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Morganton Fellowship

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Website: City: Morganton State: North Carolina Zip: 28655 Contact Email: ryan.gagliardo@gmail.com Content Phone: 845.480.6423 Contant Name: Ryan & Siobhan Gagliardo

Reflecting on the Ghost Train West

Laird's Blog -

Today I'm riding Amtrak's Empire Builder westbound from St Paul to Portland, Oregon. Monday I'll make a connection to Eugene. There's hardly anyone on the train (maybe 15 percent ridership, tops). The weather is bleak outside (we're stalled somewhere east of Rugby ND as the dawn has caught us from behind. The temperature is dancing around zero and I have absolutely no desire to venture outside the warm cocoon of my coach car. 

This is one of my favorite times to travel by train. The low passenger load is not good for Amtrak's bottom line, but I cherish having two seats to myself (to create a nest for the 38-hour trip) and being liberated from being trapped in the acoustical envelope of inane cell phone conversation (where bored passengers while away the hours running down their stockpiled minutes nattering about what they had for breakfast, or what color pickup they noticed driving by). I enjoy how the quiet of the dormant winter landscape is matched by the library-like solemnity inside the car. It's peaceful.

As my readers know, I'm on the road a lot (have talking stick will travel, trying to put out the brush fires of competitive culture wherever there's a willingness to call in the fire brigade). You also know I have a decided preference for traveling by train. 

While Amtrak is only a skeletal train system compared to what existed before World War II, it's still a national rail system and I can mostly figure out how to get to where I need to go, and get there on time. As I reflect on it, my ability to rely on the train is peculiar to my unusual line of work and my specific constitution. I get it that it doesn't work for everyone.

•  Because I overwhelmingly work with cooperative groups in situ, that means my prime work time is Friday evening through Sunday afternoon—when members of client groups are home from M-F commitments. I work when they aren't.

Thus, even when I have back-to-back jobs, I typically have four days to get from the first one to the second. Not only does this protect a precious window to write up reports before they start to pile up, but I have time to take the train—even in the extreme case of traveling from coast to coast.

•  I don't suffer from motion sickness and have no trouble typing at my seat (or at a table in the lounge car) while rumbling across the country at 79 mph (where Amtrak engines are redlined). So my transit time is productive, unlike what I experience sardined into a plane seat at 30,000 feet.

•  I enjoy travel, do not have allergies, and can sleep anywhere. Very handy when it takes two overnights to get from Duluth to the West Coast—which is what I'm in the process of doing right now. For those who need a non-moving horizontal mattress to get decent sleep, the train is a poor choice.

• I don't take the train because it's fast, or because it's particularly on time. When you depend on tracks owned by freight companies and dispatchers whose salaries are paid by them, there are just too many occasions when weather surprises, equipment malfunctions, and freight train snarls lead to unscheduled stops of uncertain duration. And when you have a dead freight in front of you on single track, it's not like you can switch to an alternate route. You have to wait.

• Finally, I enjoy the train because it's slow. It protects reflective time that I am otherwise susceptible to giving away. Time to look out the window, read, take a nap, write, and think. [See more on this below.]

So there's an appropriate mind set when you ride the train. You have to embrace the journey and not the clock. You don't schedule things that depend on an on-time arrival, because you can't count on it. You have to surrender to the iron rooster. It's the zen of train.
• • •Interestingly (I'm not sure I understand it), I live in the Central time zone, but the vast majority of my client base is perversely located elsewhere. Thus, when I journey to a client it almost always means a substantial schlepp and at least two train connections. Sometimes three. Here's a snapshot of my current workload, in chronological order, January through April (one or two of which may not require travel, but that's not clear yet):
—Massachusetts (2)
—Oregon (2)
—Michigan (1)
—Colorado (1)
—Tennessee (1)
—California (1)—Virginia (1)
—Washington (2)
—BC (1)
 From this docket the job in the Volunteer State is the only one in the Central time zone (and it's the only one I can't reach via Amtrak, though I'll likely wind up flying in and out of southwest CO to avoid two eight-hour round trip car rides to catch a train in Albuquerque).

So even though I live in the icebox of the country, on the remote shores of Lake Superior, I enjoy a national consulting business, and the choo choo gets me around. It's a rather odd arrangement, but it works for me. I love Duluth and I love living with Susan there. Sometimes I'm even home to enjoy them. 

Mark, the guy who handles the 4:15 am Skyline Shuttle run from Duluth to St Paul every morning knows me by name. On average I'm catching the 8:00 eastbound Empire Builder to Chicago at least once a month, so I've become a regular and he tries to reserve the front passenger seat for my comfort.
• • •Last week I caught a feature on NPR radio about deep thinking and the ways in which today's culture, with its heavy reliance on social media and email, has led to lifestyles that allow easy interruption. Many of us no longer protect chunks of concentrated time in our daily routine. While that may not have been a conscious choice, the result is that our minds rarely drop into depth or significant creativity. Instead, we hover near the surface and dance, somewhat frenetically, from one bright shiny object (or blinking light) to the next.

