Family and Friends

Spiritual reparenting: severed belonging, benefactors, vulnerability & reconnection

Tara Brach's weekly dharma talks and guided meditations have been a consistent source of inspiration and equanimity for me over the past several years. A few weeks ago, she presented a talk on spiritual reparenting to which I've listened four times (thus far), as it resonated on many levels for me. The practice of becoming one's own loving parent is a recurring theme for adult children of alcoholics and other dysfunctional families, and I find Tara's perspective on the topic offers a valuable contribution to my understanding of the hurting and healing processes. I was so moved by the wisdom presented in the talk that I transcribed the entire 52 minute episode. I'll embed the podcast below, and include a link to the unofficial (and unauthorized) transcription, but I also want to share a few highlights here.

One of the themes Tara emphasizes is the wound of severed belonging, which often occurs while we are children, when we get the explicit or implicit message that we are not okay - not good enough - from parents or other authority figures. In the resulting trance of unworthiness, we feel the pain of separation - of being disconnected - from those we love .. and from whom we want to feel love. Separation anxiety can afflict us at any age, in the context of any significant relationship, though we are especially vulnerable when we are young and inexperienced. As I've noted in several of my most recent blog posts - the pain of severed belonging can continue to affect us for many years after the infliction of the wound.

Fortunately, many of us encounter a benefactor, someone who offers us unconditional love and a healing presence at a time when we are in deep pain. A benefactor repairs the severed belonging and helps us feel connected again: loved, and thereby, worthy of love. I am grateful for the appearance of benefactors at different stages of my life, when I was suffering with the pain of disconnection and the trance of unworthiness.

in her talk, Tara asks "What are the qualities in that person that made a difference to you?", and in reflecting on my benefactors, I see that the common qualities were honesty, self-awareness, compassion and vulnerability. Vulnerability is especially relevant to the process of repair and reconnection. Any benefactor who has appeared in my life has been willing and able to relate to my suffering by revealing one or more elements from their own experience that mirrors or closely aligns with my wound and acknowledging that the wound hurts.

I often magnify my suffering through self-inflecting a second wound - what Tara calls a "second arrow" - by judging myself defective and weak, believing that the wound shouldn't hurt so much, that there's something wrong with me. Simply knowing that I have a fellow traveler, especially one that I admire and respect, helps reduce my sense of isolation and restore a feeling of belonging and worthiness.

I count Tara among my benefactors, even though I've never met her. In her books and talks, she regularly shares stories from her own experience that exhibit the kind of vulnerability that creates an opening for connection and reconnection. Her practice of RAIN (Recognizing, Allowing, Investigating and Nurturing) has been an important component in my journey of letting go of emotions. I highly recommend her talks, as the calm, soothing voice through which she expresses her honesty, self-awareness and compassion is an especially welcome departure from the tone of much of the political discourse - and discord - that is arising from the lack of honesty, self-awareness, compassion and vulnerability exhibited by some who have recently come to power in the United States.

I also recommend adopting the practice of financial beneficence (or dana), and joining me in becoming a contributor in supporting Tara's talks and meditations, which she offers for free. I believe dana will be an increasingly important way to support the voices I want to hear, as more voices I don't want to hear are given more prominent platforms, supported at taxpayer expense.

I'll include the abstract for Spiritual Parenting below, since the highlights above only focus on a small portion of the talk. The talk includes references to other inspiriting sources of wisdom - such as a quote by attachment science researcher Louis Cozolino on the survival of the nurtured, Krista Tippett's On Being interview with Ruby Sales ("Where does it hurt?"), Martin Luther King's speech on "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence", and the 1998 movie, The Horse Whisperer.

When we are not sufficiently nurtured in childhood, we are inclined toward anxiety, depression, addiction and other forms of suffering. In a deep way, we do not feel at home with others. We are disconnected from our own body, heart and spirit.

This talk explores how meditation offers “spiritual reparenting” as we learn to bring interest, understanding and love to our own inner vulnerability. This process of healing extends to our relationships with others and our larger society – by reaching out to widening circles with interest and care, we bring increasing harmony and peace to our world.

From a place of caring, ask, “Where does it hurt?”

The podcast is embedded below for easy access. Here's a link to my unofficial transcription of Spiritual Reparenting. Namaste.

External Validation and Emotional Responsibility

Years ago, I discovered Validation, a wonderful short film by Kurt Kuenne about a parking garage attendant who validates tickets ... and validates the people who bring their tickets to the window, offering compliments to each person as he stamps their ticket "Validated". He goes on to offer validation far and wide beyond the parking garage, and every recipient of his validation is uplifted by the experience, until he encounters one person who seems unaffected by his compliments and other efforts to make her happy.

As with many sources of inspiration, each time I revisit the source, I notice new aspects, since I am a different person during each visit. I watched the film again recently, after returning from a meditation retreat, where my main takeaways were letting go of blame and judgment. One of the other lessons from the retreat, noted near the end of my post, was

  • Teaching me that one cannot depend on anyone else for validation

During this most recent re-watching of Validation, I was feeling uncomfortable and irritated during the first portion, where people are literally lining up to bask in the glow of external validation provided by the parking lot attendant. I realized I was judging them for their dependency, and then recognized that the dependency on external validation that irritated me in others was the same dependency that irritated me about myself ... as so often happens, my externally-focused Judge was simply reflecting my internal Critic.

The aspect of the film that resonated especially deeply with me this time was the unsuccessful efforts of the parking lot attendant to validate - and uplift - a woman who worked as a photographer at a motor vehicles department. Nothing he tried seemed to have any effect on the woman's disposition, and I realized that his own sense of validation and worthiness was dependent on other people's feeling validated in response to him. He was happy when he made other people happy ... and he became unhappy when he could not make this one person happy ... i.e., he was suffering from dependence on external validation.

This reminded me of another lesson I learned at the retreat:

  • No one can make me angry, shame me or cause me to dissociate

Watching the movie, I realized two important corollaries to this:

  • No one can make me happy
  • I cannot make anyone else happy (or angry or sad ... or cause any other emotion)

I might - and often try to - create conditions that I believe are more conducive to someone else feeling happy, but I cannot make them happy. Conversely, I might - and often try to - avoid creating conditions that may be conducive to someone else feeling angry, but I cannot make them angry. So the expanded lesson is:

I am not responsible for anyone else's emotions, I am only responsible for my own.

This may be obvious to many emotionally mature individuals, but as a life-long people pleaser with an inner conviction of intrinsic unworthiness, I have relied on others' validation for as long as I can remember. I believed others were responsible for my validation and I was responsible for theirs

I have recognized repeated opportunities to learn this lesson since returning from the retreat. I'm sure such opportunities have always abounded, I'm just now becoming more aware of them (when the student is ready, the lesson is recognized). When I do something with the goal of winning another's expression of appreciation or approval - or avoiding another's expression of disapproval - I am setting myself up for disappointment, and invalidation.

