Unresolvable Conflicts-Sheera Prasad

Clay’s first glimpse was memorable. Slender, with glossy midnight hair in a professional updo that made him wonder what it might be like to unpin it and run his fingers through it. It seemed to glow. Her enigmatic smile revealed perfect teeth and drew attention to full, pillowy lips. Her deep olive complexion and eyes almost as dark as her hair nevertheless seemed to glow.

As he would soon learn in working with her, Sheera is smart, self-possessed and driven, personally, professionally and sexually. Rarely caught off guard, Sheera is unapologetically her own woman, literally one of a kind, self-created and self-contained.

It’s not hard to understand. As Sheera herself explains to Clay over a business lunch:

     “My father taught business administration at U Conn Hartford.” She frowned and shook her head. “Growing up, it felt like they brought India with them.”

     “Isn’t that human nature?” Clay asked. “Even as we evolve, don’t most of us crave the familiar?”

     “Probably,” Sheera admitted. “And don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my heritage. But I wanted to grow up American. Unfortunately, my parents wanted me to grow up an Indian who just happened to live in America.”

     “So you pushed back?” Clay guessed.

     Sheera laughed. “Oh, did someone rat me out?”

     “No. It just feels in character.”

     She shrugged. “By the time I was in high school, we fought almost daily about everything. Usually dating, curfews and hemlines. That’s why I went away to college instead of going to U Conn.”

     Clay nodded. “Understandable.”

     “Well, they didn’t. When I came back for spring break the first year, Baba had arranged for a transfer back to U Conn.” Sheera frowned. “Mother handed me the application, almost before I dropped my suitcase in the hallway.”

   “Subtle,” Clay remarked. “So what did you do?”

     Sheera picked up her fork and stabbed at her salad. “Even though Mother was the messenger, I knew Baba was behind it. We fought everyday for a week, but he wasn’t budging. So I pretended to. I filled out the application and gave it to Mother to mail.”

      Sheera speared another bite of salad with a sardonic smile. “After Baba left for work, I snatched it before the mail was picked up and burned it.”

Predictably, Clay is smitten with this independent thinking, strong-willed woman. How that affects the course of his destiny and Sheera’s, is a far-reaching and nuanced tale of love, conflict and redemption.

West of Tomorrow is essentially Clay’s story, but the role Sheera plays in his downfall at Halberstamm Leadership Group and what follows later is pivotal to the story. Sheera’s complexity and inner conflict delights and bedevils readers in this convoluted tale.

Half an Hour West of Tomorrow

Clay Conover and a Moment in Time

If you’ve worked in an organization, you probably know a Clay Conover. Or it could be a Karen Conover. It’s less about gender than identity. An evolved, capable and compassionate human, evolved in ways it’s hard to miss. It’s an indivisible part of who they are. In common with all of us, they have their flaws, but their steady, unflappable competence and essential decency wins people over at the same time it sometimes limits how high they can climb in organizations.

In West of Tomorrow, Clay Conover is at a crossroads not unlike one where most of us eventually find ourselves. A fateful decision looms ahead. A decision some part of our mind suspects we should have made before now. Like so many other things as we reach the “back half of our lives,” the decisions we make now creep closer to irrevocability, with consequences that have a ring of finality to them.

Ten years into his second career as a corporate trainer/team leader, post-retirement from the Corps, Clay can’t help feeling like his career is “stuck” in neutral. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy what he’s doing or that he’s struggling. If anything, he’s too good to be stuck as a Mobile Training Team leader. And when Alistair, Clay’s boss moves up to COO from Director of the Western Office, Clay is his most logical successor.

The arrival of Sheera Prasad shakes up the equilibrium. Young, hungry and ambitious, Sheera has been sent by corporate to fill a bonafide need for another trainer. But Jonas Stevens the COO from corporate isn’t just filling an open position. He has another, darker purpose in mind. Always perceptive, Clay senses something is “off,” but can’t put his finger on it.

So does Clay tell Alistair about his concerns? Tell him what, exactly? That she’s competent and learns quickly? That she is an excellent facilitator? As always in organizations, the answer to that question is curiously equivocal. “It’s complicated” is a phrase invented for situations like this. Not the least because despite Clay’s best efforts at detachment as her trainer and supervisor, Clay is attracted to her. And it appears to be mutual.

As a retired Marine, he has strong notions about fraternization or personal relationships with subordinates, but it’s been a long time since he’s had anyone in his life. And this isn’t the Corps. Both Clay and Sheera are mature adults, aren’t they? Surely they can navigate the complications of working together and playing together, if it comes to that?