This seems a questionable trend. Does anyone, for example, want to make the case that we're better off with a President who can't resist tweeting provocations at 4 am? Wouldn't it be better to spend more time in reflection and less in reflex (or acid reflux)?

This reflection about deep thinking, and its value as an anchor for sorting out who we are and who we intend to be rings true for me, and reinforces the point I made above about protecting reflective time on the train. As an Amtrak passenger I tend to not socialize. I'm not rude; I'm just quiet. I stay within the envelope of my seat (my laptop) and my consciousness. I just try to be, and reconnect with who I am. 

Ghost trains are good for that.

Facilitating in My Dreams

Laird's Blog -

This past week has been a rough one for me healthwise. 

I contracted a cold in mid-December and have been trying to shake a residual cough ever since. While I had the presence of mind to get a flu shot back in October, there has been a lot of respiratory distress in and around Duluth (maybe everywhere) and my coughing degraded into pneumonia after a weeklong trip to Boston that ended Jan 18 (at 2:30 am).

Last Saturday I felt crummy and didn't eat anything solid. When Susan popped a thermometer under my tongue that evening I was up to 100.5 and she was concerned. (Because of my multiple myeloma I'm somewhat immune compromised and therefore more susceptible to catching crud.) Prudently, she called the on-call oncologist (which has a nice ring to it) at St Luke's Hospital where I get my cancer treated and was advised that I was probably OK if the fever didn't go higher.

My temperature was down Sunday morning, but so was I. After another desultory day of moping around (Susan was struggling as well—though she didn't run a fever, she was later diagnosed with bronchitis and the house sounded like a tuberculosis ward), she tried my temperature again and I'd spiked at 101.6. Uh oh. Time to go to the ER. 

While my natural inclination is to think I can handle sickness on my own (and stay out of hospitals), I didn't fight Susan's firm guidance and it was good that I didn't. I arrived hypoxic (low on oxygen), with diarrhea, and with pneumonia in both lungs. No wonder I was weak and coughing so much. They immediately started me on oxygen and respiratory treatments to begin clearing the fluids out of my lungs. I was admitted to the hospital and happy to give myself over to their expert ministrations.

Fortunately, I responded strongly to the treatments and my symptoms starting moving in the right direction immediately. By Tuesday morning I was off oxygen and doing laps in the hallway to regain muscle strength after lying abed for 40 hours. They gave me a double round of antibiotics, a prescription for an inhaler, and sent me home.

Today—four days out of the hospital—I've recovered enough that I'll be departing in a few hours for a 12-day road trip to the West Coast and work with back-to-back clients. Fortunately, work is energizing for me, it's not aerobically straining, and I expect to be fine.

When I return (Feb 8) I'll start a new protocol for treating my multiple myeloma, switching from infusion therapy (with Kyprolis) to an oral treatment (a combination of Dexamethasone, Revlimid, and Ninlaro). My oncologist thinks this will be more potent in suppressing the cancer, which is creeping back, and will allow me to continue my active travel schedule without treatment interruption (I have to be in Duluth for outpatient infusion therapy, but can take pills with me wherever I go).
• • •Meanwhile, I want to share an interesting phenomenon that I discovered this past week while trying to make it through the night with minimal coughing. Whenever I get prone there's an adjustment in my lungs to the lower angle and I cough more. Obviously, that's not very restful (for either me or Susan) and it can take a while to find equilibrium. 

I don't breathe as deeply while lying down, to avoid triggering a cough reflex, and that contributes to the hypoxia and shortened REM cycles as my lungs gradually accumulate fluid and another coughing round is set off. Ugh. This means that I go through a shallow sleep/dream state throughout the night which is somewhat like hallucinating.

I was amused to discover that I go through a pattern. First I go over the work ahead of me in the next day or two. By virtue of "seeing" my schedule and making a rough plan for how I'll handle things, I calm down. Where others count sheep, I rely on logistics. 

Next, as I start to drift off to sleep, I start thinking about issues in my life or imagining work ahead of me and what it will take to deliver excellent product for that client. (As it happens, I'm juggling work with 10 clients right now—all to be delivered in the next three months—so there's plenty to chew on.)

While this imagining of future work may or not be insightful, it tends to be restful. But the most interesting part is that is that I'll next drop into something deeper and create a dream in which I'm actually facilitating—not thinking about facilitating. Maybe it's what all facilitators do at night—who knows. In any event, my tendency is to create scenarios in which I'm wrestling with something sketchy and cantankerous, and I wake up disoriented and with an elevated heart rate. I'm having a facilitation nightmare! And it takes me a few moments to realize that I don't have to be there. I get up, have a drink of water, and consciously back myself out of the mess I awoke in. Then I lie back down and start another cycle.

What am I doing? What am I trying to work out? In what universe does this pattern help me heal? I realize that I'm so deeply associated with facilitation now (after 30 years) that I can't actually turn it off. It's who I am.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. But who's in control? What a fascinating thing our brains are.


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