Since the retreat, I have new tools to look at that disappointment, take responsibility for the feelings of sadness and anger, and recognize that the feelings are a signal that I was doing something for the wrong reasons: seeking approval vs. doing something because it is the right, or kind, thing to do. And in this recognition, I can shift from feeling blame and judgment to feeling grateful for yet another unsought opportunity for further awakening

Letting Go of Blame and Judgment: Emotional Transformation through Zen with Len

LenMany years ago, I experienced betrayal, pain and anger about something that someone did. I did not have the tools or life experience to fully understand my reactions - much less transform them - at the time, and the memory of the episode has resurfaced periodically, re-triggering unresolved emotions. The most recent recurrence began last October, disrupting my ability to sleep and negatively impacting other dimensions of my life over several months. The spell was finally broken during a retreat in January that was organized and led by my good friend, Kensho Len Silverston, promising - and delivering - emotional transformation. I wanted to share some of the insights and experiences that contributed to my breakthrough(s) that weekend.

I went into the retreat filled with blame and judgment: blaming the other person for causing my pain and anger, and judging that what the other person did was wrong. The intensity of my righteous indignation was magnified by the person's unwillingness to admit any wrongdoing or express any regret about the episode. I knew it was up to me to resolve whatever lingering emotions I was holding on to - as Tara Brach so aptly puts it, the boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom - and it was increasingly clear, after several months of disequilibrium, that I needed help. When the student was ready, the retreat appeared.

Meditation, Yoga and Qigong

Zen_with_len_logoThe Zen with Len retreat consisted of several days of meditation, gentle yoga and Qigong sessions - all interleaved so as to balance our focus on mind and body - as well as special sessions exploring a number of other practices Len has found helpful in his own emotional transformations. Most meditation sessions were a half hour long - a bit of a stretch for me, as I had previously only sat for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time, but not out of my comfort zone - and I found the yoga sessions were similarly within my comfort zone, offering opportunities to gently push the edges.

While I have practiced meditation and yoga (with varying degrees of dedication) before, the Qigong exercises - a type of moving meditation - were new to me. One exercise, in particular, seemed like it was custom designed for what I was seeking at the retreat, and proved to be one of the most significant sources of breakthrough: an invitation to bring into consciousness something we want to let go, and then manifesting the letting go through movement (not just words). I'll embed a 15-minute Qigong video Len made after the retreat below; the letting go exercise can be found around the 9:55 mark.

The Qigong exercises were repeated several times throughout the weekend, and for each iteration of the letting go exercise, I alternated between letting go of blaming the other person, and letting go of my judgment of what the other person did. By the end of the weekend, I succeeded in letting go of both. However, I soon found that the blame and judgment were simply redirected toward me: how could I have tormented myself all these years? Fortunately, there were other tools provided during the weekend to help with this.

Mondo Zen

Mondo_zen_logoOne of the special afternoon sessions was on Mondo Zen, a protocol adapted from ancient Zen principles by Len's teacher, Jun Po, to facilitate the awakening of Clear Deep Heart / Mind through a process of koans. The process - detailed in the Mondo Zen training manual - is divided into two parts. The first part, Ego Deconstruction/Reconstruction Koans, is designed to help loosen one's grip on traditional ways of seeing, understanding and acting and arrive at a state of "not knowing". I had worked through similar processes in the Warrior Monk retreat I attended several years ago, and found the refresher helpful. However it was the second part, Emotional Awareness Intervention Koans, that really set the stage for the transformation I experienced.

The resurgence of the episode that brought me to the retreat triggered a number of different reactions at different times: anger, pain, shame and dissociation. In Mondo Zen, I learned that

  • No one can make me angry, shame me or cause me to dissociate / disconnect
  • Any anger, shame and/or disconnection I feel is a reaction to fear and/or sadness
  • Fear and/or grief is rooted in deep caring

I also learned that all of these emotions involve some kind of violence:

  • Anger is violence against others
  • Shame is violence against myself
  • Disconnection is violence against a relationship

Through the 2-hour Mondo Zen exercise during the retreat - a highly abbreviated, but effective, version of what is typically a multi-day retreat of its own - I was able to

  • Understand and accept that I reacted with anger, shame and disconnection to the past episode
  • Take full responsibility for my reactions
  • Recognize and take responsibility for the harm I have caused myself and others through my anger, shame and disconnection
  • Accept that the other person did nothing wrong

All of these new insights reinforced my ability - and willingness - to let go of blame and judgment.

Voice Dialogue

Another practice Len introduced in a special session was Voice Dialogue. We all have a multitude of voices in our heads, each representing different selves or parts of our personality. Each voice serves us in some positive way, and each voice has a different level of prominence in each of us, both in general and in the context of any particular inner conversation. Each voice can be harmful if allowed to commandeer the conversation to the exclusion of other voices. Disowning or rejecting any voice can also be harmful, as the abandoned voice will always find some way to leak out and express itself. We also have a higher self, or "True Nature", that serves as a moderator of our inner dialogues. I like to think of the voices as an inner program committee or board of directors, and my "True Nature" as the chairman of the board.

Selves_in_a_boxAs I understand it, there are a few different variations on the number and specific labelings of voices. The one Len used was from the book - and associated deck of 52 cards (each representing a different voice) - Selves in a Box. I think the most important aspect of the practice of Voice Dialogue is not so much the specific labels that are used for different voices, but the act of explicitly labeling the voices itself, and the way this differentiation enables one to identify and consciously moderate among the voices ... a manifestation of the principle I have heard articulated by several different spiritual teachers (including Tara Brach and Dan Seigel):"If you can name it, you can tame it".

CriticAmong the most prominent voices on my board of directors (in alphabetical order) are

  • The Accommodator
  • The Critic
  • The Judge
  • The Loner
  • The Perfectionist
  • The Romantic
  • The Sensitive
  • The Thinker
  • The Vulnerable Child

I have very loud and strident Critic (inwardly directed) and Judge (outwardly directed) voices. As I mentioned above, when I let go of blame and judgment of the other person, I redirected the blame and judgment toward myself, unconsciously shifting the leading voice of that inner conversation from the Judge to the Critic. Recognizing the rise of the Critic enabled me (or my True Nature) to explicitly call upon The Nurturer to comfort The Vulnerable Child so that I could better practice self-acceptance and self-forgiveness ... a challenging practice that is still unfolding for me.

The Demartini Breakthrough Experience

Demartini_breakthrough_experienceThe final special session that Len led us through was an abbreviated version of the Demartini "Breakthrough" Experience, which is another process that is typically offered in a multi-day retreat of its own.

The Breakthrough process is based on the recognition that all traits have costs and benefits, and so traits I judge as "bad" also offer benefits to me and others. The process involves a sometimes painful investigation into what those hidden benefits might be. During the retreat, I chose to work on the trait of remorselessness in the person I had formerly blamed for my anger and pain, a trait I had previously labeled as uniformly bad.

