The Mirror

How should we define ourselves?   What describes our self-worth?

When I was young, the answers to these questions were external.  It was the culture of the time.  A person’s worth – their success – was defined by their job, their ability to provide for their family, their skill at raising children that fit easily into society, and how well you fit into the category of “Citizen”.  Are you a contributor?  Do you create and raise other contributors?

Yes, you could have diversions like art or music or reading or games, but you were strongly encouraged to keep them where they belonged — behind closed doors.  During that time, to place a diversion above the “important things in life” would shine a spotlight on you, and not in a good way.  It would easily label you as abnormal, as odd, and might even repel others from interacting with you because they didn’t want to catch your abnormality (as if it were a flu bug).

So, to be obviously passionate about work or family or church or (depending on the city you live in) the local sports team, these were acceptable.  Anything else was a risk.

Of course, time has severely changed this mindset.  But… for the better?

Instead of writing a long thesis on the topic, I’m just going to cut to the chase and tell you what I believe – what I’ve always believed.

I strongly believe that every person needs at least one thing to be passionate about; something that occupies much of their waking hours, and perhaps even their sleeping hours as well.  The passion for this ‘thing’ must be strong enough to get you out of bed on most mornings, and it should be something that you constantly want to improve.  As an old instructor once told me, “It should be something that takes a lifetime and a day to perfect.”

I strongly suggest, though, that we have more than one passion.  From experience, the strength of a person’s passion can ebb and surge – often unpredictably.  For example: When I was young, my passion for music was all-consuming.  I wanted to learn to play every instrument possible.  I wanted to write a million songs.  I wanted to learn how to use all of the recording equipment at the time and use them in ways never thought of before.  But complications of life, of love, stripped me of that passion for many years.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened.  Suddenly, my love of music was gone.  (A story for another time.)

Fortunately, at that time, I had other passions: my love of martial arts, my interest in drawing, my overwhelming need to improve and refine my body; my growing passion for history.  Although I severely felt the initial void left by the disappearance of my passion for music, that emptiness was quickly filled by other passions.

We live in a world that constantly tries to take away our passions.  It regularly tries to dump the weight of cultural norms of today onto us to crush our personal passions.  It tests us and rejects us and judges us, but those things only work if we let them.  I choose not to take life’s tests.  I reject the rejection of others.  I refuse to be judged by those whose opinions mean nothing to me.

Today is a world where everyone has the ability to express their opinions – their beliefs – so forcefully, that it’s easy to feel moved by them.  Today is an era of entitlement.  People believe their views about you and others truly matter.  If they twist you into accepting their beliefs or if you are damaged by their criticisms, they feel they’ve won.  If they strip you of your passion, they celebrate loud enough for the world to hear.

Please… identify your passions.  Then… protect them.  Chase them.  Embrace them tightly.  They make life worth living.

 

Perceived Rights

Been thinking a lot lately about the “Rights” people often believe they have regarding others.  More specifically…

So many people honestly and vehemently assert that they have the right to know what you know, and to know it now!  Some examples: A family member feels you must tell them why you didn’t attend a friend’s funeral; or a friend demands to know details about recent marital problems you’ve been experiencing; or a co-worker feels justified in insisting you tell them details as to why you were out of the office the day before.

Wanting to know a thing – and demanding to know a thing – these are definitely separate.  Yes, I would love to know more details behind the choices my family and friends make, but I never insist that they tell me.  I’d love to be their soundboard, their confidante, to help them, but I never feel obligated that they do so.

Anyone who demands personal details about your life and even claims it is their right to know these details, then… it’s obvious that they are making these assertions for selfish reasons and not primarily out of love or concern.

The details of our life are ours.  Because of social media, we increasingly have less and less control over how many of these details are seen or shared, and even less control around attaching any real truth to the perceptions of these details.  This is especially true when your details are communicated BY others TO others.

I recently had an instance where I took an action that upset another person (I’m person “A” and the subject of my choice is person “B”).  Shortly afterwards, I was faced with a demand by person “C” to know the reasons for my choice so that they could then relate those reasons to person “D”, who would then relate them back to person “B”.   When I responded that this issue was between me and person “B”, both “C” and “D” responded with confusion and outrage.  They sincerely felt it was their right to know my reasoning, to know it now, and they felt sorely offended that I wanted to keep others out of that communication loop.

How do you explain the reasons for the things you say or do when, at times, you’re not 100% sure yourself?  And, that said, why should I have to?

There are things that have happened in my life that I’ve never told another living soul;  not family, not the closest of friends, not even an anonymous hotline.  Things occasionally happen to us or involve us that take time to process, time to face and absorb, and time to come to terms with.  Those things are yours.

You Own Them.

In fact, they are among the very few things in this world that you truly do own.

Once they are “out there”, you no longer own them.  Others do.  Others translate them, redefine them, judge them – and you.  They snip them and resew them into something more easy to wear.  Or they change, delete or add ingredients to make them more palatable, more digestible.

Sharing things with people nearly always implies permission for them to offer advice, to press you with their opinions, and – all to often – to then share your “thing” with someone else.  And, of course, it’s absolutely OK for them to share your “thing” because they’re sharing it with someone THEY trust.

One of the few things that still truly upsets me these days are instances when someone insists that it’s their right to know something I haven’t shared.  They can ask, they can offer assistance or a welcome ear, but NEVER TELL ME that it’s your RIGHT to demand my information.

My list of things that immediately piss me off is pretty short these days, but this is still definitely one of them.  It’s a work-in-progress.

To anyone reading/listening:  Never feel like you do not own your narrative – your story.  It’s yours!  Tell it, or don’t.  You choose ‘when’, and please remember that choosing the answer of “Never” is definitely one of those options.  There is no title (spouse, child, parent, lover, friend, boss, etc.) that possesses an inherent right to your story.

Nuff said.

Home

For as far back as I can remember, I always knew what “Home” was, or at least what it was supposed to be.  Home was “Sanctuary”.  To me, “Home” always meant safety and peace and sleep and food and, most importantly, love.  I often strayed far from Home in my younger years because of school or work or adventure, but always with the bone-deep knowledge and certain comfort that Home was waiting for me.

Then I went through a rather long period where Home stopped being those things.

The first time it happened was after I had joined the military.  I had moved into a Dorm, but in my heart, Home was still my house on Hancock St back in Michigan.  I’d been away for about a year, but I constantly looked forward to the day I would see and feel all those things that were so familiar to me.

When I finally did come Home on leave, it was supposed to be for two weeks, but it didn’t take me long to realize that many things had changed.  I realized within the first few hours that I no longer had a dedicated bed in this place.  Also, my father had moved out shortly after I joined the service and now another man, a cruel man, had taken his place.  My mother, who had previously always been loving and welcoming and at peace was now quiet and guarded and seemed constantly afraid.  In the last year, most of my siblings had moved out, or – more accurately – been driven out by this new man in my old Home.  On day 2 or 3, I was unceremoniously informed that the few belongings I had left behind – things that had meant something to me because of their rareness (a bunch of comics, a guitar, and some journals) had all been thrown in the trash months ago because the new man of the house didn’t want them in HIS house.

A planned two week vacation at Home had become a 5-day dose of cold reality as I repeatedly searched for any trace of the familiar and repeatedly found none.  This was no longer Home.  There was nothing for me here.  So I left early and returned back to my base, to my dormitory, and to my new Home.

The next time(s) Home stopped being “Home” was during the intermittent but recurring instances where I dreaded going Home from work because of marital problems.  Bone-deep I knew there was no peace there, I could not rest there.  My children always provided me with immense joy and I was always eager to see them, but during severe marital events, the dark atmosphere of those events would often suck the joy from those opportunities too.  When you repeatedly find yourself reaching for your front door only to be overwhelmed by dread and panic and fear, it’s safe to say that that place is no longer Home.

Safe to say, I eventually found – or, more accurately, made – Home again, and I feel a great deal of joy each and every day because of the confidence of knowing it’s there, waiting to welcome me.  But even more important to me is the goal of ensuring that, no matter where my kids – now adults – go, I want them to always know deep in their bones that “Home” – the place they grew up in, felt safe in, and felt unconditional love in – is always available to them.  I want it to be a Sanctuary for them to gather their strength, and a place that reminds them that there is always safety here when they need it.  The smells and sounds are familiar, the food is satisfying, the love is like a warm blanket, and the jokes are still corny and silly and oddly comforting.

Home doesn’t erase the challenges of life, but it does defuse them a bit while providing a unique source of energy that is only found…

At Home.

Personal Reminders: Sep 2019 Edition

  • Don’t be a passenger in your own life
  • As soon as I started, I was fine
  • The opinions of others vary widely – don’t base your life on them
  • If you’re not free to be you, you’re in the wrong relationship
  • New Term: “Eudaimonia” = “Human Flourishing” – A State of Happiness (Greek term)
  • There is always a good excuse not to do something productive — Do it anyway!
  • The size of your dreams must always exceed your capacity to achieve them
  • Achieving your Dreams involves a lot of “No’s” – to others and yourself
  • Negativity is like acid:  It destroys the vessel that carries it
  • Anyone who angers you controls you
  • What you do today can improve your tomorrows
  • An easy task becomes difficult when you do it with reluctance
  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it
  • Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly
  • Keep testing your limits.  They’re yours – Change them!
  • If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change
  • New Term: “Saudade” = The Love that remains after someone is gone
  • Eliminate destructive, negative self-talk
  • Anything not attempted remains impossible
  • And the Top-4 are still:
    • Just Begin
    • Seek Discomfort
    • Be a Watcher
    • Remember Tomorrowland

Fingertips

One of THE MOST emotionally and psychically impactful lessons I ever had to learn in my life was identifying the moment when you have to let someone go.  I’m not talking about simply ending friendships or relationships.  I’m talking about…

Those people in your life who are self-destructive.

Those people in your life who are spiraling in despair.

Those people in your life who are their own worst enemy.

The easy example would be someone you care about who’s a drug addict.  Someone you’ve known most of your life, someone you love deeply, but they’re tightly within the grip of addiction and no matter what they do, who they see or speak to, through repeat interventions or repeat rehabs or repeat near-death experiences, they constantly – sadly – go back to their addiction.

The “Why” of it no longer matters.  Nor does the “How” or any of the other common questions.  The time for intellectualizing and trouble-shooting are over.  They’ve repeatedly “borrowed” money from you, or perhaps even stolen from you.  They continue to call at odd hours of the day and night, sometimes crying, sometimes to talk, sometimes just to achingly breathe into your ear because they don’t know what to say to you.  Other than their drug, they don’t know what they need from you.

Sometimes, all you really are to them is a perceived lifeline.  They think that if they can still reach out to you, they can tell themselves that – perhaps – they’re not completely gone yet.  And that may or may not be true.

But those of us who have had to deal with drug-addicted family and friends – all of us know – that there will eventually come a time, a completely heart- and soul-wrenching time – that we’ll need to let them go.

Perceptually, we’re holding their hands, but only by the tips of our fingers.  There’s not enough purchase to pull them back to the light, there’s nothing solid to grab onto anymore from our end.  But, unexplainably, you can feel yourself being pulled toward them, simply by that faint touch.  They are pulling you into their darkness.  They are dragging you down into their despair.

It’s interfering with YOUR life now.

Your thoughts and fears constantly revolve around them; even your dreams often include them.  Previously, you were living comfortably from paycheck to paycheck with the occasional blessing of being able to put something away for a vacation or for the future.  But your drug-addicted loved one has drained that from you, small bit by small bit.  Now, you wonder if you can pay this month’s bills and you’re not quite sure how that happened, or when.  You no longer sleep deeply and all night through, either because they call you at 2am and want to talk for hours, or because of the dread and anticipation of the phone ringing, because it so often does.  You’re finding it hard to focus completely on your work, so the quality of your work is now affected.

Patience for others, for your family and friends, is short because you’ve expended it all, and you rarely get the opportunity to build it back up before they drain it from you again.

You hear sirens, and a part of you automatically thinks that it may be them.  Did they find your loved-one – alone – needle in arm – tear-stained cheeks – dead or dying – cell phone in hand with your number partially dialed?

I’ve felt that pull.  I’ve received those phone calls.  I’ve lost countless hours of sleep to worry and dread and panic.  But eventually, all of us in that situation — ALL OF US — are faced with a moment when an overwhelmingly painful decision must be made:

When do I let go?

Again, the seemingly easiest example is when you’re dealing with a loved-one who is addicted to drugs, although I can attest that there’s very little that’s easy about that decision, even in those circumstances.  But for our example, the mile markers are easy to identify and discuss.

It could be the financial drain: you’ve decided you cannot afford to give them one more cent, and something in you knows that every penny you give them will be used for drugs, and you have decided that you will no longer finance their addiction.

Or it might be the family drain: You’ve decided that your relationship with your spouse is at a tipping point and to save the marriage, you must cut communication ties with your addicted loved-one.

Or it might simply be self-preservation: Either through friends or family or therapy, or you may have finally seen yourself clearly in a mirror one morning, but ‘something’ finally made you realize the personal toll the situation is having on you, and you know deep in your bones that if you don’t let your loved-one go, it may cost you your health, your personal well-being, or perhaps even your sanity.

However you got there, you’ve finally realized that you no longer can afford to “own” your drug-addicted loved-one’s situation.  It’s now time for you to release their fingertips and leave their fate to God or a higher being or to chance, or to whatever it is you believe in.  Now, it MUST be okay to turn back toward YOUR life and YOUR health and YOUR normal.

But what if your loved-one is NOT a drug-addict?  What if they’re: mentally or emotionally struggling because they’ve been raped and are dealing with the aftermath; or they’ve lost their job and can NOT find the strength to stand back up and move forward; or you’ve finally realized that your loved-one is abusive and controlling and feel that they can NOT get beyond their personal trauma without you at their side – because you are stuck in the cycle of abuse or they’ve assured you that they’ve learned the errors of their ways; or they’ve lost a limb or are battling cancer or have lost their sight, and are constantly fighting with suicidal thoughts because the concept of living a perceived diminished life is unbearable to them?

We humans often deal with so many life-altering circumstances during our decades of existence, and for some of us, these circumstances are enough to make our lives come to a screeching halt.  For most, we may begin moving forward again on our own, or we may need the assistance – or repeat assistance – of others to nudge us, pull us, forward – or we may just sit in the middle of the road and wait to be hit by life.  We instinctively reach out to others to help us, but we too often don’t accept or receive that help.  We don’t know why we shun those trying to help us because we don’t want to accept the thought that it’s simply the fear of life that we’re avoiding.

I’ve had several people I love who came back from the brink of these decisions with my help (and with the help of others).  I’ve also nearly been pulled into the abyss several times, but – so far – have been able to find the strength to let go before it was too late.  Of these, some loved ones have come back on their own… while others, sadly, are no longer here.

I’ve watched people walk that gauntlet of daily decision and heartache as they try desperately to help a self-destructive loved one, not really sure when enough is enough, not really sure how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice.  They deal with the guilt of letting go, and they also deal with survivor’s guilt.

I’ve sacrificed much of myself to remain close to my children, and that’s a sacrifice I would do again.  But to do that, I’ve lost loved-ones because the cost they demanded was too much.

To my children, to my family, to my friends:  You are likely the type of person who would not hesitate to sacrifice yourselves for others, to make decisions that would deflect pain from others onto yourself, and to give as much of yourself and your personal resources as you could to help others in need.  But I beg of you, please keep watch for that moment when the ledge is near, when the abyss is looming, and when you need to either let go… or be lost yourself.

When we look back – sometimes years later – at those decisive moments in our life when we had to make that choice, we realize only then that there were numerous hints and signs that our loved-one was lost, and we only then do we clearly realize that we stayed in that situation much longer than was healthy to us.  But, while eyeball-deep within the swirl of these situations, those hints and signs are hard (if not impossible) to see.

THAT is when we must listen and consider the advice from those that we love and trust.  They will point out those signs for us.  They will warn us of the coming ledge and abyss.

When you sacrifice yourself for your loved-one, it is because that’s who you are, but please remember that those who love YOU are there to save you from your best self.

Lastly, also please remember that no individual can see everything that is happening or see every option or circumstance around us.  It took a long time for me to learn that.  So now, I trust a short list of loved ones to give me feedback that helps enhance my life and to avoid major pitfalls.  To ensure I never forget this, I constantly remind myself…

Life – at its best – is not a solitary experience.

Horse of Many Colors

Abuse comes in many forms.  Unfortunately, our society – in fact, most of the world – is currently not really ready to properly deal with the most common and insidious forms of abuse.  But first, let’s start with what SHOULD be the easiest.

If a husband severely beats his wife, most people would think it’s a no-brainer for the victim – in this case, the wife – to simply leave, right?  Easy Peezy, problem solved.  But wait… let’s muddy the water a little.

What if the victim decides to stay?  Do they now somehow bear some form of ‘fault’?

What if the victim is a male and the abuser is a female?  Is this situation no longer really “Abuse” because, hey… he’s a guy, right?  What girl could actually hurt a guy?

Or how bout this: Is there a degree of physical hurt that a person must inflict on another person before it’s officially considered “Abuse”?  Where is the official “Line”?  Is a shove “abuse”?  How about a slap to the body?  What if he just grabs her arm really hard and leaves a bruise?

And finally: Should the country or state or city you live in make a difference when it comes to determining when “Abuse” actually occurred?

And remember, Physical Abuse is supposedly the easiest and most definitive form of abuse.  But did you know that physical abuse is actually the least common form of abuse in abusive relationships?

The most damaging, longest-lasting, and sneakiest forms of abuse do not involve punching or kicking or the causing of physical pain.  They are the constant use of: verbal abuse, demeaning and disparaging language, words and assertions that steadily and definitely chip away at a person’s self-worth and self-esteem.  It is the practice of regularly belittling someone and questioning their decisions and choices until they feel that their individuality is no longer important and only worth exactly as much as what they are told it’s worth, and no more.

Is this form of abuse gender-specific?  Is it age or country or culture specific?

More directly > Should any person ever have complete control over another person in a relationship?

What dreams did you give up because someone else (a parent, a partner, a ‘friend’, a boss…) told you that you weren’t capable?  Does someone constantly make you think that your dreams are stupid or worthless?  That “Now” is not the time for you to chase your dreams?  That your dreams should be last in an arbitrary order of priority?

Do you deal with someone who feels that if they yell louder than you, they’ve won the argument?

Do you deal with someone who feels it’s “fair” to use whatever they know about you, no matter how personal, to get their way, no matter how badly it hurts you?

Do you deal with someone who regularly uses their anger as an excuse for the horrible things they say to you?  And perhaps afterwards, do they make YOU apologize for making them angry?  Make YOU apologize for “making them” say whatever horrible thing they said or do whatever horrible thing they did?

Do you deal with someone who regularly demands to make most (if not all) of the decisions in a relationship?

Do you deal with someone who thinks it’s okay to use threats and ultimatums in ANY situation?

Do you regularly feel the need to sacrifice your Self – your future, your happiness, your self-worth – because someone else is being used as a mental hostage?  (i.e.: staying in an abusive relationship to supposedly protect the children; staying with an abuser because of the fear of embarrassment for you or your abusive partner.)

To be honest, our world has a very hard time understanding abuse – especially if it’s not physical abuse.  When you don’t see blood or cuts or bruising, most people instantly doubt that any “real abuse” took place.  And then there’s the naïve notion that an abused person can simply walk away from an abusive relationship.  Normal America really doesn’t understand how that option seems so impossible for so many.

And what if a victim actually builds up enough courage to open up to someone and tell them their horror story?  It’s so disheartening for an abused person when they finally take the leap and reveal some of the abuse they deal with on a regular basis to someone they trust, only to hear that person dismiss them with “You just need to try harder” or “He really loves you.  I think he wants to be a better person, if you’d only give him a chance.”  They seem to be incapable of hearing and absorbing the terrifying reality that someone who abuses another person repeatedly for years and years isn’t just going to change their behavior overnight, or in a month, or in a year.

And then there are the common so-called “Support Systems” that sadly often serve to make abusive situations MUCH worse: clergy, family, counselors, hospital staff, and others.  Many people in these roles really don’t know how to effectively deal with domestic abuse, especially if it’s not necessarily physical abuse.  And they definitely don’t know how to properly counsel someone who is being mentally or emotionally abused on a regular basis.  For most, their fallback plan is normally to send them back into the abusive situation, fill our their forms, and then move on to the next person.  Family members tend to take sides, and often it’s not the side of the victim.  Or, a family member who was abused themselves will say simply “I made it through, and so can you.  Just stay in there!”

Victims of abuse often lose many of their friends and some of their family, if only temporarily, when they begin revealing the extent of the abuse they’ve been enduring.  When the victim reaches out to some of those closest to them, they are often met with common tropes like “Marriage is for life, so you just have to keep trying”, or “My son loves you and could never really hurt you.  You just have to try harder to understand him” or one of an infinite number of other dismissive rationalizations.  For these people, dealing with the truth that a loved is a victim of crimes that cannot be easily quantified by physical damage is the most difficult thing they’ll ever face.  And this ignorance only serves to make the victim feel even more alone, it makes them doubt the severity of their abuse, it makes the victim doubt their self-worth even more than they did before.

Nearly all of the world’s societal and cultural norms make getting out of an abusive relationship enormously hard, and in some countries, those “norms” actually empower the abusers, they make emotional and physical abuse “normal” and acceptable, sometimes even to the point of murder.  For a chilling example, look-up “Machismo Murder”.

We’ve made so many advances in a wide variety of technologies and mindsets, but even in today’s world, a MAN who is the long-term VICTIM of mental, emotional, or even physical abuse is unlikely to find ANY supportive friends, family, or entities to turn to.  It is a worldwide perception that men are too strong to be abused in any way, so if they “choose” to stay in that toxic environment, it’s their own fault.

On the flip-side, there are those who know someone who is in an abusive relationship but they feel completely helpless because there’s little they can say or do to help their friend or family member to get out of that relationship, especially if the victim is not ready to leave.  In many ways, it’s like dealing with a loved-one who is a drug addict.  No amount of love or strength or intelligence can force an addict to quit drugs if they’re not ready to give it up.  The same goes for our loved-ones who are victims of abuse.

Victims stay in abusive relationships because they don’t see any reasonable path out of their situation.  It is that sense of futility that often leads victims of abuse to consider suicide as a “reasonable means of escape”.  And the bigger sin of our society is that if a person tells anyone that they’re considering suicide because they’ve been in an abusive relationship for years, the common knee-jerk reaction is to view the VICTIM as sick and needing mental counselling, but the abuser and the abusive relationship are rarely even considered as things that need to be addressed.

I’ve had many reasons – for many years – to discuss mental and emotional abuse with others, to try to educate them and to incrementally try to change the views of those around me regarding the many misconceptions of abuse.  But it’s still something that needs to be addressed on a larger platform, in broader venues, and across all cultural and gender boundaries.  Laws need to be changed, effective support systems must be put into place, and visible paths of escape MUST be created that are so bright and so obvious that victims of abuse not only see them, but they feel inspired and welcome to utilize them.

Do YOU understand what “domestic abuse” really means, beyond physical abuse?  Do you feel you SHOULD know what it truly means?  Do you know what the signs are of someone in an abusive relationship?   Are you ready and willing to help?

 

 

 

 

… or get off the pot!

I’ve written (said) this many times before:  I’m not a complicated guy.  And a clear signal of just how transparent I am came in the form of a recent text from my son.

He’s in the painful “Start-up” period of his new business: making unique, very specialized keyboards.  I’m only now learning how broad and intense that interest is and how overjoyed some are to throw serious money at it.  My son showed me pictures of a new keyboard he’s making just for me.  It’s got a beautiful bottom plate with the image of a lion on it, embossed in gold.  The size and format of the key-placements is supposed to be ultra-comfortable.  The keys, he says, will have a satisfying “click!” to them as I type.  And even more special, the keyset will be orange, my favorite color.

But what really made me pause was when he told me that he hoped the keyboard would serve as incentive to write more.

I love writing.  Both my kids know that I love writing.  But even being mister “Not Complicated Guy”, I’ve never really – truly – felt that anyone in the world completely understood how much I love writing.  I mean, I’m a writer that rarely writes.  That alone doesn’t do much to profess any serious love for writing.  But recent conversations with my daughter, and then that keyboard surprise from my son – both urging me to find my writing-Self again – inspire me to push that boulder back up the hill.

The reasons have become excuses, and that needs to end now.

The “Dad” in me has always felt it important to teach by example.  So, as the title says…

 

Schrödinger’s Box

Most of us, at one time or another, have reminisced about our childhood and said something similar to:  It was a simpler time “back then;”  People got along better “back then;”  Life was easier “back then;”  People were safer “back then;”  And a countless number of other “back then” memories that are, I’m sure, crystal clear for each and every one of us.  But, to slightly twist a philosophical paradigm (that many Big Bang Theory fans will likely recognize), perhaps we’re all dealing with Schrödinger’s Box.

