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Monday, September 24, 2018

You Never Finish Designing a Workshop - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 4)

Jerry didn’t die in 2009, of course. He and the indomitable Dani found the medical team that was right for him. Jerry had major surgery and radiation therapy, followed by a long recovery. He lived for another nine richly productive years.

On the way to AYE 2010

In 2010, we again drove to and from Phoenix for AYE, taking in many sights on the way. But that’s another story. I want to talk about workshops.


My introduction to experiential learning was at PSL, Weinberg & Weinberg's week-long Problem Solving leadership class, in 2001. That class turned out to be more exciting than any of us anticipated, because the 9/11 attacks happened on the Tuesday. I related my recollections and my impressions of Jerry that day in my preface to The Gift of Time*. Jerry's co-instructor that week, Naomi Karten, described some of the class events in her wonderful piece on Experiential Learning in that book, including an incident that happened during VerseWorks, the major simulation where the whole class runs a company. In what Naomi describes as the first time anyone had done this, Martine Devos and I decided to split off and form our own company. We intended to do business with the other company rather than competing, but our classmates didn't seem to hear that when we said it and many were outraged. PSL grads will know that doing this put us in jeopardy of being sent to jail. I think Naomi initially thought that should happen, but I could see that Jerry liked it and really wanted to run with it. I vividly remember Jerry standing in front of us in his sheriff's hat, not quite loomingneither of us is tall and Jerry was an impressive heightand insisting meaningfully, "I think THIS is what you meant by that. Right? RIGHT?" "Oh yeah... Right!" So we ran with it, to the annoyance of those in the class who felt we'd done them wrong. And we learned a lot. I think everyone in the class learned more than they might have if Jerry had stopped us.

I loved PSL. It was by far the best experience I'd ever had in a classroom, and I wanted more like it. The AYE conference was the place to do that. I went for the first time the following year, and returned every year through 2010, when I finally decided I'd outgrown all but Jerry's sessions. Anyway, the conference moved to North Carolina in 2011, for excellent reasons, but it was now too far for driving from ABQ to be practical. I would no longer get to store up the Southwestern sun and heat in those precious days leading up to a Canadian winter, nor take the solitary swim I had enjoyed daily at sunrise year after year in the Embassy Suites' enormous pool.

I usually spent my AYE afternoons in Jerry’s sessions, in latter years often “assisting”. Anyone who ever assisted at one of Jerry’s workshops, or perhaps even shared a session with him, will know that it mostly meant scribing and making sure participants had enough markers. I also got to walk around and observe participants as they worked, relaying some questions to Jerry or offering help if it seemed to be needed. I learned to try and minimize interventions to the smallest possible thing that could jiggle or nudge people who seemed to be blocked. Sometimes I had a specific role, as in the times I played a unscrupulous manager pushing and manipulating the session “star” to say yes when he or she wanted to say no.

Jerry’s sessions were fantastic learning opportunities, and not only for the content.  Intermittently, over many years, I got to observe the master of experiential learning and then ask him questions afterwards. I learned from other people’s sessions too. There were some wonderful sessions at AYE, and highly skilled presenters: the conference hosts, as well as guests. For as long as AYE had guest presenters, I tried never to miss one of Naomi Karten's or Jean McClendon's sessions.

But no-one was ever as good as Jerry on his best days. I was repeatedly blown away by his empathy and total focus on an individual or a room, his purposeful and intent listening for the “music behind the words” and his sensitivity to the nuances of body language. Deceptively simple exercises, richly amplified by Jerry’s openness to work with whatever emerged in a session, often conveyed profound learning for participants. He improvised constantly, and it was fascinating to watch him repeat a session and change how he did it each time, often radically.

At CAST 2008, Jerry’s pre-conference tutorial sold out and they asked him to repeat it after the conference. It was a “tester’s clinic”, where the premise was that half the class would pose problems for which the other half would propose solutions. For the initial iteration, Michael Bolton and I were there as facilitators, according to the CAST model.

Jerry looked around the room, saw that it was roughly half and half men and women and decided it might be interesting to divide the class by gender. In the preparation stage, Michael worked with the men and I worked with the women. Immediately, we began to see major differences in how the two groups communicated and behaved.

The women sat around a table and, in fairly short order, introduced themselves, shared some stories that might serve as problems to present, devised a process for choosing the order to present problems, chose one problem and prioritized the rest, and agreed that the proposer of each story would present it to the other group while the remaining women would act as backup and help to evaluate the proposed solutions. Similarly, for the other side of the exercise, they agreed to have a small group of spokeswomen who would ask questions about the other group’s problem, work with the whole women’s group on a solution, and then propose it to the men’s group. I observed them being mutually respectful, efficient, and collaborative, and saw no need to intervene.

