumn brilliance
feathers tingle at fingertips.

This tingling brilliance
burns under cover of gray air and

brown lazily
unfalling leaves,

it eats into stillness zestfully
with sound of plucked strings,

steel and brass strings of the zither,
copper and silver wire

played with a gold ring,
a plucking of crinkled afternoons and

evenings of energy, thorns under the pot.
In the autumn brilliance

a drawing apart of curtains
a fall of veils

a flying open of doors, convergence
of magic objects into
feathered hands and crested heads, a prospect
of winter verve, a buildup to abundance.

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Two Minutes of Nature (guest post by Laura Herbert)

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Two Minutes of Nature
by Laura Herbert

The work day is over, and I just looked up from my computer and found myself strangely startled by how beautiful it is out. It’s amazing how detached I can feel from nature while I’m “plugged in”, clicking away at my computer keyboard. But all it takes is two minutes of observation to bring me back to feeling more centered and connected with reality. Here’s what I just noticed:

  • The magical, golden evening sunlight streaming through the trees
  • A Daddy Long Legs striding confidently across the patio
  • An inch worm slowly making its way across a stone wall
  • A bumble bee hovering over the miniature forest of creeping thyme
  • The first red tinges of autumn on the maples, glowing fiercely in the sun
  • The warm golds and auburns of the garden mums
  • The soft greens of the ferns
  • The sweet song of evening crickets and one very vocal chipmunk
  • I especially love observing the small, the overlooked, and what some would consider to be the “commonplace.” They are all miracles of nature, after all.

What can you observe in two minutes?

The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret and that we are united with all life that is in nature. – Albert Schweitzer

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Quix Tip: Giving to Yourself

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What small graces can you allow yourself today? Each small gift you give yourself has the seed to be a larger gift to those around you. When Walt Whitman spoke of being alone out on the road, he remembered all those he knew and said, “I am filled with them and will fill them in return.”

Research shows that only two in ten people spend most of a typical day playing to their strengths. Yet Marcus Buckingham points out that research also shows that those lucky people “are significantly more productive, more customer focused, and more likely to stick around than the rest of us.” When you live a strong life, doing what you uniquely enjoy, you experience contentment. And that contentment is a gift to all those around you. This is one reason why people have pets – a cat purring contentment when curled up on a couch is a soothing gift. And when you live your unique life, following the path that was meant only for you, you inspire those near you to do the same, to examine and explore their gifts.

Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities:

StrengthsFinder – Gallup’s online assessment of unique top five strengths. Learn your team’s strengths and learn how to put them into action.
Strengths At Work – Gallup research says less than 20 percent of us have the opportunity to do what we do best everyday. Learn how to put your strengths in play for consistent, near-perfect performance.
At Your Best – Explore how to give your best and play to your strengths for sustained individual success.

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Adjusting the Focus on Your Lens

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Imagine the focus of your attention throughout any given day as a lens. It’s usually adjusted at a very limited view – immediate concerns, people around you, co-workers, projects, everyday interactions. We find it difficult to get deeper in ourselves and also to see with a wider lens the people we don’t know in our community, and further out – to other countries.

Your giving will be most effective when you give in a way that most uniquely reflects you. What are you interested in? Where do you feel is the most need? There are no rules, there is no guidebook – you have to find your own way in all areas of your life, including giving. When you read the stories of famous people who gave so much, from Ghandi to Mother Theresa to Nelson Mandela, they all found the way to give that suited them.

Whether you are drawn to philanthropy or volunteering or the myriad small daily acts through which you can give, or a combination, consider your unique style – what strengthens you when you contemplate giving, what gets you exhausted just thinking about it when giving? Now you know where to focus your energy. Let’s look at two potential avenues for that giving energy: volunteering and philanthropy.

Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s charity-based team building activities:

Charity Bike BuildAs featured on NPR!

Teams build bicycles for underserved children in their area.

Charity Wheelchair Build – Charity Wheelchair Build gets your team building wheelchairs to help disabled people stay independent in this charity team building activity.

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Charity Begins at Home

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Let’s look at the phrase “charity begins at home” in two ways. First, giving to others begins with giving to yourself. You can’t fill anyone’s cup from an empty bottle. Just like the emergency instructions on an airplane, you have to put on your own mask and get oxygen first before assisting others. Some of us are uncomfortable with this concept, worried about appearing selfish. Perhaps a better word to use in this case is ‘self-filled.’ You fill yourself in order to give to others. And that means finding out what you love, what strengthens you, what you do best and putting it into play in your life. This advice is especially helpful for people on the edge of burn-out working in non-profits, where giving is the norm, and resources are perennially scarce. When you have enough you can most articulately, elegantly and effectively give to others.