Through an iterative process of excavation through layers of resistance, I came to recognize that this trait provided me a number of benefits, including:

  • Teaching me how to be unapologetically true to oneself (vs. consumed with people pleasing or accommodation of others)
  • Teaching me that it is OK to do what one wants, without undue regard for how someone else might feel about it, if it does not violate an agreement or directly harm another person
  • Teaching me that one cannot depend on anyone else for validation
  • Offering me an unsought opportunity to accept full responsibility for my reactions, which I can apply to other situations in which I experience betrayal, anger and/or pain

This last point represents a significant and unexpected breakthrough, helping to reinforce some of the other dimensions of transformation I experienced during the retreat. If the other person had expressed remorse, it would have vindicated my feelings of blame and judgment, enabling me to avoid looking any more deeply into my emotional reactions, and thereby avoid taking responsibility for them. The lessons to be true to myself, not depend on others for validation, and take full responsibility for my reaction are lessons that have been repeated at various times, in various ways and at various costs over many years.

I believe the prolonged intensity of pain that preceded the latest course offering was necessary for the breakdown that facilitated the breakthrough, and I am grateful for the timely, multi-dimensional learnings offered at the Zen with Len retreat.

"Expressed Emotions" in Everyday Interactions: Acceptance vs. Intervention with Family and Friends

Invisibilia_solutions_final_wideI've listened to the most recent episode of NPR's Invisibilia, The Problem with the Solution, three times in three days, crying a little less - and understanding a little more - each time I listen. I believe the emotional impact stems from my experience as a son, a husband, a father and a friend ... and more specifically, how "expressed emotions" - criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement (essentially, expressions of non-acceptance) - have affected me and those I love.

The Invisibilia story focuses on mental illness, and how the traditional American mindset of wanting to fix problems can be counterproductive in dealing with people who have mental illness, i.e., the problem is [our preoccupation with] the solution. In the town of Geel, Belgium, people with mental illness are boarded by townspeople for, on average, 28 years. Studies have shown that people with mental illness who are placed in community settings (like Geel) after treatment are less likely to relapse than when they return home to live with their own families. This is likely due - in part - to the fact that host families are not related to their boarders, and are thus not attached to or over-involved in fixing or curing their boarders' mental illness. Instead, the boarders are accepted as they are.

As a resident of the Broadway Housing Communities - a project for recreating the culture of Geel in America - so aptly noted in an Invisibilia interiew, "Everybody has a touch of mental illness". Everyone I know has at least gone through periods where they have experienced "an unhealthy condition of body or mind", and many of those I know best have suffered a great deal from chronic unhealthy thoughts and emotions. In fact, it is the revelation of sufferings - and the sharing of how we are working through some of these unhealthy thoughts and emotions - that have formed the basis of the strong bonds I feel with my closest friends. And I have a growing appreciation for the suffering experienced by people I don't know well, and the way that suffering underlies some of the behaviors I find hardest to accept. As William Wordsworth observed:

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

I don't mean to equate the suffering of what some call "the worried well" with the suffering of those with serious schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness highlighted in the Invisibilia story. I just want to say I can relate to suffering emanating from chronic unhealthy thoughts and emotions ... and to the effect of acceptance vs. intervention on that suffering.

I believe a great deal of suffering is caused by emotional over-involvement, and the various verbal and non-verbal ways that family members - especially parents (or grandparents) - try to "improve" us.

Invisibilia co-host Lulu Miller, who included her oldest sister's mental illness - and her family's response to it - as a recurrent theme throughout the story, noted that her older sister "had been quietly accepting this message that she was somehow not good enough" throughout her childhood, and the part that breaks me down and gets me sobbing every time (even now, simply copying and pasting the following text from the show transcript), is her father's candid admission of insufficient empathy in dealing with his oldeest daughter:

She was 2 or 3. And she was having a huge freak out at 3 in the morning, just screaming and yelling in her bed. And I went in there, and I got angry at her. And I sat on her bed, and I was trying to calm her down. And I was sort of holding her shoulders, and I got angry at her. I said stop it, stop it. And I remember in her tears - as I was getting angrier, in her tears, she kept saying I can't help it. I can't help it. And I didn't hear that. It's - it's something I will always regret that my feeling anger instead of empathy - didn't know what I was doing as a father.

This feeling of insufficiency resonates deeply with me, and not just in my role as a father. If I had to single out the unhealthy thought that has created the most emotional suffering throughout my life, it is that I am not good enough. I have written before about my theory of how this inner conviction of unworthiness evolved; here, I'll simply note that I trace part of the origins partly to the effects of growing up in a household in which a family member suffered from mental illness - my father's alcoholism - and partly to the effects of my maternal grandfather's efforts to "improve" me through what I now recognize as "expressed emotions".

As an adult, I have found that some of my wife's well-intentioned efforts to "improve" me have inadvertently only served to deepen the void, and I am sure some of my efforts to "improve" her have had similar unintended consequences, especially when expressed with anger rather than empathy. I know both of our children have suffered from some of their parents' efforts to "improve" them. My son has confirmed that the two times that I exploded in anger toward him - rather than opening to empathy for his underlying suffering that gave rise to the behaviors to which I was reacting - both had a significant negative impact on him, and at least one of my daughter's lingering emotional wounds was inflicted by an angry expression of parental disapproval intended to "improve" her.

Which leads me to wonder whether acceptance always trumps intervention when interacting with family members. We naturally want our spouses and children to be the best they can be, and part of the role of a parent is to teach our children how to thrive. That said, I believe that "expressed emotions" (as defined above) are always harmful to both the senders and receivers of the expressions. I suppose that there are ways to encourage "improvement" that do not involve criticism, hostility or emotional over-involvement - the improv comedy practice of using "yes, and ..." rather than "yes, but ..." come to mind - but and in interpersonal interactions, I find it challenging to seek or promote improvement in another person without at least implying that someone is not good enough. Amid my increasing uncertainty, I am more and more inclined to err in the direction of acceptance rather than intervention.

In my journey toward greater acceptance, I have encountered a number of other sources of inspiration that are well aligned with the wisdom expressed in the Invisibilia episode. Before closing, I want to share a few of these here.

Radical-Acceptance-150Tara Brach teaches that one of the ways that we perpetuate the trance of unworthiness is by focusing on the belief that something is wrong, something is missing, and the way to break out of this trance is to embrace a radical acceptance of ourselves and others.

Both our upbringing and our culture provide the immediate breeding ground for this contemporary epidemic of feeling deficient and unworthy. Many of us have grown up with parents who gave us messages about where we fell short and how we should be different from the way we are. We were told to be special, to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to work harder, to win, to succeed, to make a difference, and not to be too demanding, shy or loud. An indirect but insidious message for many has been, “Don’t be needy.” Because our culture so values independence, self-reliance and strength, even the word needy evokes shame. To be considered as needy is utterly demeaning, contemptible. And yet, we all have needs—physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual. So the basic message is, “Your natural way of being is not okay; to be acceptable you must be different from the way you are.”