While the women were working together and coming to a consensus, the men’s group on the other side of the room was noticeably louder, not to say riotous. I could see men jumping up and down interrupting each other, and apparently competing excitedly. More than once I saw Michael intervening, looking as if he was trying to introduce order.

Preparation done, Jerry started the whole group exercise. One woman came forward and began presenting her testing problem. The entire men’s group started throwing questions at her, jumping in over each other, even interrupting her answers. Jerry let the chaos happen. One of the men asked what kind of company the woman presenting the problem worked for. Some demonnot Jerry in this case, though I wouldn’t have put it past himprompted her to reply innocently, “A brassiere factory.”

Well, that did it. The entire room erupted with men telling tit jokes. The jokes kept busting out in the role play, and there was a constant buzz of jokes and giggles among the other participants. To my surprise and amusement, my co-facilitator Michael leaned back and whispered one to me. Again, Jerry let near-chaos reign for a while, and then he called a time out, looked around the room with a benevolent smile, and asked that classic Jerry question:

“What happened here?”

And until we’d all run out of energy for it, the workshop focused entirely on exploring what had happened and why, right from the split into two groups through to the riot of gendered jokes. Jerry quietly guided the discussion, gently and persistently asking probing questions and letting people’s learning emerge.

When he restarted the original workshop exercise, the class dynamics had changed. Of course, the men hadn’t completely lost the urge to compete or become totally collaborative. But the participants showed a heightened awareness of behaviour and communications: their own and other people’s, and the overall atmosphere had become more respectful. It seemed that we had all learned a lot in that session. For me, it was also a meta-learning experience: an object lesson in creating conditions and seizing opportunities that make it possible for people to learn. Also in knowing how to let unintended disruption happen, and when to call a halt: while it still has potential for learning and before it descends into mere mayhem.

I was there as facilitator when Jerry repeated the workshop at the end of the conference. The shell was more or less the same, but it was a completely different atmosphere and experience. When I asked him about it afterwards, he talked about the variations in context between the two sessions. Not only was he working with different individuals and a different mix of people, but the timing was a factor: post-conference as opposed to pre-conference. He said you always saw major differences in personality and motivation between first registrants to a workshop and those who signed up later.

I had many more occasions to observe Jerry in action and learn from him. One year on the way to AYE, I asked him what he was thinking of doing for a session on Testing Lies that I was down to “assist” in. After hearing the usual, “It’s much too early to think about that!” I said, well I had some ideas about it. “Great”, he replied, “put them in an email and I’ll look at it tonight.” I did that.

When I showed up for the session, Jerry was waiting impatiently for me at the door. “I like your ideas. Put them up on a flip chart and we’ll structure the workshop around them.” So I did and we improvised. In the Jeep on the way home, we talked about our mutual feeling that the workshop had run out of energy near the end: why we thought that had happened, and what we might have done about it. We usually spent some of the ride back talking about his sessions and comparing impressions.

When I presented my first experiential workshop, at the EuroSTAR conference in 2008, Jerry was in my head as my virtual mentor. Having observed him work effectively so often with large groups of participants, I could approach the 42 people in that room—almost none of whom spoke English as their first language—with something that felt like confidence. I remembered techniques, guidelines, and interventions I’d learned watching Jerry work and from conversations we’d had. I felt I had a pretty good idea about when to ask questions and when to be quiet. When a trio of workmates disengaged from the exercise everyone else was engaged with because “we did all this at work”, I managed to spark their interest with an alternative task and was happy to let them run with it and not show their results to the rest of the rest of the class: “Oh no. This is private.”

That session went well: surprisingly well for a neophyte presenter. The energy was high and some of the conversations afterwards went on through lunch. A couple of the participants have become my friends. Of course, I made mistakes. I tried to learn from them by debriefing the session afterwards by myself, and later in an email to Jerry.

Jerry’s CAST 2008 workshop came to mind when I presented my “Inspiring Testing” leadership workshop for the first time at Let’s Test 2013. For the main exercise which had 2 large groups,  I had one group that seamlessly moved into working together collaboratively, and one—of mixed gender this time—made up mainly of individuals who kept competing, talking over each other and jockeying for position. When the time came for them to ask questions of the other group, they fell all over each other with overlapping interruptions. They couldn’t wait for answers and shouted out their own solutions. I’d seen Jerry turn near-chaos into valuable learning opportunities, and I was able to work happily and I think, productively, with the whole class. In the end, understanding that they’d have to come up with some sort of organization if they were ever to move forward at all, the competitive group devised one that worked for them. It was a wonderful group of people to work with, and I think we all learned from that experience. And of course, I talked about it with Jerry afterwards.

I’ve run that leadership workshop several times since, and it has been drastically different every time. I’ve had to come up with new exercises on the fly for a much smaller class, divide a huge class into three and work with two assistants before bringing them all back for one big final debrief—many variations. I’ve done similar and different things with other workshops. That’s standard practice for me now: it’s what experiential workshop presenters do, the way I was taught.

