Earlier this month, Erin, Oliver, and I took a road trip to Montgomery, Alabama. This was just two weeks before Erin’s birthday and it allowed her to meet her goal of visiting all 50 states in her 50 years of life. (Last week was her 51st birthday, but we figure the pandemic year that stopped most travel gave her a pass on the technical 50 by 50.) Congratulations on the milestone, Erin.

More importantly, the reason we traveled to Montgomery was to take in the history and art and advocacy of the Legacy Sites, the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. The Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Freedom Monument Sculpture Park are stunning, engaging, eye-opening, and maddening. They document and chronicle the history of slavery, racism, mass incarceration, and injustice in the country. They are beautiful spaces and displays and art that commemorate such horror and evil and sadness.

I wish everyone I know could visit one or more of these sites.

I hope we all can learn from the history.

The most important lesson I learned was about the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” I’d read that many times and thought, ‘that makes sense.’ But at the Legacy Museum, seeing the the language of the amendment in the context of the country’s history, I began to understand that that phrase explicitly allowed states to use the penal system to continue to enslave Black men and women. EJI explains it here. So when we talk about mass incarceration today, we’re actually talking about the continuation of slavery. The disproportionate numbers of Black men imprisoned in the U.S. today makes obvious this enslavement is current, it’s now. It never ended.

How do we battle that? We learn, and we give witness.

For the last few years, Erin has served on the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, which is coordinating with EJI to recognize Manly McCauley, Daniel Morrow, Jefferson Morrow, Washington Morrow, Cyrus Guy and Wright Woods, men who were lynched in Orange County, North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough are in Orange County). In February, Erin took me and our children to attend the OCCRC’s unveiling of a marker at Carrboro Town Commons to recognized Manly McCauley.

And we drove to Alabama, despite my reservations about going to the state (its history, it damn football team!). I was surprised, and humbled. Alabama was beautiful in spring, downtown Montgomery calm, the Legacy Sites breathtaking.

And there was a surprise.

While we were walking through the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, with its hundreds of hanging tablets — one for each county with one or more documented cases of lynching — the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flew their coordinated air show overhead, mesmerizing us and certainly the crowd of the Beyond the Horizon Air & Space Show at the nearby Maxwell Air Force Base.

Back at the performance space connected to our hotel, there was choreography on the stage—the Streetz Dance Convention and Competition was taking place, talented young girls dancing in pairs or ensembles, some better than anything we’ve seen on the television talent shows.

On Sunday, on our way out of Montgomery, we went to the air show and saw the Golden Knights U.S. Army parachute team float to the tarmac with the American flag, and later we watched a state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet and history P-51 Red Tail circle the airfield. We spoke with a Secret Service agent who had been on a recent detail protecting Vice President Kamala Harris in North Carolina, and Oliver donned a weighted vest and did pushups for the Air Force recruiters.

We drove home, and I’ve been thinking about the dance of American sin, patriotism, and national pride every day since.




I played soccer tonight in Fearrington south of Chapel Hill, on a nice grass field under lights. I hustled and I had fun, and when I left the field, I looked up to see the waxing crescent moon and bright Jupiter. That reminded me of the the nights in my early twenties when I played pickup soccer on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I’d finish there, look up and see the moon and one or more planets, then walk home to the apartment I shared with my father in the Makiki neighborhood. Thirty years later, I’m still awed by celestial sites and grateful for the joy soccer gives me.




According to this Ed Koren cartoon in the New Yorker, my sixties could be a decade of wisdom. I’ll take that. The medical appointments, not so much. But I have six years to go.

When I turned fifty in the pandemic, I wasn’t able to start the new decade with a birthday bash and a new theme like I did when I turned 30 (my decade of writing) and 40 (my decade of narrative). I didn’t really know what that theme would be, though. Instead, I spent the last few years sailing high with a new job and the anticipation of a new house but also struggling to get out of the bottom of a barrel of lifelong, bottled-up emotions.

Last summer, I committed myself to a practice of mindfulness and to more deeply knowing myself and my loved ones. I sat down on a therapist’s couch and learned to listen to my feelings. I started each day with pre-dawn meditation on the new porch. I called my brothers and my parents and my friends and leaned into those conversations. (One of my friends told me he’d long recognized I had managed conversations like an interview, rarely sharing anything personal or showing vulnerability. He’s my career coach now, and helping a better me show up.)

