Chapter 15 - Prelude to the Last Dance?
In 2019 I had an experience of my last dance... potential death, the final transition. I had done some work with Tibetan death and dying practices as a part of my Integral spiritual education. Part of that practice is to experience, as best you can, the stages of your body/mind collapsing in on itself. Once this process begins, it proceeds as a layered engagement where our physical presence and our unique energetic pattern in this life shuts down in stages, as sight, sound, smell, and touch dims until our spirit finally exits our physical body.
Unexpectedly, my own mortality came into question in 2019. I will talk about that "surprise" in a bit. But that's why I entitled this chapter “Prelude to the Last Dance” because in a sense it felt like this chapter could be the one that would cover all my remaining stories up until that departure point, even though it felt to me like my being here was still very much in progress.
Part of my stated purpose for this EXIT piece was to give you a flavor of the world I lived in. 2019 certainly had its share of challenging news. From the first Trump impeachment for trying to solicit dirt on Joe Biden by withholding military aid from Ukraine, to many more mass shootings, to the college admission scandal where elite families, including some well known celebrities paid "counselors" to pay off University officials or coaches to get their kids into prestigious schools illegally and last by certainly not least the fall from grace of Jeffrey Epstein for his underage sex ring activities. Jeffrey, always the mover and shaker, attracted the likes of Bill Gates, Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and many others to his infamous parties. They all tried to duck and cover when the story broke. Epstein ended up dying in very mysterious circumstances at Rikers Island, NY before he could come to trial and name names.
So, just the tip of the iceberg really, but 2019 was prior to me really starting to pay deep attention to the news, as it was, for my now and future stories work that ultimately led to the Vital Signs project. Democracy had survived the mid-terms in 2018 which we all worked hard to make happen, but you could say as 2019 began I sort of had my head down. Then circumstances occurred, as they do sometimes, that required my complete personal attention.
I am 71 years old, 72 in July. As I said earlier, in the latter part of 2018 I began this transition from what I had been doing for the ten years prior to whatever what was coming next. It occurred to me that this transition was different from any of the others, because it had a semi-defined final horizon line. At 72 I definitely could imagine a potential end to this life unlike before. Whether it was going to be next week or 10 years from now, there was an end to it... coming. For that reason, I came at this transition differently.
I had always had some sense of my now into the future, as well as some notion of how to get there. This time however, I was not sure how “long” those imaginings ought to be. I had every intention of proceeding “as if” I was going to be here, but I also began to ponder a Plan B in case I had to pass things off to others. Part of that was getting serious about creating this EXIT Interview. There also was a question at this age whether I had the energy to go after big projects like I had in the past. And at this point I had no idea IF there was even one last "big idea" up ahead. I certainly wanted to continue to add my two cents to the evolution of expanding intelligence inquiry, but that could be done in small ways if need be. No requirement in that for a next grand vision like i had brought forth before with my music, inflatables, interactive entertainment etc. In many ways this inquiry had first begun with my mother’s death in 2017 and simply accelerated with the events of 2019 I am about to go into.
Fueling the Change
One of the things that made this transition possible was the money that my mother left me when she passed on. This was quite a gift. It gave me some breathing room to consider what I wanted to do next and time where I didn’t have to think about what was going to pay the bills. I don’t mean I was acted haphazardly with her gift, but some of it I designated for setting the stage for this "Last Dance" in my creative work, my family, the world and yes... the Kosmos. This included raising the funds necessary to establish my Story Studio and the revenue streams that I hoped would come through it.
There was some remaining work for Integral Life I wanted to complete in the first six months of 2019. That involved exploring the "Polarity Management" process with experts Beena Sharma and Barry Johnson. The world I was living in was often described as “more polarized that ever” and if I really wanted to make some contribution to changing that, methods of working with people you disagreed with seemed mandatory. I was lucky enough to meet Beena through my work with Ken. She had been a coach at one of our Loft Events in 2017, and I thought her method of getting people to work with their polarized thought forms was an potential interesting piece to the now and future. There were a lot of people working with some version of the Polarity Management process, but Beena had applied an Integral view to the work that set it apart for me. Here is a short segment of an interview I did with Beena as we were preparing the material for her web course. It hopefully will provide some context to this work.
It turned out that after working with Beena on her web course Polarity Management became a very important part of my storycatching process as it evolved through 2019.
Another piece of the 2019 puzzle had begun in the latter part of 2018. As I described earlier, I had gotten interested in exploring the potential of Virtual Reality. VR was a technology that had been around forever, but it had never been successful in the mainstream. In 2018 VR was once again a darling of the venture capital world. I had traveled out to LA that fall to meet with a variety of artists involved in VR development. This group was mostly independent artists and companies that were playing with the possibilities in their garages. There were also some big, massively funded companies that were also in the mix, but I was much less interested in the standard 360 video fare they seemed to be turning out. The independents were on the edge of exploring what it meant for our minds not know the difference between reality and a virtual version of such or as it is called in spiritual work, the subtle realm.
I was also drawn to what was going on in research labs like USC Innovative Technologies where they were using VR to treat soldiers with PTSD. I reasoned that one might use VR to offer "relationship coaching" in a similar way. I had talked my way into their lab in the fall of 2018 and we had the beginnings of a deal to explore a test.
I was collaborating on this work with my old friend and collaborator Dr. Keith Witt. We had created his highly successful relationship course “Loving Completely.” Now his experience from years of counseling couples was providing the basis of our VR program development. The relationship with USC was developing quickly until we hit a wall just after the New Year.
What prompted this hick up was something that was fairly new to all of our lives. It involved the Internet. As the NET had developed, we all created things, wrote books, made videos, and offered opinions shared on the world wide web. With all the freedom the Net offered there was also a downside that developed over time. The Internet had a long memory. Something you might have done or said years ago could be preserved forever on web pages that still existed in the common either. You could have things removed, but particularly for someone like Keith who was a published author, many artifacts still existed that could be found through extended searches.