Over the years, I often ran ideas for workshops and exercises past Jerry, or described something new that I’d tried. He always asked questions that made me think deeply. Sometimes, he tried out his ideas for new exercises on me, and he asked me to review a draft of the final volume of his Experiential Learning series. A couple of times, he demanded more information about an exercise I’d tried, with the line, “Details! I need more details so I can plagiarize!” When I teased him about that once, he said he didn’t really need to plagiarize: he could con all the information he needed out of me in the car and credit it to an unknown source. Jerry was always so generous with his own ideas and exercises, I was pleased when he wanted to use mine.

Observing how Jerry worked, working with him sometimes, talking with him, helped liberate me from any vestiges of anxiety or guilt about my own native last-minute-ism. (Even for that first EuroSTAR workshop, I had designed an important element the night before.) I learned to develop and trust my instinct not to over-plan and to work with the energy in the room, wherever that might take us. I learned to run with new ideas and take chances with new exercises. Jerry did this always, and encouraged others to do it too.  As I wrote to a mutual friend after hearing of Jerry’s death, if Jerry believed in you, he believed you could do just about anything. So you believed it. And then you did it.

Shortly before he died, I emailed Jerry with a description of a 2-day workshop I’d just taught in Beijing, talking about how interesting and challenging it had been to do a workshop entirely through an interpreter, and saying that I would do some things differently next time. In his last email to me, he replied with a penetrating question about that experience, and a reminder:

“You never finish designing a workshop.”

Friendsand Family

Very occasionally you meet someone and you just connect. You both know you’re going to be friends and that it will be an important friendship: one that deepens over time until you become family. Some years after we met at PSL, Jerry told me that he had recognized that connection with me on first meeting. I had felt it too. It took a while for us to strengthen the bond, but the thread was there from the beginning.

Those friendships just are. They don’t threaten or diminish other relationships or friendships. If anything, they complement and may enrich them. I have other friends who are family for me, and so did Jerry: lots, I assume. I have a partner who has been my best friend for more than 35 years. Jerry had Dani, his soul-mate for more than 50 years. Jerry and I liked and admired each other’s partners and took time to get to know them so they could become friends too.

Once, after lunch in the Weinberg house, Jerry and I were bantering and capping each other’s remarks as we often did. Dani stood up suddenly and declared, “This is driving me crazy! You two are just like Jerry with his younger sister!” Dani left the kitchen and we sat at the table grinning in recognition at each other. “That’s it!”, Jerry said, “we’re siblings!”

And that’s what it always felt like, though we were closer than many siblings. I knew other people thought of Jerry as a great man, and in the back of my mind I did too. But that wasn’t usually in the foreground. As friends, we were equals. I didn’t defer to him or hesitate to argue with him when we disagreed, and he never expected that I would. He occasionally inflicted advice or told me what to do—much as an older brother might. I’m not good at taking orders or unsolicited advice and I almost always pushed back. Sometimes he backed off immediately; other times he was a little hurt and got defensive. As I’m sure I did too.

I asked Jerry for advice, and I used him as a sounding board for ideas. He knew a lot more than I did and had experience I could only dream of. I valued his knowledge, expertise and wisdom, and learned from them. Jerry asked me for feedback on some of his ideas and book drafts. He said he learned from me, too, and I believe that was true. For a great man, he was extraordinarily humble and open to learning from others.

We sustained a long and lively conversation over many years: when we met and over email. We shared a sense of wonder about the natural world. We enjoyed each other’s curiosity and sent each other things that fed it, with words and photos. We each wrote as easily and personally as we talked, and it was as natural to us to talk in writing as it was in person. We really did talk about everything. Once, Jerry suggested that it would be interesting to try and see if there were any topics we unconsciously avoided. Or consciously, I said. We didn’t come up with any. Sometimes the conversation was deep and we would explore a topic, like thinking, over several days of emails. Other times it was trivial and playful. It was almost always playful.

We were friends, and we were family.

As I was driving home from Toronto the other day along the hideously busy Highway 401, my partner said, “I wish you could look at the amazing clouds over here.” I took that in, and then in my head I heard a gruff voice saying:

“No—don’t you look.
You keep your eyes on the road!”


One day on that first road trip when I was oohing and aahing over the scenery, Jerry said, “Stick with me, kid—I’ll show you wonders!”

I did. And he did. He always had.

I miss Jerry dreadfully. I see silly signs I want to send him, think of things I know he'd love to hear and things I'd like to ask. Six weeks after his death I still sometimes have trouble believing that he is no more. He was always so there.

But I know that after someone I love dies, with loss there is also a sense in which they are always with me. With Jerry, of course, along with the memories, I have his books and emails, as well as the many, many things I learned from him and will go on learning.

I read somewhere that after Virginia Satir died, Jerry said that he still had a relationship with Virginia; just that it was different now.