Throughout these years, Sunday soccer has kept me healthy and likewise helped me grow. One morning last fall, I hustled just a bit less intensely than usual, and that minor adjustment made a major difference. I had the ball at my feet, dribbling confidently, going to the goal, aware of the defender, and I held the ball a moment longer than usual, then saw the narrow opening and I shot for a goal. That moment of clarity lingered with me for weeks.

That day, too, I actually recognized something I’d missed in nearly 10 years with these guys — they were having fun. They were joyful, exclaiming in one language or another (most Sundays there are men from five continents on the pitch) about each good pass or trap or goal.

These lessons, I realized, had illuminated an important theme: listening. Looking back through more than 20 years of blog posts, I see that I’ve been yearning for a deeper listening for most of my life. (A key part of the Voices of Duke Health project as the listening booth.) It’s a perfect theme for my fifties, and all the rest of my days.

So, then, an update on my decades: Live in my 20s. Write in my 30s. Tell stories in my 40s. Listen in my 50s.

And the career coaching has me looking ahead to my sixties and a possible theme that might resurrect the long table concept I once explored: I imagine myself at the dining table with family and friends, deep in conversation, telling and listening to stories, smiling in fun and clarity.



Keep growing

“Keep asking for help and accepting it when you can. And if you keep on doing that, you’ll always be moving towards better,” says Leslie Higgins to the Diamond Dogs men’s support group in the great show Ted Lasso.

This past year for me has been full of Ted Lasso, and The Bear, and Drops of God, and other shows and books and podcasts and conversations that have helped me move towards better.

I have ideas for a few blog posts to write about this personal growth and the deeper relationships that are developing through this. For more than two decades, I’ve blogged to chronicle my activities and to record my observations. Over these past six months, as I have asked for help in new and recurring ways, I have learned to listen better and feel more. I am moving slower but towards better.



Where I traveled in 2022

On the What I’m doing now, I give a snapshot of the activities at home, work, on the soccer pitch, and in the air. I’m moving this 2022 travelogue to it’s own post so I can bring Now up to date.

I was lucky to travel much in 2022.

We spent the holidays in Hawaii, took a short trip in March to visit my brothers in Austin, enjoyed a spring break return to the west end of St. Croix, and celebrated Oliver’s birthday in New York City. Later, Oliver and I had the best father-son day on Block Island. Then Erin and I went west for a cruise to Alaska, and good friends from Chapel Hill hosted us at their beach house on the glorious Outer Banks. We took Malia to D.C. and then returned for AU Family Weekend. Oliver and I took a boys trip back to Austin in December to spend time with my brother Nick and his family. Erin and the girls went to Cabo San Lucas and swam with a whale shark.



Modus operandi

At work this week, I met with my manager and my communications team for one-on-one mid-year performance reviews (Duke is on a July-to-June fiscal year). It’s been a productive and positive first six months for the DCRI Research Communications & Engagement Department, and the RADx-UP team I manage. I am grateful for this job, the professional and supportive group around me, and the meaningful work that fills each day.

Completing my part for the review of each of my teammates went faster this time around because of a new routine that I started us on in September. Now, at the end of the month, I ask each person to update a “work notes” file to record the highlights and kudos that can help our managers track our performance (RCE has a very detailed set of performance goals) and accurately rate our work at the end of the year.

This is your reminder to document your work and any relevant feedback. Be succinct.

  1. What were your primary activities this month?
  2. What projects, products, or events did you complete this month?
  3. What feedback did you receive from colleagues, peers, managers, or others?
  4. What insights about your work did you get?
  5. What did you do for your personal well being and your career development?
  6. What are your primary activities for the month ahead?
  7. What issues, challenges, or opportunities do you need to talk to your supervisor or team about?

Having this information for the last few months made it much easier for me to write my self-evaluation and to focus my feedback on the successes of each person. I hear from my fellow managers that they have adopted and adapted the work notes for their teams, too. Our work at DCRI is so fast paced that having this routine reminds us to jot down notes about our activities, insights, and feedback as they happen. I hope we keep it up and refine the habit.

I was inspired by Dave Winer to start this work-notes routine. Dave details progress on his development projects with his notes outlines; for example, here’s the Change Notes for Drummer. Dave also has a ritual to post the OPML archive of his blog each month. I’m glad I was able to find a way to put those two ideas together.