I knew Keith had tried some pretty radical approaches to making his relationship material popular in the past. One of the things I liked about Keith was his ability to shock us into broader understandings of what made relationships work.
I had forgotten however, that he had done a series of edgy videos entitled “Don’t be a pussy, don’t be dick”. These were simple rules of the road for men trainings that stressed… “don’t be a dick or a pussy." These videos had gotten Keith initially noticed, which had led to TEDX presentations, book sales etc. As we began the project, Keith and I had talked about his “brand” evolving from some of the more provocative material if he wanted to be taken seriously by academic institutions like USC. He had agreed to take them down, but I forgot to check.
Right after the first of the year, Arno, our USC collaborator, called me. One of the women in their lab had found the videos and was outraged. I offered to take them down and do a complete review of Keith’s on-line brand, but the damage was done. Just as quickly as USC had come on board, they were gone.
I am all for anyone doing whatever they feel called to do on the NET, but the price sometimes is that the mainstream audience will not grok it. Keith and I were very disappointed, but I had some ideas about how to re-boot so we pushed on.
The Tax Man
In December 2018 I had also gotten one of those lovely IRS notices that my 2016 tax return was being audited. I had been audited before in 2012 and had adjusted all subsequent tax returns according to what that settlement dictated, or so I thought. I only mention this because it represented some changes in the way the IRS dealt with independent media producers. I am not saying that this was intentional harassment, but this change impacted all of us that didn't have legions of tax lawyers. In the current trend of big media companies continuing to dominate the distribution channels, I thought these changes were really not fair to us independents.
My tax situation had always been complicated. Being an independent creative producer/director some of my income was employee income like from Integral Life and some was from independent projects I did through my own company. 1099 income. The IRS had never liked this split, but the unannounced change in their perspective had brought this new audit.
This “change” had to do with the way they looked at the development of creative projects, particularly film, television and now web media. Most projects start out spending a lot of development funds before there is any chance of a return. That meant expenses always ran ahead of revenue. The IRS was going after us smaller independent entrepreneurs, claiming that if I didn’t show revenue on a project in the year I claimed the development expenses I could not deduct them. In their mind, I was a “hobbyist” not a serious producer. Nothing could be further from the truth after 50 years of professional work, but this shift had taken place and I was caught in it.
The big studios had the same problem, but because they had multiple projects being developed over many years, they could show income as well as expenses in a given year, even though that income was being generated on different projects than the year they were claiming the expenses. We independent guys did not have their lawyers or accountants to get creative in our responses so I sought out help from a larger tax firm (H&R Block) to remedy this situation. I am still embroiled in that conversation with the IRS as I write this. I am so glad they have so much time on their hands that they choose to hassle us independent studios and let the big dogs run free. I do understand why Republicans dislike big government.
Ill at Ease
Beginning in the early part of 2019 I started to feel some depression coming on. Some of that could be written off to the uncertainty of going through the transition I was in, but it seemed more than that. I felt something was stalking me, even though all my medical tests in 2018 had come back within decent ranges.
I went for a workup with a psychiatrist, Dr. Antonio Woods, who specialized in these sorts of things. He listened to my history and referred me to a practicing collaborator Dr. Neil Wiener in Denver. He worked me up as well and although he didn’t find anything really new, he suggested I could try a mood stabilizing drug called Wellbutrin. It had a reputation for being fairly reliable so I took the plunge. It didn’t have the adjustment period that the Zoloft had all those years ago, and in a bit I did feel my depression lessen. I decided to stay on it until this next chapter worked itself out, thankful for the stability.
One of the things I was clear about during this transition was that I had to expand my network beyond the Integral community. For ten years, I had worked and facilitated many global thought leaders including Ken Wilber, but it was a small group when compared to the much larger innovation networks of Big Tech.
Earlier, I described the three types of networks I found as I worked the field. Re-Gen, Innovation and Libertarian. Each had their own view of the now and the future. In Boulder, I was closer to the Re-Gen networks, so it was a logical place to start. I went to meetings, attended hub gatherings and gradually made a list of who I wanted to follow up with. The Re-Gen network was interested in saving the world because it was the RIGHT THING to do. In Integral terms they were very “green” (Post-Modern). I had been a part of this group before I met Ken, but also highly critical of some of their actions in the world, particularly around money.
The Re-Gen group wrapped themselves in the cloak of collaboration and consensus. It was, for a while, a welcome change from the more typical start up world, but as I got close to doing deals with the group, their distorted attitude towards money surfaced. Suddenly, all the cooperation went away and they began acting like sharks. The worst thing about it was that they were not upfront about it. They also were generally not interested in really collaborating. They did not mind sucking the resources out of some deal, but they ultimately wanted it all for themselves. Although they talked a great game about this new future, they did business like the old one. There was also a lack of financial resources in this network. Everyone was looking for funding, so it was a bit of a scarcity play. I did learn a lot about their current state, but they didn’t seem like the community I wanted to hang with.
I also picked up the VR project again and began talking to other Integral Relationship therapists and VR production companies. It turned out that my initial misgivings about working with an academic institution like USC were true. My history with institutions of higher learning had always been challenged. When I designed the inflatable learning environments in the late 70’s for example, one of the people on my board was a high ranking professor and administrator at University of California. Berkeley. He suggested that I had already done PHd level of work creating the inflatable learning environments and that I should get my degree. I was enamored with this idea for about three weeks. Practically, it meant I had to get my masters first and then put together a PHd program that spanned three different UC schools. Psychology, Design and Media. I interviewed with the heads of these departments and was met with significant University red tape. I gave up after 3 weeks. The idea of going back to school again in those bureaucratic environments did not thrill my soul.
The new VR production groups I talked with on the other hand had very practical approaches to development. They did not have the sensitivities of a University. like USC. Lesson learned. The VR project seemed doable again.
I continued to network through February. I also completed my interviews with Progressive Evangelical leaders by doing a last one with Brian McClaren.