It’s different now, Jerry.


*The Gift of Time is a book I edited in honour of Jerry's 75th birthday in 2008. It has essays by many of Jerry's friends and colleagues describing their own work and the influence Jerry had on that work. You can order it directly from the publisher, Dorset House, or you can get it from Amazon. All royalties from sales of the book go to two of Jerry's favourite charities.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

On the Road Again - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 3)



2008 brought more wonders on the road: the glory of White Sands, and the black lava rock on the other side of the mountain. We toured Carlsbad Caverns, and sat in silent awe at dusk as thousands of bats poured out from the cave mouth and spiraled into the darkening sky. (It was late in the season, so there were only thousands of bats, rather than the millions you can see earlier.)

Inside one of the caverns
Jerry wearing his patriotic shirt for Election Day

 AYE coincided that year with the US election. A crowd of us watched the results in the hotel lobby, excited and almost disbelieving at the historic first election of a Black president.

 I remember the 2008 trip for the places we went, but also because we never stopped talking. Emails before and after the trip remind me that the “everything” we talked about included our childhoods, trust, and safety. I had to be in Europe to teach a tutorial immediately after AYE, so I couldn’t do the trip back to ABQ. We talked about Jerry finding another travel companion, but in the end he drove:

From JW Nov 13: Alone, but with you as a virtual companion. For example, we played the P game, first with X, but that didn't last long, so we switched to W. I woke at 3.30 and left at 4am, drove it easily in one day on the Interstate.

The previous year we had spent much of one afternoon in the Jeep playing the P-game: a sort of I Spy using only words that began with P—because we both identified as Meyers Briggs P’s (of course).


In 2009, Jerry was seriously ill. At the Experiential Session Design class in June, he was already in a lot of pain and having to take large doses of painkillers. It got much worse. By Sept 9, Jerry knew that whatever was causing his symptoms was critical, but he was determined to go to AYE as usual. He emailed me:

Hopefully, you can do most of the driving to/from PHX. My goal is to be in proper shape for the trip/conference/trip.

By mid-October, Jerry knew that he had a rare and deadly cancer of the thymus gland. He had considerable pain all over his body, and was feeling weak and exhausted from both the cancer and the painkillers he was forced to take. He needed surgery to save his life, but the surgeons he consulted differed over whether it would be “worth it” to operate.

After Jerry writing that “things change daily” I suggested a reality check on our AYE travel plans.

I could have predicted his response.

Jerry: Don't worry about it. You'll either go with me to AYE, stay at home to keep me company in my sick bed, or be an honored guest at my cremation and scattering.

Fiona: You really know how to show a girl a good time! :-)

I arrived in ABQ November 1, and between trips to places like the Albuquerque Bio Park we began architecting our route to PHX. (Jerry was no more into unnecessary planning than I am, so  “architecting” is the right word here.) Jerry was determined that we were going to make it an enjoyable trip that would take us to places we hadn’t been before.

Jerry had a medical appointment the morning of Wednesday November 4th where he was to hear the treatment plan devised by his cancer team. Dani drove her van to the appointment and I drove the Jeep so Jerry and I could set out immediately afterwards. I read in the waiting room while Dani and Jerry met with the medical people and then said their farewells.

We got into the Jeep and I asked, “So, what’s the plan?” “I’ll tell you after lunch.” Lunch was in a casino on the highway out of town. Jerry loved lunching in casinos, places he called “The Natives’ Revenge”. The buffet food was good, plentiful, cheap, and plain—all of which he approved—and he could eat as much ice cream as he wanted. I was happy enough with the food, but I hated scuttling past the gambling machines, overwhelmed in the semi-darkness by hideous flashing electronic lights and beeps and silent, pathetic people glued to the screens.

After lunch, just as I was about to turn onto the highway, Jerry announced, "The news is that I have 3 months to live."

Probably, I swore. I don’t remember. I do remember stopping and turning back into the parking lot. “What are you doing?”, Jerry grumbled. I replied, “Well you may not need time to absorb that, but I do!” On the road later, he allowed that, well 3 months was the worst case; 3 years the best. He said the only treatment they had offered him was palliative, end-of-life care that would make the inevitable death easier for him.

Meanwhile, Dani had sent out an email saying much the same things, less dramatically, but being very clear that they would seek a second opinion.

That first day on the road was longer than we’d intended. I wrote to my partner:

To JS:
We underestimated the time—or overestimated how far we could go in the time—and then came to a tiny village where the (little) highway was closed and there was a long detour. Thankfully, we'd already had the most difficult mountain driving for the day, because all of this was in the dark. Getting out to pee in the woods on a lonely highway with only our high beams to light us had its challenges—and I was very worried about Jerry tottering off in the dark! Twice.