Now I think I will add work notes to my list of effective styles of communication

A rule and a tool

In the process of talking through those mid-year reviews and sharing my approach to project management and communications support, I came upon a second addition to make to that list of styles.

In my graduate studies—science and medical journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—I learned the rule “You can’t explain what you don’t understand.” I recite that rule to myself daily, and also use it as a reason to ask the operations team for clarity on what they need from our communications team. When I better understand the new program or initiative, I draft a fact sheet and communications plan. Basicially, it’s the five Ws (and an H) that I learned as a young journalist though reordered to what, why, and who to define the project and followed by a plan for how and when we’ll communicate the result.

That’s my rule and a tool, I told a colleague, recommending that she build on them to create her own methods. I’ll be watching her work notes in the months ahead to see what she develops.



Testing MarsEdit

This is another micropost with MarsEdit to see how it flows through to my Textpattern blog. First attempt had a blank body.

Yep, I have to open the post in MarsEdit and republish for the body to show up on my blog.

I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out. Probably just a setting to select.



Que gran partido

Two exciting matches today at the World Cup. I was so happy to see the Netherlands tie the game in regular time, but bummed they lost at penalty kicks.



Plum good, says UNESCO

I vaguely knew that UNESCO celebrates the cultures and practices of peoples and places around the globe, but I’ve never taken the time to look over the agency’s list of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ until today. My friend, Bora, sent me a link to a news item reporting that šljivovica (we call it slivovitz) has been added to the UNESCO list, so I went looking for confirmation and I found my way to the official entry here: Social practices and knowledge related to the preparation and use of the traditional plum spirit – šljivovica.

To get to that page, I glanced through the other items added this year by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It’s a fascinating list that includes crafting and playing the oud, beekeeping in Slovenia, Holy Week in Guatemala and festivals related to the journey of the Holy family in Egypt, the popular folk song of Algeria called Raï, harissa and Cuban light rum and the French baguette. You can travel the world just by scrolling through those entries. Human culture and art and cuisine is just awesome.

Tonight I’m going to toast UNESCO and humanity with a bit of plum brandy. I have half a dozen bottles to choose from – backyard distilled Serbian šljivovica that Bora’s brought back in his luggage, a Romanian version a neighbor once gave me, a version made in Oregon, or the bottle of Yebiga rakija I bought at a liquor store in Georgetown. Bora was here just last Saturday afternoon; I made oven-roasted chicken shawarma (NYTimes recipe) and we sat at the dinner table, ate a meal and sipped the very good rakija, and talked until dark.



Give me steam

Peter Gabriel’s Us is playing on the bluetooth speaker, filling the house with his songs of love and yearning. Anytime I play this album means I must be feeling lonely. It’s just me and Tilly, the golden retriever, in the house on this day after Thanksgiving. Erin, Anna, Malia, and Oliver are in Cleveland along with most of the other Shaughnessy clan while I stayed back to keep an eye on the house under construction, to play soccer, and, yes, to watch the World Cup.

(I blogged about Us here and here, and this early post explains my first lonely but memorable moments with the World Cup.)

Friends Kelly and Andrew invited me to their home for the big meal yesterday; I contributed a sour cherry pie (see it here). I came home to the empty house and watched Philadelphia, the AIDS-era movie with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington (the soundtrack includes a Peter Gabriel song).

This solitude has been relaxing, and today between World Cup matches I’ll slowly make my way through a list of tasks and chores that I’ve been meaning to get to for months. I like the clean calm and slowed momentum of the days, but damn do I miss my family and their chaotic, kinetic energy.



It should be zero

Last week, Oliver was diagnosed with a fractured bone in his foot, so I have been driving him to his school. Usually we’re listening to the SiriusXM soccer talk show or U2X music station for the short drive, but this morning I tuned to WUNC. As we pulled up the hill and the school property, the hourly NPR news update came on (NPR News: 10-25-2022 8AM EDT).

“The shooting at the St. Louis school was the fortieth this year,” said the reporter at the very moment I turned the car into the drop-off lane and the school resource officer — the armed police offer who is at the school every day — came into sight.

I noticed this intersection of news and relative safety, and I knew Oliver was beside me and listening, and I recognized it was a moment to say something meaningful, but I did not know what to say and a moment later we were stopped and Oliver was getting out of the car, grabbing his notebook case and his saxophone and he was closing the door just as I uttered, weakly, “Have a good day.”