Brian had been a super star in the progressive evangelical world and I really enjoyed exploring what all that meant to him. I also asked him about some of the issues I had with the Vote Common Good folks as it related to funding. He said sadly, progressive preachers for the most part want to be stars in their own right and rarely cooperated with each other. That sort of ended my interest in exploring what political impact progressive evangelicals could have on the upcoming 2020 election.
I also really enjoyed working with my new group of Integral Relationship therapists in defining what a “coaching” path would look like in a VR Relationship environment. The approach we developed seemed promising.
At this point I was starting to look for investment funds for Story Studio and the VR project. Most my networking had been in the Re-Gen network where I discovered most everyone was hurting for cash. They had lots of good ideas, but not really a good sense of how to make their concepts attractive to investors. I really started to feel like this group was a waste of time. I needed to push further out of my comfort zone, but it was not clear at that moment what that meant.
A Dark Shadow
I had mentioned that since the beginning of the year I had been feeling more depressed. The Wellbutrin certainly helped, but something else began to happen. I started to feel unwell... physically. All my checkup numbers had been good in the latter part of 2018, but what gave me my first clue that something was up was when my blood pressure elevated.
I normally had very low blood pressure. Technicians would comment sometimes at tests that it was lucky I was walking around. I’d had a heart scan in 2018 and it had showed the beginnings of heart disease in one artery but nothing alarming. I went back to my heart specialist. That involved getting more blood tests. What came back surprised them. They said a “creatinine” reading was high. This was one measure of my kidney health. My heart doctor said the elevated blood pressure had nothing to do with my heart, but something else that was backing up my urine flow.
I went back to my general practitioners and requested more tests. This is where this strange journey began. It was two weeks before they got back to me with the results. As doctors, they were generally pretty good, but like many health care providers in the 21st century, their case load was overloaded. When they did get me the results, the creatinine level was further elevated. They requested another panel and again it was two weeks before they gave me the results. Almost a month had gone by.
A month out I got a call early one morning from my doctor. She was NOW very concerned about the creatinine levels. She ordered an ultra sound to check my bladder and kidneys. They found that my bladder was extended to a dangerous level. What they surmised was that my prostate was closing off the urine flow and it was backing up into my kidneys. A very dangerous situation.
Things began to move fast. I was sent to a urology specialist that afternoon. He looked at everything and underlined their concerns. In addition to my prostate, he was worried my bladder was so stretched that is might not function properly. He put in a catheter (not pleasant given my prostate was closed down) and drained the bladder. He said we would leave it in until he could schedule a TURP procedure.
I waddled out to the parking lot with the catheter bag extending off my leg. This was all new to me, but nothing like what was coming. That included attaching a night bag like my mother had done all those years. I fully appreciated what a hassle it was. As a result of all this we canceled the Polarity Management shoot with Beena Sharma. I had no idea how long I was going to be out of action.
Before the TURP procedure we had to check out my bladder first. I had what is called a “pressure” test. This was as close to torture as I had ever come. Without going into all the gory details, I had sensors and wires shoved up everywhere and then they gave me liquid to fill up the bladder. I thought I was going to explode. The good news however, was my bladder was okay. No permanent damage had been done.
We did the TURP procedure in early April at the United Health Hospital in Longmont just north of Boulder.
The hospital had decent ratings and all the prep was very professionally done. The operation would require general anesthetic which was fine with me. I did not want to be in the room. I’d had a general before. As they put the mask over my face and I begin to count backwards that time I had the thought that if death came like this, it was very pleasant.
The operation took a couple of hours and then a stay overnight in the hospital for observation. Jennifer had the unpleasant task of sleeping in a chair in my room. We had learned with my mother that someone had to be there at night to be your advocate with the hospital staff. The system of passing your information off to a new shift was always an issue.
I was sent home with instructions to keep the catheter in for three days and to watch for signs of problems as my system sloughed off all the tissue and blood that had resulted from the surgeon carving a new pathway in my prostate. They said the odds were very small that there would be complications. That didn’t take long to dispel. After they pull the catheter out you go home and begin to urinate blood and some tissue. Sometimes a lot. As long as there is flow though, everything is fine. However my stream stopped and I started feeling pain in my abdomen. We went to the ER (one of three trips over the next days) and they re-inserted the catheter and let the bladder drain again. This mostly happened at night, so we got used to the night crew at the ER. They ran scans and other than this temporary blockage, everything else seemed okay.
My prostate finally stabilized and I settled in for what is normally an eight week recovery. In bed at first and then walking carefully. I was very tired about half that time.
I am going to continue this story not because you need all the details, but because I suspect very soon in the future, these techniques I was enduring would be considered barbaric. Hoperfully with AI and nano robots in the blood stream you will not have to suffer through this "cut and paste" process.
AS I was doing my follow up visits with the urologist everything was slowly returning to normal. He was pleased with my progress. However, at the end of the supposed last of those sessions he said he had something else to tell us. My PSA going into this procedure was 1.5. That is very low and normal. No signs of cancer. So, it came as a shock when he told us that some of the tissue taken out in the TURP had come back with cancer cells. It wasn’t critical yet, but it totally surprised him and us. It was one of those things that sometimes you can imagine being told, but when it happens for real, it seemed surreal. He rattled on about how he could remove the prostate, but that we might want to consider a real cancer surgeon. Jennifer and I rode home in the car talking quietly. There was lots to think about and consider. But one thing was clear. I had entered the world of being a cancer patient. A particular type of brother and sisterhood.
From a work standpoint it could not have come at a worse time. I did not have Integral Life to back me any more with sick leave. If I was not working or raising money, nothing was happening. Once again my Mother’s financial gift help stem the panic a bit, but this was very different than I thought it was going to be in 2019.
Working the Problem
I was lucky that Jennifer had a big network of medical providers. One of her closet friends was a retired cancer specialist. Jennifer’s sister Bert also had a big network of experts that she had developed during her husbands long struggle with Prostate cancer. She got a recommendation for me with one of the top surgeons in our area and that led us to the Anschutz Medical Campus – University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver and Dr. Simon Kim
As we arrived at the Anschutz Center I got that I was entering a whole new world. Everyone walking, slumping on benches or being wheeled around had cancer or was recovering. It’s one thing to watch this group as an outsider, but now I was one of them. It was sobering.
