Monday, January 23, 2012

Neal's Best Reads of 2011

Neal’s Best Reads of 2011  -- not in any particular order...
Buddha’s Brain, the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom.  Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius, 2009.  This very approachable book soon has you hooked on understanding recent brain research into its function and adaptability.  Science, religion, meditation, psychology and learning theory are all woven into a captivating discussion on what, until recently, has been our most mysterious organ.  This is fun to read for the lay reader, and you want to apply the practices to improve our brain functioning and learning.  An enjoyable and approachable read for anyone.
Eiffel’s Tower, Jill Jonnes, 2009.  A historian’s look at the planning, construction and the life of the Eiffel Tower.  He brings  vibrancy into what could be seen as a sterile engineering project into the life of Paris in 1889 and the World’s Fair.  This actually is a page turner, and draws the reader into the daily life and cultural politics of a very creative and exciting era in Paris.  
How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer, 2009.  This neorobiologist takes us on a tour of the functioning of the brain, and how we are genetically programmed, as well as culturally programmed to sort through the millions of stimuli of a day, and make decisions.  This book is primarily geared to psychology and brain scientists, rather than the lay reader.  The better book on this topic is Buddha’s Brain, at least for me.
Holding Lies: a novel of a river and its secrets.  John Larison.  2011.  You get into the skin of an Oregon fly fishing guide, and his effort to reconnect with his grown up daughter, as well as the river politics of a small rural community.  This promises to really wrap you into the life of salmon and fishing.  Yet, that promise isn’t quite kept and the more important story to the author is the murder of another guide and the remorse of a middle aged man for his inadequacies as a father.  An adequate read, but not great literature.  
Reinventing Fire: bold business solutions for the new energy era.  Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute. 2011.  This is a must read for any entrepreneur and student of trends.  This turns the energy crisis and global warming hand wringing into an optimistic view of the revolutionary approach to 21st century opportunities.  This book offers a fascinating tour of current technology and opportunities that seem to ignored by mainstream media.  Their viewpoints are backed up by research and state of the art scientific and engineering research. 
Back to Work: why we need smart government for a strong economy.  Bill Clinton. 2011.   At his public policy best, President Clinton offers us his clearly written, engaging assessment and argument for where we should be going as a country and as individuals.  Articulate, persuasive and not as partisan or strident, or as lethargic as other political rhetoric this election “cycle”, this is a good read.  He’s provocative, inspirational, and challenging.  This is a worthy book for any voter this year.
Looking Through Water.  Judy Allen. 2011.  My friend’s enjoyable novel of coming of age of a girl with healing powers, on the Oregon Coast.  This is engaging, and she tells a good story of life in rural America and how a family deals with the challenges of poverty and fear of a young girl’s gifts.  Enjoyable, yet the reader is challenged to ponder pre-conceived views of healing powers and the gifts of other cultures.
The Astoria Chinatown Conspiracy, Richard B. Powers. 2011.  A captivating murder mystery set in the West’s oldest American city, in the 1880s, when bigotry against Chinese coolies was at its height.  My friend brings the characters of my favorite Oregon fishing town alive.  I’m halfway through this novel, and am drawn into the story and his colorful weaving of characters and intrigue.  I’m sharing this with my fellow lovers of Astoria history.  
Thinking Fast and Slow. David Kahneman. 2010.  An interesting exploration into our thinking process, our reactions and our two tiered level of analysis, problem solving and reaction to our world.  Interesting, and thoughtful, but not nearly as fun as Buddha’s Brain.  This has stayed on the best seller list for almost a year, so others are finding it worthy.  It is worthy, just not as much fun as Buddha.
Outliers: the story of success. Michael Gladwell. 2009.  This delightful book looks at the lives of some folks who were amazingly successful, and others who didn’t quite get there, and wonders, why?  An inspirational and intellectually satisfying read.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0.  Trevor Bradbury and Jean Greaves. 2011.  An excellent book on being aware and using emotional intelligence as you navigate the world of business and social interaction.  This was so concise, helpful, and insightful, I gave copies to my staff and my fellow managers at work.  An excellent book to hone one’s leadership skills.
Books on My Night Stand
Cleopatra, a Life.  Stacy Schiff.  2010.  A biography of the queen of the Nile, which I understand makes the reader challenge the stereotypes and simplicities of a life of someone who was actually quite complex.
At Home: a short history of private life.  Bill Bryson, 2010.  This hysterical writer promises to entertain me again, this time with a tour of his house in England.  A Walk Through the Woods is the apex of outdoor recreational humor writing, so I can’t wait to read this.
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history.  S. C. Gwynne.  2010.  This history book has been on the best seller list for some time, with reviewers praising its well crafted writing, and interesting tale from the perspective of the vanquished.  
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: class encounters with addiction.  Gabor Mate’. 2008.  Friends in the know tell me this is the best book written about addiction in the last twenty years, and offers profound insights.  This comes highly recommended.
Neal Lemery, January, 2012.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Sometimes, the fire inside
seems to go away
until I give life a little space,
and find a place to dream, to 
with who I really am
who I was, and who I want to be.
Then, the sparks find the fuel
and the reason to be.
When the fire returns
it burns brighter, and higher
and warms me to the core,
lighting up my
Neal Lemery 1/2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Legend of Pohaku-o-Kane