As we get older and begin dealing with the complexities of “real life”, the memories of our youth are silently encased in a box that we pull out from time to time to reassure ourselves that “It wasn’t always ‘this way'”, and “All we have to do is get ‘it’ back to the ‘way it was’.”  Right now, that’s the song that Republicans are singing to anyone willing to listen, and one that Donald Trump is regularly shouting at the top of his lungs.  They urge you to recollect a simpler time, a safer time, a better time, and they promise that they will help our country become what it ‘used to be.”  And when they do, they say, “Everything will be okay again.”

But is this true?  Let’s first examine “The Box”.

Our memories are selective – they are often rose-colored – and they nearly always omit the actual truth of the state of the world during those times.  For example:  History assures us that the diseases and poverty and racism that our country had to deal with “back then” was significant and turbulent and often deadly.  We lived in an “Us and Them” society that segregated our population on many levels (race, gender, income) and often violently opposed any deviation from that “Norm”.  While we were living our simple lives and blissfully placing our snapshot memories into our personal “Box”, others around us were constantly being persecuted and demeaned and threatened by sections of our government and our society.

Even at my age, yes – I still have my “Box” that I pull out from time to time to remember a simpler existence and to fondly recall a less stressful time ‘for me’, but I no longer believe the false narrative that the time of my youth was the Best of Times or the Perfect Era or a desirable place that our country needs to return to.

I was a Republican for most of my adult life because of the allure of “The Box” and the constant drumbeat of Republican barkers who urged me to join the rally for a return to yesteryear.  But along with the era of Trump came the realization of Schrödinger’s Box.  And not just from Republicans, but from all political parties.  Play back ANY video tape (yes, that’s what they used to call it) from your youth, no matter how old you are, of ANY political campaign speech during that time, and ask yourself: Do they sound familiar?  Haven’t we – for decades – listened to an endless parade of politicians constantly and repeatedly promising us – the citizens of America – a Living Wage?  To get rid of corruption from government?  To provide affordable Health Care?  To ensure affordable Education?  To protect us from the enemies of Democracy?

It’s my sincere belief that Trump won the presidential election in 2016 NOT because he was the best candidate, but rather, because he was NOT an establishment politician.  I know of many who saw his racism and his white privilege point-of-view and misogyny and voted for him anyway solely because the idea of voting for Hilary Clinton was even more repellent.  To them, Hilary Clinton represented the Political Status Quo.  She represented everything we hate about our government and our political system and our country and, quite plainly, millions were simply unable to vote for ‘that’ again.

Personally, even though I truly believe Trump to be an amoral person, a racist, a habitual liar, and an overall sleaze-bag, I also truly believe that he has been good for the country.   Why?   Because he’s completely incapable of doing the normal “Politician Move” of keeping his dirty dealings and corruption behind the thick screen of secrecy that Washington has so carefully and consistently built and maintained for so long.  The mountain of faults he possesses are on display each and every day.  He constantly reminds us of “The Swamp” of current government and constantly reinforces the truth that it still solidly exists.

He reveals to the nation exactly what We – ALL of Us – do NOT want.

True, he has many slavish followers who either can’t or won’t see who he really is, but when you speak with some of these blind disciples and ask them what they really want, the answer is nearly always the same:  They want Schrödinger’s Box.  They want a simple life where their paycheck is regular and enough; they want to live in a safe neighborhood; they want a fair justice system; they want a life free of racial fear;  and most important of all, they want a better world for their children.

And, although Schrödinger’s Box is really a product of our past, perhaps the best thing we can do as a nation is to open The Box, carefully take out all of those cherished memories, and use them to build a vision for a future that we’ve truly never experienced before.  We need to clean out our government of all of the yesteryear politicians and fill those seats with dreamers.  We need to create laws that punish politicians who lie, not reward them.  We need to divorce Big Business from our political system completely because they do not have the Country’s best interest in mind.

And we need to paint visions of our future that every American can believe in: Clean air and water – happy homes – safe neighborhoods – laws and law enforcement that protect everyone equally – a living wage that allows us to actually work to live, not live to work – and a government that deserves our trust and respect and support.

Let’s all open The Box together, shall we?

 

The Weight

It is an all-too-common temptation and practice to remanufacture our personal history.  Some will add clay to their history to make it more challenging or more diverse than it actually was so that they can feel justified to speak with authority on topics of race and diversity and hardship.  Vanilla Ice felt he needed to twist the history of his youth in order to legitimize being a rapper.  In his mind, a white guy from a Caucasian-typical or even privileged background couldn’t possibly be taken seriously as a rapper in the late-80’s, early 90’s.  The truth of that perception is irrelevant; it’s how he chose to respond to that perception that eventually defined his career and – some would say – sunk it.  It didn’t help that he blatantly stole a hook-bass-line from Queen’s/Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and lied about it repeatedly on national TV.

Then, even more common is the practice of editing our history; removing clay, hiding pages, editing video from the home-movie of our life.

In my youth, my mother was my hero.  Without the presence of a father in my life (he was constantly on the road, sleeping, or otherwise ‘absent’ as he did the then-typical “Father Thing” of earning a living to feed and clothe his 9 kids.  Different story), I regularly turned to my mother for guidance on how to act, on the meaning of integrity and stalwartness, and how to handle the ever-changing challenges and pressures of my life.  During those formative years, my mother could do no wrong.  Everything she said was gospel, and every rule she set was golden.

But over the decades since, I’ve learned to view those years as they truly were, for her – and for me.

My mother was truly, in most meanings of the phrase, a single-mother.  Every single day for many years, she was left alone to deal with 9 constantly changing human-beings who regularly tested her, challenged her, demanded from her, shunned her, held her, competed for her, and – I’m certain – repeatedly overwhelmed her.  At that time, the only chink in my mother’s armor was her (perceived) periodic health issues.  Every now and then, she’d send one of us running to the local store – about 6 blocks away – to get her a candy bar because, she said, her sugar was a “…little low”.  We had no reason to doubt her.  She never looked sick or tired or without her ever-present energy.  She was “Mom”.  She said she needed a candy bar, we sprinted the one-mile round trip to get it for her, and then we went back to our normal selfish lives.

But as time passed, my memory of those times slowly began to fill-in with more details.

Most notably…

There was a cupboard that we kids rarely, if ever, opened.  It was just to the right of the stove.  When open, it contained kitchen odds-and-ends that we never needed or searched for.  There were no cups or bowls in that cupboard.  When it was open, there were no shiny or curious things there that would draw the attention or curiosity of a child.  And, in hindsight, I’m sure that this was exactly as my mother intended.

But eventually, I began to remember – to see in my mind very clearly – the top shelf of that cupboard.  There were two things on that top shelf that I’m surprised I never remembered before, or asked about when I was young.  Perhaps because they were forbidden things; things that kids don’t use, so kids don’t inquire about.

There were several bottles of liquor, and a large number of medicine bottles of varying width and height.  Remembering back, I now clearly recall that the bottles were sometimes full, but often were not; that the color of the bottles and the design of the labels on these bottles would often change.  In my child’s mind, this made no sense.  But to my adult-self, this clearly told me that these bottles were being regularly consumed and replaced.

I have no memory of watching my mother take any pills, not even an aspirin, but those pill bottles – perhaps 15 or 20 of them at any given time – were in constant motion.  Always changing places like chess pieces, always emptying and filling, regularly being replaced or joined by other pill bottles.

In her late-40s, my mother’s health problems became more known to me, and more serious.  The short version is: She had a quack doctor who regularly over-prescribed her with conflicting medicines.  These medicines were for stress and pain and to sleep and to wake-up and for symptoms caused by other medicines.  Over the course of about 15 years, my mother incrementally had pieces of her removed because of the damage caused by the alcohol and medicines.  During a visit home (from my military base and separate life), I was dumbstruck when my mom jokingly showed me how she could press a finger into her stomach and literally touch her spine because there was nothing in-between to stop it.  She made me poke her tummy to prove it.

The last 8-10 years of her life, she simply existed in a haze, never quite the mom of my youth ever again.  She still lived with her alcohol and medicines, but now, there were no kids around to hide the activity from.  Her once extremely sharp mind and wit were progressively dulled and numbed, with only occasional flashes of the mom I used to know.  I’d get periodic phone calls from her, angry, resentful, scared, paranoid, incoherent, sad, and crying.  I never knew what to say or do during those phone calls, and they nearly always concluded by her hanging up unexpectedly; sometimes in mid-sentence/rant.

At the end of her life – at 58 – she was simply a shell.  She was never a tall woman, proudly “Five-foot-minus” she used to say, but she had always been firm and strong.  Never fat, but never skinny.  But laying motionless on her couch when I last saw her, my baby sister told me she weighed only 74 lbs.   She didn’t die during that last visit; I got a call early in the morning about 2 months later.

Again, in my youth, my mother was my hero.  She was the oracle of all truth and the center of my world.  But when I got that early morning phone call in early December, I was 36 – and didn’t know how to react.  I shed no tears.  I felt no pain.  I told my wife exactly what I had been told, and then I calmly rolled over and went back to sleep.

It was almost 10 years later when her death finally hit me.  Or, more accurately, crashed over me like a tsunami.

In June of 2006, I was on my lunch-break at work.  It was (and is) my normal practice to drive my car to a spacious parking lot, open the windows (during non-Winter months), and read a book during lunch.  While reading, my phone rang.  When I looked down to see who was calling, quite suddenly… I couldn’t breathe.  It felt like a thousand pounds were pressing directly onto my chest, keeping me from taking-in air.  Panic overtook me – the fear that I might suffocate because I couldn’t breathe-in.  After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to finally gulp in air… and so I greedily took long, deep breathes for fear that the weight might return any moment.  After uncounted minutes, I eventually began consciously slowing my breathing down, but the fear of The Weight was still strongly present.  What if it came back?  Would I die?  Should I go to the Emergency Room?  What if it came back while I was driving?  The pulse in my neck and wrists were easily felt, and the whooshing sound of my blood was loud in my ears.  I would later recognize this as a panic attack, but since I’d never felt this before, it frightened me to my core.  Then, just as I felt I was getting control of my breathing, a wave of sadness washed over me that was so intense, so unexpected, that it scared me even more than not being able to breathe.  I started to cry.  Not a simple or whimpering cry.  No.  I started to ball: Mouth open, sobbing loudly, snotty-nosed, rivers flowing from my eyes, drooling, occasional hiccupping, and moans of pain escaping between breathes.  This felt like a Weight too, but of a different type.  It was as if I was releasing something that had been bottled-up in me forever and it had finally decided to erupt out of me all at the same time.  I possessed no strength or wisdom or means to make it stop.  I had to let it all flow out until it was done on its own, and that didn’t happen for nearly an hour.

There were other people in that parking lot with their books or their music or their neck pillows, sitting in that lot for the exact same reason I had originally come there for.  Part of me thought I should feel shame or embarrassment at my childish outpour – but I didn’t.  I came back to work extremely late, eyes swollen, face flushed, nose and throat raw.  Perhaps I should have felt the need to manufacture some sort of reason or lie for my tardiness, but I didn’t.  My boss saw me come in late and something in my look seemed to almost scare her.  She didn’t ask for an explanation, and I felt no need to offer one.

It wasn’t until later that night, wide awake in my bed, that I finally realized the trigger for my – episode.  It gradually became obvious that when I had looked down at my phone to check the in-coming caller’s identity, part of me had noticed the date stamped at the top of the phone’s caller ID screen.  It had said “June 5th” – my mother’s birthday – and ‘something’ in me had finally decided that it was time for me to mourn.   And I did — all at once.

I guess you could have categorized that ‘episode’ as a Panic Attack.  Technically, it would fit.  But I think it was more than that.

After that day, I began to Remember.  My memories of my youth became less and less rose-colored, especially the memories involving my mother.  I remembered the cupboard with the bottles of alcohol and pills.  I remembered the many times of hearing sobbing coming from behind my mother’s bedroom door.  I remembered a conversation my mother had with me after my father left home for good.  I knew he was leaving because she had told him to go, but she had later taken me aside to offer a different narrative, blaming my father.  She asked me if I hated her.  Of course, I had told her, “No”.  I remembered several instances of coming home from school to find her slouched in my father’s chair, ‘sleeping’, but actually unconscious.  Waking groggily when nudged, her moving quickly to her bedroom – and then later coming out as if nothing had happened and fixing dinner.

From that incident in 2006, going forward, I learned what a very common thing it is for people to remanufacture their history, whether intentionally or instinctively, as a means of survival or mental preservation.  But every day we live with that false history, a brick is added to the Weight on our chests.  And, over time, that Weight will grow until it is unbearable.  Then – either sooner or later – it will either crush us completely, or it will roll off suddenly, causing the substantial Weight of truth to come flooding back in to fill the void.

I’ve seen my mother and several of my siblings deal with emotional challenges.  Their lives were filled with panic attacks, medicinal numbing, and periods of their lives overwhelmed by fear and mired in motionless existence.  This ‘condition’ killed my mother far too soon.  It also regularly whispered into one of my sister’s ears, constantly prodding her to try to kill herself until, in 2012, she was finally successful.

I am told that it is genetic, and yes – I have heard the echoes of it occasionally in my own life.  To deny it now would be to give it more power, and I refuse to do that.  Alcohol and food and self-inflicted pain were my reaction.  One day, I will write about those echoes.

I married a woman who has experienced a lifetime of her own echoes, felt her own individual Weight, and over the years, she has told me stories of her family members who have done the same.

Are our families unique?  Or do all families have a seed – some seeds – of the same tree?  Do these seeds automatically clone themselves onto our children?  And their children? And…so on?

I’m fast approaching 60 and only now do I begin to feel a semblance of control over my own internal Self.  At my age, there are very few things that bother me or frustrate me because I’ve learned to recognize that very few things are truly within my control and that sincere recognition makes it much easier to forego ownership of the 98% of life that is outside of my control.  However, there is still one single thing that unfailingly causes me concern and anxiety and frustration, and that is the welfare and well-being of those I love: quite notably, my children.  My son and daughter are THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT beings to me on this planet, and when they hurt, I hurt.  Distance between us does nothing to lessen that hurt.

I constantly feel the Weight of self-expectation to know how to help them when they hurt… that something in my history or my experience should produce a magic answer.  Of course, this is not true, but I’m sure every loving parent feels the same Weight of responsibility.  He is my son – She is my daughter.  They always will be.  I am their parent.  I always will be.  And the knowledge that I have nothing to offer but love and time and the ability to listen and empathize is, in many ways, the worst Weight of all.

But, unlike the other Weights I have carried in my lifetime, that is one Weight I bear willingly – and eternally.

Crack the Spine

I am a logophile – a lover of words.  More specifically, I Love Books.  Physical books.

Since my earliest memory, I have loved the feel, the smell, and the weight of a real book.  They were instantly precious things to me, worthy of awe and reverence, and demanding of protection and collection.

The 21st Century logophile in me appreciates digital media and will regularly read articles, short stories, and even novels with my phone and my notepad.  But those experiences are nowhere close to the joy and satisfaction I feel when I read an actual physical book.   And, of even greater joy is the knowledge that my children possess that same gene.

Being younger, they are regular consumers of digital media – and much better at it than I am, might I add.  But I have never had to explain to them the specialness, the uniqueness, the ineffableness of a bound book.  Over the years, I have seen them mindlessly, automatically, caress and squeeze and smell and simply hold books.  We each have our favorites, some we share, but many we do not, and that’s okay.  It’s the love and joy of the art form that we share.

For most of my life, I consumed books more quickly than I could purchase them; regularly reading 10-15 books simultaneously, having them strategically placed in key places along the path of my normal routine: some in my car, at my bedside, near my regular chair in the living room, at my work, and yes – in the bathroom.  I could seamlessly pick-up where I left off in a book that I may have not touched in 2 weeks, instantly tumbling back into the emotion and mindset of my bookmark.

But, over the last 10 or-so years, I have fallen into the inverse pattern of buying more books than I regularly read; a rabbit hole that is, I have found, extremely common amongst aging logophiles.   Life’s demands insidiously sneak up on us and incrementally, imperceptibly consume us – our time – until the stack of unread books grows so high that they tumble over on their own.  Then comes the internal promises and pledges of reading more, or – almost heretically – buying less.

In the first half of my life, I always found the idea of a library filled with unread books as pompous and artificial.  These are obviously people who buy books and fill their shelves with un-cracked spines as a means to appear well-read and intelligent.  But life has finally taught me that some of these virgin libraries are perhaps people who, like me, have allowed life’s rushing river to push them away from the true course.

So, as of now, it is time again for me to begin cracking spines, smelling pages, and consuming paper.

Onward.

Life Balance

For most of my life, people I considered wiser than me kept coaching me to find “Life Balance”.  This advice was regularly being offered by well-meaning family, friends and mentors who knew me well enough to know that I’m the type of person who throws myself completely into things, whether it be work, hobbies, or whatever.  Through our discussions, I took “Life Balance” to mean a fair and clear separation between my personal life and my work life.  They obviously felt (feel?) that work and non-work time should not intrude on each other, and that such an intrusion somehow diminishes the quality of each…or both.

But wait!  These same people would also espouse the belief that “You should try to find a job that brings you joy.”

In my lifetime, I’ve definitely done my fair share of jobs that I disliked simply as a means of paying the bills and being “The Provider” for the family — my Duty.  Whether it was my military work, telemarketing, shoe salesman, cleaning warehouses, street repair, dishwasher-busboy-cook, dispatcher, and many others, none of these jobs were Dream Job.  They did, however, allow me to feed my family, keep a roof over our heads, and so on.   But did any of these jobs cause or contribute to a Life Imbalance?  Did they somehow detract from my personal life?

The short answer is – Yes AND No.

In my youth, for many years, I waited for a father who rarely came home. He was constantly on-the-road, a short- and long-haul truck driver, earning a living to put a roof over our heads and regularly feed a family of eleven (12, if you include the dog).  However, later conversations with my father revealed that although he hated that “cost” of his job, he also loved the work.  He was a creature of The Road.  He thoroughly enjoyed driving, seeing the countryside, his CB conversations with his often faceless friends, and all of the challenges that came with this job (including the dangers of driving as a scab during Teamster strikes).  To this day, he feels he had life balance and that he was a terrific dad. He enjoyed his job AND his duty as a father, husband and provider.  He wasn’t the one-on-one “Let’s go outside and throw the ball around, son” kind of father; definitely not his natural tendency. He was a “Provider Dad”, and in the the context of keep his significant brood clothed and fed, I have to admit he was successful.

My parents got divorced in my teens, and I spent my teens, 20’s and 30’s pissed-off at my father for being a crappy Dad, vowing that I would do better. I would be more than just a Provider Dad.

So, in short >> My father felt he had Life Balance, and most of his children felt he did not.

But is it that simple?

As parents, there is this overwhelming internal drive to sacrifice anything and everything we have, including much of who we are (if necessary), in order to provide for our children.  The children eat before we do.  Parents sometimes go hungry.  Parents wear the same cloths for many years so that their kids have new (newer) clothes.  We want to give our children a life that is better than the one we had, and in today’s America, that regularly involves prioritizing our children’s needs and wants far above and ahead of our own, including above our own health and well-being.  Parent’s backs begin to bow slightly, they feel older than they really are, they reminisce about the dreams they used to have – daily choosing to kick those dreams further down the road in order to provide for their children.

I’ve heard it called a Mid-Life Crisis when fathers buy that sports car at 50, or when parents wear clothes that are perceived as “Too young” for them.  How about the skills they had in their youth — artist, musician, mechanic, athlete, etc. — that aren’t realized until AFTER the children are out of the house?

Of course, these sacrifices and black & white choices are not the scenario for all American parents, but I feel safe to say that it’s definitely the road for most.  But do these families lack Life Balance?

Yes, I still bring my work home, whether it’s in the form of doing work on my laptop over the weekend, or simply daydreaming in the evening about the current work challenge as I chew my dinner (supper?).  Yes, these days there seems to be a clearer separation between my Work Life and my Home Life, but does that mean that I have a better Life Balance than I did when I was younger and the kids were still home?

I want to offer advice to my 2 children – each now married with lives of their own – but I struggle with telling them emphatically that work detracts from Life Balance.  Yes, I do believe that work CAN detract from home life quality — I would’ve much “preferred” that my dad was home every night, throwing the ball around with me, teaching me and laughing with me and being the TV dad I thought he was supposed to be.  But for him, Life Balance required him to make a large number of personal sacrifices, including those father/son interactions, in favor of ensuring I had clothes on my back and food in my stomach (the same goes for my mother and 8 siblings… and don’t forget our dog).

In his mind (still), he had Life Balance back then.   In my mind (then), he did not.  In my mind (now), I’m starting to see things differently.

This story doesn’t have a clear-cut, black & white solution.  There’s no solid and definitive answer or definition for Life Balance.  There are costs – sometimes overwhelming costs – to being a parent.  It cost my mother her life.  She died in her late-50’s from the stress of providing Life Balance for her children, while my dad will soon be celebrating his 85th birthday.

Life Balance is – by definition – an extremely selfish thing, but from my experience, there’s nothing selfish about it at all.  It’s a Perception Thing.  It’s a Fluid Thing – constantly changing.   I’m sure my kids had opinions about it when they were younger, and I’m equally certain that their opinions have changed (even slightly) over time.

Hmm.  Something to meditate on, I think.

Just Begin… Again

There is never (and I DO mean NEVER!) an uninterrupted path to a goal.  Along the way, there will always be false starts, failures, obstacles, justifications, pain, weakness, mistakes, ego, shifts in priorities, selfishness (or lack, thereof), poor judgment, insufficient skill, injuries, temporary personal limits, lack of focus, exhaustion, poor planning, and a myriad of other boulders that will fall in your path to success.

For many – for MOST – one or more of these will serve to justify abandoning that goal.  They will be the convenient excuse to avoid the pain, discomfort, effort, and sacrifices that come with the achievement of most goals.  They can tell themselves, “I tried, but…” <insert reason>.  But the truth is, as long as you’re breathing, there is no real excuse to abandon a goal except “I quit!”  The term “I quit” is clearly a choice – a personal choice – to give up on your goal.  It’s no one else’s fault but yours.  You CHOSE to abandon your goal.  Now, if you can live with that, and live with it honestly, fine.

But the cold, honest truth of life is: to achieve goals, to realize dreams, you have to be able to tell yourself that you failed, but you DID NOT QUIT!  With every failure, you simply Begin Again.  Every obstacle that causes you to stop, to pause, to take a step backwards, are all entities that will add to the eventual value of achieving your goal.  Obstacles strengthen you, they make you wiser, and they teach you about yourself in ways that success NEVER will.

So, when you set a goal in front of you, KNOW that you will likely fail over and over again between start and finish.  Just remember that the most valuable key to attaining any goal is to constantly and repeatedly…

BEGIN AGAIN.

Seek Discomfort

It amazes me every time I realize (over and over) how many lessons I learned in my teens, 20’s and 30’s, but I’m only now – in reflection – finally getting the point.  A great example has to do with the toxicity of “comfort”.

Very few things came easy to me as I was growing up and growing older.  Even music, the one thing I truly have a natural affinity for and ability in, even this was rarely comfortable.  All of the skills I’ve learned were earned with countless hours of pain and sweat and frustration and disappointment, with an occasional sprinkle of success and satisfaction and revelation.

Back then, I didn’t consciously seek discomfort – or avoid comfort, for that matter – I simply did whatever was necessary to eek, inch by painful inch, toward my goal.  And if that meant the periodic spilling of my own blood (whether from my fingers during guitar practice, or from wounds received during martial arts practice), then that was the acceptable cost.

Only now, at the age of 58, am I consciously pushing myself to learn what I used to naturally “know”.  Somewhere in my 40’s and 50’s, I forgot the cost of success.  I somehow, in imperceptive increments, let go of my focused search for perfection and began to wrap my arms around “comfort”.  Eventually, my arms were wrapped so tightly around comfort that I couldn’t see what I was doing.  I had been doing it long enough that I couldn’t feel the difference.

Only when I started learning and studying Stoicism could I finally put words to the echoes of feelings that were reminding me of my lost Self.  The Self that didn’t overthink the process of success.  My old Self would simply “Just Begin” toward the dim light of my goals, and would tackle each and every obstacle that slowed me down – or even stopped me for a time – and wouldn’t care at all about the cost of blood and pain and time that were demanded.

Then I saw the words “Voluntary Discomfort” during my Stoic readings.  I loved the concept, but that phrase didn’t quite capture what I KNOW I needed to do to reclaim my old Self.  Eventually, the phrase morphed in my head to “Seek Discomfort”.