Dr. Kim ran a bunch of scans of my bones and my lower body cavity. These were long days getting injected with dye and then having to wait while it took effect. The procedures themselves could take 2-3 hours. Nothing unusual came back on the scans fortunately, so we went over the options for treatment. I could either do chemo, radiation or have my prostate taken out. Chemo was out. I had watched my Dad go through it and it was no way to live if you didn't have to. Radiation was out because if they radiated, I would lose the option for surgery later if I needed it. The radiation somehow hardened the Prostate. Surgery seemed like the "for sure" choice. Dr. Kim was one of few experts in the Mid-West using a robotic system to remove the prostate. At least I was going high tech.
It was decided with Dr. Kim to wait to do the surgery until August. My insides were still scrambled from the TURP. That gave me some time to consider how I was going to manage a second major surgery in six months. Jennifer’s nurse kicked in and she was tremendously helpful shepherding me through those days. Matt was very quiet about it. He certainly understood, but was scared I might not survive. In some ways this was comforting to me. To feel their love countered my story that other than financial support I had not added much to their lives.
I made the decision to not tell anyone, but my immediate siblings and Robb and Corey at Integral Life. They needed to know that Beena’s course was going to be late. They were both very understanding, but the separation had already begun with me not managing Integral Life anymore. They were moving away.
Everyone makes their own decision how to handle these matters. I made the choice to keep my circle small for two reasons. I did not want friends to worry until we knew the extent of the cancer and I wanted to avoid everyone trying to help with their latest treatment option. I had very good professional advice already. The other issue was the business. I was just heading into a fund raising phase for Story Studio when this made itself known. No one was going to invest in my ventures if they were unsure if I was going to be around. I decided not to tell them. I reasoned I could always adjust that if the news after the second surgery was less than good.
I had been thinking about legacy offerings since my mother had died. I was officially the oldest in our family now. Our family had a tradition that was started by our Grandfather (Papa) of leaving something for the next generations. The last ten years of his life he wrote a family history of the Pinger’s, Blacker’s and Riordan’s. This history was interspersed with his own observations about life. I wasn’t up for a massive undertaking like that, but my mother when it was her turn had broken up her photo albums and given each of us a sample with explanations of who was in the picture and when it was taken. Sort of like a visual family tree. She also gave each of us a box with stuff she had saved from our lives. And she had saved everything.
I sensed that if I was going to do something like that it would have to be a multi-media experience on the web. Before all the health stuff happened I had started on a personal web site that I was using to collect by reflections on what next steps for me were. After the cancer diagnosis I began to think about this project in earnest. If you are reading this npw you know where that went. An “exit interview” that explored what I had learned from my very eclectic path through this life. AND I wanted to leave an account of the times I had lived. Many of the experiences I went through in 70+ years no longer existed, yet they provided some context for the world you would traverse.
Speaking of legacy, my journey into the now and the future took me into the world of people making some record of human experience on the planet. One of those organizations was the Arch Foundation. The Foundations mission was as follows:
Humanity’s Backup Plan
The Arch Mission Foundation was a non-profit organization that was archiving the knowledge and species of Earth for future generations.
They had figured out an ingenious method of laser encoding the data on multi-layer discs that allowed them to put an enormous amount of information in a very small container. One of their strategies of making sure the information would survive a cataclysmic event on Earth was to “off load” the information to other planets. Their first experiment was placing one of their Archives on the Israel moon lander in 2019. Mission plan was this…
SpaceIL is an Israeli organization, established in 2011, that was competing in the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) contest to land a spacecraft on the Moon. SpaceIL successfully launched its Beresheet lander on 22 February 2019 at 01:45 UTC; it entered lunar orbit on 4 April 2019 at 14:18 UTC
One of the things Arch Foundation included in their Humanity 2.0 backup was the entire Wikipedia. I had a number of entries in Wikipedia both of individual projects like "Green Eyed Lady" and "It Came From the Desert" and a David Riordan page that someone put together that covered all of my Hollywood work. These descriptions of my work were going off planet and would land on the moon. In the middle of my health crisis I got a kick out of that for some reason. Who would have ever thought that documentation of some of my creative work would end up on the moon?
The Beresheet lander ended up crashing into the surface of the moon just minutes before touch down. They surveyed the crash site from an orbiter and found pieces of the lander and its cargo strewn about. The Arch Foundation claimed their back up “drive” could survive that impact. So, it may not have been the hoped for resting place, but my work was on the Moon. You just can’t write this stuff.
A New Network Comes Calling
In the middle of recovering from the TURP procedure I got an unexpected call from Brett Thomas. Brett and I had done some good work around a project we called “Real Success” for Integral Life.
We created seminars and content that coached individuals on how to make their dream projects real.
Brett and I had not talked in a while, but here he was calling to tell me about a network of innovators he was putting together to fund projects that had some part of the future in their DNA. He thought what I was intending to do with Story Studio would be the perfect fit for them.
When I looked them up on-line, they were definitely not RE-Gen folks. They were more of what I would call ”Innovation” network folks. The mantra of this group was… We save ourselves and the planet because it is the SMART thing to do. I began to talk to some of them on the phone and found they shared my interests. They definitely got that IF we continued down our present path towards dystopia, it did not turn out well for anyone. They were committed to envisioning and doing something else.
Another thing that was interesting about them is that each had made their money in tech startups. Now, they were going through a phase where they were asking the classic question you always ask when you meet your initial goals, “is that all there is?” They were exploring the personal development market in a number of ways. Some of them had enlightening spiritual experiences. It had changed their lives as those types of experiences can. The other thing that was interesting about some of them was that they were somewhat Integrally informed. Unlike others I had met that did not have a high opinion of some of the darker aspects of the Integral community, these guys had read some of Ken and were really interested in how I was applying an Integral view to Storycatching. This development seemed like a surprise gift. With all the other challenging personal news, it was welcome.