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The Daily Difference

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Each moment of each day affords us an opportunity to give – the question is how to take them. Each interaction we have with friends, colleagues, family members, and strangers has the potential for giving. In this case, it’s helpful to get away from the idea of a literal physical gift. Each positive interaction we have, each shared smile or courtesy enriches everyone involved. Loretta Girzartis said, “If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a kind word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.” And these extraordinary things all come from otherwise ordinary moments on an ordinary day.

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Top 5 Reasons Why People Give

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  1. Because they are asked, or presented a giving opportunity
  2. Compassion for those in need
  3. Personally believe in the cause
  4. Affected by the cause
  5. To give back to their community

Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s charity-based team building activities:
Charity Bike BuildAs featured on NPR! - Teams build bicycles for underserved children in their area.Charity Wheelchair Build – Charity Wheelchair Build gets your team building wheelchairs to help disabled people stay independent in this charity team building activity.

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Books to Support Your 40 Days To Change For Good

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Books to Support Your 40 Days To Change For Good

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by James O. Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente
[Still the most useful and easily applicable book on personal change I’ve found yet. Highly recommended.]

Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own And Other People’s Minds (Leadership for the Common Good) by Howard Gardner
[Great research as to what makes people change their minds, and what doesn’t work. This work is one of the cornerstones of Quixote Consulting’s change and influencing work. Be forewarned: It’s very dry and dense] 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
[A well-researched, readable look at the positive psychology of persistence.]

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
[Endlessly inspiring and entertaining, here are 161 famous creative artists’ rituals – from Mozart to Einstein]

The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity At Work by Teresa Amabile, Steven Kramer
[Completely in a work context. Repeated small successes combined with meaningful work lead to happiness. Small failures at meaningful work lead to unhappiness. Meaningless work is a straight path to unhappiness.]

Gandhi An Autobiography – The Story of My Experiments with the Truth by Mahatma Gandhi
[Surprisingly, it’s a page-turner. A fascinating and inspiring account of a man dedicated to personal change and through that his country and beyond]

The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr
[The ‘Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals’ chapter is a very nuts and bolts look at rituals and incremental change.]

What You Can Change . . . and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement by Martin E. Seligman
[Especially recommended for those of you who like to know what the research has to say. There’s no self-help ‘Seven steps to lose those pounds, be loved by everyone and transform your life in just 20 seconds a day!” silliness here, just what science has found can be changed and what can’t.]

The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller
[Profoundly helpful and beautifully written, the title says it all. You’ll either know immediately it’s the book you need to read right now or you’re not ready for it…yet. Loss and sadness are either visiting you or they’re not. The chapter on ritual is from a spiritual/mythopoetic view.]

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
[Written from a journalistic viewpoint, it’s heavy on stories and light on actionable content. Three sections: individuals, organizations, societies]

Leading Change by John P. Kotter
[Exclusively aimed at change leaders in organizations, but the general principles are sound.]

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
[You’ll find a short section on rituals and negative (a ritual to NOT do something) rituals – which is an interesting concept]

 

Learn more about 40 Days to Change For Good here.

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Wonder Woman movie review by Theo Michelfeld [Quix Pick]

Wonder Woman movie review by Theo Michelfeld

Saw the movie Wonder Woman. I’m so happy this movie is good, and so pleased it has become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Hollywood had long ago turned tail from the dreaded “Female-Led Superhero Film,” the rationale being that Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra all flopped. And so, to avoid the same fate as that sweeping three-film sample size, the makers of Wonder Woman employed one of the world’s great, time-tested box-office formulas: Don’t Make Unwatchable Crap. And lo, whoa, what do you know… turns out Female Superheroes CAN turn a profit, and then some.

In the Wonder Woman movie, the Goddess/Princess Diana leaves her mythical island paradise of Themyscira to join The Allies in World War One. Her quest is to slay the War God Ares, and bring peace to the world. Along the way, we have the dramatization of her upbringing, including her mother’s reluctance to raise her as a warrior. We have her relationship with the American pilot Steve Trevor, which represents her first encounter with a male of the species. We have her consistent, doe-eyed but fierce disappointment with the sexism, industrialization and senseless violence of the modern age. We also have her kicking ass and saving the day. Excellent dialogue, acting and directing bring it all to life.