That was it!

It expressed an action that needed to be done.  Voluntary Discomfort can often be viewed as allowing discomfort to happen to you.  but “Seek Discomfort” is a forward moving action.  I am actively seeking that which is uncomfortable – just like I used to when I was younger… back when I actually achieved my goals.

In the last year, or so, I’ve gathered a handful of terms that speak to the deepest part of my True Self.  They demand attention.  They demand action.  And “Seek Discomfort” is definitely one of the ones I say to myself daily – repeatedly.

Please believe me, kids.  Life happens To You constantly, and – if you let it – it will sweep you along like a powerful current.  And before you know it, years – sometimes decades – will pass before you realize that you somehow lost control of your course.  The goals that constantly stack themselves like cordwood in the back of your mind will gather dust, even as you continue to build upon it.

Seek Discomfort – now!  Don’t wait for the right day or time or conditions or money or circumstances or… anything else that throws a shadow on your forward path.

Remember the Joy

In my early life – from my youth through my mid-30’s – I clung tightly to those things that meant the most to me.  The list of “Those Things” is pretty short, mostly because the fight required to keep them actively in my life always came at a cost.  When each item on your “List” elicits arguments, lost sleep or even blood, you choose the items on your List very carefully.  At that time, the Items were:

Martial Arts training.  Military life and married life and parental life and church life and just-plain-life normally leaves very few spare minutes each day (if any at all) that I can use for Lee Stuff, and quality Martial training takes serious time.  Back then, I trained 2 to 3 times a week, a minimum of 2 hours per session.  These sessions kept me in shape, they were extremely meditative, and they nurtured my soul.  They also allowed me a means of pushing my personal abilities to new limits, a vital component of any life of quality.

Music.  I’ve held a deep, powerful love for music from my earliest memory, and I have been a musician ever since the age of 8.  Playing the guitar is by far my greatest expression of that love because it provides a direct conduit from my heart to the air – through my fingers.  If I am playing music that I deeply connect with – or, more intensely, music I have written – that expression is multiplied 10x.

Reading.  As a poor child, I used to steal books from the library at school so that I could read and re-read and re-re-read stories that lifted my spirits, caused me to dream, and simply made me happy.  When I finally had the means to purchase books, it didn’t take long for my library to become massive.  At it’s largest, my physical library filled four 6-foot bookcases, stacked two books deep, wedged in sideways, and overflowed onto the floor.  I would regularly be reading 7 to 10 books simultaneously, stashing them in every common pocket and place, and would quickly replace every finished book with a fresh one.  SciFi, historical, instructional, philosophical… there were few genres I wouldn’t gobble up.

There are many things I love to do, but those three things were activities I HAD TO DO!  They were vital to my well-being, and it didn’t matter to me who got pissed-off at me for carving out time to do them.  Period!

But the unrelenting pounding of hurt feelings, of work demands, and the weight of mounting guilt eventually chipped away at my resolve…  and my Must Do 3 Things eventually, silently, went away.

In my teens, 20’s and 30’s, these three things were synonymous with my name; and the people who were attracted to me – wanted to be around me, speak with me, engage with me – did so primarily because of one or more of those three things.  Over time (unbeknownst to me) they served as major factors in defining who I was as a person.  So, unsurprisingly in hindsight, when The 3 went away, so did much of my self-worth, my identity, and my joy.

Oh, I still smiled.  I still laughed.  And there were other things that brought me joy (my children being the most prominent).  But as an individual, I no longer had any of those three things to nurture “Me”.   No stories to absorb.  No notes to carry my inner feelings.  No movement to expel my pain.

It’s been nearly 20 years since I lost my Top 3 and if I take the time to examine those 20 years, I can easily see how I’ve pretended to still possess them.  I have bought dozens of books that I have never read.  I move my guitar from place to place, always keeping it visible, but never using it like I used to.  And I write endless martial training plans and constantly tell myself that “I’m getting ready”… but never actually train – not like I used to.

How did I let 20 years go by without missing the joy of my music and art and literature?  Did I cover the joy with lies and rationalizations and false promises of tomorrow?

I don’t know.  It’s amazing how easily, seamlessly we can justify such things to ourselves and blanket them with the rationale of selflessness.  But at what cost?

It wasn’t until 2016 that I could finally see the vacancy in my eyes… and recognize it in pictures taken over the last 20 years.  And it wasn’t until this year that I could finally understand the cause of that vacancy.  Only now can I remember – faintly, but firmly – the joy I used to feel.  Only now has the desire for my Top 3 returned.

History teaches us to learn from the mistakes of others.  But this lesson is useless without the action of actually looking and listening to those mistakes.

My children, please NEVER allow life or love or work or any other demand of existence cause you to let go of any activity that defines you, nourishes you, and allows your soul to soar.   Decades slip by all too quickly, and the lack of your Top 3 will drain you in ways you cannot imagine.

I don’t know how much more life God will grant me, but I feel blessed that He has allowed my eyes to see again.  He has gifted me with the ability to ache again for the things that He bestowed me with in my youth.  And most important of all, He has allowed me to…

Remember the Joy.

I hate bullies

“Hate” is not a word I use very often because it is used by too many people to describe their feelings toward a person, place or thing that they dislike. To me, though, “Hate” is active, it is intentional, it is powerful, and much different than simple dislike. I will gently chide family and close friends who use it casually: “Do you really hate her?” And I find that, most times, they will correct themselves: “No, I don’t ‘hate’ her, but she just makes me so mad sometimes.”

But yes, I truly “Hate” bullies. It’s not the complete person I hate, it’s the active “Bully” in them that I hate.

Bully’s are proactive. Bully’s are relentless. They are selfish and cruel and illogical and without remorse. I don’t care if you’re a bully who says you are God-fearing, a bully who says they love their family, or a bully who gives generously to charities. True bully’s don’t do those positive things out of sincere, selfless impulse. Bully’s do positive things to paint over their dark deeds with bright colors as a salve to their conscience (IF they truly have a conscience) or to convince others that “I’m really a good person at heart.” It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s a lie.

I’m not going to go into the psychology of a bully or offer my explanation of why a bully bully’s others. Everyone’s path to becoming a bully is unique and deserves individual examination. I will say, though, that nothing excuses or justifies a bully’s behavior. Nothing! I feel pity for a persons upbringing, their childhood challenges, the abuses they may have experienced, but none of it justifies or excuses the actions of a bully. Nothing!

Hands in Pockets

Parents want to protect their children.  It’s not really a conscious thing – it’s instinctual.  So, oft times, the conscious things we say and do to reign back our kids are rooted in the bone-deep need to protect and preserve.

All these years later, I still vividly remember innocent looks, the carefree laughs, and children piled atop their cousins – all sleeping soundly after hours of boundless play.  These memories are precious and priceless, and I still feel the echoes of need to defend and extend that carefree zone.

Then comes the first look of real fear when the true world is finally noticed; real emotional pain caused by someone they opened their heart to; the first brick placed and mortared into the wall that nearly all adults eventually build.  Every true parent’s heart sinks at the sight of these because they know that every effort to protect their cubs will be like holding back the rising tide with a broom.

Yes, I remember the loss of my own innocence.  But even more clearly, I remember the look of sadness in my mother’s eyes when she realized I was no longer her little boy.  Mentally, she wrapped her arms around herself because holding me no longer offered the same comfort as it did in my youth; it ceased to soothe.

Now, I see my adult children – such a dichotomous phrase – and I loathe to admit that my arms are no longer long enough, my words do not easily balm, and my smile does not relieve the tension in their shoulders.  I feel impotent.

Now there is FaceTime – Thank God? – and in that small screen I see my son calm and soothe and protect his own children.  I sense the invisible tether between them, and I shiver at the knowledge of it’s tenuousness.  I see the same things when I see my daughter’s doting and soothing and fierce protectiveness of her young puppy, knowing full-well that this is practice and a precursor for when she has her own children.

And again, I feel helpless because I know the pain they will both feel when their children reach “that age”, and the separation begins.  I feel helpless because I cannot protect them from that eventuality.

It is a cliché truism that parents must, at times, figuratively put their hands in their pockets and allow their children to experience pain and failure and other mini-disasters so that they may learn how to face them, deal with them, and grow from them on their own.  And as true and necessary as this may be, there is absolutely nothing easy or matter-of-fact about it.

There is, however, one unchanging fact: Our children’s tears and pain and anguish will always be paired with our own, but are rarely-if-ever seen by them because they are no longer there.  They are too busy with their hands in their pockets, watching their own children grow.

As it should be.

Musical Conundrum

Music was the first thing I recall being able to call “Me”.   I was 8 yrs. old when my adopted Grandma Beth gave me a guitar.  It quickly became a means of expression that flowed directly from my inner-self to the world.  I’d never had that before, so I was a really excited by it… and a little freaked out.  I’d already been repeatedly told that I wear my heart on my sleeve – that everyone around me can instantly see and feel my emotions simply by looking at my face – so did I want another means by which people could so easily “read me”?

I eventually got over the hesitation and learned to embrace this gift of expression, and it helped me later to more easily embrace similar outlets that came from drawing and writing.

One thing, though.  Drawing and writing (essays, short stories, un-finished novels) are much safer because the expression isn’t 100% “You”;  it’s “You” mixed with the empathetic guess of what your characters are likely experiencing, feeling, and struggling with.  Music, on the other hand, is much more direct.  Much more personal.  Much more “You”.

And this is even more true when it comes to writing songs.

Every song I ever wrote was very nearly a 1-to-1 with whatever I was feeling at the time.  Oh, I could modify the words to deflect and disguise some of the emotion, but the music and the overall tone of the song was 100% the emotion of the moment.  If I was in love, than the song was completely a love song.  If I was pissed off, then… well, you get the idea.

For many years, I refused to write new songs because my wife had hijacked that process.  Just as I was learning to extend myself, experiment, and diversify my song-writing ability, she squashed that process.  Every song had to be about her – and every song had to be a love song.  There could be no negativity without retribution.  There could be no imagining of other people’s circumstances in my music because it was instantly and firmly attributed to “me”, and there was no meaningful discussion or concession that songs could be about something other than my life.

So, instead of running the love-song treadmill, I decided to simply stop running.  I didn’t even pick up my guitar for many years.  My musical growth stopped.  My songwriting exploration ended.

I’ve since transferred this urge and attempt at internal and external exploration to writing stories.  I’ve started many – and finished very few – but the process itself is the most important.  It challenges.  It satisfies.

But from time to time, I still yearn to explore with music.  To write songs about things I no longer feel, or things I’ve never felt, or things I wish I could stop feeling — and to write them without fear of retribution or guilt.

John Paul White is one of my favorite song writers.  He’s raw and quirky and magical.  When he decided to leave the Civil Wars, it was very obvious that there was a personal struggle there that overwhelmed him emotionally.  He says that he couldn’t write afterwards because of the fear of what would come out. He was afraid that he’d write something that might hurt his wife or his family or show some part of himself that he wanted to keep hidden.  In the end, he finally decided to let “whatever” come out and write whatever his soul guided him to write.  He made a deal with himself that these songs would be his alone – not to share with anyone else.  He felt that once he had exorcised these songs from his soul, then he would be able to get back to writing music that he felt good about.

The funny thing was, it was these exorcised songs that he put on his next album.  They’re very personal and angry and confused and painful and mysterious.   But they’re him.  He feels no need to explain them – only to sing them.

I so desperately want to get back to my music – both playing and writing.  So, using JPW’s method, I think I’ll write whatever my soul guides me to write.  I may never share them with anyone, but at least I’ll clear out the blockage I feel and – hopefully – make way for a new path of expression.

We’ll see.

The Wall

When I was younger and would occasionally try to picture what it’d be like to get older (cause that’s one thing all aspiring artists and professing empathists do), the obvious “things” that came to mind were: progressively diminished physical and/or mental capacity, the ever-present financial worries related to maintaining personal independence during retirement years, and the growing, gnawing realization of mortality.  But the one thing I never imagined would be a part of getting older would be “The Wall”.

When you care about people, you must also accept a level of vulnerability.  People who you accept inside your personal bubble can – and often will – hurt you; often not intentionally, but that’s simply what humans do.  They need a release valve; they need a sounding board; they need a punching bag.  Life is increasingly difficult, and when the stresses of their lives reach a boiling point, they need an outlet, and all too often, that release is unchecked and unfiltered and indiscriminate.  When I was younger, I fully accepted this as a mandatory part of caring for someone, and I am fully aware that those who cared about me were also subject to my personal tea kettle moments.

Quick regression here: I was raised by a very explosive father.  He wanted quiet.  He didn’t have time to listen to his children; it was simply more noise to him.  This environment was ripe for the development of two types of people: those who were perhaps over-sensitive — always on the lookout for dad to explode, and the rebellious child — always looking to be out of the house so they wouldn’t have to censor themselves.  I started as the first, and ended as the second, leaving home as soon as I possibly could via the military.  I know from personal experience that over-sensitive types have two main qualities: they find alternate ways of expelling frustration (these are the people who usually become musicians, painters, actors, and other types of artists), and they automatically (and often unknowingly) offer themselves up as sounding boards and punching bags for others.

And – for decades – that has been my life.

But 6 years ago, I finally decided that my personal and emotional health was important.  I decided that I mattered.  I have tried many other ways to keep my arms open and my chin up to whomever needed a sounding board or a punching bag cause I felt that I was tough enough to handle it.  I finally realized that I’m not.  That’s not an easy admission, but it IS a necessary one.

So, 6 years ago, the answer became obvious.

I needed to stop making myself available to everyone as a sounding board and punching bag, and restrict that part of me to: those who deserve it (my immediate family and closest of friends) and to those who don’t abuse it.  That second point was the toughest because it brought me to my second realization.

Sometimes – to maintain your personal health – you have to let go of people that you thought were your friends.

When you come to that very hard but very necessary realization, and when you’ve finally hit a place in your life where you have the fortitude to actually begin cutting ties in order to protect your personal health, the next step becomes obvious — and increasingly easier.

So, for the last 6 years, I’ve changed the nature of my relationship with a great many people.  For some, I’ve had to cut ties completely because they were unable to change how they perceived my role in our relationship.  They couldn’t understand that certain things were simply no longer acceptable.  For others, it’s required a long period (in some cases, years) of No Contact for them to realize I’m serious.  Then, if the core of our relationship was healthy and they felt it was worth saving, we reconnected with a different but much more healthy relationship.  For others, that disconnection became permanent.  I had to be okay with some “Not understanding” the difference.  I had to be okay with putting “Me” higher on the priority scale.

There will always be a very small list of people I will put first in most situations, my kids topping that list, but the list of people whose needs and wants and feelings matter more than mine has definitely shortened in the last 6 years.  And the result?

I’m happier – I’m healthier – I sleep better – and the relationships I currently have are valuable and sustainable.

So, what’s The Wall?  It’s that barrier that kept me from seeing and knowing the cost of my over-empathy for so many years.  It’s the “thing” that kept me in an unhealthy cycle for decades.  And, it’s the “thing” that is currently and ever-fading in my rear-view mirror.

Resolutions

I used to believe in New Year’s Resolutions, thinking that they were the perfect means – demarcation – to start fresh and plan a positive year of action and growth.

Not anymore.

In fact, Yearly Resolutions are usually very detrimental for most people.  Sure, they might do well for the first week, the first month, or maybe even the first few months, but WHEN (not IF) they have a failure, and because the failure is tied to an Annual Goal or Self-Promise, they feel either “I failed — I’m done”… or… “I failed — I’m Free!”  The same goes for Monthly Resolutions — Same Problem, Same Result.

Several year’s ago, I pretty much jettisoned the large Resolutions (yearly, monthly) in favor of Daily Resolutions.  Each day, I make goals for me for THAT day.  I may also touch base with myself on progress/challenges on longer-term goals/plans, and I will adjust accordingly.  That way, WHEN I fail, however long that takes, the failure is very short-lived.  At worst, it lasts for the rest of that day.  But the next day, I’m back on the stick.

As a writer, I constantly remind myself of the old writer’s adage: “Write a word a day, and eventually, you’ll have a book.”  The same goes for every other goal in your life:  Drive one nail a day; read one page a day; do one push-up extra per day; and so on.  Many back-to-back mini-successes keep you inching ever-closer to your goal.  Even repeated failures don’t diminish your many other mini-successes.

My goals for 2018 are exactly the same as they’ve been through most of 2017, except – the bar is in a different place.  Example:  For ALL of this year, I’ve wanted to build my gym in the basement.  And, day by day, I’ve inched closer to that goal.  Is it done?  No.  That’s why this goal persists in 2018.  It’s not Starting on 1/1/2018.  I made a lot of progress in that goal this year (tore down two built-in storage units that were in the way, packed up a ton of “stuff” that was taking-up basement space and either gave it away or threw it away, and – incrementally – I purchased a rower, some weights, bought/installed a flat screen TV, and purchased other gym accessories that I wanted to have in my gym).  Now, I need to rip out the old carpet, paint the walls, replace the paneling on one wall, and several other mini-steps towards finishing my gym.

I love failure.  As Yoda says, it is the greatest teacher.  So, by starting new each and every day (instead of once each January 1st), I increase the number of failures I experience each year.  But, I also increase the number of lessons-learned, and I largely increase the number of successes achieved.

So — please ditch the New Year’s Resolution, kids, and embrace Daily Resolutions.

“Much more beneficial, it is, hmmm?”  (My bad Yoda impression.  Sorry)

White Noise

I come from (what would be considered in today’s world) a big family.  I have 5 brothers and 3 sisters. (I also have an additional 1/2-sister, but that’s a different story).  But in my youth, families of our size were considered very normal.  In the 50’s and 60’s, people simply had kids when they had kids.  There was no intellectualized consideration of whether the parents could only afford “X” number of kids.  They trusted that God would give them exactly as many kids as they were meant to have.

So, because there were so many of us in the house, especially at night, and because we normally lived in a 3 bedroom home, that meant that my parents had their room, my sisters had their room, and my brothers and I were comfortably crammed into a single room.  In the early years, in was three boys per bed, with arms and legs commonly overlapping each other with no offense felt.  Later, we graduated to bunk beds, and it took me a while to get used to being in a single bed (even one as small as a bunk bed) by myself.  For some reason, I was always assigned the upper bunk, and for some reason, I regularly fell out of that upper bunk in the middle of the night.  I never got hurt, and I only cried the first time it happened.  I just got used to waking up to the sudden jolt of landing on the floor in the wee hours of the night, quickly coming to the realization of what had happened, and then crawling back into my upper bunk and, just as quickly, back to sleep.  After a time (I’m not sure when), I eventually and simply stopped falling out of bed.

There is one undeniable fact about a family our size, 9 kids and a dog make a constant amount of noise: loud whispers into the night as each child fought sleep, constant trips to the one bathroom in the house – kids rooms upstairs, single bathroom downstairs, and several squeaky stair treads in-between them, not to mention the sound of fighting dogs or cats in the middle of the night, street noises, and so on.  Because I had always been exposed to this concert of sound, I had no problem at all falling asleep each night amidst this soundtrack.

What I hadn’t realized until I eventually moved out of the house and on my own (to join the military) was… I needed that soundtrack.  Only when it was gone did I realize that it was responsible for soothing me to sleep each night.  My family soundtrack wrapped itself around me like a blanket and assured me that I was home.  But after leaving home, in the midst of 50 other guys in a tin bunkhouse, or later in a crowded military dormitory, the soundtrack had significantly changed.  It didn’t soothe.  It didn’t lull.  The sounds were like someone banging pots and pans together, and it made sleep nearly impossible.

I eventually bought a little 10-inch black and white TV for my dorm room because I missed my Star Trek episodes, watching M*A*S*H and enjoying old movies, and my new TV offered me a taste of the familiar in what was still a very strange environment for me.  And, in the middle of watching The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, I began to wish I could listen to my shows and stories and movies at night; because they were so familiar, maybe they’d be able to replace the sounds of my family soundtrack.

So, my next purchase was a portable cassette recorder and a stack of 60-minute blank cassette tapes.  I also began regularly buying the TV Guide from the market when I went to buy food so that I could find my favorite shows and plan my recording sessions.

That’s how it began – my nighttime white noise sessions.

It started simply, with cassettes of: a few Star Trek episodes, a great crossover 2-part special of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, the original “Thing”, and several others.  I recorded about 8 hours of material and I played them over and over.  I had the portable cassette player on the nightstand next to my head with the volume as low as it could go without being “zero” (so I wouldn’t disturb my roommate), and from then on, I slept like a baby.

Over the years, I recorded many other favorite TV episodes, a few other movies, but my favorite was a 90-minute Memorex tape of Cape Canaveral during the pre-release, release, and initial test landing of the very first Space Shuttle: The Enterprise.  It never went into space, but it was always my favorite.

As my tapes stretched and broke and jammed up my player, I ended up recording new shows and buying new players.  I had cracked the code.  I needed my white noise.  I had tried several times to sleep without them, and most times I ended up either tossing and turning all night, or I simply stayed awake until dawn.

Then came the era of the portable DVD player.  Wow!  I was in heaven!  My poor cassette player quickly gathered dust and my tapes were stored in a box (and they’re still there) as I built my DVD library and purchased a set of headphones.  (Yes, you heard me.  Not “earphones”, but “headphones” — those big things that fit over your ears.  I slept with those on so that I wouldn’t wake up your mother.)

Over the years I wore out MANY copies of the same movies and I completely exhausted numerous portable DVD players.  But I needed my white noise to sleep, so the only “advance” I made for a very long time was to eventually get a set of earphones to replace my beaten and broken headphones.

Now, nearly 40 years after recording my first cassette tape, my last portable DVD player is now gathering dust and I’ve boxed up nearly all of my DVDs in favor of using an iPad and listening to digital movies and TV shows.  When I travel, I’ll use my iPhone because it allows me access to all of my movies and TV shows, and now – no matter where I am – I can play my white noise and fall deeply asleep.

Does this foible – this eccentricity – make me abnormal?

I listen to Life Coaches and Yoga Instructors and other such persons who all strongly recommend to their students and clients that they must begin using meditation techniques in order to help them sleep.  I see “White Noise” machines on Amazon and in Facebook that play the sounds of oceans and breezes and night sounds in order to help people sleep.  There are apps you can download that do the same thing.

Hmm.  Maybe I was just a few decades ahead of the game?  Or… more likely… I was simply a young man who missed his home and family and, out of desperation, came up with the only thing that simulated the soundtrack of his youth.

Could be worse, right?  I could be carrying a worn and smelly blanket from my youth.  Thank God for simple blessings.

My Belly

I look in the mirror and I see my dad.  Same eyes, same mouth, and (unfortunately) same belly.

I used to tease my dad (when he was in a good mood and I was feeling brave) about his gut.  He normally ignored me, but one day (I think I was 16 or so and feeling particularly cocky) he stopped what he was doing, turned to me and said, “Okay – Go ahead and punch it.”  I took a loooong pause cause I wasn’t sure if he was serious.  But he simply smiled and encouraged me to take a shot at his gut.

It’s important to note that I’d been training in Tae Kwon Do for about a year at this point, so I felt pretty confident that I could kill with a single blow (cause that’s the sort of crap some martial arts schools taught then, and still teach today), so I was concerned that I would hurt my dad.  But his repeated encouragement finally reassured me that he was taking sole responsibility for any major damage I might inflict.

He put his hands on his hips, presented his belly to me, and waited as I assumed a deep martial stance to get down to Belly Level.  When I felt ready, I cocked my right fist near my right hip, took a few deep breathes, and let loose with my best Reverse Punch, striking him squarely in the center of his gut.

My wrist was obviously not well conditioned because my fist easily rolled forward upon contact with the rock solid surface of my dad’s stomach.  PAIN shot from my wrist, up through my arm and into my shoulder.  I hadn’t moved my dad one inch; his belly hadn’t collapsed or been otherwise affected by my punch.  I stood holding my screaming wrist while my dad continued to stand in from of me for a few moments longer, hands still on hips, and a smile growing across his face.  He then patted me on the shoulder, told me to put some ice on my wrist, and he left the room.

That was not only a life-changing lesson about the horrible quality of the martial arts training I had received over the last year, but it was also a lesson about one of my prejudices: I thought that because he had a big belly, my dad must be weak in some manner.

My dad just turned 84 a few days ago (the 26th) and he’s still going strong, gut and all.

Over the last month, I’ve noticed that my pants are getting uncomfortably tighter around the gut.  I look in the mirror and I notice my dad’s gut staring back at me.  I stepped on the scale this morning and saw numbers that match my life’s highest weight.