Jennifer and I continued to meet with Dr. Kim at the Cancer Center. The reality of all of it was beginning to dawn on me. In some of the scans he had done to get familiar with my abdomen, he commented one day that he suspected that something had gone wrong in the TURP procedure Dr. Webster had done. Now, doctors rarely talk about other doctors, but Dr. Kim, in a very careful way, was suggesting that the second surgery to remove the prostate could be complicated by the damage he was seeing to the prostate and the surrounding area. In that area of the body everything comes together in terms of eliminating waste, so what effects one has an impact on all. He suspected why I had so much trouble after the first surgery is that Dr. Webster had taken too much tissue out when he opened up the prostate. I asked Dr. Kim if that had allowed cancer cells to get out of the prostate and into the rest of my body. Something you did not want. He said he couldn’t be sure until the operation.
Jennifer and I discussed going back to Dr. Webster and raising this issue. We read all his post-op reports again and there was no mention of more tissue being removed than was originally planned. We briefly talked about whether I should consider a wrongful procedure lawsuit, but with everything else going on, I wanted to focus on the second surgery and my cancer diagnoses.
While we continued to get ready for the surgery in August, I was feeling well enough to begin taking meetings with some of these new funder types and think about what else I wanted to get done before I was back in bed again. There were two immediate things. One was re-scheduling the video shoot with Beena and Barry. We needed to complete the Polarity course by the end of July. We ended up shooting the course in late May. Here are two of the segments.
I also was invited to a reunion of sorts of the Vote Common Good gang. It was taking place at The Mountain Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Telluride was one of my favorite areas in Colorado. Back in the early nineties, I had considered moving the Phillips POV Group there. That thought ended up being a fantasy. The reunion was being paid for by one of my friends who was a major funder of the VCG project. I wanted to stay in touch with him and I thought it would be good to see everyone. I was told by Rod that they would be talking about VCG for the 2020 election season. The 2018 tour had been interesting but it has not accomplished its main goal of getting 5% of evangelicals to vote Democrat for the first time. I wondered if they were going to address that.
I decided to make it a road trip. Telluride was about a six hour+ drive from Boulder. It was a beautiful road and I was in the mood for an adventure after my time in bed. I pointed my Nissan Murano towards the south and set out. I was still recovering from the first surgery and I quickly realized that my habit of taking long driving trips was now going to be more difficult in my present condition. What I realized was that although I was on my feet again, the lingering consequences of the TURP procedure were causing fatigue. I stopped about every two hours to take a break and finally made it to the festival.
Everyone was in high spirits as we attended screenings and shared meals together. I kept asking if we were going to talk about the 2020 campaign, but people would turn away and change the subject. It felt a bit odd. I had been a part of planning the strategy for the 2018 tour, so on the last night it was a real surprise when Doug got up and laid out the plan for 2020 that didn’t include me. It didn’t shock me really. Doug and I had never gotten on the same page, and in some ways I thought they overreached in 2018. The 2020 plan I heard that night did not include the piece about flipping evangelicals that were not happy with Trump. It just seemed like more promotion of Democratic candidates. Nothing wrong with that, but hardly original.
As I listened more, I realized they had been meeting about the plan before I arrived. Even my close friends like Rod and Christie would not talk about it much. One of the things I had explored after the 2018 tour was creating a separate project to get to the flipping evangelicals part. I had shared that story with Doug to get his reading. I wanted to know if he felt it was in conflict with what he wanted to do. He hadn’t expressed any concern. But here we were and I think my opinions about them not getting to the flipping piece alienated Doug. Although, it is probably what would have happened anyway, here was another group of progressive Democrats that in my view didn’t know how to get out of their own way. At that point, I felt it didn’t bode well for beating Trump in 2020, but there was nothing I could do about it. What all this was telling me was that my path did not go through them. Something else was in the wind as it always is…
I came home and began meeting with some of Brett’s guys who were local. They were young (38-42) and very successful at making things happen. It was a breath of fresh air and something that seemed it held some promise.
It turned out that all the new guys were going to be at a conference in Austin TX called Future Frontiers. This was a gathering of 30 somethings and Millennials. Very few boomers. I got invited to speak about storycatching and it was a great chance to meet some of Brett’s group in person. The conference was fun, even though I felt like the ancient one there. The folks that presented were not just talking about the future, but were actually developing parts of it.
It was interesting to me that the use of psychedelics was a big topic. Some of this was medicinal and some was plant medicine. I had my own history with all of this, so to hear them talk about it as something new was a marker for me that time was indeed passing. I also noticed that Brett was pretty manic. He was constantly in motion about gathering us all up. I appreciated that, but it would turn out later that the story he was spinning about this group was somewhat off.
Into the World of Cancer Treatment
Getting ready for my second operation, Dr. Kim wanted me to take a drug called Lupron. It was used to treat prostate cancer. Even though we were taking my prostate out, there had been a tiny spot on my left hip bone in one of the scans. Dr. Kim was sure it was just an artifact of the scan, but if it went away after taking Lupron, then it was something else. And not something good. Lupron was a fairly heavy duty drug with lots of possible side effects. It was scary reading other people’s comments online. But I had set this time up to get ready for the surgery so I plunged ahead. Thankfully, at that time, I did not have a huge reaction to it, other than some fatigue. Later there would be more, but for the time being my fears about not being able to work turned out not to be true.
Lupron® is an “antineoplastic agent”, meaning that it is a cancer chemotherapy drug. Like all antineoplastics, Lupron® is harmful to both cancerous and non-cancerous cells — particularly to pregnant women and developing fetuses.
Golden CO Network
One of the potential investors, was a guy named Mike Brown. I likedhim a lot. We kept meeting for lunch and sharing notes about the future. He was very helpful in giving me feedback on the Story Studio pitch deck.