Meditation practices are a form of spiritual reparenting. We are transforming these deeply rooted patterns of inner relating by learning to bring mindfulness and compassion to our life. An open and accepting attention is radical because it flies in the face of our conditioning to assess what is happening as wrong. We are deconditioning the habit of turning against ourselves, discovering that in this moment’s experience nothing is missing or wrong.

The_invitationOriah Mountain Dreamer also invites us to embrace acceptance in her poem (and its elaboration in a book of the same name), The Invitation:

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

And this theme of acceptance is further elaborated in her Prelude to her second book, The Dance:

What if there is no need to change, no need to try and transform yourself into someone who is more compassionate, more present, more loving or wise?

How would this effect all the places in your life where you are endlessly trying to be better?

What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature- gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present?

How would this effect how you feel when you wake up in the morning?

What if who you essentially are right now is all that you are ever going to be?

How would this effect how you feel about your future?

What if the essence of who you are and always have been is enough?

Brene_brown_tedxhoustonThere are many other inspiring invitations to practice greater acceptance, but I'll allow myself just one more: Brene Brown's TEDxHouston talk on Wholeheartedness, which evoked a similar response as the Invisibilia episode (I watched the video three times in the span of a few days, each time revealing another layer of deeper emotional resonance and meaning).

The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough," -- which, we all know that feeling: "I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough." The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.


when we work from a place, I believe, that says, "I'm enough" ... then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.

And so, at least in this moment, the kindness and gentleness in me sees the kindness and gentleness in you. Namaste.

Doing Data Science, Helping People Get Jobs @Indeed

I_help_people_get_jobsHaving just marked my 1-year anniversary at Indeed, it occurs to me that I have not yet blogged about my not-so-new job as a data scientist helping people get jobs. In addition to ending a long (7+ month) drought in my blogging practice, I'm also hoping that in sharing a bit about my work at Indeed, I might help more people learn about and get jobs at Indeed's growing Seattle office.

When I tell people I work for Indeed, I get 2 basic types of responses:

  • "Cool - I love Indeed!"
  • "What's Indeed?"

I don't think I can add much to the first response, except to say that I have found several of my own jobs on Indeed (including my current Data Scientist job at Indeed and my former Principal Scientist job at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto) and helped my daughter find two of her jobs on Indeed, so I love Indeed, too.

Job_search_indeedTo address the second response: is the world's top job site, offering a number of tools to both help people find jobs and help jobs find people (or, more precisely, help employers find employees) - an ideal combination for someone like me with a long-standing passion for making connections ... and helping others make valuable connections.

Indeed helps people get jobs by providing tools to both job seekers and employers. Job seekers can upload or create a resume, search for jobs, receive email alerts when new jobs that match their search criteria are posted, directly apply for some jobs, and track the status of jobs for which they have applied, interviewed or been made offers, all at no cost to job seekers. The company also provides parallel tools for employers to upload jobs, search for resumes, receive email alerts when new resumes that match their search criteria are uploaded.

Employers can enjoy some Indeed services for free. Indeed automatically aggregates millions of job postings from thousands of web sites every day. The site also provides an interface for employers to post jobs directly through Indeed. Paid services include sponsoring jobs to appear in job search results (using a pay-per-click revenue model), contacting job seekers who have uploaded resumes to the site, enabling job seekers to directly apply for jobs through Indeed, and using Indeed's applicant tracking system.

Many things have impressed me during my first year at Indeed, but I'll focus on just a few: mission, measurement, transparency and non-attachment.

The most impressive aspect of Indeed - which was apparent even during the interview process - is the pervasive and relentless focus on the mission of the company: helping people get jobs. I've long been fascinated by the world(s) of work, and it is inspiring to work alongside others who are similarly inspired to help people address a fundamental human need. Just about every internal discussion of a new product or feature at Indeed eventually boils down to the question of "Will this help more people get jobs?"

And the next question is usually "How can we measure the impact?" While a steadily increasing number of users are sharing their stories about finding jobs on Indeed, we don't always know when our users get jobs, so measuring impact often involves various proxies for job-seeking success, but such approximation is a fact of life in most data-driven companies.

Agile-boardIndeed makes extensive use of the Atlassian JIRA software project tracking system for new features, bugs and other issues that arise in the course of software development. Some of the other organizations in which I've worked had cultures of parochialism, secrecy and defensiveness, where critiques were best kept to oneself, or communicated privately. Early on at Indeed, I would often report bugs or make suggestions for improvements via email. After gentle and persistent encouragement, I now report them via JIRA, which - being publicly searchable (within the firm) - increases the possibility for sharing lessons learned. I have yet to encounter an Indeedian who has taken any such feedback personally, or felt so attached to a product feature or segment of code that they weren't willing to consider reviewing and revising it (or allowing someone else to do so) ... and unlike reports I've read about the culture at some other tech companies, I have yet to encounter an asshole at Indeed.

My own work at Indeed currently centers on helping people get jobs by taking greater advantage of the data in the millions of resumes that job seekers have created or uploaded at Indeed. This involves a mix of analyzing, cleaning and provisioning resume data to enhance existing products and inform new products designed to improve search and recommendations for both job seekers and employers.

Ignorance_book_coverOver the past several months, I've acted as the chief question answerer in an internal "Resume Q&A" forum we've created to help product managers, data scientists and software engineers better understand and leverage our resume data. Answering these questions has enabled me to practice thoroughly conscious ignorance, offering me numerous opportunities to ask questions of my own, and thereby learn about a broad range of products and processes, as well as various data and code repositories ... and helping forge new connections across them. The work offers me a nice blend of analysis, communication, coding (in Python and Java) and education, a few of my favorite things.

One of the advantages arising from my spiral career path is a user-centered focus I adopted during my years doing user experience research and design. As a practicing data scientist, my UX orientation occasionally helps me trace anomalies in the data back to shortcomings in one or more of the user interfaces or the flow of the user experience across Indeed web services. This UX-oriented data analysis has resulted in at least 2 small, but substantive, changes in the user interface, which I hope has helped more people get jobs.

In addition to regular opportunities to practice my natural inclinations toward instigating and connecting, I've recently started exercising my evangelizing inclinations. I gave a demonstration / presentation on how Indeed can help job seekers to a local job search support group in Bellevue last week, and am hoping to do more evangelizing to job seekers in the future. I am also hoping to start giving more technical presentations on some of the cool things we are doing at Indeed, evangelizing to different audiences, in part, to help us help more data scientists, software engineers, UX designers and researchers, product managers and quality analysts get jobs ... at Indeed, in Seattle and elsewhere.