As the story unfolds, Clay’s character and perceptiveness will matter as much as at any other time in his life. Can he dovetail love and career and chart and ethical course at the same time?

West of Tomorrow is a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix that lives in all of us.

Fear or Hatred?

Aphorisms, Truth Vs. Fact

I must confess I have a weakness for aphorisms. There’s something about the taut simplicity and economy of words that feels like enlightenment. And of course, that’s the point. A well-worded aphorism should feel that way. For refresher’s sake, an aphorism is:

    “a concise statement of a truth, principle or sentiment.” (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary)

In the interests of short-circuiting philosophical debates about what is epistemically knowable, I’m going to focus on the principle or sentiment aspect, rather than “fact.” Facts drag a lot of intellectual baggage around with it, especially today. I prefer to view aphorisms like  Zen Koans. Aphorisms are not neither wisdom nor truth. They are signposts along the way. Work with me, here.

Fear or Hatred?

The last couple years there’s been a lot of angst richocheting around our country over our “direction,” the polarized divisiveness, intolerance, etc. And it has been argued that #MAGA and the “success” 45 is in part rooted in that angst. And it has been further hypothesized that the angst in which that success is grounded had its origins in the financial collapse of 2008 and/or the Obama presidency. As if racism, divisiveness or political hyperbole is new. But this is the United States, after all and historical perspective often gets lost in our quest for simple answers to complex questions, not to mention solutions implemented today and enjoyed tomorrow.

What do you think? Fear or Hatred?

You will likely recall Mohandus Gandhi as the renowned, non-violent activist and the father of India’s independence from Britain, in the late 1940s. Gandhi based his opposition to British hegemony on non-violence and religious pluralism. Given India’s religious and cultural diversity, it isn’t difficult to understand why. The aphorism above is attributed to him.

It would be hard to miss its apparent relevance today. But if you’re also a student of history, you’re also painfully aware of how it turned out for Gandhi personally, and for what subsequently happened in India…not to mention how radically times have changed since.

All that aside, it still feels true, at some level. Does not intolerance, suspicion and uncertainty have some grounding in our fears? If so, does it follow then, that fear is the enemy or is there something else going on? At the risk of disagreeing with someone  whose teachings, life and moral courage I admire, I think it’s a little more complicated.

Are we what we fear?

For the record, I am not contemptuous of fear, or people who feel it. As a retired Marine officer, big wave surfer and snow skier, I’ve learned a little about it and understand how debilitating it can be. Fear is often rational and justified. But while  fear may be rational, it does not follow that our response to it will be. 

My experiences suggest that fear,  (Mr. Gandhi’s thoughts notwithstanding), is not the enemy. Misdirected fear, or harnessed to the wrong purpose,  is. This distinction matters because it focuses on the response, rather than an emotion. Fear is as old as the caves, and natural as breathing. It’s often useful as well, insofar as it often galvanizes us to action. The problem arises when we allow it to replace reason. 

Okay, so what and why now, particularly? Fair question. These are fearful times. Uncertainty can do that to us, if we let it. And we seem to be letting it do that a lot, of late. It tracks along behind us in our personal finances, unless you happen to be one of the exceptionally fortunate. It shrieks at us in the howling winds of hurricanes and typhoons and leers at us in the flames consuming hundreds of thousands of acres in a matter of days. It’s operant in our sense of bewilderment at an age riddled with change so sweeping it defies our ability to make sense of it or see a way  through it. Small wonder nostalgia looks more attractive than trailblazing.

Through the shadowed forest.

Courage and Hope.

But as fearful as the times may seem and as trite as hope sounds as a remedy, in the jaded 2nd decade of the 21st Century, we must nevertheless hope. Individually and collectively we are larger than what we fear and greater than our challenges. All that stands in the way of our success is are clear eyes, open minds and the conviction that we can craft a future in which the fulfillment of all is not merely possible, but in the best interests of us all. 

Courageous men and women do not give in to their fears and they certainly don’t allow the fears to morph into hatred or tribalism. Both inevitably consume. Individually and collectively, courageous women and men connect and find inspiring beauty and wisdom in diversity and difference.  We are one by choice. Not by color or by philosophy but by conscious choice and a devotion to the best in all of us. Today, look a brother or sister you don’t know in the eye…and see yourself.

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow and Best Case Scenario, both available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.