In the mountains, day 1
We finally fetched up after 8:00 pm in a hamlet where there was a motel of sorts and a bar & grill that seemed to be open, though we didn't know for how long. It was very rustic, with 3 somewhat dilapidated lodge-type buildings that seemed to be 2-storey. There was a very steep set of stairs down to the motel office, which Jerry had to navigate because it was his credit card and he needed to sign. (He's actually walking better than at CAST in July, though who knows for how long.)  The motel lady was about 100, smoking like a chimney, and incredibly dithery. Just for the hell of it, I asked about wifi, knowing she wouldn't have it. She didn't know what it was. After Jerry came down & filled in the forms and gave her his card, she pottered about processing it, checking back twice for the amount. Jerry and I kept looking at each other and grinning and suppressing the urge to tell her to hurry up because we were starving and worried the restaurant would close. She spent ages explaining how to find our rooms and we didn't understand a word of it. But we didn't stop to check, just went straight across the road to eat. We had to walk through the smoky bar to get to the grill part, which was a separate space but with no walls. Food was good, though—we each had a T-bone steak—and the people friendly and nice, as often in rural America. (Well, they probably vote Republican and hunt elk and other harmless creatures, but they're nice to Jerry and me.)
There was nowhere to have breakfast or even coffee the next morning, so Jerry passed me car food as I drove: beef jerky, water, cheese strings, and caramels.
To JS:
Finally, about 11:00 am, we found a mining town big enough to have a supermarket with a deli counter and I got a sandwich and coke. The mine devastation to the mountains was incredible. They have basically shaved off the surfaces. It was eerily beautiful because all the colours were exposed and some of the peaks looked like Mayan terrace ruins, but it was very Mordor-like in essence.

To Dani:
We have had (what is for me) a wonderful day and a half driving through gorgeous mountain scenery. As we planned, I am doing all the—sometimes quite challenging—driving, and enjoying it thoroughly. Jerry seems to be enjoying it too, but it does tire him to go through difficult terrain, even as a passenger. He tries to stay awake to keep me company and mostly succeeds but sometimes he snoozes for a few minutes [He was occasionally dropping off even in the middle of a sentence]. Today was especially tiring for him, because it was a whole day and much of it was on very twisty roads with steep grades and a sheer drop that was often on his side of the car. He oohed and ahhed over the scenery,  saying things like "Look at that! No, don't you look—you keep your eyes on the road!" I'd vaguely point at something fabulous and he'd say, "Keep your hands on the wheel!"

Something fabulous
To JS:
He's being very practical and grown-up about it all, but I don't know whether that can or will last forever. When he's not doing that he's making horrible jokes, and he likes me to make horrible jokes too. A thing that comes easily to me, of course. Yesterday he cut his hand on some barbed wire when we both got out to pee in the forest in the dark. When I asked him about it today, he said he wouldn't know yet if he had tetanus—but that would be a fine cure for cancer!

The mountain roads were fabulous, though I often drove half over the centre of the road because of the curves and frightening drops. The speed limit frequently dropped to 35, 25, 15, and even 10 mph going around curves on what the road signs described as "mountain grades". We went up over 9,000 feet and in 2 or 3 places there was ice on the road where it had snowed and not melted because that part of the road was shadowed by a rocky cliff on one side.
I had stopped once, having spotted something approaching the road edge from the woods. We watched in silent wonder and delight as two beautiful creatures, first a mother and then a baby, crossed in front of the Jeep. We didn’t know what they were. We thought they looked almost like lemurs, with long curly tails and long snouts. Jerry searched Southwest fauna when we got back to ABQ, and found that they were coatimundi.

Later, the road ran through golden meadows. We didn’t see any of the elk or bighorn sheep the signs warned about (I always interpret those signs as promises, but they aren’t really.), but I did see a little herd of pronghorn antelopes. That night we stayed in a “modern motel”, which Jerry wanted after the previous night’s rustic experience. There was even a continental breakfast on offer.

Later – to JS and Dani
I forgot to tell you a couple of Jerryisms. He might be tired, but he is still Jerry. At a lookout place we were admiring a sensational view and I said I hadn't brought my telephoto because I hadn't expected we'd go anywhere interesting. (After all, only a week ago he was talking about taking the interstate directly to Phoenix.) He said, "Idiot!"

From Dani: Yep.  He'd have had to be near death to be willing to take the interstate directly!  (though maybe on the way home....)

Later as I was concentrating on a tricky bit of road, Jerry said "talk to me, so I know you're awake". So I asked him if he was planning to do anything differently for his 3 AYE sessions, all of which he has done before—and I've assisted with. Jerry said, "It's much too soon to think about that!"

From Dani: Yep again.  Both of us are seriously allergic to dealing with anything too soon!

On the last leg to Phoenix, we stopped at Fort Apache, now a Native reservation. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but we both enjoyed exploring the Apache museum, and were especially moved by the movie, in which an elder told the Apache creation story—the circle from birth to death. We both left with tears in our eyes. We didn’t talk about that.