He was the one that suggested that the storycatching process was fairly predictive about the future. That gave more shape to the notion of working with clients. If in the process, their product, or media concept could be “rated” as to its potential to align with the new “generative” narrative, that would be of real value. I also concluded the Story Studio concept was not ready for a typical startup funding round with strangers. That meant friends would have to help me get it started, then we would go looking for more institutional money.
It turned out that another of this network, Blake Kingsbury, was also a close friend of Mike and was considering moving to Golden, CO. He of all the group seemed the most interested in actually investing in Story Studio.
Mapping the Future
The storycatching process was all about building maps. I loved maps, hence my work on the original Key Hole mapping system, Google Ocean and the Integral map. Maps were interesting in that they provided a framework for any exploration. They gave you some idea of where you were headed and what the topography was like. In the Integral work, Ken always said the Integral framework was a “map” not the "territory" of the journey. The territory was the actual people and places located on the map, and the work they were doing on some application of future leaning technology.
I had always wanted to formulize the mapping process I used in storycatching. Up to this point we had the used the group memory graphic facilitation process I learned from David Sibbet to make diagrams like the one be;pw from my What Next Conference, but they were not maps, they were graphic recordings.
I went looking for a software company that had digital map building capability. I looked at many and didn’t find much. Then I stumbled across Kumu. They had developed some business diagram software that I thought could be adapted for my purposes. I went looking for the company and it turned out they were a distributed network. There was no company headquarters. Everyone worked remotely. This was one of the models we had talked about for the future. Instead of a centralized company, you build and work in a distributed network.
I got a hold of one of their evangelists who worked out of Costa Rica. He was very curious about how I wanted to use their software to build my storycatching maps. He offered to tutor me using the software and talk to their coders about the new features I wanted. This collaboration really turned out great. Here is a example of one of their maps. The first layer is the actual map with nodes. Each node can then be opened by clicking on it for a deeper dive into more detail about what it represented.
The other thing I wanted to do before the cancer surgery was to run some storycatching test sessions. I had confidence in the method, but this new Integrally informed version had not been really tested with people. I did a couple of these with different groups in Boulder. This is what I wanted to capture. How were we envisioning getting from where we were now to a more generative world in the middle of all the transitional chaos. All those possibilities in the quantum field/foam. More on that later.
I learned a lot and the groups found value in the process. After the surgery, assuming I survived, I envisioned doing a series of these gatherings where we would capture and map the stories of the now and future across multiple disciplines . The first envisioned round included gatherings with tech folks in Silicon Valley, movie folks in Hollywood, financial folks in New York and human performance folks in Boulder.
As I got closer to the surgery, I started to get my affairs in order. Although there was a very small chance something would go wrong, it was major surgery with lots of unknowns. And remember, based on my low PSA score I wasn’t supposed to have cancer in the first place, but here we were.
As I considered my affairs one thing that came up was that Jennifer and I had never officially married. We both had been married twice before and in the beginning we just didn’t feel strongly about doing a ceremony. As time went on and we stumbled into the issues that would come up on Whidbey, it was unclear to me that we were going to make it, so, we just put it off. After we reconciled, the trauma of what had happened to us on Whidbey was still there, but it took on a karmic aspect. In spite of all the challenges and the blessings, it seemed we were working something out with each other. None of it easy, but what is in close relationships.
So, when the cancer arrived I began feeling differently. Being married made a lot of sense to our family business, wills etc. I also felt if we focused on all the good things we had going for us, perhaps we could find a new chapter, assuming the cancer didn’t intervene. We talked to Matt about it (he was living with us again) and he was for it. So one day in July we found ourselves at the County Court house being married by a judge. In the middle of all the stress of my health challenges, it felt deeply appropriate. You can see that in the pictures. I felt no matter what happened to me, Jennifer and Matt would be okay.
As I mentioned, Matt had been living us again for some time. His experience with roommates had not gone well (it rarely does) and his job as an auto sound technician for Best Buy was becoming stressful. I had always considered our home open to him to circle back anytime he needed to. I certainly had done it for short periods at my Mother’s house during certain transitions..
One of the things that I remember however was the awkwardness of being home again as a young adult. It just brought up whatever family trauma was lurking and in Matt’s case it didn’t seem easy for him. Jennifer’s and my relationship also changed as well when he was around. Jennifer’s first focus was always Matt. She had literally saved his life on multiple occasions. I had always been okay with that, but in this case, Matt was struggling with his life again and his health was being impacted to say nothing of his psychological state. Jennifer was still recovering from the six years she had worked with him and his drug addiction. She still would wake up in the middle of night like she had done so often before. We made it work, but any thought that Jennifer and I were going to figure out again who we were as a couple without kids was delayed.
To Matt’s credit he got interested in the science of CBD oil. It was legalized in Colorado and all kinds of startups were making products with it. He met some young guys that were infusing coffee with CBD tinctures. The mad chemist in him really became attracted to the infusing process and very quickly he became Steep Fuse’s infuser. I hoped this interest for him would lead him forward to more self-love and confidence like music had done for me.
The time flew by in-between surgeries. I waited the three months to recover from the TURP while I got my work completed and my affairs in order. I felt I accomplished all that and I had made some progress on this legacy exit interview, so that if nothing else was written, it included a summary of most of what I wanted to pass on.
The TURP was a major surgery, but this second one was many magnitudes more. For starters they would make five incisions in my lower body to allow the robot arms to get into my body cavity. I had never had a procedure like this but I did like Dr. Kim and had faith in his judgement. There was no way around it though, I was having an organ removed.
Prep was professional with one caveat. When I checked in, the nurse said they had the operating room scheduled for 5-7 hours. I had been told by Dr. Kim that normally this procedure was a 3 hour operation. It turned out he was unsure what he was going to find because of the damage done in the TURP procedure.
Jenny came as far as the “wheel in” point and then waved good bye. I had requested that I see the robot before they put me out. It was a strange looking thing.