Doggone appreciation for our beloved Brittany, JoJo, 1998-2014

JoJo SidewaysWe euthenized our 16-year-old dog, Jojo, last week. A veterinarian came to our house and administered the injection while JoJo was resting in her favorite spot next to the couch, surrounded by her loving family. JoJo had gone deaf, was mostly blind, and had become increasingly incontinent, confused, unsettled and frail as the summer wore on. She showed little interest in food, walks or human contact during her final days.

JoJoAndEvanJoJo was a great dog. We got her from an animal shelter in 1999, where she was sharing a cell with a Rottweiler. As we walked around to see all the dogs, she stood out as being the only one that was not jumping up and down and barking. When a shelter assistant put her on a leash so we could walk around with her for a bit, it was clear that she was very affectionate, and I'm sure she reminded us of our prior dog, Patches, a Border Collie / Springer Spaniel mix (who had died at age 15, a few months earlier). We had not intended on getting another dog so soon, but JoJo - who we were told was probably a Brittany / Golden Retriever mix - won us over ... and upon our arrival home, a neighbor remarked "Oh, look - a blonde Patches!"

Cleanliness is far from doglinessJoJo was always eager to please, and easy to train. Until she went deaf - and could no longer hear or respond to verbal commands - we didn't use a leash to take her for walks, and we never needed to tie her up in the yard. She learned where the boundaries were, and [usually] stayed within them. She enjoyed unstructured play but never showed much interest in fetch or other more structured games. She loved the water, but didn't particularly like swimming. She loved exploring tunnels and crawling through large pipes, but suffered from gephyrophobia (fear of bridges). She seemed to have a special affinity for mud.

JoJoAndMegPerhaps most importantly, JoJo loved people, and seemed to operate with the assumption that everyone loved her and wanted to show her affection ... an assumption that usually proved correct. She was a glutton for human contact. If anyone leaned over to pet her for more than a second or two, she would slide to the ground, roll over, and expose her belly to allow fuller access for more extensive petting. If the petter happened to be on the ground, JoJo would often roll over on top of the person's arm or leg in order to ensure the closest possible access. When someone would stop petting her, she would nudge that person's hand, presumably in case the person had simply forgotten to keep petting her. Her desire for affection knew no bounds.

As someone who is often averse to asking for what I want, or expecting attention from others, JoJo's relentless and shameless seeking of affection was instructive. I've read that dog owners tend to resemble their dogs, and I don't know how much of JoJo's affection-seeking behavior rubbed off on me. What she did teach me, however, was what I might call my pet theory on pet therapy:

JoJo knows how to get attentionI've long nursed a pet theory that the primary therapeutic benefit people derive from pets is not so much that our pets love us, but that we can love our pets ... with far less fear of the rejection we risk in loving other people. That is, it's the expression or giving of love rather than the receiving of love that really opens up the heart - and promotes other emotional and physiological benefits. Reading the article about Paro, I'm inclined to revisit and revise this theory. Perhaps it's not just loving someone - human, animal or robot - that makes us feel complete, it is the [perception of] being needed by someone we love that helps us feel like we matter ... like our life has purpose.

A family photo @ Deception FallsWhile my primary goal in this post is to celebrate JoJo's life, I don't want to minimize the grief we feel about her death. She was an integral part of our family for many years, through much of our children's lives. I think JoJo's death is especially hard on Amy, because she was JoJo's primary care-giver, and there is now one less living being in the household who needs her care and attention.

As was the case after the death of Patches, I am anticipating an extended period of dog-free living ... but I also would not be surprised if we seek to fill the void created by JoJo's death in the not-too-distant future.

[More photos of JoJo can be found here and here.]

Fathers, Children, Microevolution and Reinterpretation: A Personal & Generational Narrative

So many of the feelings I had about myself weren’t really mine, but feelings I learned to have to try and fit into his world. ~ Scott Berkun, Why Fathers and Children Don't Get Along

Part of the story I make up about myself - and the feelings and judgments surrounding that story - is derived from conscious and unconscious messages I received from my father. I find revisiting and reinterpreting those messages - and making conscious choices about how I want to be in this world - is a lifetime's work. When I read Scott Berkun's post about his new book project on fathers and children, I started another round of revisitation and reinterpretation in a comment there ... which grew so long I realized it would be more appropriate to cut, paste and elaborate on it here as a blog post of its own. I'm going to take advantage of this migration and elaboration as a pretext for articulating a pet theory of microevolution that has evolved through my periodic reflections on father-child relationships in my family.

The message from my father that I revisit most often - and find most difficult to reinterpret - is: I am not worth spending time with.

When I trace the source of this message, I remember a period when I was around 9 (+/- 2) years old, when I would often ask my father if he would play ball with me - football, baseball or basketball, depending on the season. His verbal response was invariably "maybe later" (a phrase that can still trigger feelings of anger and resentment) and his subsequent actions invariably communicated "no". The message I unconsciously interpreted in his unwillingness to play ball with me was that I am not worth spending time with (i.e., it's about me, not him). The evasive way that message was communicated left me with the mostly unconscious conviction that people don't want to spend time with me, even if they say they do (or won't say they don't).

I now consciously interpret this message's origin as arising from my father's alcoholism, and on an intellectual level, after years of intermittent involvement in 12-step programs and other forms of counseling, I can see his disengagement as a symptom of that disease. And I can embrace the 3 Cs: I didn't cause it - the alcoholism or his disengagement - and couldn't control it or cure it when he was alive (he died in 1996). I don't believe my father was consciously choosing not to play ball with me, and I don't feel anger now when I think of him, but I sometimes still feel sadness. My feelings about him are tempered by what I know about his relationship with his own father, and the changes he was able to make in his own parenting.

Which brings me to my pet theory of microevolution: 99% of everything we do as parents is unconsciously channeling the behavior of one or both of our parents; 1% of what we do is based on conscious choices to reject negative parenting practices ("I will never do that to my son/daughter!"). I used to think that 1% of what we do is based on conscious choices to adopt positive parenting practices ("I will always to do that for my son/daughter") ... but I couldn't think of any positive practices I've consciously chosen to adopt. I believe we intend to consciously adopt or reject much higher percentages of our parents' parenting practices, but I so often find myself unconsciously behaving the same way my father or mother did, that I think the 99% estimate is more realistic.

Like my father, my paternal grandfather was also an alcoholic. Although my grandfather had many good qualities and was always very kind to me, my father told me that when he was growing up, his father was quick to bring out a razor strap to apply corporal punishment in disciplining his children. My father also told me that he swore he would never lay a hand - or razor strap - on his children, and he never did.

My maternal grandfather was not an alcoholic, and also had many good good qualities and was often very kind to me. However he was also very status conscious, and he regularly compared me and my accomplishments to those of my cousins. As I entered adolescence - a period during which my grades and my interest in many of the things he valued declined, while my cousins' academic and athletic accomplishments continued to shine - I was nearly always on the losing end of the comparison. He may have found me to be worth spending time with, but I don't believe he felt much pride about me, or at least not the kind of pride he so often expressed about his other grandsons.