Nov 7 – to JS:
We got to Phoenix, and OF COURSE Jerry's wheelchair [pre-ordered by Dani] had not arrived. He was very upset—tired anyway from the journey—and convinced he couldn't walk to his room, which is quite close to the lobby and on the same level. He could, and did, but meanwhile I got to organize the hotel into sorting out the problem. One of the guys also came out to the Jeep with me and collected all Jerry's luggage and delivered it to him—of which there is lots, including books to sell, props for his sessions, his oxygen machine, a big box of doughnuts he got cheap this morning while I sought breakfast, etc. etc.—plus all the usual luggage.

He insisted on having dinner with me in the ghastly hotel restaurant, and was much more cheerful once he realized we'd get him a wheelchair somehow—if I had to go out and buy one!!

Nov 7 - To Dani
Good news is that the hotel came through magnificently, and got Jerry a wheelchair for at least the weekend from another hotel.

Meanwhile Jerry's taken care of. He wheeled himself to dinner and has been happily opening doors like a veteran.

One down. Now for the conference.

Later Nov 7 - To Dani
The guy from Preferred Home Care just delivered Jerry's wheelchair to my door. So now he has one for each foot!

Nov 9 – to a mutual friend
She had written: How is he doing? And how are people reacting? I assume he's being open about his condition, but even just seeing him in a wheelchair would be upsetting.

He would always be open, I think. So far, people are just talking to him normally and helping him with the wheelchair if he wants. He's been in great form today. His voice is a little quieter, but seeing him at the opening dinner—and ignoring the wheelchair and the fact that he didn't circulate—you’d never know there was any difference.

We went this morning to a Quaker Meeting. Atheist that I am, I was curious [about the silence] and had asked Jerry months ago if he would take me to one on this trip. He still wanted to do it, so he found the local Meeting House on the web and off we went. It was very interesting, with a preliminary discussion among a few people about immigration, which is of course a huge issue in Arizona with people coming over the border and dying in the desert. It's good to see the Friends still have a social conscience. I liked the hour of contemplation—the shared silence in safety. I think it was important for both of us in different ways. At the end, visitors were invited to introduce themselves, which we each did, and we said a little about our reaction to the Meeting. But when we got in the car, Jerry said, "So, report!"

So in some ways nothing has changed. But then he retreated to his hotel room for the rest of the day, only emerging about half an hour before the opening dinner, where in previous years he has hung out all day in the lobby greeting arrivals.

So far at least Jerry says he isn't disturbed by impending death, that he has been in pain all his life and that will end when he dies. And he feels his capacities are diminishing. He can't write, and can no longer even read much. To me, at least, he is being very practical about it. We talk about it as an interesting phenomenon, and sometimes make horrible jokes about it: "Well, if you drive us off this cliff, that would be a cure for cancer." "Dearly though I love you, Jerry, I gotta tell you I don't plan to die with you."

Nov 10 – To Dani
Jerry has been in great form today, even appearing at breakfast (!). That's the first time in 8 years I've seen him there—though I think he was there only to talk, not to eat. I suspect he didn't want to miss anything.

His "Say No" session today was slower than I've seen it, and we did less role play, but people still liked it and obviously learned from it. My principal job—apart from the single role play I did trying to get a would-be no-sayer to say yes—was to remind Jerry (frequently) to talk into the microphone Steve [Smith] had very sensibly arranged for him. Of course, he detached it from its stand and held it in his hand. So people didn't hear him so well when he talked with his hands, or waved the mike around his ear! [At some point in one of his sessions, he tossed the mike aside.] In the break he was happily selling books from his wheelchair. This evening, he did his usual thing of going out to dinner with a few people he hadn't met before, and there’s a signup sheet for a Tues group of newbies to dine with him also.

A good conference so far.

Actually using the microphone

Talking with his hands or conducting Beethoven?
Nov 11 – to Dani
Jerry was in absolutely top form today, leading his organizational mapping session and keeping a substantial group of people enthralled for nearly an hour after the session was supposed to end.  

Dani wrote: Aha!  We've discovered a new cure for cancer! And I think he really enjoys wheeling around!

Yep, that's obvious. When we did the wheelchair swap and briefly had 2 chairs in the same space, he challenged me to a duel, or maybe a race, It was tempting, of course.

Dani wrote: I can't believe you refused.

[Neither can I, now.]

Afterwards, a friend of mine who is an AYE newbie said he wanted to discuss a problem with Jerry, but was uncomfortable asking for 10 or 15 minutes of his time and energy when Jerry is so sick. I said, "Ask him. If he can't do it, he'll tell you so, or maybe ask you to wait till tomorrow." Later I saw Jerry and my friend off in a corner talking for at least half an hour. My friend was glowing when I saw him later—and he hugged me and said I was terrific! I dunno what I did, but I sure know what Jerry did.  