The lazy part of me wants to use my dad as justification to not worry about my big ol’ belly.  Dad’s gut has been big for as long as I can remember.  He’s still alive and healthy, so what’s the big deal, right?  Plus, it’s probably genetic, right?  I’m gonna have a big gut, no matter what I do, so just deal with it and get on with your life.

The rest of me is screaming “Get your ass into gear, man!  You KNOW that’s not who YOU really are, so get your body moving and take care of it!  Be an example of good, not laziness!”

I went to see my doctor recently because of a Gout flare-up and during the appointment, I actually expressed the thoughts of “Lazy Me”.  He smiled and said, “Yes, you could do that, or… You can keep trying to get healthy.   Are you just gonna quit trying?”

My doctor’s a really cool guy and I respect him a lot.  He has gotten to know me a bit; enough to know that using the word “Quit” is the perfect way to point out that there’s really no choice.  I HATE to quit anything!  He knows this.

So yes, I have my dad’s belly.  It’s MY belly now.

Time to get rid of it.

 

 

The power and pitfalls of perception

There was a time in my work career when saying “Yes Ma’am” to a female co-worker or boss was considered sexist and offensive. They didn’t care that it was meant to be respectful. They didn’t care that it was a cultural norm for me and millions of people across the country to show deference to the women around us in this way. Their perception was “You’re being demeaning!” “You’re pushing a sexist agenda!” Even more disturbing was, their perceptions were being backed-up by corporate HR and lawyers. We were even given classes on workplace harrassment, and saying “Yes Ma’am” was one of the things listed as “Possibly Offensive”.
So when people take a knee during the national anthem as a silent protest against unresolved police brutality and I see and hear people label it as offensive to the flag, offensive to soldiers, offensive to our country, I notice the same oblivious perceptions and selective hearing that I dealt with during the “Yes Ma’am” era. How is someone taking a knee, silently, for 1 minute before a football game hurting you? Why does a president and other persons in political power say that exercising your First Amendment rights is evil and then threaten players, the NFL, news outlets, and anyone else who doesn’t agree with them?

And also in the news these days…


Why does the Casting Couch exist for decades and – all of a sudden – after a flood of incidents come to light about a single individual, only then – magically – it becomes real again? Only then do others speak up. Only then do others condemn this silent normality.
People who know me know that I think Trump is a blithering idiot, but I’m beginning to think that it was time for someone like him to become president because his presence is serving to expose (in record time) the cracks and biases in our political and legal systems, the still-existing racist tendendies of much of our country, and the weaknesses in ourselves.
Trump, I believe, served/serves as a catalyst. Now – it’s our turn to examine ourselves and ask “Is this who we are?” And, more importantly “Is this who we truly want to be??”

A Preemptive “Sorry”

Occasionally, I get this picture in my head of my family going through my “stuff” after I pass away, and being confronted by a mountain of journals of all types, shapes and varieties; some with writing, but most as blank as snow.

My name is Lee Jackson and yes, I have an addiction: I love journals.

I love the feel of them, the look of them, and simply the idea of “having” them.  Of course, the vision in my head when I justify (justified) the purchase of yet “one more journal” was very likely “But I’m going to write in them and capture my thoughts, my poetry, my story ideas, and my life”, but… all too often, they simply stay in my bedroom for a few weeks (so I can touch them, look at them, and simply dream), then they are added to the ever-growing pile of journals in my basement den.  (That’s the pattern today.  Who knows what it’ll be when I eventually leave this mortal coil?)

When I was growing up, I had to use throw-away, already-used journals to write in.  Getting my hands on paper of any kind was nearly impossible (except for school assignments) because my family was extremely money-challenged.  Over the many years of being deprived of paper, I started feeling a yearning for it.  I’m not sure if it was the writer or the artist in me that seeded this yearning, but it was definitely there, along with occasional dreams of “When I grow up, I’m going to get all the journals I want!”  Yes, in some of my dreams, I actually visualized a mountain of pristine journals stacked behind me as I carefully wrote in one of them.

And, quite oddly (even to me), I’ve kinda made that dream come true.

I can afford them, I want them, so I get them!

In the last few years, I’ve done a really good job of (and felt a growing need to) severely reduce the number of possessions in my life, as well as the amount of stuff within my home.  I want to simply.  I want to de-clutter.  That said, I have little doubt that my family will have to deal with that mountain of journals when I finally die, no matter how much I want to reduce my worldly possessions.

Why?

Because they’re journals, they’re important, and – they represent a dream; a dream that has existed as far back as I can remember, and will likely only die when I do.

Sorry gang.

Throw away the book

When I was a kid – around 7 years old – my family moved to California.  We were there cause my dad had been in a severe auto accident that shattered both his knees.  He had a foot-long scar down the front of both of his knees and he told us that they’d taken out his kneecaps.  During his recovery, Michigan weather caused him constant physical pain, so we moved to California because the weather was more temperate.  I never knew why he picked Cali as a place to move to.  We had no family out there.  My dad and mom (as far as I know) didn’t know anyone out there.  We just… moved.

And there we stayed for four years.

While there, I became fascinated with the guitar players in our church.  Just something about them drew me in.  My mother (being the empathetic guru that she was) instantly noticed my growing obsession.  She mentioned it to a friend of hers (a lady that mom kept encouraging us to call “Grandma”, even though she was no relation to us at all), and on my 8th birthday, “Grandma” gifted me with a brand new guitar.

And, like most kids, I dove right in and tried my absolute best to learn how to play that guitar… for a while, at least.

My mom arranged for me to meet with a couple of the regular guitar players from church, and they showed me three of the most-used chords: G, C and D, and showed me all the songs I could play with just those three chords.

But, after a couple months, an 8-year-old’s mind travels, and mine did too.  The guitar found a corner, and patiently waited for me there… for a few years.

When I was about 12, dad’s knees had recovered enough that he decided it was “time” to move back “home”, back to Michigan.

My guitar got packed up with a surprisingly modest amount of “stuff” – especially for a family of 11 – and we hauled our selves and stuff back to Port Huron.

Initially, we moved in with my mom’s mom – my real Grandma – Grandma Reynolds.  She was a tall, graceful, and very strict woman who, on occasion, I could make laugh.  I lost track of my guitar, but my mother sure hadn’t.  Not long after moving in with Grandma, my mom greeted me one day when I got home from school and my guitar was in her hand.  And, sounding eerily like my Grandma Reynolds, she told me firmly that I had a choice: I could begin practicing the guitar again (and “…seriously, this time!”), or she would give the guitar away to someone who would appreciate it.

Our family was definitely money-poor.  I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, I know it now.  We had very few possessions, we were poster-children for the practice of hand-me-downs, and the only “gift” any of us got on our birthdays was the Birthday Ritual: mom would buy your choice of Betty Crocker cake mix (for under a dollar) and bake it up (mine was always German Chocolate), the family would sing Happy Birthday, you blew out your candles, you got the first piece, and then the rest was quickly gobbled up by the rest of the clan.   Happy Birthday!

So, a person in this situation definitely wouldn’t want to lose something as rare and precious as a guitar – even if it meant learning how to play it when they’d rather be outside playing with their brothers and friends.  And, to make it worse, my mom (almost  as an afterthought) threw in one more condition:  If I was going to keep the guitar, I’d have to practice one hour a day, every day after school, and to make sure I practiced, I’d have to go into the room I shared with my 5 brothers, the door would be shut, and my mom would be just outside the door (in the kitchen) listening to make sure I was practicing.  I definitely didn’t want to lose the guitar, so I promised I would learn.

At the time, though, I had absolutely no idea “HOW” I would learn.  And, to my mom’s surprise, neither did she.

I struggled for a couple days, nearly to the point of tears.  And my mom’s solution was to give me three piano books that had guitar symbols stamped above the musical scores of the songs.  She figured they would show me what chords to play.  It never occurred to her that these books contained songs from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s (she’d gotten them for free from a friend).  How was I supposed to learn to play songs I didn’t know with these books?

But I tried.  I really did.   I did not want to lose my prized possession.

Then, my tough-as-nails Grandma Reynolds came to my rescue, albeit, by accident.

She had this gorgeous console record player, and she loved to play Jimmy Swaggart albums.  She adored Jimmy Swaggart, and – even though she was almost as poor as my family – she still managed to buy every album Jimmy Swaggart produced.  And – Wow! – did he ever have a LOT of albums.

It was all gospel music, and it was only while his music was playing did I ever hear my Grandma sing.  It was contagious!  Eventually, I was singing too!  Over the course of a few months, I learned the words to all of the songs on every album she had.  I didn’t care that they were gospel songs.  It was music!  THAT’S what I cared about.  Something inside me loved music.  All kinds of music.  My Grandma was so overjoyed at the sight of me sitting “too close” to the console records player (I loved watching the disc spin, the needle move, and the records drop), that she (somehow) got her hands on some 45’s with 60’s music on them.  Herman’s Hermits.  The Turtles.  The Beatles.  I was over the moon!

Looking back, I’m still surprised that my finicky Grandma actually let her pre-teen grandson touch her precious record player.  But she did.  I would stack these 45’s to the limit and play them over and over… until either she or my mom would tell me to stop.

And it was Jimmy Swaggart and the 45’s that saved me from losing my guitar.

I had music in my head now.  It played 24/7 (yes, even when I dreamed).  So, my guitar practice sessions eventually morphed into me trying my best to recreate the music in my head.  It was a struggle, and it was often forced, but over time, I made it work.  And I was one day surprised to realize that the guitar players back in Cali who had originally taught me the mighty C, G and D chords – the chords that could play nearly everything – were SO right.  Those three chords made up the bulk of the Jimmy Swaggart songs and the songs on my 45’s.  Oh, I eventually needed to learn the other major chords, and – over time – all of the minors and 7ths and so on, but I was thrilled with how quickly those three chords allowed me to play the music in my head.

We eventually moved out of Grandma’s house and into a house of our own, and mom stopped forcing me to practice because… well… she no longer needed to force me to practice.

Then, a few years later (around age 15), mom told me that she was willing to pay for formal guitar lessons, if I was willing to buckle-down and learn.  I was a little perplexed at this offer.  I had already learned to play a lot of songs.  I had already been a part of 2 groups (briefly), and I felt pretty confident about my abilities.  But she told me that if I was going to get better, I had to learn to read music and play “the right way”, whatever way that was.  In hindsight, I believe that someone was feeding her the belief that a “real guitar player” had to be classically trained.  But, even then (and especially now) I was very appreciative of the attention mom was paying me and her willingness to spend money on me, even though money was so extremely tight for us.

She found an ad in the newspaper offering lessons.  I don’t remember how much the lessons were, but every dollar was precious to us, so I took these lessons very seriously – at first.

My teacher was a 17 year old who had learned what was called “The Mel Bay Method”.  So, in addition to the cost of the lessons, and the cost of the gas to take me there, wait for me during the hour-long lesson (once a week), and bring me home, mom had to buy the 7 Mel Bay books that taught “The Method”.

She never flinched or hesitated.

And I tried.  I really did.

But there was just “something” about learning to read notes and play endlessly repeating scales and mundane ditties that just didn’t appeal to me.  I wanted to play popular songs.  I wanted to play for my friends.  I wanted to play music that made my spirit soar.  I wanted to play John Denver songs and songs by Bread and the Beatles and James Taylor.

But my mom had invested a lot of money into this, and I truly didn’t want to disappoint her.  So I learned scales and I practiced The Method as best as I could.  But my 17 year old instructor wasn’t impressed with my progress.  He told me on a regular basis that I was wasting too much time on popular music and not learning the lessons assigned to me.  He even had his mother give me “a talk” one time, just before a lesson; a talk about serious musicians and serious dedication and how her son was doing his part and I had to do mine.  The Talk ended with a threat: learn to play The Method better, or her son would stop teaching me.

After that “lesson”, I went home completely depressed.  Now I was learning to play something I didn’t want to play, and I was burning MY energy and time doing something for someone else – this 17 year old and his mother – instead of following my own passion for music.

Mom, being the empathetic master that she was, noticed my mood.  And, in short order, got me to tell her why I was feeling so depressed.  She patiently listened to me blabber all the way home, and we sat in the driveway for several minutes longer while I finished.  And, before we got out of the car, she thought for a few moments, and said simply, “Honey, if he’s not teaching you the music you want to play, throw away the books and learn what you want to learn.”  She then kissed me on the cheek and got out of the car.

I was dumbstruck!

She wasn’t mad – even though she had every right to be.  How much money had she wasted on my guitar lessons, on those damned books, and in so many other ways to support my musical growth?  In the end, I realized that the money didn’t really matter to mom.  In the end, all that mattered was: me following my heart; me following the music in my head.

Now, decades later, that whole experience is encapsulated in my mind under the heading of “Throw away the book!”  And that priceless lesson has been repeated time and again in my life.

Sometimes, traditional methods, traditional pathways, and traditional ideals aren’t the right “way” for some.  I mean – look at how many people are learning to play guitar now simply by watching others on YouTube.  They are learning the songs they love, they are learning them quickly, and they are more easily learning the joy of playing music.

Postscript: I actually did throw those Mel Bay Method books in the trash.  I’m not sure if she was being literal when she told me to “Throw the books away”, but it was very cathartic for me and, on many levels, very symbolic.

I eventually bought the complete set again, but only to serve as a reminder of the valuable lesson my mom taught me, so many years ago.

 

Anything is Everything (12/2/2016)

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss – his books & blogs & podcasts & other media.  He’s a searcher.  An experimenter.  A questioner.   A dreamer.  He’s the one who, by constant repetition and example, made me curious about Stoicism.

He recently said something on a podcast that hit me strongly:

“How you do anything is how you do everything!”

That matches perfectly with the martial philosophy I’ve espoused for most of my life.  You must do the right things for the right reasons, no matter if anyone is watching, no matter how big or how small, because – quite simple – there should be no other way to do it.

So when he said “How you do anything is how you do everything”, I saw that as a much more concise way of saying, “If you do the simple things in a crappy way, you’ll likely do the important things in a crappy way too.”

As I grow older, I am becoming more conscious of how I do everyday tasks, how I handle everyday conversations, and how I live my everyday life.  I want to consciously put care and positive intent onto each and every one of these tasks so that it becomes second-nature, so that it is automatic.

Right now, my biggest adversary is procrastination regarding tasks that I’m not excited about.  Especially at work.  I need to read my right forearm and “Just Begin” because I KNOW from experience that once I get started, it’s very easy to maintain a good momentum.   And, if I put more concentration toward “Just Begin” on the boring everything stuff, I’m more likely to do so on the big stuff to.

Still learning.

Limits (11/22/16)

A LARGE part of my personal-growth-process has long been to 1) Take responsibility for my own actions and inactions, and the complimentary part of that is to 2) Identify those things that are out of my control.

In my youth, “taking responsibility” was often a tough one because it was personally difficult for me to step outside my own ego to clearly identify how I could have done something differently.  The justification “I tried my best” would often drown out rational examination.  However, after years of conscious and consistent practice, I’ve gotten better at it.  It’s not fun owning mistakes “AFTER” you’ve made them, especially when you know that, at the time, I probably did do the best I could with what I knew at that time.  But the  repeat exercise of reflection is (I feel) essential to continued growth.  I can’t fix the past, but I still own the responsibility of doing my best to keep from repeating my mistakes.

Then there’s the issue of control.  What can I control?

The truth is… not as much as I would like.

I’ve successfully addressed much by simply slowing down.  I consciously take a beat now before I respond to someone during a deep or important conversation.  The first thought that rises is not always the best one or correct one, and that extra second (or so) allows me to apply an often-needed filter.  It also allows me time to finish a train of thought — a necessary task for someone like me who’s still very fond of talking as I’m reasoning or problem-solving.

But what about those things out of my control?  Those things that I cannot influence no matter what I say or do?

For years, those circumstances plagued me.  People I truly care about (an intentionally shorter list these days, for many reasons) may do or say something based on their “perception” of my thoughts or feelings.  Is it my fault when they get it wrong?

The short answer is = Yes and No.

If I thoroughly examine the actions or words that I employed that gave them the wrong perception and find that I could have been clearer, then yes – it’s my fault.  But it still amazes me how often people will form a solid perception based solely on “I thought you were thinking this!”… even though there were no outward indications from me for them to base their perception on.  Here’s a common and easy example:

“But I thought you were mad at me!”

When I ask them what I did or said that gave them that perception, too often it was simply a “look” on my face.  They thought they saw a scowl, or a frown, or anger or sadness or…  You get the point, right?  When I asked them why they didn’t simply ask me if I was upset, the response was normally “I don’t know.”

So, in that example, who’s at fault?

In my 20’s and 30’s, I didn’t give a damn about what other people thought.  I felt solidly that if I didn’t mean anything wrong, then it’s YOUR fault if you see something that’s not there.  This was extremely evident during my arguments with your mom during that time.  She was constantly starting fights with me based solely on her perceptions of my facial expressions, Josh’s mood or something Nanay would say or something Donday would do — and she wouldn’t take the extra 10 seconds to clarify with any of us if we actually meant what she perceived.

Then in my 40’s, I did a complete 180 and decided that I need to completely own my external signals. To be honest, I did that more for Josh and Donday then I did for my wife.  I didn’t want either of you to feel or perceive something that I didn’t intentionally put “out there”.   And the absolutely BEST part of that was — you both were excellent at calling me on my “stuff”.  If you thought you saw or heard something from me that you didn’t like, you told me.  That’s how discussions and clarification happen.

But over the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve slowly turned back toward releasing my sense of responsibility regarding those things.  And – whether for good or bad – I’ve incrementally said “Good-bye” to a number of people from my life simply because they felt they had no responsibility to talk with me before they got mad at me.  They felt that perceptions were fact, and I no longer feel that way.  They weren’t willing to open their minds and I’m no longer willing to deal with their prejudice.  So, we parted ways, whether they liked it or not.

Is this right?  Is this fair?  I don’t know.

I currently have a son who blames me and holds a very large grudge against me for things that I was completely oblivious to: He says I wasn’t there during an extended difficult time in his life.  He says he reached out to me, but I don’t recall that at all.  He recently expressed his anger toward me and was completely unwilling to talk about it.  He has his perceptions about it and he’s unwilling to discuss it.

Up until that time, I thought I had been a good father to him.  He forcefully and angrily told me that I had not.

Part of me wants to take complete responsibility for it, to beat myself up for it, and to be awash with guilt and remorse.

Part of me wants to say “Screw it!  If you don’t want to talk with me about it, then it’s not important to you – so it’s not important to me either!”

I’ve recently become very enamored with Stoicism and the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and other Stoics because of their belief that the past is the past and out of our control.  I am also deeply inspired by their daily conscious effort to be mindful and present in the now instead of worrying about what-could-be.

The Stoic approach to what I’ve discussed in this letter would be:

— You can’t control the perceptions of others.  They either own it or they do not, but it’s not your burden to carry.

— You are responsible for your side of a conversation, but you cannot force someone to converse.

The Stoics also feel that all negative emotions related to these types of situations are completely counter-productive because, again, they are out of your control.  The only valuable thing to them is “Action”… when action is possible.

I love you kids — both of you – SO much.  You have been THE MOST important beings in my life.  I pray daily that I am a good dad to you.  I guess that’s up to you to decide if I’m successful.

All I can do is to continue trying.  That’s the only thing in my control.

Settling in… maybe. (10/3/16)

Mom’s been gone about 6 weeks and she’s finally gotten to the stage where she’s not texting and calling daily to complain about the heat or the cleaning or money or… whatever.  She’s finally taking the advice I repeatedly give her and she’s site-seeing and working out and exploring her neighborhood and – quite simply – focusing on positive activities.

That said, she’ll be back in Nebraska on Sunday the 9th.  I don’t know what her plans are… or if she even has a plan.

For my part:  I’ve finally settling in to my new existence – my solitude – and actually enjoying it.

Donday – You’ll be here in two days and I am SO looking forward to spending time with you, even if it’s simply quiet time.   A couple movies, a bunch of good meals, and a ton of goofiness.  Perfect.

What shape will my life take by this time next month?  Only God knows.  What I DO know is…

I’m ready.

Getting old (8/31/16)

Last night, Josh and Irma FaceTimed with me. Made me very happy to see their faces.

They started showing me some balloons that – they say – they got at the doctor’s office.   Very pretty.  Then they showed me a balloon that looked like a baby.  Still clueless.  It wasn’t until Josh said that they got the balloons after Irma got test results – only then did it click in my brain:

Irma is pregnant.

Wow!  Am I that old?  Or am I that thick?

In any case…

New grand baby on the way.

So happy.

Farther (Further?) to go than I thought (8/28/16)

There’s a common question that is asked of people regarding “Legacy”:  “When you die, what’s the number one thing you want to be remembered for?”

The question forces the subject to decide the most important aspect of their life while they’re still living it. 

For me, this has long been a very easy question to answer.  A no-brainier. 

When I die, if I had lived my life in a manner that earned the respect and love of my family, then that would have been a life well-lived. 

And, until recently, I believed that I was living such a life. 

But my resolve was seriously shaken by my son earlier this month. 

So… it looks like I have much more work to do than I previously thought.  

Onward. 

Phases 

Hmm. Yes, even at my age, in finding that life still contains major phases. 

Mom has decided that she needs to leave the state to “heal, become my own person, and learn to be happy.”   I’ve decided that her move is actually good for both of us, and has the strong possibility for catharsis for us both. 

I got two tattoos yesterday.  A Watcher Symbol on my left wrist and the words “Just Begin” on my right forearm.  Maybe one day I’ll explain these, but you guys know me well enough to figure them out on your own. 

In 6 weeks, Donday will be married and moved – and mom will be in Hawaii.  I will transition to a life on my own and live in a big house by myself.  I love that house, and I thrive in solitude, so…

I’ll be fine. 

Passions

It’s been a few months since my last letter to you two.  I apologize for that.  I really haven’t had any new or different news to share, and I’m not one to simply manufacture a reason to write here.  That would go against the whole true purpose of this series of letters.

To get it out of the way — Mom and I have moved into a phase where we can safely communicate live with each other, and not just in IM or Email form.  We haven’t fought since before she left for the Philippines, but there were a few times when it was apparent that mom was struggling with… something.  Not sure what those somethings were, but I’ve transitioned to a place in my head where I’m okay not knowing.  She did share recently that last week was a tough week for her – she was feeling constantly depressed and ended up staying home 3 days out of the 5.  I finally broached the topic on Saturday morning during a quiet morning moment.  She said that she was feeling sad and depressed, feeling as if she needed to leave the house and leave the state and leave the church.   These and other statements prompted me to assure her that there is no expectation on my part that she move out of the house.  I also prompted her to get FMLA approval so that she isn’t stressed out about the possibility of losing her job because of her absences.  And finally, I recommended that she speak with a professional on a regular basis so that she has a non-biased ear who can give her healthy advice.  Ever since that conversation, she seems to be happier and seems to have more energy.  She’s definitely eating better.

I am become very comfortable in my Space – my Room.  It is now a very soothing sanctuary, especially at night.  I sleep better, I wake more rested, and my mind (while I’m there) is not roiling and tossing the problems of life.

I haven’t done much possession reduction in the last couple months, but I definitely need to get back on that.  My den downstairs in a mess because it is currently playing host to all of the miscellaneous stuff of the house (garage stuff not included).  I need to get that space organized so that I can move to the garage and make it a functional space again.

Josh — I have been so concerned for you, son.  You’ve struggled with life and marriage there in California that last few months, and I feel so helpless because I can’t think of anything I can do to help.  You don’t reach out to me when you need to talk, and I don’t know of anyone else out there (a friend) that you can vent to when things because too much.  We all need a vent, and as far as I know, right now you have none.  I SO wish I could help you, buddy.  I love you dearly.

Donday — The wedding plans continue.  I can see and hear that you are getting more and more eager to move to that phase of your life; a life as a wife, experiencing new challenges with Kyle at your side, seeing the world together, and eventually starting a family together.  I’m so excited for you.  I was so sad when Josh left (don’t know if you knew that buddy), but I knew that moving on was important for him…so even though I was sad, I was also happy.  Make sense?  And I’m re-experiencing that dichotomy now; torn between happy and sad.  Such is the life of a dad.  🙂

One vital life lesson I’ve learned recently is the importance of harnessing and controlling my passions.  When I say “passions”, I’m referring to those things that make my voice get automatically louder, my gestures automatically broader, and my eyes automatically wider.  When you have a Director and a VP at work use the same basic phrase, “I can see that you’re very passionate about that…”, that serves as a clear indicator that I need to get a better handle on my outward expressions of my inward feelings.

Passion – in and of itself – is not bad.  It often serves as the primary driving force toward success.  But I’m learning (even at my advanced age) that outwardly expressing that passion can often be off-putting or concerning to others.  They don’t read your passion as a good thing ( at times), they often read it as a lack of control… or even as anger.  I don’t want to feel as if I need to explain my passions, so the best course for me is to be constantly aware of those things in life that spark outward displays of passion, and then acknowledge it, and then finally control / harness it.