Here and there, Marvel fans will spot the film pickpocketing some the period piece charm and motley crew teamwork found in Captain America: The First Avenger, not to mention the apparently endless visually-poetic potential a shield can provide as a prop. We also have a good deal of fish-out-of-water comedy, which echoes, at times, the first Thor movie. I spotted these elements ahead of time, in the trailers, and I admit they had me dismayed. But I’m happy to report that the film suffers little to none from any of it. It’s all just really well done. Also, the character of Wonder Woman has been around since 1941, and she is just as much entitled to this territory as the boys are.

Wonder Woman is portrayed by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, a charming and compelling screen presence with an effortless ability to carry a film. Robin Wright makes a cameo, swinging through the wheelhouse of her own strength, grace and ferocity. Connie Nielsen is a welcome sight, seventeen years after Gladiator. And the reliable Chris Pine serves a crucial role as Steve Trevor. He becomes Wonder Woman’s sidekick, her tour guide, and her romantic interest, and he makes for a self-respecting second fiddle, just as he should in a film that highlights teamwork as one of its themes. Meanwhile, good acting is only wasted without good dialogue, and this film’s dialogue is outstanding.

Some have criticized the film as disempowering women by “overly sexualizing” Wonder Woman. The film’s director, Patty Jenkins, offers a beautiful, well-reasoned defense against that charge, which I recommend Googling. But since it’s a free country, I will also mansplain my own two cents on the subject here:

In what way is this character “overly sexualized”? She has a libido, but last time I checked, most adults do. She’s damn good-looking, but if that’s a problem, then the same affliction certainly “disempowers” the likes of Superman, Batman, Thor, Captain America, and so on—the whole fraternity. Perhaps she is disempowered by her bare arms and legs? I don’t know… maybe that argument works in the Middle East, but something tells me a superhero film called Burqa Girl would never come close to $820 million internationally. I think some people are just afraid of women’s sexuality, and they can’t handle this movie, which is funny to me, because it’s so much more rational to be afraid of a woman who can throw your ass through a brick wall, no matter what she’s wearing.

And so this movie is a masterpiece, right? No, sadly, it’s not. And for this, I blame the culture more than the filmmakers, and I blame misogyny more than feminism. But since I’ve already taken the culture and misogyny to task in this review, let me please explore some angles that may not be so apparent.

I mentioned the great dialogue above, and it really is surpassingly great at times, but of course there is more to a screenplay than its dialogue. From a storytelling standpoint, this film plays it very safe, with by-the-numbers story beats we’ve seen too many times before in films of this genre. For example, last year, the Doctor Strange film (for the uninitiated, Doctor Strange is the 57th-or-so most popular male superhero) was no less uncreative, despite all its spectacular psychedelic trappings. And though Wonder Woman is truly a fresher film precisely because of its hero’s gender, both films, irrespective of gender, are behind the curve. Compare and contrast them with 2017’s Wolverine swan song, Logan. Logan is a brilliant new take on the genre, and that’s what can happen when a screen hero has seventeen years and nine films worth of audience appreciation and good will behind him. Wonder Woman isn’t there yet, and though I would immediately yield that this is through no fault of anyone involved, and that the studio was likely wise to “color within the lines” with so much at stake, it is nevertheless a burden this Wonder Woman film brings to the dance.

More than that, Wonder Woman’s real obstacle is her invulnerability. People may disagree with me here, and point to the character’s innocence, which is no small element of the film’s plot, theme and quality, and ignites much of the humor, insight and danger. Wonder Woman remains a champion for innocence, even as her own falls away. The innocence is crucial, yes. I just don’t see it as an actual character flaw.

When I think of my favorite female screen heroes, they also happen to be some of my favorite characters of all time. Ellen Ripley in the first three Alien films. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. The Bride from Kill Bill. Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. What they all have in common is that they have vulnerabilities… even Furiosa does, although granted hers is more of a one-armed minuet with the film’s male namesake. In any case, it is not new or uncommon to find vulnerable female heroes in movies, nor is it anything new in the comics. But combine the two mediums—comic book movies—and inexplicably the culture seems wary of this essential element in character development.