I want to live in a world where soccer highlights and rock-n-roll hits don’t have to give way to tragedy and insanity.

I want to live in a country where there are zero school shootings ever.



Writing spaces

Colum McCann is one of my favorite authors, and back in 2013 the New York Times published an interview with him about his commitment to ‘radical empathy.’ I’ve remembered that for the photo that shows McCann sitting on his cushioned makeshift seat in a tight space between two walls.

Now that we’re midway in building this new house, I need to decide what’s going to be in my work space in a wide hallway between our bedroom and Erin’s front office. My space has a tall, fixed window that looks west to the forest. I’ll have a desk, bookshelves, maybe some cabinets to store supplies and file papers. I’m also trying to figure out how a bench might fit (I’m sitting on the plywood floor at the moment, my back resting agains a 2×4 wall stud).

McCann is a brilliant writer, and I’m no McCann. Whatever I end up with in this space, I know that it is routine, focus, writing and rewriting, that matters. I’m excited for this writing ahead.



Checked, mate?

I started reading this New Yorker feature about Mladen Solomun, “the d.j. who keeps Ibiza dancing.” Then I came upon this:

Bor, the tour manager, oversees what he calls “booth politics,” and any infraction of the unwritten code can lead to ejection. The truly elect are invited to take an occasional shot of tequila with Solomun. The brand on his rider is Clase Azul Reposado, which the club brings in specifically for him. Solomun sometimes drinks more than thirty shots of tequila during a night at the decks, with no visible change in his sobriety.

Come on. The vaunted New Yorker fact checkers must have been out to lunch for that graph. Thirty shots is a lot of alcohol!

Alex Frater once told me that his article was so closely checked that the editor called an entomologist to confirm the number of ants he could have stepped on (I wrote about that here, one of my favorite posts from my Coconut Wireless blog).

On the other hand, maybe the current fact checkers did confirm with a 30-shot lunch.



Finding your drums

Oliver mentioned again over dinner the other night that he wants to take up the drums. We asked him to focus on his saxophone, but he insisted he is interested in the drums.

At that, we told him all the ways he could show us he had a drummer’s rhythm without us buying an expensive kit that he might use a few times and then forget: he could slap the small djembe we’ve had in our house for 20 years, or he could bang on an overturned plastic pail, or he could even get some bamboo and tap on it with a flip-flop.

I pulled up a YouTube video of Futuna Fatuana to show him how the ni-Vanuatu make music with bamboo and with glass bottles filled to various levels. I once brought that troupe to Paama as part of a music education project I organized. I also paid for the generator to run one night so I could show the students (and their families from the surrounding villages) the video Stomp Out Loud. (In Cleveland, before we set out for the Peace Corps, Erin and I had seen the touring music show Stomp.)

Here’s what I wrote in my Peace Corps Description of Service document (a final report before a volunteer closes out his/her service):

Peace Corps Vanuatu offered a Small Project Assistance grant in 1998 to support Anton’s What A Bang! music education project, which brought a popular “stringband” from Futuna Island to Vaum Junior Secondary School to demonstrate instruments made with local materials (e.g. bamboo, empty Coke bottles, and rubber sandals). To this day students improvise music on handcrafted instruments such as ukulele, tin can drums and bamboo whistles. VJSS has begun to collect and use various musical instruments for music education and class sing-a-longs.

After dinner, Oliver retrieved paint cans and plastic pails fro the shed and made himself a makeshift drum kit in the laundry room. He banged on it for an hour or so and called it a night. The laundry room has been cluttered with the kit for the last few days. After his soccer practice yesterday, we were driving past School of Rock—I mentioned he should take an introductory drum lesson, and he quickly found the company’s website and requested more information.



Happy at work

I’m nearing the second anniversary of my job switch, and I’m happy to report that it’s been a great two years. I’m thoroughly enjoying my work at the Duke Clinical Research Institute on the RADx Underserved Populations project.

Last week, the Duke School of Medicine Magnify (an online news site) featured No More Guessing, a story I wrote about the Pediatrics faculty at DCRI. That group’s growth over the last 15 years is impressive, and my job is directly tied to their success in “running multi-site pediatric clinical trials and … managing major coordinating centers.”



Home.  AboutArchiveContactRSS.