I can still be passionate about things — I just need to learn to control the associated expressions of that passion.

Working on it.

I love you both SO much.  I pray for you both every night, and I hope that you always know how very proud I am of you both.

Dad

What remains…

I am SO proud of you two!

Josh – It’s the beginning of January 2016 and you recently started a new job as part of the Security team for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  And, as you always do, you used your confidence, your integrity, and your sense of professionalism, and you immediately gained the respect and trust of those you work with and work for.  Now, after only 2 months, they disparately want you to take on a supervisory role.  When I spoke with you last week, you had a sense of purpose in your voice again that was wonderful to hear.  You are moving forward.  I’m definitely a Proud Dad!

Donday – Unfortunately, you had to deal with the collapse of the marriage of your parents at the same time that you’re trying to put together the beginnings of your own marriage (your wedding in August).  And, as is your nature, you have been loving and fair and compassionate and an absolute joy to be around.  You being “You” around me has made my challenges much-less of a challenge.  Again — I’m definitely a Proud Dad!

2016 is going to be a transformative year for all of us — including your mom.

My Top 3 Goals for this year are (in order of importance):

  1. Be the Best Dad I can be to your two.
  2. Create a new life on solely my own two feet.
  3. Transition my relationship with your mother in as civil and honorable way as I possibly can.  (I can only control my own actions, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.)

I love you both SO Dearly.

Please continue to keep me in-the-loop of your life, and I promise to do the same.

Dad

Taking the first step…

To get the most-asked question out of the way… No – I haven’t recovered from the still-recent shock of losing my marriage.  Comparatively, life has been easier the last couple weeks because – quite candidly – Marlene has been out of the country.  This has allowed me to breathe and simply live life.  I’ve done the common things people do in my situation: I’ve kept busy, I’ve focused on the controllable (i.e.: setting up my bedroom, packing and giving away “stuff”, cleaning/reorganizing the house, etc.).  I’ve also done my best to take over the finances.  That last one has been the most challenging and most rewarding.

And then there’s the common “Lee” thing: I’ve been creating plan upon plan regarding 2016.  What will I do?  What do I want?  Doing my absolute best to physically write-through project plan after project plan in an attempt to crystalize a life on my own.  Although they all make logical sense, none of them (yet) seem real to me.

So, in lieu of a clear-cut future, I’m managing the “Now”.

I’m taking control of my health.  Yes, that means another diet plan.

I’m taking control of my surroundings.  Yes, that means continued “Stuff” reduction at home.

I’ve created a bedroom that is more “Me”.   In fact, I only realized last night that it’s been almost 20 years since I last slept in a room that had all of my clothes in it.  My personal “Stuff” had been relegated to the basement not long after we first moved into the house because Marlene’s “Stuff” was over-abundant and growing rapidly.  For almost 2 decades, the only things of mine that were in “our” bedroom were my pillows and whatever I could fit onto a small night table (portable DVD player, clock, etc.).  Now, EVERYTHING in the room – MY room – is “Me!”  All of my clothes are there (By the way, I’m still getting used to that), I’ve got wall-hangings that are of MY choosing (detailed maps of the Moon and Mars), I have my own TV, I have a small bookcase loaded with Books-to-Read, I have my own comfortable chair to read in, and so on.

With each passing day, I’m getting more and more comfortable in that space.

And… Maybe that’s how it will finally happen.  Maybe becoming comfortable in My Room is eventually going to be the Key to becoming comfortable in My Life.

I’m building new nightly routines: I open the window near my head so that the room’s temperature drops to a comfortably cool level, I find a movie on Prime that I’ve seen many times, I set the TV’s Sleep-Timer to 60 minutes, and I quickly fall asleep.  The first few nights, waking up in that room was uncomfortable and strange; it is steadily becoming less-so.

I try no to allow myself to consider the day when Marlene returns from the Philippines.  I don’t want to think about how her presence will disrupt my forward progress.  I look far-forward to the day when she (hopefully) moves completely out of the house and (even more hopefully) out of the state.

For now… I’m managing “Now”.

That’s the best I can do at this time.

In the moment…

My dearest kids…

Today is Monday, November 23rd – just a few days before Thanksgiving; one of the most family-friendly days in our family’s history because, normally, on that day, we celebrate the importance of family with an absolutely perfect meal (usually) and some quality Family Time.

It is a tragedy that mom and I decided on Friday to separate from each other, but it is especially saddening to me that it occurred during this time of year.  For non-Iglesia, it would be equivalent to divorcing on Christmas day.

I know you both have questions.  I know you both want answers.  Quite frankly, so do I.  Only 2 months ago, I thought my life was perfect.  Life had transitioned for me, as it must do.  Your Lola passed away after a full and blessed life.  Josh – you are with a wonderful woman and you have an absolutely amazing daughter.  Donday – you will soon be marrying your best friend.  And until very recently, mom and I had been actively discussing the next phase of our life with just her and I in the house.  Do we keep the house?  Do we stay in Bellevue?  Do we patiently wait until retirement before traveling?

It’s stunning how quickly and drastically things can change.

At this moment, I am understandably numb.  I’m doing what I know how to do: I’m troubleshooting; I’m existing.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me.  So, in lieu of answers, I’m handling the manageable.  I’m packing boxes with “stuff” that I’ve been wanting to jettison for years: old tapes, books, furniture, etc.  Things that I no longer want or need.  It is movement.  It serves to distract.  It keeps my mind and body occupied.  It makes me feel somewhat productive.

At night, lying in my basement makeshift bed, I do my best to fill my head with white noise: playing one DVD after another, doing whatever I can to keep my mind from spinning in circles.

The questions I’ve been asked in just these last few days require more insight and future-planning than I’m willing or capable of at this time.  They ask:  Will you keep the house?  Will you stay in Bellevue?  Will you remarry?  Then, of course, there are the “What” questions.  What happened?  What went wrong?  What were the signs that you should have seen?

I have no answers for any of these things, and I am actively doing my best to keep these questions out of my brain.  They serve no positive purpose at this time.  Making any such decisions or determinations right now would be counter-productive.  I am handling the manageable.  I am packing boxes.  I am eating when hungry.  I am watching movies.  I am spending Quality Time with my daughter and doing my best to be there for her in this heart-wrenching time.  I’m trying my best to give her the best advice and support possible while, at the same time, giving equal effort into building walls around my head and heart.

It is inevitable.

She’s been unhappy for decades, she says.

I can’t reconcile her new reality with my old one.

So… I will continue to produce white noise.  I will concentrate on the one thing I’ve always been 100% confident in – being a Dad.  And I will eat and breathe and work and sleep and pack boxes and watch movies and count days until… something in me says that I can “live” again.

That day is not now.

My turn…

I’ve been totally preoccupied with superfluous ‘stuff’ during the last several months.  Things that really have no positive, nourishing, educational impact on my life.  I’ve also been far too concerned about the things outside of my control and not concerned enough about my own welfare and happiness.

So, going forward, I’m doing the following:

Shutting down or severely limiting all social media.  (No Twitter account.  On my Instagram, I’m only following about 8 people.  I’ve shut-down all extraneous stuff on my Facebook account, stopped following nearly everyone, reduced my Friends to about 25 people – and all of those are family or very close friends.)

I’m actively reducing the amount of email I receive.  If it’s not essential or from a close family member or friend, then I’m UN-following or UN-subscribing from it/them.

I’m working on a NEW morning routine that does NOT include repeated surfs through social media accounts.  The new routine will be heavy on productivity-based activities with perhaps a brief glance at Bing News so that I remain in-touch with current affairs.

I’ve reduced my Podcasts to just three channels – one of which is seasonal and has very few postings.

I’m scheduling myself at least one hour a day to write — and I’ve identified my primary writing project.  If (and ONLY if) I run into writer’s block, then I’ll move to one of three alternate projects (short stories) so that I continue to be productive.

I’m outlining a new workout plan that is highly structured and increasingly intense.  The plan will be designed to stress technical ability, increased strength & flexibility, and will allow me to mentally lose myself in the workout process.

Diet will be a difficult thing, as will sleep.  I know what I need to do for both, but doing them has always been a challenge.  My best opportunity for making significant advances in these two areas will be when Marlene visits the Philippines for a month (leaving at the end of December).

I am SO tired of sacrificing so much of myself for others.  Marlene is going through another mid-life crisis (how many is this now??)  She’s focused solely on what makes her happy — thus the short-notice and VERY expensive trip to the Philippines.  She’s going away to find her happiness.  She’s been distant, disconnected, and preoccupied for the last couple weeks.  I’m sure this will continue (if not intensify) during the month between now and when she leaves for the PI.  So, it seems silly and useless to worry about her anymore.  She is taking charge of her own happiness.  I need to start doing the same.

One difference…

Today is Veteran’s Day (2015). As I’ve done for many years, I attended the Cox Communication’s V-day Ceremony at the Main Building this morning where they raise the flag, sing the Star Spangled Banner, and offer cookies and coffee to attendees. I normally skip out on the treats. I’m just there for the ceremony so that I can, in some small way, honor other vets.

The last couple years, the weather has really been uncooperative, and this year was no different. But this year had what I think is a great example of the many ways vets are unified.

There were about 40 people in attendance – 1/3 of them being vets. As is normally the case, the active military (in uniform) were in-line to one side, and the ex-military folks were congregated together in front of the flag-pole, waiting for the ceremony to start.

All vets snapped to attention without command when the flag started to rise. At that same moment, it began to rain fairly hard. As many people went running for the cover of the front awning, not a single vet moved a muscle. When the MC started to sing the Star Spangled Banner, the rain intensified…but all vets held fast. At the beginning of the anthem, each raised a perfect salute and maintained eye-contact with the flag throughout. After the last note was sung, all salutes lowered in unison. Then each vet, without rushing, went off on their way; some to the remainder of the celebration; others immediately went back to work.

Later, a non-vet in attendance (one of the few who had NOT run for cover at the first drops of rain) approached me and apologized for those who had run, obviously feeling that those persons had somehow done something offensive or disrespectful. I simply smiled and told her, “No problem”. And it was a sincere response.

Vets don’t serve for the recognition – they don’t expect people to completely understand the “Call” that they felt to step forward and potentially give their lives for their country. They simply do it. During that ceremony, it never entered the minds of a single vet in attendance to seek for shelter when the rain began to pour. We stayed there and did what we came to do – until it was time to leave.

Happy Veteran’s Day to my dad, my son, my brother Bill, my niece Jaque, my son-in-law Kyle, and all others who served with distinction.

Day Omega / Alpha…

I started this daily blog for two main reasons: First, to get myself into the habit of writing daily in order to regularly work on my skills.  And Second: To get back to writing thoughts, advice, etc to my kids – an extension of the book I had started a very long time ago. 

I’ve done a great job of maintaining my daily regime, and (after re-reading them) I think that many of them were quality entries for my kids.  But, in hindsight, much of it is crap.  

So, I’m freeing myself from the obligation to plug in an entry here daily, and will now concentrate on writing longer chapter-length entries of much higher quality.  

Onward…

Day #117(21) – “The countdown…”

I’m doing two countdowns at the moment: The longer-term = The countdown to my daughter’s wedding / the beginning of her new life away from home. This occurs in August of next year.  I can’t do an accurate daily countdown yet because they haven’t firmed-up The Date yet.   The second is much more immediate = The countdown to my son leaving home again to rejoin his wife and daughter in California. 

In short – This time next year, only my wife and I will be left in our home. 

The father in me dreads this image. The husband in me relishes it. 

Is that mean?

Day #116(20) – “Thanksgiving – Part 1”

Thanksgiving has  been a total family day for my family ever since our first child was born.  No matter what was going on in the world or in our lives, that was the one day we were all together, at least for that day.  Then, of course, our kids grow up and it gets tougher to be all together on that day. 

This year, it’s almost impossible for us to be together on the traditional Thanksgiving day, so we decided to make our own day. 

So this year, October 24th is our Family Thanksgiving Day. We are turkey and stuffing and all the fixings, and we sat together and watched a movie (Jurassic World). 

Perhaps, going forward, we need to make Family Thanksgiving Day whatever day we can all be together. 

Deal?

Day #115(19) – “Home sweet Home?”

I’ve lived in the same house for 21 years.  Our kids spent most of their lives there.  My in-laws lived with us there until their passing.  It’s the home I dreamed about ever since I was a little kid – I’ve always dreamed of living on a hill overlooking the world.  I’ve collected a substantial library there.  I can walk every inch of that house in pitch blackness and not stub my toes.  I know every creak and groan and pop it makes.  That house is truly home. 

And, this time next year, my wife and I will be the only ones living in it. 

Do we stay?

Day #113(17) – “Like a bad rumor…”

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly illness will migrate through our home.  Normally, since my daughter works with children daily, she is the one to usually bring a cold or flu or other bug into the home. Then, it’s the wife who will get it next.  At this point, I’m surrounded, and the likelihood is high that I’ll be the next to fall. 

But often, it doesn’t end here. 

By the time I get “It”, my daughter is near-healthy and my wife has hit bottom and has begun to recover. That’s the time that my daughter will relapse, and the cycle starts all over.  

Constant hand-washing and attention to cleanliness and promoting a level of distance does little or no good.  The Cycle persists. 

Should I build a Quarantine Room? Perhaps fill it with books and games and cable and wifi and a stocked fridge and functioning microwave?  Then, on Day One I could deposit Patient Zero there?

Hmm.  Worth considering. 

Day #112(16) – “Blink of an eye…”

The passage of time, I am constantly reminded, is such a relative thing.  When you want to leave work early, the seconds drag by. But when you are enjoying yourself, hours disappear. 

I had the opportunity (blessing) of seeing a good friend today that I hadn’t seen is years – too long.  As is normal with us, the conversation was easy, relaxed, candid, and thoroughly enjoyable.  He’s one of the very few good people I’ve known in this world, and one of a very select few that I implicitly trust. 

I need to ensure it’s not as long between visits, and I need more people like him in my life. 

Day #111(15) – “Turkey Day…”

Thanksgiving used to be quite the gathering at my home. Not only would all of the family be there, but each year would constitute a different assortment of additional feasters: extended family, current girlfriend or boyfriend, church members, classmates, and so on. And nearly every year, I thoroughly enjoyed doing most of the cooking.  

But the last couple years have been very anorexic, with only a handful of people coming.  This year, since my son is in town for another week or so, we’re gonna have an extra Thanksgiving this Saturday – just so most of our family will be complete. 

After Donday gets married next year, I can foresee our Traditional Family Thanksgiving coming to an end – no need to go through all the fuss just for me and my wife.  

Sad. 

Day #108(12) – “I Love It when Dreams become Reality”

As a kid, I was most definitely a day-dreamer. I’d walk into walls, miss conversations, completely zone-out during meals, solely because I was journeying in my mind. 

Self-driving cars. Space ships.  Self-aware robots.  All of mankind’s knowledge at my fingertips.   These were only some of my dreams, sparked – in part – by the uncounted SciFi volumes I consumed. But many of my dreams were the result of unrestrained imagination. 

Sadly, I’ve lost some of that carefree creativity.  But, days like today serve to keep that flame alive and bright.  This morning I watched a news video if the new Self-Driving car by Tesla; watched it maneuver through midday New York traffic with a squirming passenger behind the wheel doing his best to keep his hands off the steering wheel and his foot off the brake pedal.  

It was scary.   It was awesome!!

It’s the product of day-dreaming, and will serve as the fuel for the future dreams of others. 

Well done. 

Day #107(11) – “Tao of Lee-June-Do…”

  I first saw this drawing in my late teens.  Bruce Lee had drawn it as a portrayal of himself as an old man. From that day forward, I was obsessed with this image. I decided that I would look the same when I’m an old man; the funny part (now, in hindsight) is that, then – in my teens – “old” meant when I’m in my 40s or 50s.  That seemed so far away at that time, and completely reasonable. 
Now, at the age of 55, my mental “old man” picture has changed quite a lot. But the internal image that Bruce’s drawing sparked in me is still very much the same.  I want to be that old, patient, wise sage. Completely calm.  Completely confident. With the knowledge of the world within me.  

Maybe, when I’m actually “old”, I’ll be that person.  That’s the road I’ve chosen. 

Day #106(10) – “Choices…”

I used to be very reactive.  If someone asked me a question, I immediately responded with the first answer that crossed my mind. If someone did or said something offensive, my response was normally of equal-or-greater measure…and again, it was immediate. 

Thankfully, people I respect showed me (in words and by example) the value of waiting a moment before responding, even in simple non-threatening situations. “Take time to let your brain engage” they advised. 

There’s a wonderful saying that I always keep in mind…

“Don’t make a permanent choice to a temporary problem.”  

Great advice.   Another one?

“Take a breath before you respond.”

Those two phrases of wisdom have saved me from years of anguish. 

Day #105(9) – “I can be your hero…”

At a very young age (10?), I decided I was going to be a policeman.  In my eyes, they were heroes.  Why?  Cause they were literally Crime Fighters.  Who did mom always tell you to run and find if someone hurt you or tried to kidnap you or if you got lost?  A policeman.   In my youth, there were still commercials that reinforced this.  In my youth, TV shows still portrayed cops as heroes. 

This decision remained firm for quite some time.  I joined the military at 18 and that’s what I told the recruiter: “I want to be a policeman”.  He said, “No problem” and pointed me in the direction of military police.  I was overjoyed!  I was finally gonna be a hero. 

Now, granted, military police is (in my opinion) a “light” version of being a cop, but I didn’t care.  I had my uniform, my gun, and most important – my badge.  So in my head and heart, I’d made it.  I was a policeman. 

Now Phase II of my Plan was to serve my 4 years as a Military cop, then I’d get out and join the Real Police Force.  And, in the interim, I’d get my degree in criminal justice. 

Everything was going according to Plan. 

That is…until I actually started doing the job. 

It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to spend 100% of my day fighting crimes and saving people.  In reality, I spent 80-90% of my day either: waiting for something to happen, or serving as a social worker.  Specifically, when I did actually do something, it was: dealing with drunks, breaking up domestic disputes, and taking crap from spoiled officer’s brats who thought they were better than everyone else in the world.  

Wow!  That nearly popped by bubble.  But I was still determined. So, I went to visit the local police station in the city I was stationed. I needed to know the truth.  I needed them to tell me that my military police experience wasn’t going to be the same in the Real World. 

They were very polite and patient, and one particular officer took the time to sit down with me and answer all my questions.  But, in the end, the truth was… Yes – it’s pretty much the same, but with a little less waiting around.  

Sure, they busted robbers and drug dealers and so on, but the vast majority of their interaction with people involved drunks and domestic issues.  

It took me years to find a new career dream, and it has changed several times between then and now, but nothing’s ever felt as overpowering as those years when I dreamt daily of being a police officer – a hero. 

Police officers are still heroes to me, without doubt.  But now, I see much more clearly what they do and the many additional reasons to consider them heroes.   Their sacrifices are voluntary and enormous.  Their courage is undeniable.  

They are forever my heroes.  

Day #104(8) – “Perception is a tricky thing…”

I know…that my son is 31 and my daughter is 24. 

I know…that they are adults and already deep into their individual adult lives. 

But, right now, both my “kids” are living with me (albeit, briefly), and I simply can’t help looking at them with eyes that see “…my kids”.  I tease them in the same way, spoil them in the same way, as if they were far younger and far less mature than they really are.  

And I may be imagining it, but it seems, at times, that – living at home with me and their mom, under their childhood roof – they’ve reverted back to the “kids” they once were, if even for a short time.  

They’ll both be gone too soon: my son back to his wife and daughter; my daughter moving on to a life with her new husband.  But…for this moment in time… they are simply…my “kids”.

Day #103(7) – “Chim-Chimery…”

Even at my age, I often feel like a kid at heart.  No more so, lately, than today. 

I recently ordered the 50th Anniversary edition BluRay of Mary Poppins from Amazon.  I’m at church now, but I just received an auto-text notification that it’s been delivered to my home. 

It’s in my mail box right now…waiting for me.  Yah!

All week long I’ve been picturing me, my wife and kids, planted in front of the TV, bowl of popcorn nearby, as we enjoy this classic; singing along with every wonderful, magical song, if not aloud (cause we’re all adults now, right?) then loudly in our individual heads. 

I pray I’m never too old to feel this young over and over. 

Day #102(6) – “Am I OC?”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve eaten my food in a particular way – most times: I each one thing, perhaps the mashed potatoes, and when that’s gone, I’ll move on to the chicken; when that’s gone, I’ll eat the corn, and so on.  I normally – unconsciously – finish one thing completely before moving on to the next, and the next. 

Is it a compulsion?  Or simply a weird habit?

There’s no anxiety as a result of temporarily breaking this habit. In other words, if I catch myself eating this way, I’ll intentionally stop eating (say) the mashed potatoes before it’s gone and I’ll take a few bites of my chicken, then I’ll nibble some corn, just to test myself, see if it drives me nuts.   But it doesn’t.

Still, even though I’m completely aware that this is a strange way to eat food, I can’t seem to break the habit.  When I think it’s gone, suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s there again when I’m not paying attention. 

Is this a mild form of OCD?  

Probably gonna be one of those mysteries that I take to the grave, like how I occasionally hum when I eat.  

Day #101(5) – “Now comes the tough part…”

I’m on the 5th day of my new Health Cycle.  I’ve lost 8 pounds as of this morning, and many of the negative physical symptoms I normally feel after jettisoning simple carbs and processed foods are beginning to subside. 

Now the real challenge begins. 

The weekend!

This is when the risk of binging is the highest.  I’m not occupied by work, there’s no familiar and controllable routine established, and normal binging triggers (going to the movies or BN, boredom, social gatherings, etc.) are much more present. 

If I can be s good boy, I will lose another 2-3 lbs over the weekend. If I can’t, then I will gain back about half of what I’ve lost. 

Here we go.  

Day #100 (4) – “In- or Ex-?”

I heard a very fascinating discussion today that deeply explained the differences between and characteristics of introverts and extroverts.  Before today, id always resisted (rather vehemently) classifying myself as either because I believed (rather vehemently) that I possessed and exhibited both shadows.   

However today, for the first time, the discussion I was listening to clarified that these terms should not necessarily describe how s person behaves, but rather, how they “…recharge their individual battery.”  

So, if you’re tired and worn out and need solitude or quiet or peaceful surroundings to recharge and reenergize, then you’re an introvert. If, however, you derive energy and solace from groups and personal interactions and activity born of community, then your are an extrovert.  

So…

My name is Lee Jackson and…ehem… I’m an introvert. 

(How long before I get my first chip?)

Day #99 (3) – “Say it out loud…”

When I was young (teens, 20’s), I used to beat around the bush a lot when it came to offering what I felt was constructive feedback.  I went miles around the mountain to avoid hurt feelings, potential misunderstandings, sad faces, etc. 

In my 30’s and 40’s I swung gradually but radically the other way, eventually employing the “Tough Love” method; a paradigm that leaned heavily on: complete candor, simple but blunt-force language choices, and a suck-it-up-and-stand-tall form of advice.  

Now, halfway thru my 50’s, I’m learning to meld elements of both, but I focus MUCH more on the art of listening.  I’ve learned that most of us already know the best course of action to take; we usually just need to talk thru it – audibly.  

We hear our thoughts, we listen to our inner conflicts, and that act of physically, literally listening to ourselves explain the problem, options, obstacles, etc., helps us get 95% closer to actual and appropriate courses of action; action that we can own and accept. 

This method, I’m finding, is leaps and bounds better than giving ‘advice’ or any form of life-instruction.  

Let ’em talk – Let ’em get there themselves in their own time – Let them enjoy the success of that personal triumph…so that, eventually, when needed, they can do it again without you playing Sound Board. 

Day #98 (2) – “The definition of Insanity…”

I’ve been through this weight-loss-reboot-process many times before, but this one seems the most difficult, so far.  

Days 1 thru 10 are normally the easiest for me, even with the migraines.  I always knew what to expect during this phase: headaches, yes.  Severe cravings and hunger, yes.  Other assorted negatives, yup.  But they were “knowns” and, therefore, expected.  But on the extreme UP side, there’s also: quick weight loss, great belly-size reduction (usually about three inches smaller after the first 10 days), better sleep, increased focus and energy after day 3, and severely decreased joint pain at around day 6 or 7.   

It’s normally after the end of week three that I start to feel depressed and iffy about the weight loss process cause that’s always been when all measurable progress (weight loss and belly size reduction) comes to a screeching halt.   Then there’s the inevitable 2 or 3 more months of useless effort with no positive results before…inevitably…I quit (normally ceremoniously celebrated with 2 or 3 days of binging, howling migraines,near-crippling joint and abdominal pain, and a week-long course of tums and alkaseltzer. 