While I'm not always sure I've made good progress in overcoming my own trance of unworthiness - the persistent conviction that "I'm not good enough" - I swore I would not pass the trance on to my children. I made conscious choices about always getting involved in my children's sports activities (as an assistant coach, scorekeeper or other administrative role) and I never - ever (!) - turned down an invitation to play ball. I also assiduously avoided temptations to engage in implicit or explicit comparisons.

Tears are welling up as I type these words ... as they do every time I hear Harry Chapin's classic song, Cats in the Cradle:

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

I often wonder how much I've turned out just like my father. I am not an alcoholic but I do tend to be a workaholic, a characteristic that I share with my father and both grandfathers. My wife has told me she sometimes feels like a "computer widow", due to my repeated prioritization of work over family (prospective future blog topic: husbands, wives and microevolution). I've been concerned that, despite my steadfast intention, and regular engagement in some dimensions of my children's lives, I may have unconsciously communicated a message of unworthiness to my children. I may have been willing to play ball with them, but possibly neglected them in other important ways.

I recently asked my 18-year-old son - and, separately, my 22-year-old daughter - about whether they feel unworthy, or whether they've ever felt that I thought they were not worth spending time with. I was happy that both reported healthy feelings of worthiness and assured me that they never received any unworthiness messages from me ... although I realize that self-awareness, and self-reporting (especially to authority figures), can be highly biased.

I also sent them a link to Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think, an essay tracing the evolutionary roots of our pervasive "craving for social approval and admiration, and a paralyzing fear of being disliked" that - as a praise junkie - I found both resonant and inspiring. Both of my children said they enjoyed the essay, but they do not see themselves as being inordinately weighed down by a social survival mammoth.

I don't know what other ills I have inflicted on my children - that will probably require future rounds of revisitation and reinterpretation, by me and them - but I like to believe I've made some microevolutionary improvement over an earlier generation.

As for my own personal evolution, I've been inspired by John Hagel's recent series of posts exploring the insights and impacts of personal narratives, identifying and understanding the dysfunctional forces that may have shaped our early lives, and then consciously crafting new personal narratives that transform those challenges into gifts for ourselves and others. I still feel very much like I'm between stories, which is probably why my blog and Twitter feed have tended to be less active and more professional / technical in nature lately. I am not yet willing to craft a new personal narrative, but I am increasingly open to new visitations and interpretations ... and evolution at various scales.

Clear Mind, Wild Heart, Spiral Career Path, New Job

Atigeo-Logo_150x41pxI recently accepted an offer to assume the role of Director, Analytics and Data Science, at Atigeo LLC. This career transition mostly marks a shift of title and status, as I've been consulting at Atigeo as a Principal Scientist for the past 18 months (part-time during the academic year and full-time during summers). I'm excited about continuing to exercise and extend my skills and experience in natural language processing, machine learning and usability, contributing to Atigeo's health products - an area of heightened interest for me over the last several years - as well as exploring other emerging opportunities for the company and its partners and customers.

ClearMind_WildHeart_DavidWhyteOn the cusp of this transition, I was inspired by David Whyte's 6-CD set, Clear Mind, Wild Heart, and his compelling poetry and prose regarding "courageous conversations", "cyclical invitations", "investigative vulnerability" and "hazarding" oneself on "successive frontiers" of existence. I've listened to this entire collection dozens of times, and have referenced his poetry in several previous posts. During this particular cycle, I was struck by his observations about feeling hemmed in, and the importance of taking advantage of periodic opportunities to harvest the fruits of one's labors and loves. I also revisited and reflected on Martin Buber's insights - channeled by Oriah Mountain Dreamer - about bringing all of who I am to my work, and came to believe that I am better able to bring more dimensions of myself into my new (current) work than I could at my previous work.

Uwb-logo-purple-150x150This is not to say that I was not able to bring many dimensions of myself into my previous work. Indeed, teaching computer science at UW Bothell (and UW Tacoma) offered me an opportunity to exercise and extend a broad array of skills initially cultivated in an earlier teaching cycle at the University of Hartford. Unfortunately, as time went on, I was experiencing increasing conflict between my desire to promote experimentation and exploration among students, and my need to assess their competency in a standard, objective and time-efficient way. I found myself acting as gatekeeper - to ensure that students' grades reflected their capabilities to take on greater and greater challenges further along the curriculum (and ultimately in their careers) - and yet wanting to help them tear down walls. I also found myself increasingly uncertain about opportunities for my own career growth in academia.

Supreme_Spiral_Staircase_-_Rory_FinnerenAs I pondered the paths that lay before me, I reflected on the ways my professional life has evolved in cycles. I started to chart the different stages on a spiral graph, but soon realized that there are too many dimensions, and my progression has not followed an orderly or entirely predictable sequence. Instead, I'll settle for inserting an emblematic photo (that I particularly like for its upward vs. downward perspective) and simply listing some of the dimensions through which my career has cycled:

  • academia and industry (and large and small institutions in both realms)
  • teaching, research, design, development and management
  • artificial intelligence, mobile and ubiquitous computing, and human-computer interaction

Apparently, I'm not the only person to have thought of careers as following a spiral path. In an intriguing paper on "Career Pandemonium: Realigning Organizations and Individuals" (Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 1996), Ken Brousseau and his colleagues describe the spiral career path as a non-traditional model involving periodic major moves across different areas, in which "the new field draws upon knowledge and skills developed in the old field, and at the same time throws open the door to the development of an entirely new set of knowledge and skills". That sounds about right.

The authors also offer a related insight about career resiliency:
Instead of people dedicated to a particular discipline, function, job, or career path, the career resilient workforce would be composed of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with change; who take responsibility for their own career management and, last but not least, who are committed to the company's success.

I am grateful for all the support of my continuous learning at UW Bothell - from the faculty, staff, students and administrators - during the last career cycle, and I hope to maintain some form of connection with the university during this next cycle.

As I proceed with my latest self-reinvention (or, at least, transition), I can't help but note the marvelous rendition of the idea of non-linear paths through life articulated in one of my favorite Harry Chapin songs, All My Life's a Circle:

No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

Arthroscopic shoulder surgery: biceps tenodesis, but not rotator cuff tear repair

Prior blog posts I've written about experiences with health challenges appear to have been helpful to others facing similar challenges. The following is a partial historical recounting of some problems I've experienced with shoulder pain, and some of the medical treatments (including surgery) that have been contemplated or applied thus far. I am not a medical professional, and nothing herein should be construed as professional medical advice. I am simply recording my own experience, in case it is of benefit to others.