We learned this all too recently in 2015, with Joss Whedon’s Avengers sequel Age of Ultron. Mr. Whedon, who tends to write strong female characters, received eviscerating social media backlash for giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a touch of the superhero blues. Keep in mind that Black Widow was sharing the screen with the following male heroes and their backstories/vulnerabilities: Iron Man, an alcoholic egomaniac subject to panic attacks; The Hulk, a suicidal loner afraid of his own powers; Thor, a charming doofus Norse God whose brother is demonstrably more clever; and Captain America, a lovesick goody-two-shoes dork. Imagine assigning any of those four weaknesses to a female hero in a comic book movie. Would the project ever see the light of day? Maybe on Netflix, but not on the big screen. Not yet anyway.

As it happened, helming Black Widow’s fourth appearance in the franchise, Joss Whedon gave the character some welcome and plausible vulnerability. The Black Widow character is a former Russian spy and assassin, and previously her depth had been explored almost entirely as duplicitousness. Otherwise, she was basically a female James Bond, kicking ass with a side of one-liners. Whedon wanted her to open up a little, express some regrets in a way that was consistent with her backstory, and with a longing for hope and redemption that all heroes are entitled to, and with the connection she was feeling to a male colleague. The movie was pilloried as a cultural setback for women.

I would suggest that’s entirely because the character is a superhero. The exact same scenario, presented in the context of almost any other genre or medium, wouldn’t be scandalous at all. Meanwhile, James Bond himself has been vulnerable since 2006. Watch Casino Royale. It’s fantastic!

And by the way, where’s the Black Widow movie? I will be first in line to see it!

So that’s my Wonder Woman review. Obviously, this movie is more than a movie, and deservedly so. From a cultural phenomenon standpoint, I am entirely in its corner. Also, I would be an idiot to suggest that anyone involved put a foot wrong in making this project into a massive, game-changing hit. I also quite like the movie. It’s a blast, and I highly recommend it. It would be shameful not to end on a positive note, in summing up all my feelings, all my genuine satisfaction and optimism wracked with genuine hesitation and disclaimers. So how’s this?… Bring on Wonder Woman 2!

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The Joy of Giving

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In a sense, giving is the best way to experience the feeling of contentment. It’s a way of saying to yourself, “I have more than I need to be happy.” It’s a way of practicing the concept of abundance. Imagine your day, your workplace as a banquet or a pot-luck dinner, filled with wonderful and perhaps not-so wonderful things. The question is – what do you have to offer? You know you’re going to enjoy many different dishes. What would you like to bring to the feast? No matter the individual quality of the contribution, the sum of the whole at a pot-luck is almost always a happy, spirited affair.

 

My coaching clients tell me of worrying about not being good enough. A frequent challenge teams face is a feeling of unspoken internal competition, an unconscious measuring and competing against people on the same team. The joy of giving is one of the surest methods of overcoming these traps. Even if on the face of it you don’t yet believe “I have something to give,” know that there’s a wiser part of you, sometimes difficult to access, who knows this to be true. And nothing will help you to believe something quicker than acting like you already believe it. For example, volunteering for Hospice has proven for many people to be an effective way of dealing with their personal grief over losing a loved one, either literally through a death or metaphorically with a relationship ending.

 

How can you most joyfully give? Look at what you’re drawn to. Would you prefer to give your energy, your monetary wealth or a combination of the two? Do you prefer formal volunteering and philanthropy or every day ‘guerilla’ giving? Do you prefer to give in a strategic way for maximum positive impact and social change? Or do you prefer to give in a way in which you have the most connection, can see and be part of the positive change?

 

If you’re in a place where the giving pains you – something about it is forced, or you know you’ll be too worried about the money you pass along, or already feel the emptiness before you’ve given, you may not be ready to give. In this case, the best option may be to spend some time looking at what you need in your life that you’re not getting in as compassionate a way as possible. But if you’re even wavering a little bit, ponder what Peyton Conway March says, “There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life – the happiness, freedom, and peace of mind – are always attained by giving them to someone else.” Give giving a try in small ways – it’s the small daily gifts that make all the difference.

 

Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s charity-based team building activities:

Military Salute – Teams build care packages to be given to soldiers stationed overseas.

Charity Wheelchair Build – Charity Wheelchair Build gets your team building wheelchairs to help disabled people stay independent in this charity team building activity.

Charity Roller Coaster –Design and build the world’s most exciting roller coaster and help kids learn about science.

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