Nov 11- from Dani
I don't know if he told you about an email we got from a woman in Seattle whose mother had this kind of cancer - 3 years ago - and is doing very well (with frequent  monitoring).  Laura sounds wonderful and so eager to help.  She came across us on the CaringBridge website and just decided to write.  She also told us about an email list for thymic cancer, and I've joined.  I think it will be helpful.

Nov 11 – to JS
Jerry was terrific today. After lunch he had his session this afternoon on organizational mapping. He was in absolutely top form. He loves doing this stuff and he does it superbly, keeping a substantial group of people enthralled for an hour after the session was supposed to end. After that we had the book signing BOF. I got him to sign my copy of his self-published novel The Mistress of Molecules. I'd bargained him down from $15 to $10, with a promise of reimbursement if I post a review on Amazon. So he teased that I would only get 2/3 of the words (but was distressed, because his hands are shaky and it affects his handwriting). He wrote something and signed it Jerry Weinberg. He said, "See, it would have been Jerry Marvin Weinberg if you'd paid full price." I read what he'd written and nearly burst into tears there & then.

Signing a book

The next day, Jerry had his final session, Transforming Rules into Guides. I didn’t email about it, but I remember that it went well, and the “star” was pleased.

Flip chart from Transforming Rules

Working with the "star" to transform a rule

12-Nov - To JS
Jerry has decided he wants to leave tomorrow morning and drive more-or-less straight home. The conference has totally energized him and changed his attitude. He seems much more determined to live, and has agreed to schedule a PSL class for May, partly to motivate himself to stay alive. (Although people can get their money back if he dies before the class, and they want a refund.) He set up a website here where he can journal his progress and people can leave messages of support, and of course has had an enormous response.

In conversation with an old friend

12-Nov – to JS
Once we finally got going we had a lovely drive. Jerry dropped off to sleep briefly a few times, but was much livelier than on the way out. We talked and laughed constantly the way we have on previous trips. We stopped for lunch in Holbrook (I think! It might have been Winslow.) at a Hopi-run diner and Jerry said if I hadn't had chicken-fried steak I should try it. My god—the fat content! By the time I'd eaten the steak all covered in gravy—and it was good—and the mashed potatoes, also under gravy, I'd gained about 10 lbs.

We stopped briefly in the Painted Desert National Park, at the other end from where I went before, and the colours were much more spectacular. But we were quite late, and you must be in your car and heading for the exit without stopping by 5:00 pm. At 5 minutes to 5:00, I was pretty laid back about it and wanted to stop briefly and look, but Jerry got quite antsy that we would get locked in the park—just as you would! He said he was flattered that I found him just like you, and also said if we had got locked in he'd have made me sleep on a cactus. He seemed to think that having 90 pounds on me gave him an advantage, even in his weakened condition.

Anyway, it was gorgeous, and I didn't get to see hardly any of it or take any photos, so I have to go back there. I told Jerry he has to stay alive so we can go there on our next trip.

We're staying tonight in Gallup. Jerry insisted on me driving right through to the other end before admitting we weren't going to find a good motel there, and we had to backtrack to the western suburbs. He's so funny about it. He never wants to believe we won't find exactly what we're looking for, if we just go on a little further. Sometimes that means we drive right out of town and end up not finding anything at all till the next town. I quite suddenly had an energy crash and didn't trust myself to drive even the few miles back on a slow city road, so Jerry drove it. I thought it was fatigue, but soon realized I was starving. We finally found a cheap but clean Day's Inn with wifi and a Hispanic family restaurant next door. Very basic, but the burger and salad were good and Jerry liked his pork chop.

All these towns are laid out along the railroad, and some, like the one we had lunch in, are quite picturesque in a totally non-touristy way. Gallup has lots of pawn shops and Indian jewelry places, so we're going to window-shop tomorrow.

I told Jerry he felt to me much more light-hearted. He wouldn't admit he had been down before—or even "disturbed"—but he obviously was. [Who wouldn’t be?] He just kept saying that even if he lived the full 3 years, it would be with ever-decreasing capacity. Now he's not saying that. And who knows? Maybe it is terminal. But maybe it isn't—or at least, maybe it's not going to be all that awful all that quickly.

I'll be back in Corrales tomorrow. Only 140 miles or so from here.

Nov 13 – to JS
We had a short, but somewhat arduous drive today, as it rained really heavily and visibility was bad. Judith [my B&B host] says there's a winter storm warning and we may get snow by Sunday. We stopped at one shop in Gallup—but one was more than enough. They had a HUGE selection of pawn and new stuff: everything from saddles, to watchbands, to jewelry, to incredible beaded stuff that wasn't for sale... The rug room was enormous and had a massive selection. Jerry and the saleswoman taught me some stuff about Navajo rugs: different traditional patterns and colours, and fine vs. coarser weave. It was amazing. We got into quite a long talk with her, and it turns out she writes. In the end, I sold her a book. I had the 3 copies [of Gift of Time] Wendy brought me to replace the ones I gave away for reviews. [Jerry LOVED it that I’d sold a book. Selling books was among his very most favourite things.]