History of Present Illness

Rotatorcuff_Gray412Sometime in May, I noticed that my left shoulder was becoming increasingly painful, and its range of motion was gradually decreasing. I can't think of any particular event that triggered or exacerbated the pain, but it suspect the problem was impacted by the combination of a significant increase in stress and a significant decrease of exercise during that period. I generally tend to avoid seeking medical help for problems, but by the end of June, the pain was so intense that I finally decided to see a doctor.


Orthowashington_smalllogoFor the diagnosis and treatment of past orthopedic problems, I've enjoyed great medical care and attentive service with the physicians and staff at OrthoWashington (in Kirkland, WA), so I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Jason Boyer. After the examination, he said I might have a rotator cuff tear, and I could either get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis, or try physical therapy. Given that physical therapy successfully resolved a similar problem I had with my right shoulder about 10 years ago, I decided to pursue that route, hoping to avoid the expense of an MRI and a more invasive surgical intervention.

Physical Therapy, Round One

Olympicpt_logo_OPTFor the next 3 weeks, I worked with Julie Lampson at Olympic Physical Therapy in Bellevue (a block away from the company at which I've been consulting all summer). Julie and her colleagues were very helpful in teaching me exercises designed to increase the range of motion in my shoulder without increasing the pain. Julie also suggested some ergonomic improvements to my workstation - more supportive seating and an external monitor, to improve my posture during long hours of computer work - which the company was very supportive in accommodating. Despite these changes, and diligently practicing the shoulder and posture-improving exercises between sessions, the trend of decreased range of motion and increasing pain continued. Eventually, Julie recommended discontinuing further physical therapy until or unless my shoulder inflammation could be brought under control.


Orthowashington_mri2I had an MRI performed on July 31. On the positive side, OrthoWashington uses an open MRI machine rather than the machines with enclosed tubes into which I've been inserted during past MRI procedures. On the downside, it was a rather painful procedure. The 45-minute imaging process requiring my shoulder to be virtually locked down into a position that became uncomfortable within 10 minutes and painful within 20. I've had lots of opportunity to use the pain scale over the last several weeks, and I would rate my pain at a 5 by the time the test was done. Fortunately, applying ice immediately after the MRI brought my pain down to a 1 or 2 very quickly.

The evaluation of the MRI of "Coronal T1, T2 and STIR, sagittal T2, axial STIR and axial T2" reported the following findings [with links inserted by me]:

ROTATOR CUFF: There is a high-grade linear appearing partial-thickness articular sided tear at the anterior attachment site of the supraspinatus tendon. The tear measures approximately 8 mm in transverse diameter and represents partial-thickness articular sided avulsion of the tendon at the level of attachment to the anterior footprint. This tear appears high-grade in nature but some of the bursal sided fibers remain intact without evidence of a complete/full-thickness disruption. The subscapularis and teres minor tendons are intact.

MUSCLES: Cuff musculature is normal with no fatty atrophy or edema.

BICEPS: Normal in morphology and position. There is fluid within the tendon sheath suggesting mild tenosynovitis.

SUBACROMIAL / SUBDELTOID BURSA: Findings compatible with mild bursitis.

ACROMION / AC JOINT: The AC joint images normal alignment with no significant arthrosis. There is a type II acromium. No subacromial enthesiopathic spurring. No thickening of the coracoacromial ligament.

GLENOHUMERAL JOINT / LABRUM: There is a type II SLAP lesion with fluid signal extending into the substance of the superior labrum with undermining of the long head biceps anchor, reference images 8 and 9 of series 4592.

BONE MARROW: No occult fracture or bone contusion noted.


  1. There is a focal high-grade partial-thickness articular sided avulsion of the supraspinatus tendon at the anterior attachment site.
  2. Findings are suspicious for a type II SLAP lesion.
  3. Mild subacromial subdeltoid bursitis.
  4. Mild tenosynovitis long head biceps tendon sheath. Long head biceps tendon is otherwise normal.
  5. Type II acromium is present which can be associated with the clinical syndrome of impingement. There are no subacromial enthesiopathic spurs noted.

Given that physical therapy had proved ineffective at resolving my current shoulder problem, Dr. Boyer recommended diagnostic operative arthroscopy to examine the left shoulder, with possible surgical intervention including biceps tenodesis (detaching the biceps tendon from the shoulder socket and reattaching it to the arm bone), supraspinatus rotator cuff repair and/or superior labrum anterior to posterior (aka SLAP) rotator cuff repair. I agreed, and we scheduled the surgery for August 16.


During the pre-operative consultations, I informed the physicians and staff of two possibly pertinent aspects to the arthroscopic knee surgery I had in Illinois during 2002. The first occurred in the operating room, after the initial dose of anesthesia, when they asked me to count backwards from 100; as I proceeded through the 90s into the 80s, I could sense a bit of a scramble in the operating room, but I don't remember reaching the 70s, so the dose of anesthesia eventually achieved adequate levels and I drifted off to sleep. The second occurred in the post-operative recovery room, when I awoke to the most intense level of pain I've ever experienced; I've never experienced [intentional] torture, but I believe I got a small taste of just how mind-altering intense pain can be, prior to the installation of a morphine drip pump (which seemed to take an eternity at the time). What started out as a routine out-patient procedure turned into an overnight stay, but by the next day, the pain was being effectively managed.

Radiolab_PAIN_SCALE_web_long_imageThis time around, the physicians and staff were prepared, and I don't remember counting down beyond 95. I was later told that they ended up using approximately twice the amount of anesthesia that would typically be expected for a person of my size. In the post-operative recovery room, I again woke up to intense pain; if the pain immediately following knee surgery was a 10, I would rate the pain after shoulder surgery an 8; once again, the staff here seemed better prepared to respond to this development, although it still subjectively seemed like another interminable period of intense pain. Eventually, my pain was brought under control, and I was able to be discharged home. [Aside: I highly recommend the recent RadioLab episode, "Inside Ouch!", exploring the art & science of developing and applying pain scales.]

During the followup visit 4 days later, Dr. Boyer told me that during his initial arthroscopic examination of my shoulder, the rotator cuff tear did not appear as significant as the MRI report had earlier suggested, and did not exhibit any evidence of recent trauma (i.e., the tear had likely been there for quite some time). He also noticed that even under anesthesia, my shoulder was extremely stiff. Recovery time - and the delay of subsequent rehabilitative physical therapy - would have been significantly increased if he had proceeded to repair the rotator cuff. Given his concern about the onset or exacerbation of frozen shoulder syndrome, and the importance of getting my shoulder moving again as early as possible, he decided it would be best to perform the biceps tenodesis and forego the rotator cuff repair. FWIW, an article in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, entitled Superior labral tears: repair versus biceps tenodesis [also available here], provides corroboration for this decision.