I didn’t have much time to reflect on it, as I was put to sleep pretty quickly. I really didn’t want to hear too much about the procedure. What I did know is that I was suspended upside down in the air so that it was easier to get at the prostate. I came too in the recovery room. The operation had taken over 5 hours. Why… I would hear about later. Jennifer said when I initially woke up I was slurring my words pointing at the TV screen saying “sportssssss.” I don’t remember any of it. I was in my room pretty quickly. Dr. Kim came by and told us all had gone well. I would get more details and lab results in follow up visits.
My experience of coming out of these things is that the first few days you feel pretty good. The body is still filled up with pain killers. About the third day you realize what a long process this recovery is going to be. My body looked like I had been through the war. The five incisions were not as small as I thought and the lower part of my torso was black and blue. I was a sight. I had the catheter in for 5 days and then we met with Dr. Kim.
He explained the operation had taken longer because there was a lot of garbage tissue left over from the TURP and one of lymph nodes was fused to the outer wall of my intestine. He had taken out all the lymph nodes as a pre-caution and had sent everything to the lab to get the results. It would take 3 weeks. It was a long 3 weeks.
I finally got the call. On a scale of 0-10, 0 meaning nothing, 10 meaning cancer outside the prostate, I got a 0. He said I was all clear. We would do all the follow up, but I was cancer free. I felt relived, but there was a certain surreal quality to all of it. I was now officially a cancer survivor for the moment, but my life transition had been rocked and now I had to pick up the pieces.
Through all of this my sister Jane was a real help. She had been through her own battle with breast cancer. She gave me tips about all the feelings that would come up. I realized that I had not talked to her enough when she was going through it, and for that I apologized. When you going through one of these things it’s not so much what anyone says, but more just that they are there providing some anchor to reality. I felt exhausted, lucky and determined to get back to it, but my body would come back very slowly. I had been through two major surgeries in 5 months. At my age it was not going to snap back.
The Road Back
Little by little I got my strength back. I was only in bed for about two weeks and then I could get up some and work in my studio for 2-3 hours and then go back to bed for a nap. I was tired a lot.
I continued to talk to people on the phone about Story Studio and work on the investment pitch, but I was clear at this point the first funds were going to come from someone that wanted me to do a project for them using the storycatcher process rather than a more general investment.
I also renewed my IRS work with Heather on the 2016 audit. She predicted that I would get audited for 2017 as well because I had used the same formula with my other accountant. For 2018 we had changed it but I was not looking forward to another audit all though I knew the drill.
I also continued developing the Story Catcher mapping software. Soon I had a real workable model. Here is an improved version. I also continued to write this Exit Interview. It was a good time to reflect considering all that had happened.
October – 2019
I began feeling stronger every day. I was still taking the Wellbutin for emotional stability. It was still helping. Towards the end of the month Rob Ryerse, one of my Vote Common Good friends, came into town and I actually drove for the first time to meet him in Denver. We sort of did a de-brief of what had happened after the 2018 campaign and confirmed what I suspected Doug was up to. It was not something I was interested in. We also talked about the help I was providing his friend Marc Benjamin on his political reality show “American Lodestar.” He predicted Marc would hire me at some point if he could find the money.
And toward the end of the month I met with Blake Kingsbury. Over lunch he committed 30K to Story Studio IF I would make one of the TV projects that some friends of his were doing a priority. Although I didn’t get the funds until late November, Blake’s commitment was a god send. It bought me some time to find clients and get Story Srudio moving again without having to spend more of my Mothers money to keep us going.
Considering all that had happened I had lost some time in terms of the transition but nothing fatal. No pun intended. I was very happy that it had all worked out… again. Lucky stars I guess.
In November, Blake’s funding for Story Studio arrived and I met for the first time with his friends that wanted to do a political reality show called "The Candidate." I conducted an initial storycatching session with them and what became clear is that Will, Jay and Blake had a general idea, but not a specific design of what a Candidate competition would look like on TV. This is where my interactive design expertise came in. I was able to map their ideas into a structure that would approximate a TV show.
This was a test of some of the new features of Storycatching. The first step was to capture/map the participant’s stories that inspired the idea. We next looked at the resistance to the concept actually manifesting in the world. If it was such a good idea, what could go wrong? The answer to that was... everything. That was important to know. The third step in the process was to build a test of the idea on the NET and send it out to family and friends to play with (the TV show) and give feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
As I looked at the cable television networks in 2019 or the new players like Netflix and Amazon it seemed these Internet tests would accomplish a couple of things. First, the test of the design was critical to its actually becoming something. Second, building an audience from the test, gave you a group that demonstrated they were interested in the concept. IF you were not one of the big content suppliers to cable that could get a project greenlit on their reputation, building an audience for the idea positioned smaller companies like us to have much more leverage in getting it funded and made.
For one thing, the concept was no longer conceptual. That avoided long pitch meetings with TV execs that could distort its intent. Second, you could make a much better deal if you had an audience already interacting with the concept rather than it being theoretical. You could also take your time because you already had the show up and running. IF it garnered a big enough audience, it was more of a slam dunk for the networks to pick it up in the way you intended.
By the second Candidate storycatching session is was clear that they wanted me to design, direct and produce the pilot. Blake in particular said it would not be an issue raising the money for the test. As a result of this and Blake’s investment in Story Studio I spent much more spec time that I usually do on a new concept because it seemed funding was assured. This would change later because of a coming global event.
The other thing I enjoyed working with the Candidate crew was getting out of my isolation. Since leaving Integral Life and going through surgery recoveries in 2019, I had spent a lot of time alone in my studio, creating the next step for Story Studio. As I said earlier, this is one of the things I liked about production. Co-creating with friends and colleagues.
As the Candidate project emerged I was also still giving advice to Marc Benjamin about his American Lodestar project. Both AL and the Candidate were political reality show concepts. Although, they dealt with different aspects of the political eco-system, they were similar enough that I was concerned about a conflict of interest. At this point the Candidate was shaping up quickly, while American Lodestar was still in its infancy. I decided to let them both run and the first one that actually went into production would be the one I would do exclusively.