But this is just day 2.  Everything’s going along, as expected.  Lost 5 lbs overnight (almost all of it water weight), I slept great last night, and there are no new or unexpected pains or sensations.  

So, why am I SO apprehensive?  Why am I afraid?

Likely because — everything IS business-as-usual.   And I guess that’s the problem.  I’m scared to death that all will continue as it always has before, the bad along with the good, culminating in my eventual failure.   

Probably best to keep Einstein’s advice in the forefront every day, going forward.   

Change things up!  Keep my body guessing.  Shake the tree!  

Or else…I will get the exact-same results.  

Time to change the Plan. 

Day #97 is also Day #1

I’ve lost count of the number of my Health Reboots.  Gotta be around 100 or more, by now.   

Very normal stuff for me:

1) Three days of cleansing, which involves a lot of water; regular intake of protein, veggies and fruit; escalating headaches and joint pain due to Carb Withdrawals; as much sleep – quality sleep – as I can muster; and, if possible (depending on headache intensity and energy availability), some workouts. 

I will likely lose about 10 lbs in the first week, about 5 in the second week, then progress will come to a screeching halt.  THAT’S when I’ll have to try something different so that I can get a different result. 

Still trying to figure out what that “something different” will be.  But, I’m 97.324% certain it will involve severe discomfort – which I’m 101% okay with, as long as it moves me forward.  

Here – We – Go!

Day #95 – “Deja vu…”

How many signs do I have to see, how many symptoms must I experience, before I dive completely back into a healthy eating and training lifestyle?

I have that now-very-normal American attitude of: “I just want to enjoy my life”.   But the increasingly intense body pain and insomnia and migraines all contest the view that I’m enjoying my life as much as I could and should. 

So… Monday = Day #1. 

Day #93 – “The Real Sequel!”

Okay – First, we had Pitch Black. Awesome movie that scared the crap outta me over and over.  Then there was Chronicles of Riddick.   Huh?    Then came Riddick = the REAL Sequel to Pitch Black (imho). 

So if (When!) you watch Pitch Black, you should watch Riddick next. 

But wait….I just realized that if you watch ’em in that order, you won’t understand the beginning of Riddick: what a Necromonger is, why he’s leading them, what Underverse is, and…

Okay – scratch my original statement.  Watch Chronicles… second, but keep in mind that Riddick is really (kinda) the better, more true sequel to Pitch Black…mostly. 

Clear?   Good.  😀

Day #92 – “Wheeeez…”

I sometimes seriously believe that I have asthma.  The heaviness in my chest, difficulty breathing, and the sound of rattling when I breathe out all seem to slightly suggest that maybe, perhaps, could-be I have some sort of respertory condition…possibly.  

I’ve also been dealing with a chest cold for the last week, so…maybe not.  

Six of one – half-a-dozen of the other.  

(I hate that term.  Bad Lee!!)

Day #88 – “Evil is as Evil does”

Evil – true evil – exists.  I’ve seen it repeatedly throughout my lifetime. 

And there are people who are Evil – I’ve met many. 

The scariest thing about evil people (and yes, these people are scary) is their tendency to believe to their bones that THEY are the righteous ones.  The lies they tell are for a righteous purpose, and their evil deeds are justified because they are used/performed to attack their enemies…the unrighteous.  

Others have an ability to hear and see things in twisted ways: acts of kindness by others must have alterior motives; words of love become exclamations of hate; simple becomes extremely complex. 

These people are not human beings; they in no way positively contribute to humanity; they should have no place in civilized society.  They cannot be reformed; they will not change for the better; they can never EVER be trusted. 

Period. 

Day #87 – “Big Smile!”

Two days ago, I was walking around with family, visiting friends and acquaintances, and popping in and out of shops in Carmel.  Near the end of the day, I went into a restroom; and when I was washing my hands I looked into the mirror.  Only then did I notice a big black smudge across the bridge of my nose. 

How long had it been there?

How many people noticed it and chose not to say anything to me?

I’m at an age where that type of thing doesn’t really bother me anymore, but it did spark curiosity and a question in my mind: what keeps people from communicating this type of thing to each other?

Whether it’s a smudge on the face or a chive visibly stuck in our teen or our fly being down, what social anomaly exists that restrains people from bringing these issues to our attention, quietly, simply?

Part of me thinks it’s an “American Thing”.  When I was in Germany and Korea and Japan, this was never an issue, especially in Asia.  There’s a Group mentality and priority there.  While in America, we foster an individualistic, each-for-ourselves mindset. 

This might be worth deeper study. 

Day #86 – “A mystery wrapped an enigma…”

Many of life’s toughest challenges have no easy, clear cut solutions.  There is no visible light at the end of the tunnel.  All we can do is the best we can, day-to-day, sometimes minute-to-minute, and keep moving forward.   Often, when we think we’re at the end of our ability, the faintest light appears in the distance.  That’s when we discover our ability to be extraordinary. 

Day #85 – “Starry Starry Night…”

  A friend of mine showed me this Van Gogh painting a very long time ago. It captured my attention and sparked my imagination immediately.  More than two decades have passed and I still get lost in the swirls and details and shadows, dreaming dreams of peaceful nights or mischievous thieves or ominous spires or muffled cries.  
Van Gogh was a tortured artist, but did those voices subside during his creative sprees?  Or did they get louder?

Part of me wants to know firsthand – part of me prays I never do. 

Day #84 – “Forever the darkness…”

Okay – that was one of the longest nights of my life. 

We’re staying at a place in Cali that has no A/C and very poor circulation in the room so the nice cool air outside can’t get inside.   Oh – and there is a fan, but it’s teeny.  

I listened to 6 podcasts, back-to-back in an attempt to take my mind off of the cloying discomfort and finally fell asleep around 5 or 5:30am — only to wake up at 7am. 

Shake it off!  That’s what Taylor says, right?

Today is a gorgeous new day. Gonna spend an amazing day with family in beautiful California.  Gonna eat great food.  Gonna play with my granddaughter.  Gonna enjoy time with my son and daughter.  

Miss you, though, Donday.  Just sayin.   

The darkness is gone.  Embracing the light. 

Day #83 – “Norm!”

Ever have a place – a restaurant, club, park, etc. – that is “Your Place”?  A place you go to for the best eggs or fried rice; the place “…where everybody knows your name”; a place where saying “I’ll have my usual” actually means something?

We’re visiting our daughter and granddaughter in Monterey this week and we have that place here – Tommy’s. 

Best fried rice ever!

Day #82 – “If you believe…”

I’m a big believer in believing.  Firm conviction is the best defense against negativity that I know. 

When you wake and tell yourself that it’s going to be a productive day – and mean it! – it is. 

When you tell yourself “I’m going to enjoy this party”, you do. 

When I choose to smile and be pleasant around others, no matter what I’m really feeling inside at the start, I almost always become inside the way I’m being outside. 

I lived far too much of my life wearing my emotions on my sleeve.  Eventually I realized that it cost too much in time, effort and energy exposing or justifying what I was portaging.  

But no one needs to explain a smile.  It’s readily accepted everywhere and everyday.  

Don’t leave home without it. 

Day #80 – “Get in my belly!”

Two things:

1) Feeling very fat and out of shape today.  Spent most of the day moving furniture – a LOT of furmiture, did about 6 loads of laundry, ran a bunch of errands, and up late getting stuff ready for our trip to Cali tomorrow.  I shouldn’t be this tired, but I am.  Sad. 

2). It’s almost midnight – I still have two loads of laundry left – and I’m watching “Aliens” (that’s with an “s”, meaning the second and best of the series).   I never get tired of watching this movie and I’ve seen it (no exaggeration) at least 30 times.  

Bonus – My daughter just got home and she showed me her new Selfie Stick.  Very cool. I want one. 

Day #79 – “Good is Bad…”

Why do most of the yummiest foods have to be so bad for you?  Pie, a hamburger with all the fixin’s, pizza, candy, fried chicken, fried anything!   The fat, the cholesterol, the salt, the gluten, etc.   You feel wonderful when you’re eating them, then you feel horrible for hours afterward – or, it ends up on the gut or the butt. 

Just when you think you’ve wrestled up the strength to say “No!” to all of the good stuff, some evil person drizzles caramel over something or mixes chocolate in it or figures out how to fry it.. and then I’m back on the fire. 

Yes – I know – fresh veggies and lean proteins and seasonal fruits are the perfect way to a healthier me.   But then you start weighing the differing benefits of living healthy versus living happy.  

Must they be mutually exclusive?

 If you could truly be healthy AND happy eating just “…what’s good for you”, wouldn’t we have far less obese people?

Never black and white. 

Day #78 – “No means No !”

I’ve long struggled with identifying that missing ingredient or mindset or paradigm that stands in the way of me attaining my health goals. 

Then last night I was watching an interview of Matt Damon; they asked him about the challenges of getting back into great shape for the upcoming Bourne 5 movie.  His response caused bells to go off in my head:

“It’s a lot of work.  You know what somebody said to me? They said, ‘It’s a lot of no’s and not one yes.'”

He then went on to say that it’s al for work and he had to keep that in mind.  It’s temporary and it’s for a purpose. 

For me, just getting there has been the challenge.  This is a great mantra to focus on.   “A lot of no’s – no yes.   A lot of no’s – no yes. “

Day #77 – “Once you go digital…”

I LOVE paper books.  

I LOVE vinyl records. 

I LOVE movies on DVD and BluRay.  

But I’m at a stage in my life – that Minimalist Phase – where I want to both keep what I have, but I also want to reduce and simplify.   On the surface, it seems that going digital, at least in part, suits this direction. 

But how much is too much?

Do I ditch all of my bulky vinyl and get all my music on iTunes?

So I give away my entire library and opt for Kindle versions of my new and favorite novels?

And what about movies?  Is Amazon Prime or iTunes movies better?

I know – Your saying, “Do a mixture of physical and virtual media.  But how much is too much?

I’ve been trying for decades to get my wife to reduce and simplify, and she’s now totally onboard.  I feel guilty not leading by example.  

Wait?  Is this the Mid-life Crisis I’ve been warned about for so long?

They’re right. This IS hell. 

Day #76 – “Be it ever so humble…”

What is “Home”?

Can you have more than one?

If you have two or more, are they the same?

For me, right now, Home is the place I live.  But, the ingredients of Home have changed many times over the years. 

Without going too far back…

The first iteration of Home with my wife was just her and I, figuring it out.   Then our son came along and Home changed a Lot!  As he grew older and as my marriage evolved, so did Home.  Then came a daughter and a move to a different state and a change in jobs and a rediscovery of my marriage and the addition of in-laws, and each time, the hue and tone and timber of Home evolved.  

Then a loss of my father-in-law…and my son moving out, and back, and out again.  

Then came the addition of a daughter – and then a granddaughter – and even though they didn’t live with us, Home still changed to include their spirit and presence and our love for them. 

Then the loss of my mother-in-law last year, which caused a form of limbo to materialize until we could reconfigure Home enough to allow us to move forward again. 

Now, for a while, my son is home again and my daughter is engaged and I’ll soon have another son; and my marriage continues to evolve.  

Home never repeats itself, even if the basic ingredients are the same.  The proportions, the flavor and spices are constantly changing; almost like my chili recipe: the same, but never exactly the same. 

Verbally and consciously, I’ve always thought I wanted Home to remain the same, not only for me, but for my kids – and for their kids.  But now I realize that this isn’t necessary.  As long as the main component, the main ingredient is unchanged – that being Unconditional Love – then it will always be Home, for us and for those we love.  

Day #74 – “Are you a Husker fan?”

someone recently asked me if I was looking forward to “The Game”.  The look on the lady’s face when I answered, “What game?” was akin to her screaming “Are you stupid?”  Then she said rather sadly and firmly, “You’re not from around here, are you.”  Not a question – a statement. 

It’s true – when I’m by myself, I will almost always watch ANYTHING but football.  But here’s the weird part — If I’m with someone (or a group) that wants to watch “The Game”, I suddenly turn enthusiastic and verbally involved, commenting on every play, chiding every obvious mistake, and displaying all of the other classic armchair quarterback traits. 

Josh and I are, right now, watching The Cornhuskers beat Southern Alabama 24 – 0 at the half, and throughout the first two quarters I’m actively asking myself, “Are you a Husker fan?”  And the answer is…

Right now – yes I am. 

Day #73 – “I hate heat…”

I really do hate hot weather.  There is absolutely nothing about it that I like.  Even on a beach, I don’t need to be sizzling.  Sunny days are great, but if the temp goes about 85, I’m done.  And even worse are hot days with high humidity.  From what I hear, inland Florida would be hell for me. 

I have friends and acquaintances who flocked to Arizona and Florida and Nevada.   I will likely never see them again cause I’m definitely not going to visit them. 

But I love saunas.   

Hmm – What does that say about me?

Day #72 – “It’s a madhouse!  A madhouse!!”

I sometimes liken the craziness of today’s world to that of the original Planet of the Apes – the one with Charlton Heston.  Great movie!

In it, the terms logical and commonplace are turned on their ear as “normal” is now defined by the apes.  Human Rights are non-existent, and those in power have no qualms about changing the rules at a moments notice to conform to the need of the day.  Even amongst the apes, there is no true equality.  Rather, it is those with the most might – in this case, the gorillas – who have the final say, and even as they are marching into the abyss, they feel justified by their instinctual aggression and narrow mindedness. 

Then I see someone like Trump on TV or online, calling his political opponents ugly and stupid, or calling fellow Americans other creative epithets, and it becomes very easy to see the many similarities between Trump and General Ursus. 

It’s truly a madhouse.  A maaadhoooouse!!

Day #71 – “In a Nutshell…”

This candor speaks to me. For me, it applies to SO many things in my life. Of all the quotes I’ve written down, posted, memorized, etc, this one pretty much says it all.
“In the end, you either have the cojones to write and keep writing, or you don’t. No amount of good advice will make a damn bit of difference. It’s like exercise. There are health experts everywhere who will tell you what you need to do, but unless you have the discipline to make yourself sweat, it doesn’t matter in the least.”

MARK JENKINS ~ Author

Day #70 – “Hiccup!”

Okay, it happened, I missed a blog entry yesterday.  My perfect record is tarnished.  It kinda reminds me of the initial effort we put into keeping our brand new car scratch-free. Then it happens: a key, a belt buckle, a grocery cart, or something else causes that first scratch.  After that, you release the breathe you didn’t know you were holding and actually begin living life again. 

I still plan on doing my best to blog daily, but now that perfection is no longer possible, I can begin breathing again without the fear of that first scratch on the paint job. 

Whew!

Day #69 – “Too much truth…”

Is there such a ‘thing’ as Too Much Truth?

I’m not necessarily referring to ‘over-sharing’, which can be monotonous and tiresome.  I’m talking about knowing too many facts about a person or situation or thing. 

Do I really want to know everything that’s in the hot dog I’m enjoying? 

Do I really need to know every thought that a close has about me?

Is it wise to know exactly how every cent of my charitable donations are being used?

Some things are easy.  For example: I don’t want to know how he did the magic trick; I really do not care for a laundry list of lies all of our politicians are telling (that is, unless there’s actually something I can do about it); and I don’t give one single damn about who’s talking about me behind my back. 

So, I guess I answered my own question, huh?

It depends on the Truth being told. 

Hmm. 

Day #68 – “Redundant…again.”

After decades of attending (and eventually facilitating) meetings, there’s one universal truth that applies: If the information you’re displaying isn’t intended to spark specific action, don’t share it; you’re wasting time.  Plodding through spreadsheets and graphs and charts that mean nothing to your audience = futility and, again, wasted time. 

I sat through another one of those meetings today.  Of the 72 minutes, about an hour of it was mind-numbingly useless.  Only the last 12 minutes had concrete value. 

I miss my time in the military where it was completely acceptable – even expected – for those in attendance to challenge the validity of the data presented.  This possibility served as ample incentive to avoid including pretty charts and graphs that say nothing.  

Ah.  The old days. 

Day #67 – “This old guitar…”

Why does my passion for playing guitar surge and ebb?  When I was young – in my teens and 20’s – hardly a day would pass without me playing my guitar for at least a few minutes.  Back then, far more often than not, I’d play till my fingers were too sore to continue. 

But for the last 10 years or so, I play like crazy for a month, then I won’t touch it for a year. 

Hmm. 

Day #66 – “Legacy…”

Other than DNA, what of us is passed on to our children?  We want them to learn from our mistakes, but do they?  Did I possess some un-noticed prejudices that my children adopted and kept?

When my son speaks or laughs, I hear “me”, but does he also have some of my fears?

Many of my daughter’s hobbies and interests strongly mirror my own.  Does she also get caught up in a circle of self-reflection (analysis paralysis) like I do?

Before we become parents, we all have a laundry list of ‘things’ we want to teach our children – intentionally.  But it is the unintentional legacy that I think of now. 

Hmm. 

Day #65 – “The coin with two faces…”

Have I ever told you how much I hate politics?   Or how much I loathe politicians?  No?  Well, here are a few quotes to give you a hint. 

“politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river. “.   Nikita Khrushchev. 

“A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.”  Texas Guinan. 

“In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.”  Charles de Gaulle

And one of my favorites – “Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”

Despite what Webster asserts, politics – in this day and age – is the craft of lying, creating policies to facilitate lies, and a process of self-induced amnesia for those who may have once been morale.  Politicians, first and foremost, place 99% of their effort and attention toward their own personal needs and use their skills in politics to make us believe otherwise. 

For decades, I’ve listened to politicians make the exact same promises with varying degrees of believability, and we still have the same basic issues we had when I was a boy. 

The final nail in the coffin occurred when I heard a sitting president debate the many possible meanings of the word “is” in an energetic attempt to avoid culpability in a personal scandal.  And, as a testament to the power of politics, that president, overall, had the highest approval rating ever.  And now, his wife has her eyes on the same chair, and she’s using the same duplicity on her road to the White House.

Will we ever learn?

Day #64 – “What is Retirement?”

Retirement – a concept I had no spare time to ponder for the vast majority of my life.  Now at the age of 55, it’s quite suddenly important. 

What is “retirement” in this day and age?  Is it even feasible to expect to retire when I hit 60 or 65 or… whatever?

Money concerns aside, would I be happy as a retired person?  Sometimes a lot of time on your hands is too much time.  Even now, I get antsy after a few days of vacation, eager to get back to work and be productive.  I know I’ve hit my limit when I actually start to dream about work. 

When you retire, you’re supposed to travel and garden and do wood-working and take up new hobbies like playing spades with other retired folk. 

Or…maybe I simply need to redefine what “retired” means to me.  Retool the state of “retirement “, as it were.

Hmm.  Planning. I like planning. 

Time to whip out the pencil and paper and write my unique retirement story. 

Day #63 – “Rubber hits the road…”

I’ve been blah-blah-blah’ing for years about how I want to be a part of the publishing process, ideally as a writer, but also as an editor or a proofer or a fact checker or… whatever gets my foot in the door. 

Well, this morning I got an email from the Production Manager for WordFire Press – Kevin J. Anderson’s publishing company – informing me that they’re going to send me a short proof (about 8 pages) to do.  Im assuming it’s a test to see how I do. 

Kinda scared.  Kinda excited. 

This is where I find out if this is for me. 

Day #62 – “They’re in there somewhere…”

 I used to have abs (I’m the one in the middle, for those who don’t know me.).  Up until the age of about 40, I steadily kept myself in good physical shape. 

Then Life happened – long story; too long for this blog. 

My abs are still “in there”…somewhere.   It’s my plan for them to make a grand re-appearance before my daughter’s wedding next year. 

Day #61 – “Fine wine…”

The first time I watched Robert Downey Jr’s “The Judge”, it was in the theatre, Seinfeld perfect setting, along with my wife and daughter.  I really enjoyed it – thoroughly! – but my history screams that its overwhelmingly unlikely that I’d ever watch it again.  (I mean, c’mon.  It’s not Lord of the Rings or Star Wars).  

Then this morning, woke up early on a Saturday. Can’t sleep. Bored.  Channel surfing.  I see The Judge on the Guide and almost in a daze I click ENTER.  It’s near the beginning. Hmm. 

About 90 minutes later the credits start to roll and, quite unexpectedly, I realize that I had enjoyed the movie even MORE thoroughly than I did the first time.  

Funny.  How does that happen?

Day #60 – “In Search of…”

I love chess.  Always have.  But it can be very bad for my health. 

Digressing slightly…  I damaged my neck in my early 20’s during intense martial arts training.  After years of therapy, medication and meditation, I’ve reached a form of equilibrium: it only hurts when I’m overly tired (to the point of near-exhaustion) or overly stressed.  So, part of my ongoing therapy is to do my best to avoid extreme stress, when possible. 

However, part of my life paradigm is to regularly test myself and stretch my Self, and that occasionally involves extreme stress (like learning how to longboard downhill). 

This is where chess comes in. 

For me, chess can be extraordinarily stressful.  I take it very seriously in the pursuit of getting better.  However, like golf, personal chess developed can sometimes involve periods of repeated failure.  Many lost games in a row as I put myself against opponents who are much better than I am.  

But there was a period – about four years – when I gave up chess completely because my stress gauge – my neck – was constantly in pain, causing chronic migraines, insomnia, and over usage of pain meds. 

Now I am playing chess again.  I am still in the “enjoyment ” period, and I’m hoping that perspective and self-control that come with age will allow me to avoid triggering my stress-gauge and necessitating a divorce from the game that I love so much. 

But, if divorce is necessary, then… Oh well.  She’s a bitch anyways. 

Day #59 – “Famous killers have three names…”

Yesterday, the man who took an arsenal of weaponry into a movie theatre in 2012 and open-fired, James Eagan Holmes, was sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole PLUS an additional 3,318 years. 

Really?  

At what point does the number of years on his sentence become absurd?  

Not long ago, Nebraska forgot about our famous import – John Joubert – and repealed the death penalty. Now they are in discussions to reinstate it.   

Yesterday, a Virginia news station reporter and her cameraman were gunned down while conducting an on-air interview. The gunman was a disgruntled ex-employee of the news station.  Fortunately, he killed himself (after sending a 23 page manifesto to ABC News and posting vids of his deed on Twitter).  Why do I think the VA community would have preferred that the killer stand trial and go through appeal attempt after appeal attempt and public protestations of justification-due-to-insanity or some other silly defense and a likely cost of millions to sustain this killers life … All under the umbrellas of “closure” and “justice”?

Such a strange cultural hypocrisy. 

Day #58 – “What’s it worth?”

My wife and I both came from extremely humble beginnings, to put it mildly.  The fact, of which, we were completely oblivious to at the time; a testament to our mother’s constant care and our father’s constant work.  

Having that shared background makes it easy for us to understand our shared cavalier attitude toward money.  It is absolutely not a goal for either of us to amass great wealth.  We could care less.  Our years of life have taught us (or rather, re-confirmed for us) that money does not buy happiness. 

Do we sometimes wish we had a little more money now and again? Of course.  But it’s only because: we want to take a modest trip together and enjoy each other’s company – outside of the pace of the life-race. Or we want to gift it to our kids to help them over-a-hump.  Or I’d like the ability to shower my wife with roses at a moments thought without having to figure out a way to budget that emotion. 

But those, in retrospect, are all minor or temporary things.  

We see people and the horrible things they will do, the pitiful comprises they’re willing to make, all in the vain struggle for monetary wealth, and we are saddened by the speed with which they will jettison their morals, their core beliefs, and even the welfare of loved-ones.  And if, by chance, they succeed and are able to stockpile “enough” wealth (how much is “enough”?), the people they would have shared it with are now gone (to them).  

I look at my modest home, my wife and kids, my intentionally dwindling number of possessions, and I know – without doubt – that I am the richest man alive. 

Thank you God. 

Day #57 – “The Wall…”

Day 4 of Tiger’s run at Wyndham was…disappointing, to no one more – I’m certain- than Tiger. 

He just couldn’t get any momentum. 

That said, it was still a joy to watch him play. 

I’m not a fair-weather fan.  Even on bad days, Watching Tiger gut his way through a round still inspires me to my bones; the same way that watching Jimmy Connors gut through 5 grueling sets.  Win or lose, their drive and determination are examples of the never-quit mentality I continue to do my best to emulate.  

Thank you Tiger.  Thank you Jimmy. Thank you Sugar Ray.  And so many others. 

Day #56 – “Butterfly Kisses…”

Okay – I’ll be the first to admit that I can, at times, be intimidating.  And, while I’m being honest, it’s not a perception that I go out of my way to avoid.  I kinda like the automatic distance that is created when I am around people I don’t know.  Does it stilt conversation and/or interaction?  Likely – yes.  Do I care?  Not really.