 Jerry was exhausted after the conference and the trip, as I also seemed to be, and we spent a couple of days watching college football on television and talking. Jerry tried to teach me about football, which he described as a “mental” game, but my interest was mild at best and I got quite a lot of work done on my laptop during games, editing pieces I’d solicited for the Women Testers edition of STC Magazine.

November 18, after Jerry’s medical appointment in the morning, I drove him up into the Sandia Mountains. We stopped to look at the grassy caldera and breathe in the peace I’ve always experienced there. I don’t remember much else about that day except that it was a beautiful day. We hit a patch of ice on the road at one point and Jerry started to tell me how to negotiate it and then stopped himself: “I forgot: you’re Canadian. You know how to drive on this stuff.”

I flew home the next day.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Ridin' Along, Singin' a Song - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 2)

Somewhere in Monument Valley

Jerry and I took our first road trip together in November of 2007. He’d been forced by emergency surgery to miss the previous year’s AYE conference, and I went to visit him for a few days in March 2007 while he was still recovering. Though he’d been writing fiction, it was harder for him than non-fiction, and Jerry was taking a break from it.
Playing with Caro

We spent the week as writing buddies. Jerry was writing “Perfect Software” and I was working on a long piece about end-to-end system integration testing. We’d write each morning in our respective solitudes, have lunch together at the Weinberg house, then read, review and discuss each other’s work in the afternoon. In late afternoon we’d go to wonderful places, like the Bosque Wildlife Reserve, or the Rattlesnake Museum. And we played with the dogs.

Looking up water birds at the Bosque

By then we knew each other pretty well. We’d met at PSL in 2001 and at AYE conferences from 2003, and I’d been in the SHAPE Forum and his Consulting Skills workshop. Jerry had mentored me through the whitewater rapids of my work on several troubled projects, and we had an extensive email correspondence covering a vast range of topics. He’d reviewed article drafts for me, and I’d reviewed drafts of his first novel and some of his other fiction.

At the end of the visit, I made Jerry an offer. I knew he had always driven to Phoenix for AYE and would be determined to drive as usual that November. After what he’d been through, I was worried about him doing that drive alone, and I suspected Dani would also be concerned. We’d had an easy companionship over the course of my visit and we’d never stopped talking. I thought Jerry and I could enjoy a road trip together, so I offered to drive with him to the next AYE. Knowing Jerry, I put it on a business basis: suggesting that I’d do the drive in exchange for payment of my expenses on the way. “Humph”, said Jerry. “We’ll see”. I flew home; we emailed as usual, and continued reviewing.

Next thing I knew, it was a done deal. Not only were we doing the drive together, but Jerry suggested that we should make a little vacation of it. Instead of driving the 400 miles in a day, we’d explore some of the glories of the Southwest, taking 4 days to get to Phoenix and 4 days back by a different route. He started planning a tour.

I hadn’t driven a car with a manual shift in years, so I took a couple of lessons to brush up. We exchanged emails about what music we’d listen to in the car and I pulled together a batch of CDs.

We never listened to a single one. What do you think happens when you put two people-who-never-shut-up in a car together for days on end? We talked endlessly. About everything.

We shared a love of road trips and of driving, of dogs, of Baroque music and Mozart, of natural wonders and of native ruins. We both liked back roads and country diners and trading posts. We had a similar (okay, sometimes awful) sense of humour. Our driving styles were compatible—fast, but not outrageously so. It was the first major outing for Jerry's new Jeep (and I got chocolate on the passenger seat). At first, Jerry wanted to do most of the driving, but he gradually relinquished control and l drove more and more.

Sometimes we played word games or sang silly songs neither of us really knew the words to:

Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny

But we’re ridin’ along, singin’ a song
Side by side

Off-road on the Mogollon Rim
 Every day we went to fabulous places. I took too many photographs. Sometimes we took a short hike. One splendid day we went off-road for miles along the Mogollon Rim. Jerry’s son Keats went to AYE that year, and on the way back we met him and his family to explore the native ruins at Walnut Canyon and then got together again at the Grand Canyon South Rim. Last stop was Chaco Canyon.

Evenings were for quiet time. We’d have an early dinner, then retire to our respective motel rooms for some much-needed solitude, emails and other introverted computer stuff.

Did I mention that we had a lot of fun?

It was a pattern we were to repeat, with variations, for 3 more road trips to AYE. (But I never again bothered to bring CDs.)

Jerry climbed steadily straight up that stair. I had to take a breather.

Reading tourist info aloud at Chaco Canyon

To be continued.