Jennifer had not worked since the beginning of 2019. This frustrated her no end. Jennifer was more capable and knowledgeable about health issues that most I knew, yet she could not figure out a way in this marketplace to create a steady income stream from her efforts. Anyone that interacted with her about their health always raved about her abilities. She had come very close to getting involved with a big company that was doing CBD formulations for pain, stress and depression. That had gone sideways however when the Feds started cracking down on the CBD wild west marketplace and it was unclear if the FDA were going to develop regulations like they had with Vaping.
The Vaping phenomena was also interesting in 2019. Thirty somethings and millennial's bringing their own perspective to smoking. Cigarettes obviously were bad for your health. This Vaping innovation emerged out of the head shop movement, but featured new tech. They extended the concept of a “bong” to these sleek high tech devices. Matt for one was all over it. You could customize your vaping device, create different formulations and the big sell was that you could smoke and not cloud up the room for others. What emitted from these devices was harmless vapor. Matt set to work in his room as the mad chemist and with Jennifer experimented with growing different kinds of pot plants. Strange new odors in the hallway. It was early in Vaping history. It would not go so well later on.
The stress of not working much was getting to Jennifer. She had also spent loads of time helping me get through the two surgeries. We had enough money at that point, but that would not last forever. Her old patterns of migraines and lack of sleep returned. It meant she would go to bed when it got bad.
In addition, she was concerned about Matt’s health. He was still sober, but he was using large amounts of Kratom, a natural plant that helped with depression and anxiety. It also had other side effects like appetite suppression. As a result, Matt was really thin, so Jennifer spent much of her time trying to get him to eat, cooking him meals etc.
Matt was also struggling with his teeth. They had grown in very crooked and were also damaged by his heroin use. He had embarked on a treatment plan that included wearing painful mouth devices. Not great for encouraging eating. Matt was still working as an hourly worker for Steep Fuse with the promise of being brought on full time, but old patterns were emerging for him. He was getting frustrated and bored. He was not enjoying his life. These conditions for Jennifer and Matt were not new, but they set a tone in the house that was fairly depressive. I figured if I could get Story Studio fully funded I could hire Jennifer like we had done before, so I kept my head down into that and keeping a roof over our heads.
Storycatching the Bigger Picture
The Story Studio model depended on client work in the short term for income, while organizing and convening groups of thought leaders over the longer term that would help me create a depository of intelligence. This archive of now and future stories would inform the development of an alternative generative narrative and the transmedia projects to express it. This in contrast to the dystopian cultural narrative we were living into. This tramsmedia effort was designed to create longer term funding vehicles and ultimately revenue from television and Internet apps. We had lots of new pieces, but no integrated map for guiding us on getting from where we were as a culture to something more generative. I thought that might be my final contribution to the cultural transition we were in.
I began networking to set up 3-4 of these bigger storycatching sessions. One in Silicon Valley with the tech folks, one in Hollywood with the media creators, one in New York that would address economics and our financial system and one in Boulder organized around the emerging human performance work.
Networking like this with new people takes time and patience. You have to identify individuals and organizations that could co-create and sponsor these gatherings with you and then set about convincing them to do it. It was a real hit and miss process which always surprised me concerning what emerged. I had learned that sometimes you just need to take a step into the unknown, so that the possibilities can be seen. You can’t do that from the sidelines. You have to commit to the new field of inquiry even though it is mostly slow going in the beginning.
At the time, given my age, I also had no idea what the final result might be. It was clear the data base of intelligence needed to be created that would inform the creation of media of all types to promote the new narrative, but I had no idea if I would be around to see the fruit of my labors. As a result, I always had a plan B in my pocket where I would pass this off to younger folks to actualize at a later date if it came to that.
As we headed into another holiday season, I was truly thankful I was still alive and leaning into the Story Studio concept. As Rob had predicted Marc hired me to create the design for his American Lodestar TV reality show. He knew nothing about TV, but he was strong as a digital and social media promoter. I could learn something from him about that.
I also finished the Storycatching Mapping software so that was another box of the new chapter to do list checked off.
I also created the Story Studio web site. I already had a template from my personal site evointell.tv. I loved working with the Wix platform. I could literally create everything and make changes without a web site contractor.
I also kept working on this Exit Interview in spare moments. It had turned into a huge undertaking, but I was committed to leave something behind. And it was constantly evolving in unpredictable ways as I tried to get my hands around the stories I wanted to share. I was learning a lot about what was important to me.
I was still recovering from the August surgery, unclear if my body was ever going to come back as it was. It turned out some of the fatigue I was still feeling was a result of the lingering effects of the Lupron drug I had taken before the surgery. People on-line reported symptoms for a year or two out. The drugs helped, but someday we would look back on them as barbaric methods of treatment.
One marker of this life occurred to me during the holiday season. I had a biorhythm app that gave me daily readings on my physical, intellectual and emotional health. I didn’t use it religiously, but it was always interesting to see what it had to say when I was feeling off. More times than not, one or more of those three indicators would be low. In addition, a life marker emerged from the calculation process for the daily readings. Based on your birthday, the app would calculate how many days you had been alive. It turned out I had crossed over the 26,000 day barrier in 2018. There was something about seeing that many days that was different than looking at 72 years. 26,000+ times I had gotten up and done something. No wonder I felt tired in some ways. Quite a run…
As 2019 and all its unexpected events came to a close a news story showed up on Jennifer’s radar in December about a new virus breaking out in China. This had happened before with both the SARS and Ebola outbreaks. Both had been potential global issues, but had been dealt with before they impacted the United States. There was something about this story that peaked Jennifer curiosity. I remember her coming to me and saying she was concerned. This was not on the mainstream news radar yet. It was another one of the stories that seemed to be happening far away. Little did we know at the time that as a result of this new outbreak, 2020 was going to be a yet another rocky ride, this one involving the whole world.