      Long before humans discovered Kaua’i, a family of three huge rocks, two brothers and a sister, were seeking a new home.  They rolled across the ocean floor, visiting several islands and atolls before finally arriving at the north shore of Kaua’i.  
As they approached the shore, they were refreshed by the fresh water of the Limahuli Stream.  Breaking the surface, they saw that they were on a reef surrounded by fish.  The collors of the land, ocean, sky, and clouds delighted them.
O’o-a’a, the sister, was enchanted by this spot and decided to stay.  Basking in the warm sun and lulled by the sound of the waves, she soon feel asleep.  The brothers, wanting to go inland, rolled onto the sandy beach.  After a while, the younger brother, Pohaku-loa, stopped to rest in the shade of hala trees.  Enjoying the rustling leaves and cool breeze, he decided to stay.  Although his younger brother pleaded with him to continue up the mountain, Pohaku-loa fell asleep content.
The older brother continued alone, intending to climb to the top of the mountain.  When he reached the pali (cliff), his strength and determination were not enough.  He faltered and fell.  Again and again, he tried to reach the top, refusing to give up.  Eventually, the great god Kane noticed his struggling so hard and went to investigate.  He asked the rock why he was struggling to hard to reach the top.  The rock replied, “I want to be where I can watch the world below.”
Kane pointed out that it didn’t matter where the older brother was, for he would surely fall asleep as his brother and sister had.  The older brother insisted that he would remain awake.  Kane decided that this determined rock would never give up, that he would continue to climb and fall until all that remained of him was dust.  So Kane and the rock made a deal.

  Kane lifted the older brother and placed him on the top of the mountain ridge.  In return, the rock promised to stay awake and watch and remember all that went on below him.  

Then, Kane said, “When I come again, you must come tell me what you have seen.  When you are ready to go, the island will sink beneath the waters and the waves will climb upto you.  Then you and your brother and sister may begin to travel again.  Until then, watch and remember.”
---Limahuli Garden National Tropical Botanical Garden guidebook, Ha-ena, Kaua’i, Hawai’i,  p. 39

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Launch Pad

"When you row another person across the river, you get there yourself." --Jeraldine Saunders
In the last month, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the local youth prison.  What with Christmas, and one of my guy’s birthday party, I’ve become a familiar presence in the “launch pad” area.  That’s the multi-purpose room that is a sports center, and, with some plastic tables and chairs, the visitor’s area, and special events arena.  The youths had their Christmas dinner there, and other special events occur there.
Some of the youths’ art work is tacked onto the walls, as well as a few decorations for the holidays.   Still, the cinder blocks and the harsh lighting from the industrial strength lighting keeps the institutional tone to the place, especially when every door is under the command of the control room.
“Launch pad” is an odd term for me, but it comes from the idea of this room being the place where a new inmate enters the prison, and the inmates getting out on parole leave here, saying their goodbyes, and moving out into the world.  Sort of the Cape Kennedy of the juvenile prison system.
This was the room where high school graduation occurred last June, young men in cap and gown, giving speeches, being recognized for their work, as staff and families beamed and applauded.  But, the biggest smiles that day were the guys who, despite the odds, and despite most of their family cultures denigrating an education, accomplished a big step.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
It’s where my mentoring work goes on, every week, over some coffee and popcorn, across a plastic table, as we talk, and get to know each other, on deeper and deeper levels.  Our conversation often goes into my buddy’s struggles with himself, and his fellow inmates, his work in the kitchen, his schooling, his treatment.  
I see my buddy growing a lot in this last year.  Physically, about three inches in height, and putting on more muscle.  But, deeper than that, I’ve seen his spirit grow, too, in leaps and bounds, adding inches to his self confidence, his determination.  
I’ve been bringing him books, books on native American life, books with heroes and imaginative stories.  The stories and characters are ones I’ve made part of my life, giving me a sense of adventure and imagination.  I want him to experience those stories, and see life through the eyes of my heroes.  More importantly, I want him to gain a sense of his own identity, and his own power of imagination.  
He can be anything he wants, and he’s starting to realize that.  In December, he finished all his work for high school, becoming the first member of his family to finish high school.  He’s proud of that, and scared, too.  Scared to deny his late father’s expectations that he would never amount to much in his life, and would never graduate from high school.
We celebrated his twenty first birthday last week, complete with a party, chocolate cake from Costco, and his favorite ice cream.  He invited three friends and we watched in awe at their ability to consume sugar, wear party hats, blow on noisemakers, sign “Happy Birthday”, and play a board game.  Not what most guys turning twenty one would want.  
What was really special is that he had never, yes, never had a birthday party before.  So, the event had a lot of meaning for all of us.  Another boy hadn’t ever had a birthday party, either.  The energy of all that youth and excitement reminded me of a ten year old’s party.  But, then, ten is a good age to celebrate, too.  I guess it’s never too late to celebrate a birthday.
As we packed up the remains of the party, and put the party hats away, I realized I had received some presents over the holidays, and for my buddy’s birthday party.  I received real joy, real excitement, and a real sense of belonging in a young man’s life.  
We all receive gifts we don’t think we deserve, or gifts that come into our lives unexpectedly.  And, now, it’s my turn to be gracious, to say thanks, and to let the gifts I have apparently needed to come into my own life.  It’s all part of my own launch pad.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


A bolt of lightning
a slap up the side of my face
out of the blue
in the midst of driving home
why now? what the f***, I wondered--
and I cried
gasping for breath
going deep
coming out strong
all the anger, rage, emptiness, 
all at once, all over, to the 
missing him so intense
I could not breathe
the agony of knowing, really 
he was gone
and how much I 
missed him.
The tear came later, running wild, splashing on my shirt,
after I caught my breath
after I figured out
I was grieving hard
and not trying to notice
thinking I’d done pretty good
at “moving on” 
at “dealing with it”
at being a big boy and 
thinking I’d been grieving well,
in that adult
way we are “supposed to”.
Orderly, neat, tidy,
like a package ready for the mail.
Yet, no one grieves “well”--
we grieve
in all its forms and all its ways
twists and turns and worm holes
Until it hits like a ton of bricks
when you 
expect it.
--Neal Lemery 12/31/11