My wife, kids and friends have told me on separate occasions that they’ve heard from the uninitiated that I seem brooding or angry or intense or … well, fill-in the adjective.  Those who know me no longer see those things.  They know the true me, and they are much better at reading my true feelings and mood than those who don’t know me.

Perfect!  That’s the way it should be.

So, keeping all of that in mind…

I accompanied my wife and daughter to a Bridal Shop over the weekend so that my daughter could try on wedding dresses.  That glaring reminder that my daughter will soon be a married woman and, even more, will be leaving home, really messed with my head.  Every dress she tried on, standing there before the tri-fold mirror, looking at me in the reflection, waiting for dad’s response to this dress or that dress.  Of course, she looked gorgeous in all of them.  But that’s not what was playing with my mind.  With every new dress she showed me, a chorus was playing in my brain, singing “Sheeeeee’s leaving home… Bye Bye.”  (name that song).

In-between dresses, I’d go out to the sitting area and play on my phone, trying to take my mind elsewhere.  But it sure didn’t help when, right after seeing her in the most beautiful dress so far, I had to listen to the heart-wrenching song “Butterfly Kisses” over the Muzak.

Now, put together the perception-stuff I mentioned at the beginning and pair it with the tears coming down my face because of that damned song, and imagine the reaction on the faces of the two girls working the front counter.

Yep!  Priceless.

Oh, I’m sure they see crying dad’s all the time.  But, at first glance, I’m not the kinda guy you’d imagine even breaking a smile – let alone cracking with tears.

I hope those two girls learned something about people (the whole ‘…judging a book by its cover’ thing, y’know?)…. cause I sure learned something about myself.

I had the same personal reaction several years ago at my son’s wedding.  My then-future-daughter-in-law wanted me to sing a song for them during the reception.  Something I initially said “Sure!” to when she asked.  But as the day of their wedding grew closer and the emotion of my son actually getting married began to weigh on me, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to perform a song without cracking.  I used to sing — solo and as part of a group — for years with no problem at all.  But this was different, right?  This was my son.

Softy then — Softy now.

I’m glad my wife knows she’s really married to a mushy guy…and that she still loves me, despite that fact.

Day #55 – “Crisis of faith…”

First, let me clarify that the title of this entry does not refer to a crisis of religious faith. I’m honing in on those times when our faith in other people is at risk. 

Do we need to have faith in others?  Of course.  The faith we have in family and friends is integral to those relationships being healthy and meaningful.  Once someone in that tight circle you’ve created does or says something that puts the basis of that faith in doubt, the relationship itself is at risk. 

There are other relationships where faith is important as well.  The faith we place in our work leaders, spiritual leaders, and other life-leaders varies in intensity and degree – depending on the importance each of us places on the other person’s role in our life. 

For example: I will place my faith in a physical trainer, but that faith is constantly being examined and evaluated by me each time I workout with that trainer. As long as I show progress and they succeed in helping me avoid injury, then the faith I have for them becomes more solid and more integral to my regular existence.  If they were to fail me early on in the relationship, then it would be fairly easy for me to sever ties, cancel the commitment of faith, and move on. But with every passing month, that faith becomes more solid, more a part of my being. Severing that commitment of faith becomes increasingly difficult, and the impact of betrayal or failure becomes potentially more personally devastating to me. 

The more impactful the role a person plays in our lives determines the level of impact that a breech of faith on their part will have on our lives. Faith Leaders are a great example. 

When we see faith leaders on TV who have, for decades, preached a certain way of life and the evils of sin – all while holding out their hands for our hard-earned money- it’s very impactful to thousands when those pious leaders are caught with their hands in the till.  This is not a crisis of religious faith, it’s a breech of faith committed BY someone involved in religion. Not the same thing. 

Please keep all of this in mind when people place their faith in you.  It is an important responsibility to be the receiver of faith.  

Remind yourself daily of that responsibility.   It’s important. 

Day #53 – “It’s Tiger’s fault!”

When I was a kid, I hated golf.  It made absolutely no sense to me at all.  The scoring seemed incomprehensible, and just the idea of smacking a little ball down a very long lawn in the often-vane attempt to get it into a little white hole in the ground seemed, well… silly.  And, since I’m being honest, My hate for it was sealed because my dad loved golf and, during certain times of the year, he’d spend much of what little time he did spend at home planted in front of the TV watching Jack Nicholas or Arnold Palmer on TV — while we kids had a standing rule of NOT making any noise while dad was watching TV.

Later, after moving out of my home, joining the military, leaving the state, and building an adult life on my own, golf still didn’t have ANY place in my life.  There were much MUCH better things to do than to watch a bunch of entitled rich people playing a game that I would never play myself.

That was — until Tiger came on the scene (for me) during the latter part of 1996.

This guy was not boring; not by any stretch of the imagination.

He would swing his club as if he were trying to land his ball on the moon.  Yes, he often missed the fairways, but I quickly learned that fairways were for the ‘other’ golfers.  Not for Tiger!  He didn’t need fairways to win.  He’d put himself in the deep rough – he’d land his ball amongst the trees – or he’d land his ball so far left or right of the green that every (EVERY) expert commentator would count par as an impossibility, and they’d start calculating the best way of getting off that hole with a double-bogie…and counting Tiger lucky to have that.

But they hadn’t become believers of the Tiger Eye yet.

Tiger saw paths to the green – or to the hole itself – that no one else saw.  He would thread the needle between a tight stand of trees, or he would bend his ball around the largest of obstacles, or he’d simply pop it up and over EVERYTHING…then land it soft and sweet, right near the hole…well within birdie range.

He could read a green better than anyone alive.  He instinctively saw all the bends and turns and dips and broken blades of grass and dead bugs and where the wind was and wasn’t…. and that ball would do a waltz for him that was artistic and totally without precedent….all the way to the hole.

For many years, the fact that Tiger would win or, at worst, be in serious contention, every time he showed up on a course was very quickly without doubt.  But that’s really not why I watched him – or why he seduced me into loving golf.  It was the way he played.  He was like the little kid who could ride his bike in crazy ways that seemed to defy the laws of physics, simply because no one had told him yet that he couldn’t.  He was the kid who could dance across a fence without any worry of falling because no one had taught him about gravity yet.  That was Tiger.  He really shouldn’t have been able to do many of the things he did.  He simply did them – because he refused to check in with someone else beforehand to see if what he was about to do was possible.

He’s had a rough couple of years lately, but that doesn’t matter.  Tiger will always be the reason I love golf.  He will always be one of my primary inspirations for thinking outside the box, trying the impossible, and simply going for it!

Thank you sir!

Day #52 – “Beating Inertia…”

in·er·tia
iˈnərSHə/
noun
  1. 1.
    a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.
    “the bureaucratic inertia of government”

=========================================================

We are all affected by inertia in our everyday lives; those things that stubbornly do not move forward or refuse to turn in the direction we want them to.

A general example of inertia is:

Imagine a very large boulder sitting halfway up a steep hill.  That boulder has likely been sitting in the exact same spot on that hill for decades, or perhaps even centuries.  That boulder is affected by inertia.  It needs some outside source or some ‘change’ to occur for it to move from the spot it’s been in for so very long.  It may be erosion under the boulder.  It might be torrential rain.  Or it might be as little as a bird landing on it for rest.  However it happens, when that one final thing occurs that causes it to move downhill in even the smallest amount, then its inertia has been interrupted.  And, for this example, once that boulder starts to move, other forces – like gravity – start to have a larger effect on the boulder, causing it to roll more, then roll faster…until — inertia has been completely defeated and the boulder comes crashing down the hill at a scary pace.

The same process occurs in our lives.

For me, I deal with the battle of inertia daily in regards to my workouts.

I LOVE working out — once I’m doing it.  But it’s the ‘getting-in-the-gym’ part that serves as the cause of my inertia.  I can camouflage it by saying that the roadblocks to me successfully working out everyday is my work, my family, sickness, an injury, and so on, but the bottom line is >> Once I get in that gym, I WILL workout, and it WILL be a good workout!  (I’ve never had a bad workout – ever!)  So, time and just paying attention has taught me that – for me to successfully beat the inertia of workout-avoidance, I just need to get my butt in the gym.  After that, everything always works itself out.

I hate product placements, but – the term “Just Do It!” almost always applies when it comes to overcoming inertia in our lives.  Whatever obstacles you THINK are in your way from writing or working out or going to school or cleaning that room or… well, you get the idea… I KNOW that if you simply take the first step, the inertia will be defeated and you will move forward — today.   Tomorrow, you will likely face the same battle of inertia, and you will need to simply Do It again.

So:  Write the first word; put on your running shoes; get your butt to the gym door; pick up that first dirty sock; sign-up for that class; and just Do It!

Day #51 – “Wisdom by Osmosis?”

I love books – all kinds of books.  But for this entry, I’d like to concentrate on Instruction Books.

Books on Chess, Writing, Life, Meditation, Gardening, and SO many more.

I have a LOT of these types of books at home….and very soon, I’ll be giving almost all of them away.

For so many years, I’ve collected these kinds of books.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of them have been collected dust on my bookshelves for many years because I’ve either failed to read them, or I’ve felt no need to go back to them.

Yes, there are a few books that I’ve read and re-read and re-re-read — and those books I’ll be keeping.  But the others are going into a box to be given to charity in the hope that they’ll find life and purpose in someone else’s hands…and NOT gather new dust on someone else’s shelf.

I know why I got all those books in the first place: it was in a sincere attempt to ‘take action’.  I love learning new skills and sharpening current skills, and these books were meant to help me do that.  And they are all good books (or I wouldn’t have gotten them in the first place).  But why didn’t I ‘use’ them for their original purpose?

Part of the problem, I think, is that I don’t have a lifestyle that allots sufficient time toward learning new skills and sharpening current ones.  And, unless I can learn/sharpen my skill-sets by osmosis (Wouldn’t that be wonderful?), then one of two things needs to happen:

  1. Change my lifestyle enough to make time for this developmental practice.
  2. Jettison some of the plans I have for new skills training.

So, what am I going to do?

Both of them.

I’ve been a bit over-zealous and unrealistic about this whole thing, and at my age, I need to be more selective about not only WHAT I’m going to learn, but also HOW MUCH TIME I want to dedicate (or, more accurately, have TIME to dedicate) towards learning new skills and enhancing current skills.

So >> Old books = Gone!

New books = Be selective!

Current books = Use!! (Or else…gone!)

Forward!

Day #50 – BONUS Entry – “Nihilism…”

ni·hil·ism
ˈnīəˌlizəm,ˈnēəˌlizəm/
noun
The rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
Sometimes I wonder why people do what they do — or why they refuse to do what I consider to be ‘right’.  Don’t we all share a common sense of goodness and justice and correctness?
No, we don’t.
There are those that, quite honestly, believe in only those things that contribute to their own lives, their own enjoyment, their own prosperity.  This moral paradigm is one that constantly shifts and changes and moves, like moons around a planet, and the core of that orbit is the selfishness of the individual.
I’ve heard of people describing nihilism as a means of re-examining everything around them with a clear, unbiased mind.  And, in that context, I can see a very temporary value in its employment.  But as a core philosophy?  No.  This is a belief in nothing.  This is a stance nowhere.  It requires no courage; it requires no sacrifice; it involves no responsibility.
If you want to turn the cube to see what’s on the other side, and you want to view it with ‘no mind’, then yes – please do.
However, if your existence is one where moral principles have no meaning, where life itself has no purpose, then I think you have no place on this Earth.  You are consuming resources and giving nothing back.  Your only contribution to this world is the carbon dioxide that you expel and the neon example that you serve…the ‘thing’ that others should avoid emulating at all costs.

Day #50 – “Gremlins…”

There’s no such thing as a completely bad day.

Bold statement, right?

I’ve had days that were completely blackened by the death of a loved one, or physical pain, or back-to-back arguments, or a daisy-chain of disappointments, but – in the end – none of them were completely bad days.

Were they mostly bad?  Even ‘overwhelmingly’ bad?  Sure.

But ‘Completely Bad’?

No!

From the practical side first:

Although hard to find or remember, every one of these days had moments of peace, of quiet, of solace.  A few of them even had the stray, unexpected laugh that seemed to vaporize at the time, but served to relieve the tension, if only for a moment.  Often, days of disaster are shared with others.  That alone is a positive – a sharing on an island in a sea of pain.

From the esoteric side now:

With every hardship comes the realization that we are stronger than we think we are.

With every strain, break, tear, pull, and cut comes a healing and a new level of acceptance and tolerance to pain.

With every setback and disappointment and failure and devastation comes the chance to learn and grow and develop a new focus and drive and intensity that we didn’t possess before.

I’m not saying that we don’t experience horrible, mind-numbing, soul-crushing days.

I AM saying that – they are never ‘All Bad.”

Over the years, I have learned to find comfort in that fact.

Day #49 – “Stasis…”

One of the largest, most attractive pits that I frequently fall into is Stasis.

A part of me obviously loves a calm, peaceful, tranquil existence.  I know this because I regularly, just naturally, steer towards that form of environment.  A quiet day in my home, doing “nothing” activities” (watching TV, napping, puttering around the house, etc.) makes a part of me very happy.

However, Stasis is the arch-nemesis of productivity, growth and larger enjoyment.

If I want to learn something new, I can’t do it while lounging in a state of Stasis.

If I want to get one of my MANY projects done, I can’t do it while wallowing in Stasis.

Any goals I may have will NOT be found in the cocoon of Stasis.

Should I avoid Stasis altogether?  I honestly don’t know.  I DO think that there is value to be found in occasionally (I repeat >> “OCCASIONALLY”) allowing yourself to reset, to unplug, and simply re-energize.  But I have to be aware of the dangers of going there too often, or staying there too long.

So, going forward, “Stasis” needs to be closely monitored.  Or, perhaps the better way to deal with the dangers of Stasis is to schedule my Stasis time.

Something to think about.

Day #48 – “When it rains…”

They say hardships come in three’s. I hope so. 

My rear brakes starts to screech and squeal because the pads were now metal on metal.  Got ’em fixed by an on-the-side mechanic named Felix. He normally does good work. Picked up my car on Friday, but could still hear screeching coming from the back.  Felix said I needed a new backing plate.  He showed me my old brake pads and rotors and yes, they were worn out.  

Bummer. One more headache (literally). 

That night, I was backing out of my driveway to pick up a pizza for dinner when… SNAP!  My serpentine belt broke.  I contacted Felix and he said he’d come by the next day (Saturday) to put on a new one.  But then, all day Saturday, I couldn’t get ahold of Felix.  I eventually got a call late Saturday night to tell me Taft Felix had to fly to Cali on short notice due to a family emergency and he likely wouldn’t be back for about ten days. 

Headaches two and three. 

I’ve been messaging all the on-the-side mechanics I can find online in my area, but some of them are really weird.  I think I’ve found someone who will come to my home tonight to install the belt. 

Please let there not be a headache #4. 

Day #47 – “Where does it hurt?”

My Kids aren’t technically “kids” anymore, but that fact fades quickly when they’re sick – even at their current ‘adult-age’.  

My son was in his 20’s when he dumped his longboard doing 50+ mph.  He didn’t want to go to the ER, and he didn’t want his mom to find out cause he knew – from long experience – how it would affect her.  Instantly, I was transported back to a time when he was a pre-teen and he’d fallen out of a tree and severely sprained his wrist.  The age was technically double this time, but the feelings were exactly the same.  He was my beloved son, my little buddy, and he was hurt. He’s now in his early 30’s, married and has a child of his own, but his mom and I still fret (at times) over his health.  “Is he eating properly?”  “Is he sleeping enough?”

This emotional scenario occurred again today with our daughter.  She’s in her mid-20’s and she’ll be getting married next year, but today, she was simply my sick little girl.  She’d contracted some stomach bug from one of her students at school, and she was throwing up regularly. She couldn’t even hold down simple sips of water.  Today, we all reverted to familiar roles: her mom and I instantly became the caregivers, eager to do absolutely anything necessary to make her feel better; and she was the pitiful child, easily relinquishing all power, independence and control – in favor of being our little girl…if only for the day. 

I am certain that my son will always be my “Little Buddy” and my daughter will forever be my “Little Girl.”  

Today, I wasn’t “Dad”, I was “Daddy.”

Day #46 – “Must be maturing…”

There’s a story I love to tell to illustrate how a marriages matures:

It’s raining hard when a newlywed couple enters a doctor’s office together.  They’re there to be tested whether there are any obstacles to having children.  After checking in at the counter, they start to settle in the lobby.  The young husband shook the rain off if his hat, he set it down on his chair, then he helped his young bride with her coat.  Then, unknowingly, he sat on his hat.  However, his wife saw what he did and immediately started berating him for doing something so dumb. Of course, the husband got defensive, and this quickly escalated into an argument. 

A few minutes later, an elderly couple enters the lobby, the rain still visibly pouring behind them. The husband is accompanying his wife to her post-surgical checkup; she’s a breast cancers survivor.  After checking in at the counter, then start to settle in just a few chairs away from the still-arguing newlyweds.  The old husband shakes the rain off of his hat, sets it down in his chair, and then he helps his wife off with her coat.  He hangs it up, helps her down into her chair, and then he unknowingly sits down on his hat.  Several minutes pass without either of them saying a word.  Then, the wife leans over to her loving husband and whispers, “You sat on your hat.”  He pats her hand and whispers back, “I know.”

Day #45 – “Wrong? Me?”

One thing that I believe I’ve attained with age is the ability to readily accept being wrong.  

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, being wrong was something caused feelings of anxiety, guilt, frustration, and so on. I tried VERY hard to always know what I was talking about, and I had an opinion about virtually everything.  When someone corrected me, it almost always sparked a knee-jerk reaction series: red face, raised voice, firm resolve, and the tendency to talk over the person who corrected me. 

Now, I am wide open to the possibility that something I had said was inaccurate, and equally eager to learn. 

I firmly believe that the trigger for my transition coincided with me learning to say “I don’t know”. Saying it, meaning it, and allowing myself the freedom away from knowing it all was the same as discovering a new room in a home you’ve lived in for decades. 

I wrote before about being an Eternal Beginner, and “I don’t know” is often integral to that process. 

Will I get even better at being a beginner?  I don’t know. 😁

Day #44 – “Twit-Face-Insta-Chat…”

I’m kinda torn about today’s social media craze.

Or…is it a craze?  Is it a fad?  Or is this the way people actually communicate now.

I know I’m gonna sound REALLY old with this, but…

I remember actually talking with people as the main form of communication.  The 2nd most popular form?  Writing letters.

These days, if I try to call someone, they refuse to answer their phone.  But, a few seconds later, I’ll get a text from them – worded in a way to make it clear that this is the form of communication they prefer.

People express themselves — OVER-express themselves – on Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, and so on.  They feel entitled to tell the entire world (or, more accurately, ‘their’ entire world) what they feel, why they feel it, and they do their absolute best to infuse their post, their rant, with as much emotion and emoticons as they can.  To today’s world, this form of communicating is “interactive” and “social”.

My experience, though, is that these interactions are fake!  The person doing the ranting or raving or flirting or alphabet-spewing is usually completely different from the person you end up speaking with face-to-face.  A person is more confident over social media because they feel protected.  They also feel entitled.  Something about this forum (at least, in their minds) gives them the right – almost goads them – to go directly from emotional-brain to keyboard without the normal barriers and filters that face-to-face interactions demand.  They often don’t have the same level of respect for the people/person they are communicating with, and they are MUCH more in-your-face with how they feel and what they think.

And it is through THIS format that today’s single people are often meeting potential dating partners.

No wonder so many people have become serial daters…going from cyber-person to cyber-person, looking for their ideal mate, and constantly disappointed because (imagine this!) the person they end up meeting is NOTHING like the person they were communicating with over Twit-Face-Insta-Chat.

Kids — you both have someone you love and will be spending the rest of your lives with now.  But for any other Kids out there, please >>>  Speak with people (actually hear their voice!).  Exchange looooooong letters (emails are cool) with them.  Ask a million questions and offer a million answers.  Have Real Friends – and be sure to mentally separate them from your Social Media Friends.  They’re NOT the same.

Oh!   And don’t text and drive – EVER!  (Just sayin’.  😛 )

Day #43 – “Tinker – Tailor – Soldier – Spy…”

I have worn an uncounted number of hats in my life thus far, and continue to do so.  And I am still on the hunt for additional hats in various sizes, shapes and colors.

One of the two hats I love the most actually has two names: “Dad” (and all its various permutations: Pops, Papa, Dada, Daddy, etc.) and “Grandpa” (or whatever name my grand-kids decide to call me when they are able).

I absolutely love being ‘that’ for them.

Stepping outside of myself, it’s very easy to see that my love for this (these) role(s) comes from a very selfish place.  But, quite fortunately, it’s an ‘allowed selfishness’.  I’m expected to adore my kids/grand-kids.  I’m expected to spoil them silly.  It is perfectly acceptable for a 55+ year old grown man to get chest-down on the ground so that I am face-to-face with that wonder-filled face and speak nonsensically and laugh at nothing and make wildly inappropriate sounds and sing to them and beat-box for them and tickle them and nibble on their toes.

From the time each of my kids was born, it didn’t take very long for every piece of clothing I owned to be anointed with a variety of child-born bodily fluid/matter, some more than others, and I didn’t care.  My shoulders were constantly soaked with baby drool because that is where they often slept.  Children have always found me ‘comfortable’, my kids especially.  When our kids slept with my wife and I as they grew up (and they often slept with us during their first 5 or 6 years of life), no matter where the child started the night, I would often wake up with their face nuzzled firmly into one of my shoulders.

How wonderful is that!!

I firmly believe that I was born to be a father.  And this is no exaggeration >> I was eager to be a dad ever since I was 10 years old.  One of the regular jobs I had throughout my teens was as a babysitter.  It garnered me spending money, and it allowed me to be a complete idiot with kids: playing games I was too old to play, singing songs I was too old to sing, and watching cartoons that I was supposed to have already outgrown.  This was the perfect proving and training ground for my ultimate calling.

So when my son was born, I made sure to take a month off from work so that I can spend some serious QT with my recovering wife, but also to ensure that that little, new person would definitely bond with me.

During my childhood, my dad had a recliner.  It was a worn-in, very comfortable thing, and it was extremely easy to lean back and fall asleep in it (only when dad wasn’t home, of course).  And, laying half-awake in that chair, I could easily picture myself with my child on my chest, also half-awake, as we eventually nodded-off together.  My wife and I made that ever-present vision a reality by ensuring we had a recliner in our apartment before our son was born.  And that is where my son and I spent much of the first month of his life.

We repeated that when our daughter was born, 8 years later.  And the heartwarming thing that I am able to experience now is, at the age of 24, my daughter still leans her head into my chest or shoulder for comfort.

Several of my ‘hats’ are creative in nature (artist, musician, poet) and my role as a dad directly feeds inspiration into those other roles.  By seeing life and overall existence still the constantly evolving eyes of a child, I receive their sense of wonder and inspiration and awe and gratitude for simple pleasures.

My grandpa hat still has that new-hat-smell; my first grandbaby is gonna be 2 next month and I haven’t spent a lot of time with her yet cause she and her parents live about a thousand miles away.  But she and her parents will be moving here in October.

I am SO ready to be the goofy, loving grandpa…eager to hear her create a new name for me…eager for her to write new endings to the stories I will tell her…eager for the barrage of questions she will ask…eager for her to outrun and outplay me, and then come back to her poor gwampa and sit in my lap till I catch my breathe…eager for her to grab my face with both hands (as children love to do) and stare deeply into my eyes to see whatever it is that children see when they do that.

Eager for October to come.

Day #42 – “Ramalamadingdong!”

Have you ever been flipping through the TV channels and happen upon an old movie that you’ve seen a million times (-ish) but you still wanna watch it again?

I just did that with “Grease”.

My family and I have seen that movie sooo many times but, like tonight, we never get tired of watching it.

We know all the dialog.  We sing all the songs. And we still laugh at all the same spots.

Not looking for an explanation for this phenomenon. Just happy for the joy my family and I still get from these movies.

Day #41 – “I Call a ‘Do Over’!”

For nearly every movie series ever made, in my mind, it’s normally the first movie that is the overall best. 

Fellowship…?  The best!

Indiana chasing the Ark?  The best!

“I’ll be back!”  The best!

First Star Wars that weirdly became the 4th one?  Definitely the best!

However, there are some very distinct and decisive exceptions to this overwhelming trend.  A few examples:

Khan over stupid cloud thingy. 

Harry beating Voldemort (they say it’s two movies, but I don’t agree). 

And Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ over…well, everything!