I'll include a few arthroscopic images below [clicking on any image will bring up a window of a larger version of the image]:

Scan 122530000 Scan 122530001 Scan 122530002 Scan 122530003
Scan 122530004 Scan 122530005 Scan 122530006 Scan 122530007
Scan 122530008 Scan 122530009 Scan 122530010 Scan 122530011

Recovery: Managing Pain via Medications [or, "better living through chemistry"]

For the first week after the operation, I was taking

I set an alarm to wake me up to take the Percocet every 4 hours for the first few days. Around day 4, I tried sleeping through the night after taking the Percocet at 10pm, and awoke to intense pain shortly after 4am, so I continued using an alarm to stay medicated on schedule. I also found the maximum recommended dose of stool softener was not effectively relieving my constipation (a common side effect of the Oxycodone), so I increased the dose by one tablet daily, but spread them out over the course of each day.

When I had my stitches removed approximately one week after surgery, I was told that taking Percocet every 4 hours was putting me at risk of Acetaminophen overdose, and so was advised to shift to taking the Percocet at most every 6 hours, and continue using Oxycodone as necessary to fill in any gaps.

During week 2, my prescription of Percocet ran out, and I started substituting Oxycodone and Acetaminophen. Toward the end of the week, I started experimenting with 1 (vs. 2) Oxycodone every 6 hours during the day (but continuing with 2 every 6 hours at night). My Naprosyn was also running low, so I started taking 3 Ibuprofen every 6 hours during the day, and Naprosyn only at night. Dr. Boyer had warned me that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like Ibuprofen and Naprosyn) may prolong the bone-healing process, but I decided pain reduction was a higher priority.

During week 3, I scaled back my nighttime medication to 1 Oxycodone every 6 hours, and started taking 2 Vicodin (Hydrocodone + Acetaminophen) and 3 Ibuprofen every 6 hours during the day. After a few days, I downshifted to 1 Vicodin + 1 Acetaminophen (plus the 3 Ibuprofen) every 6 hours during the day. Now in week 4, I've eliminated all narcotics during the day, and am planning to substitute 1 Vicodin for the 1 Oxycodone at night, hopefully eliminating the narcotics altogether by the end of the week.

It feels good to emerge from the persistent though variable "brain fog" that has affected my thinking (and doing) over the past several weeks. My power of concentration was diminished, as was my ability (or willingness?) to think deeply or broadly on the scales I typically like operate on. I haven't felt very much like reading or writing prose (or poetry) ... but, oddly, I have felt very much like reading and writing computer code, and although I may be self-deluded, I believe I've been fairly effective in programming a fairly effective graphical user interface for labeling results returned by a search engine operating in the medical domain [about which I still hope to write more in the not-too-distant future].

ColPaCThroughout this period, I have also made use of non-pharmacological tools. I was - and still am - icing down my shoulder religiously for 30 minutes every 2 hours with an oversized ColPaC reusable cooling pack borrowed from a friend who had successfully worked through some shoulder problems of her own. I have also found the DenTek Triple Clean Floss Picks to very helpful in maintaining oral hygiene with one hand. I have been sleeping in a Barcalounger in my home office throughout this period, which provides more support and protection while my shoulder is somewhat vulnerable ... and has made my medication schedule less disruptive for my wife.

Mindfulness_meditation_for_pain_relief_coverAnd while I hope that my current bout with shoulder pain does not (or, ultimately, will not) qualify as chronic pain, I have found relief and respite in Jon Kabat-Zinn's audiobook on Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life. The mind-body stress reduction program promotes awareness, attention to and acceptance of pain: tuning in to the body rather than attempting to distract the mind from what is going on in the body. I believe this approach is applicable to other challenges involving "undesirable" mind-body states (e.g., fear, anger or sadness), and hope to continue the practice(s) regardless of whether and when my shoulder pain subsides.

Physical Therapy, Round Two

FlexLogo1About 2 weeks after surgery, I resumed physical therapy. Due to my impending return to full-time teaching at University of Washington Bothell in the fall quarter, I decided to switch to Flex Physical Therapy, which is about a mile from campus. At Flex, I've been working with Camille Porter, and although I'm still only doing simple pendulum-style exercises, similar to what Julie at Olympic P/T had shown me, Camille has started maneuvering my shoulder through gentle stretches, and has helped me regain considerable range of motion during (and between) the three sessions I've had there so far.


It's still too early to tell how much range of motion I'll eventually recover in my shoulder. I also can't say for sure yet how much my pain has been reduced, although during the day, even without the aid of prescription pain medication, it seems relatively minimal (except when I'm pushing toward the edges of my range during exercise).

I've heard from numerous other people that the key to successful shoulder rehabilitation is dedication to the physical therapy exercises, and so I have been practicing 5-10 rounds throughout each day. I hope to maintain this dedication once the school year starts, though my past experience has been that many important things - that are not directly related to classes - tend to fall by the wayside once classes begin. Pain, however, is a powerful motivator, so I hope to continue making good progress on restoring full functionality of my shoulder.

I don't know if this problem - or my experience with it - is as interesting to others as other health challenges I've written about, e.g., platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatment for elbow tendonitis and radiotherapy and chemotherapy for anal cancer. If so, I'll post one or more updates in the future.

Continuing Education: Senior Lecturer at the University of Washington, Bothell

Uwb-logo I recently embarked on the next stage of my re-engagement with academia, as a Senior Lecturer in the Computer & Software Systems program at the University of Washington, Bothell. Like the Tacoma campus, where I taught last winter and spring, the Bothell campus cultivates a small college culture within a large university system: classes are relatively small (with a maximum of 30-45 students in each) and there is a strong student-centered orientation among all the faculty and staff. The faculty - tenure track and non-tenure track - are actively engaged in research and other scholarly activities, but excellence in teaching is an essential attribute among all faculty.

During my first quarter, I am teaching courses on the Fundamentals of Computing (the introductory course for the CSS major) and Operating Systems (a senior-level core course in the major). I'm excited about teaching these courses for a number of reasons, not least of which is that these are the same courses I taught my first full-time semester teaching at the University of Hartford in 1985. Some content has changed, but many of the basic concepts have persisted over the intervening years. I'll be teaching courses on human-computer interaction, network design and web programming in the spring and winter quarters.

I don't anticipate much time for research during the next few quarters, as all of these courses will require new preparations on one or more dimensions. However, I do anticipate engaging some of my entrepreneurial energy. Although the Bothell campus is 20 years old, in the academic world this still qualifies as a "startup". The campus has ambitious growth plans to double in size over the next 5 years, and I'm looking forward to new opportunities for instigating, connecting and evangelizing in this new educational setting.

I also don't anticipate much time for blogging during this period; this post is already late (classes started last week), and I won't add much more to it. I do want to express my sincere gratitude for all the support I enjoyed from the faculty, staff and students at UW Tacoma throughout my initial re-engagement with academia last year. I am similarly grateful for the warm welcome I have received from the faculty, staff and students at UWB and CSS, and I look forward to my continuing education - as both a producer and a consumer - at the University of Washington.