And on a related topic…  If you’re thinking about rebooting a movie, please don’t. The original is almost always unbeatable, so why bother?  ( I know the answer just like you do.  Sad, right?). A few miserable attempts?

True Grit – Andromeda Strain – Spider-Man (Amazing!) – Vacation (can’t beat Chevy) – Planet of the Apes – Footloose – and probably the worst reboot ever? Willy Wonka.  Why try to remake perfection?

You may or may not agree with my list, but I hope you’ll agree that… The first time (for so many things) is almost always the best. 

Day #40 – “There can be Only One…”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the concept of immortality.  This obsession grew after watching the movie “Highlander”.  The idea of living for many lifetimes, learning everything I want to learn, not being hampered or slowed-down by age or infirmity, and – over the course of centuries – quietly experiencing the world as it advances & changes.

To be honest, the Highlander movie and TV series were the impetus for me wanting to learn how to use a sword.

However, over the years, I’ve watched many of the people I know slowly go from vital, energetic individuals, people who clung to life tightly, who dreamed of living forever too…to people who gradually became comfortable with the idea of degraded physical ability, with more frequent aches & pains & illness, and with diminished eyesight and hearing.  The shock to me was hearing them express how they were no longer afraid of death, and how they would be ready when it came.

What the… ?

Traitors!!!

These were people who had shared my dream of immortality.  They had wanted to attack life and dive into every new pool.  They had wanted their adventure to go on forever, almost as much as I did, and they dismissed any discussion of dying in their 50’s or 60’s or…  Well, you get the idea.

But then, after reaching the 50+ mark, they began to lose their zeal; their stubbornness incrementally faded; their visions of chasing gremlins into the centuries slowly forgotten.

Nope!  Not me!

I am now 55.  I still plan on reaching 155 — or 255 — and beyond.  I’m not talking about some medical cure or environmental miracle.  I’m talking about living on and on…just because I want to.  I see it (I have for decades), and I will make it so.

I’ve got far too many goals still to chase.  I have way too many adventures left to experience.  I have SO much left to learn.

Yup!  355.  That sounds like a good initial goal to shoot for.

Day #39 – “Words to Live by…”

I love short, simple quotes, statements, expressions, etc.  Anything that concisely voices the pictures in my brain or the feelings in my heart.  When done well, a few words strung together can inspire, illicit action, cause reflection, flair emotion, or soothe pain.

I am constantly on the hunt for motivational snippets, acronyms, words in other languages, etc…anything that reminds me of the right thing to do.  Some of my favorites are:

“Great acts are made up of small deeds.”

“Anyone who angers you…conquers you.”

“A man is not finished when he is defeated.  He is finished when he quits!”

“Negativity is like acid – It eventually destroys the vessel that carries it.”

“An easy task becomes difficult when you do it with reluctance.”

“It is much easier to be critical than correct.”

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.”

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

“A year from now, you may wish you had started today.”

“Anything unattempted becomes impossible.”

“Eliminate destructive/negative Self-talk.”

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

Saudade: “The love that remains after someone is gone.”

And my favorite:  “Integrity, Excellence, Service”

What inspires you?  What reminds you?

Day #38 – BONUS Entry #2 – “As One…”

THE MOST precious and important person in my life is my wife.  I’ve known her for 34+ years, and I’m still learning about her. She still melts my heart with her laugh,  I still wake up in the middle of the night and simply watch her sleep,  She is still the most gorgeous person alive.  And the time I spend with her, simply sitting together in a room, silent, together, assures me that we’ll have no problem spending our next 50+ years of life together.  (After that?  Well… we’ll see.)

She is an artist that doesn’t know that she’s an artist.

She’s been trying to learn how to whistle for decades, can still only manage one note, but refuses to stop trying.

She is – hands down, without doubt – THE BEST chef in the entire universe!!

Her compassion for the important people in her life is enormous, as is her selflessness towards those same people.

She is one of only a handful of people in this world whose opinion of me sincerely matters.  She realizes this, and she is very careful with that power.

Like her son (or, her son is like her?), she can plow through a stack of books with no effort — all while I’m still on book #1.

Her sense of style and fashion is often trend-worthy, and it’s been my experience that she has inspired many other women (young and old) to follow her example.  (An ability her daughter has inherited.)

At essentially the same time, she and I have come to a stage in our life together where we want to simplify, minimize, and reduce.  I can view that existence with her, and it makes me eager to get there.

I envision us sharing a simple breakfast from a single plate, drinking fresh-brewed coffee from one cup, and then curled-up in an overstuffed love seat while we watch movies or read together or nap together….or whatever.

The crystal clear vision of that future makes me very happy!

Day #38 – BONUS entry #1 – “The Mirror…”

When my Kids were young, they constantly tried to copy me at everything: how I ate, how I sang, even how I sat.  Here are a couple examples:

>> I’d be sitting on the couch next to my daughter while we half-watched a TV show, and I’d be leaning on one hand, half asleep.  Then I’d suddenly notice that my daughter was mimicking my position perfectly, even down to the half-closed eyes.

>> Or I’d do a drawing of Spiderman and happen to leave it on the coffee table before going to bed.  The next morning, I would find a drawing my very young son had drawn, and it’d be of Spiderman in the exact same pose, to the exact same scale, but his drawing would be better, cleaner, and more detailed than mine.

I have a very large catalog of memories of my kids copying me in some fashion, and I recall them more and more as I get older, and even moreso when I watch (for example) my son with his daughter.

But there eventually came a time when I began to copy my Kids.  I think, at first, it was unconscious.  But today, it is definitely intentional.  My Kids are extraordinary people in my eyes.  Their skills, their knowledge, their way of interacting with people, all make me say to myself, “I want to learn ‘that’!”

My son’s knowledge base is encyclopedic.  He reads 5 times faster than I do (when he’s not really trying). His artistic ability is mind-numbingly brilliant.  His affinity for languages is awe-inspiring.  And his hunger for learning new skills, coupled with his intensity of focus, have allowed him to absorb skills that I SO wish I possessed.

My daughter’s finesse, her communications skills, her logical thought process, her compassion, her writing skill, and her instinctive musical ability, all make me want to try harder in those areas.  I’m never going to match her ability in those areas (nor the many other areas that she excels in), but at least I can console myself by saying, “I’m trying.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always dedicated my life to learning something new – constantly.  And my Kids – just by being who they are – constantly inspire me and reignite that fire in me to keep searching for new skills to take on.

Thank you, Kids!

Day #38 – “Essentialism”

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”  – Greg McKeown

For most of my early life, my answer was always “Yes”.

When people needed favors, when someone needed my assistance (even if I was already overbooked), when co-workers would push their work off onto me, my bosses would overload me with work, my answer was always, “Yes.”

In hindsight, this passiveness came from the desire to get along, not be viewed as difficult, and as a way to prove that I was a team player.  But I believe it also came from a place of fear: fear that I would be disappoint; fear that I would be seen or judged as non-productive; fear that if I said “No” to anything, they would take it all away from me.

Eventually, I hit a breaking point.  I finally said “No!”  Probably more emphatically than I needed to, but the energy behind the “No” was also due to an overwhelming sense of dread that I had just cooked my own goose, as it were, and gave them reason to fire me.  And what happened?

Did I get fired?  No.  Were they angry?  Yes.  Were they frustrated?  Yes.  Did things, as I expected them to, get worse?

No!

From that point on, it got easier for me to say, “No”.  I had already stepped off the ledge.  I had already risked everything with my first “No”.  So, saying it again was no real additional risk.  And, over the next few months, it almost became a test.  How many times can I say “No” before it all goes bad.

In the end, I found that saying “Yes” all the time caused an insurmountable amount of stress, it made it impossible for me to meet all my deadlines, and it didn’t allow me to actually enjoy what I was doing.  Everything was “Crank it out, send it out, move on to the next emergency.”

Saying “No” – even occasionally – allowed me breathing room.  It allowed me to put more time and energy and care into fewer projects and actually start to create ‘things’ that I was increasingly proud of.  I began to enjoy my work again.  I started to see – finally – that doing 10 projects with focus and care and enthusiasm was FAR greater and more rewarding than doing 100 projects shabbily, just to get them done.

An unexpected side benefit >> People respected me more; they respected my time more.  They asked instead of demanded.  They began to view my time as important because I had begun to display importance for my time.

Now – People automatically assume that I am always busy, and they know that I may say “No” if they simply try to dump their project on me without preamble.  With this firmly in mind, they stop and think before coming to me.  I imagine an internal conversation that goes something like this: “Is my project worth Lee’s time?”  Or… “What can I say to Lee to get him to add this to his “To Do” list?”  This assumption comes from the tone and content of the conversations my customers have been having with me ever since the first time I said “No.”

Negatives to saying “No”?  Don’t overdo it.  If you say “No” to too many things, you take the risk of being viewed as lazy and not part of the larger Team.   The trick?  It’s all in the follow-up conversation AFTER the “No”.

When I say “No”, I always quickly follow it up with specifics about why the project cannot be done “…at this time.”  This is even easier if I am already working on another project for them.

Example:  Before the first “No”, I would regularly have people come to my office with half-baked ideas, musings they had just before going to sleep, or epiphanies that popped into their heads – half-formed – when they woke up that morning.  They’d run their ideas by me, then they would figuratively plop their partial idea on my desk, and then they’d walk out – fully confident that “Lee will fill in the blanks and make it into reality.”  In my more somber times, I viewed this practice on par with people who would say, “Lee, I have an idea for a book.  It’s brilliant!  Y’see, this girl gets her heart broken, she steps away from society, and when she comes back, she is now more confident and can take charge of her life.  You know…the emerging swan-type story, right?  Okay Lee.  I’ve done the hard part – I had the idea.  Now you just crank it out, okay?”  That’s the way my customers would approach me with their business ideas.

But saying “No”, I had forced them to think these ideas through, to consider and reconsider if it was worth my time (Because remember, I finally established that my time is now valuable, so they began to view my time as valuable).  Then, over time, the frequency of these spitball sessions and knee-jerk project requests almost completely disappeared.

Do I still get the odd request with no merit?  Or the occasional epiphany request?  Sure I do.  But I know how to handle them now.  I talk through their proposal with them, but I do it in a way where THEY eventually come to realize the true merit of their not-completely-thought-out idea.  And when they do, when they reach that moment of realization, the look of understanding is almost beyond words.  You see the truth click behind their eyes.  You see their shoulders slump slightly.  You can literally watch them go through the 5 stages of grief as they realize that their gangbusters idea is missing some or all of the components needed to actually be actionable.  At that point, they can’t get out of my office quickly enough.  They nod, they say something to let me know that they will “table” the idea “for now”, and they smoothly slide out my door.  That normally only needs to happen once for a person to permanently learn to think twice and thrice before doing it again.

They learned something – just as I learned something.

So again, please remember >> “If YOU don’t prioritize your life, someone else will!!”

Day #37 – “Beginner Mind”

One of the most useful things I’ve ever learned was to happily embrace being a beginner.

I love learning new things.  But, as you get older, it can be increasingly difficult to let yourself be a beginner.  The more we learn, the easier it is to let that knowledge get in the way of learning something new.  This is especially true if the thing we want to learn is closely related to something we already know.

For example: I’ve been a beginner in martial arts many MANY times in my life.  To do this, I had to set aside my existing martial training – and all of its associated biases – so that I wouldn’t block or dismiss the new training I was receiving.  I knew how to punch.  But I had to allow myself to relearn how to punch, over and over and over. And, after many years of relearning how to punch, and after decades of relearning, I now almost know how to punch.

Kids – search out opportunities to begin again, to relearn what you think you already know.  Be a constant beginner.

Day #36 – “Gotta Pee….”

One of the greatest theoreticians of the current era (at least, in his own mind), Sheldon Cooper (TBBT), once said (and I’m paraphrasing here…), “People with full bladders make better decisions.”  He was, of course, quoting Dutch researcher, Mirjam Tuk.  (What? You didn’t know that?)

So, with that in mind, I am literally bouncing up and down in my work chair as I try to decide what to write about in today’s blog.

However, it’s not working very well for me.  I must not be doing it right.

Gotta pee?  Check!

Looking for an idea?  Check!

Trying my best not to urinate all over my work chair?  Check!

So – why isn’t it working?

Did I miss a page of her research on the topic?  No – cause I didn’t actually read the research.  I’m just going off of The Big Bang Theory episode that I saw last night.

Did I miss a part of The Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon employs this technique?  No – I make a point never to leave the TV when TBBT is playing; that is…unless I can pause the DVR.

As I think of it, I now remember that Sheldon wasn’t very successful with this technique either.  He kept saying things that reminded him of how badly he had to pee (Oh!  Pee!)…and the more he did it, the more he bounced in his chair (Like me, right now!).

And the more I bounce, the less capable I am of thinking about potential topics for today’s blog, and the more of my attention is pulled toward calculating how long it would take me to hop over this desk, knock down the three guys who are currently standing in the hall just outside my office door, and physically pull the person sharply backwards who is likely standing at the urinal right now; standing between me and the relief that I SO need right now.

Yup!  Going around the desk won’t work — too long.

Politely stepping through the congregated throng near my door?  Nope.  That won’t do it either.

Tap the guy at the urinal (I KNOW he’s there, blocking me on purpose!) and quietly, calmly ask him to step aside?  Can’t!  He might think I’m some sorta weirdo.  But if he saw the overwhelming wave of relief across my face as I finally relieved my bladder?  Well…EVERY guy knows that feeling, right?  He wouldn’t blame me.  He wouldn’t judge me.

Back to the search for ideas.

Think – Think – Think.

Wait?  I think…?  Is that an idea I’m getting?

No!  It’s visions of waterfalls and water boiling and a drippy faucet and the sounds of rain and….

Gotta run!

Day #35 – “Joyful Pain in the Neck…”

I love chess. 

I hate chess. 

Yes, you can both deeply love a thing and sincerely hate that same thing.  (The same applies to people, but that’s a different topic.)

I love the beauty of a well-played chess game. 

I hate chess for denying me the ability to consistently create such beauty. 

I love the way chess challenges both my intellect and creativity. 

I hate the way chess so often makes me feel like a fathomless buffoon. 

I love the exhilaration that permeates me after a good game of chess v

My neck physically hurts me from the tension associated with both good and bad chess games (often resulting in migraines). 

Chess can extend my life because it exercises my mind and expands my imagination. 

Chess shortens my life because of its affect on my blood pressure (The migraines and extreme tension).  

Doctors have been known to instruct their patients to avoid chess because of the dilitory affect it is having on their health. 

While many other experts strongly extol the benefits of chess on the mind and body.  

So torn.   

Day #34 – “Pucker Power!”

Is dietary preference genetic?   

I LOVE sour stuff.  Sour candy. Sour food. Sour drinks.  If it’s tart, it has heart.  

And both my kids love sour stuff too.  

How’d that happen?  Is that normal?  Can whatever phenomenon that explains our shared love of sour stuff also explain any or all of the following?  

Our shared tendency to snort when we find something extraordinarily funny?

An occasional level of sarcasm that can border on the obnoxious?

Firm agreement that the absolute best pizza in the world is in Omaha, Nebraska at Zio’s Pizzaria?

Or the ability to watch the same movie an embarrassing number of times?

Or…perhaps it’s simple luck.  

Day #33 – “Something from Nothing…”

I LOVE the creative process.  I just do.  There’s something almost otherworldly about taking a blank piece of paper (or a blank canvas or blank screen or empty air) and, layer by layer, adding elements, lines, notes, paint-strokes, whatever… until something-from-nothing has been created.

Everyone in my immediate family is creative.  My wife can create the most amazing dishes from just a few simple ingredients.  She can conceptualize and verbalize new outfits, wedding designs, and flower arrangements – all in her head.  My daughter is an amazing writer, paper-craft-maker, and musician.  My son is an unbelievable artist, a musician, and a martial artist.

I feel overwhelmingly blessed that all of the important people around me ‘get’ this part of my life, they ‘get’ the importance of it in my everyday existence, and they ‘get’ the same level of pleasure and satisfaction and meaning from it that I do.

I honestly, wholeheartedly believe that everyone (yes, EVERYONE) has the same innate ability to create something from nothing.  I truly do.

Imagine a world of artists; a world of creators.  Wouldn’t that be Utopian?

Day #32 – “Wait till they getta loada me!”

Remember the Michael Keaton “Batman” movie?  Remember the scene where the Joker smiles his exaggerated, permanently fixed smile and says, “What till they getta loada me!”

Well, that’s how I feel sometimes.

I long ago learned that it’s more productive, as well as being conducive to a peaceful environment, if I simply smile and listen while ‘people’ ramble on and on and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  Does that make me a dishonest person?

Does “honesty” require that I say what’s in my head or heart when people are tossing (what I feel is) silly or inaccurate or inane word-salad?  Is it my responsibility to correct them, even politely?  Or is it okay to simply recognize the potential volatility of the moment, remain silent, nod politely, and smile as genuinely as possible?

Was that a rhetorical statement?

Is THAT a rhetorical statement?

Day #31 – “So Many Nargles…So Little Time.”

My favorite part of the creative process is – The Beginning.

I love receiving the seed-idea, wherever that comes from.  I love nurturing it – or obsessing on it – or methodically building it up – or simply examining it from all angles.

It is that initial spark, followed by the flow of creative juices, that really inspires me to be a song writer, a novelist, a poet, an artist, a program developer, and a boatload of other creative pursuits.

BUT… It’s what comes next that deflates my sails.

I’m old enough and experienced enough now to know that every (EVERY!!!) creative endeavor must include a period of grinding-it-out.  The writer must actually sit down and write.  The artist must put pencil or paint to paper.  The developer must sit at the keyboard and build code.

It’s a must!  If you’re going to actually complete ANY creative project, you have to do the grunt work.

I am constantly inspired by watching my daughter spend hours-upon-hours creating her projects from scratch.  Those gorgeous and rather ingenious books contain page after page of individual artwork, hand-crafted envelops, letters, and other flourishes.  Awesome!

I am equally inspired by watching my son spend days, weeks, or even months crafting a skill (i.e.: turntable-ism).  Each hour spent tweaking his abilities adds new layers of beauty to the music he creates.

So, of course, being the dad, I feel compelled (obligated, actually) to lead by example and… Write!

So… Here’s to the success of cranking out 31 straight days of these Letters to my Kids (blog).

I hope my Kids are as proud of me as I am of them.

Day #30 – “No More Pooh & Tigg’r”

Two of THE MOST painful periods of my life were when my Kids, in their own time, each lost some of their innocence because they had finally seen the reality of the world.

It’s inevitable, of course, but still – it hurts.  I so loved and enjoyed seeing the world with boundless wonder through their eyes, unclouded by the darkness of life.  It still saddens me to this day when I compare the before and after.

While raising them, I did my best to fill their minds & hearts with wonder and excitement and fascination, constantly telling them that anything is possible as long as they believe and work hard.  I didn’t lie to them; I still believe in those tenets of life.  But they know now that the Real World is far more complicated than that.

There came a day in each of their lives when they realized: their parents weren’t perfect, not all people are nice, there are those who don’t play by the same rules that you do, people can be vicious and cruel, the word “fair” means different things to different people, and there are some injustices in this World that are ALMOST impossible to make right.

But I also try very hard, each and every day, to show them that there is still a great deal of joy to be found in this world.

To that end, by choice, I am often a 55 year old Kid.  I play.  I laugh hard (sometimes snorting when I laugh).  I tell stupid jokes.  I enjoy simple pleasures.  Old movies and music and art and stories still mean a LOT to me.  And I do my best to maintain the mindset that anything – yes, anything! – is possible if I believe and work hard.

And it is now the other lessons I taught them early on in life that, I hope, have kicked-in and gained more importance since they saw the world as it really is.  Lessons like:

— You make your own reality; for example: if you think your day is going to be bad, it will be.

— You are responsible for your own actions at all times, not for the actions of others.

— You can instill and propagate integrity and honesty by displaying it to others daily.

— Surround yourself with positive influences (people, books, music, art, and so on).

— Life is still a playground, but it has rules.  Learn the rules and you can still enjoy the game of life.  I didn’t say “follow” their rules; I said “learn” them – and then decide for yourself when it’s right to deviate from them.

— Please…marry someone who infuses positivism into your lives, and bring that to their lives too.

Most important, please grow to be elderly children-at-heart.  If you can successfully do that, then I did my job as a dad.

Day #29 – “Still GQ?”

When is it okay to let yourself go?

Is it EVER okay to let yourself go?

To clarify — “…let yourself go” refers to no longer stressing the absence of 6-pack abs.

They say that husbands pack on the pounds when they become dads.  Although I’ve seen this trend with most of my family and friends, this was true for me until just before my second child showed up.

I had 6-pack abs until I was about 38 or 39.  Then the abs started to soften.  I was able to quickly get ’em back with minimal effort for the next couple years.  But they’ve been ‘gone’ ever since I hit 41.

Since then, I’ve tried uncounted diets and insane workout regimens, but nothing has made my abs visible again.  They’re in there; I feel them.  Underneath the burgers and rice and other great food, I can feel them: tight and gorgeous and just waiting to appear.  But no matter what I do, the belly – the BIG belly – remains.

So back to my original question >> Should I give it up?  As long as I’m eating healthy, keeping my metrics (BP, cholesterol, etc.) within ‘normal’ ranges, and working out regularly to help avoid “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”, should I be satisfied?

Am I working toward being the healthiest corpse in Nebraska?  Am I giving up actually enjoying life in favor of the unattainable ‘bod’?

I keep hoping – praying! – that, one day, I’ll magically discover the perfect diet; one that won’t make me feel like I’m totally deprived all the time.  I feel 99.374% confident it isn’t my workout routine.  I can still out-run and out-work people half my age, and I feel strong as a bull.  But the ‘diet’ thing — THAT is hard!

Oh well.  Who am I kidding?  OF COURSE I’m gonna keep trying to lose the gut.  OF COURSE I’m gonna keep weighing myself every morning…counting every plus and minus pound.  And OF COURSE I’m gonna keep looking in the mirror with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, even a 2-pack will begin to appear.

“Hello.  My name is Lee Jackson, and yes…I am a typical middle-aged American guy.”

Day #26 – “Paper… ‘nom – nom – nom’…”

I am SO addicted to collecting, holding, touching, and looking at paper.  All kinds of paper; especially journals filled with clean, white, lined pages inside.

Why?

Is it because of my near-poor upbringing?

Is it an “Artist Thing”?

Is it the aesthetic appeal?

Add to that the absolutely mind-boggling blessing that I married a woman who is blessed/cursed with the same over-the-top obsession.  Yes, additional proof that we are undeniably made for each other.

Not to mention (BTW – Such a weird term, especially considering it ALWAYS is followed by a specific mention of…whatever it is that we weren’t going to mention) the fact that we sired two children who also possess this Mass-Clean-Paper-Consumption-Gene.

I’m in the process of reorganizing and re-categorizing my library, and was confronted with an obscenely large stack of empty journals of all types, sizes, and varying quality that I’ve collected over the decades… and never used.  I have more paper, more journals than I’ll realistically use in my lifetime, but I still have this urge every time I walk into Barnes & Noble or go to Amazon.com to look at the new journals.  And yes, each and every time I ‘look’, I am definitely tempted to buy.

Why?

If anyone has any insights, I’d love to talk through it with you.

Side-Thought:  Is there an “-ism” for this type of thing?  Hmm.

Day #25 – “Bullies…”

When I was a kid, I was 100% afraid of bullies.  I hated conflict.  I hated confrontation.  I hated arguments.  So, when a bully pushed me (either verbally or physically), I normally backed-down, even if that bully was smaller or younger than me.  It wasn’t so much a fear-of-getting-beat-up thing as it was a total distaste for the inevitable escalation process.  If I stood up to them, I reasoned, then they would be ‘forced’ to make good on whatever threat (verbalized or implied) that they were expressing.

I got bullied quite a lot in Jr High and High School, primarily because I was a baby-faced boy with long, (very long) straight hair; in hindsight, I definitely looked more like a girl than a boy (but hey, it was the 70’s.  I was wearing a ‘look’ that was common for that era…one that I could NOT properly pull off).

But in my senior year of High School, something in me snapped.  I had just been rejected by a girl that I really cared about, and then a few minutes later, two guys decided it was the perfect time to yell something snide at me across the parking lot.  Before I knew what I was doing, I yelled back at them (something similar to), “You have something to say to me?  How about coming over here and saying it!!!”  They both immediately backed down.

This was a revelation to me.  There WAS at least one other way of dealing with bullies other than ‘chickening-out’.

Happy ending, right?

Ummm….not exactly.  Or, at least not right away.

I tried that same “Come tell me to my face!” technique a few other times after that momentous day, with mixed results.  Some people backed down, some people did not.  When they didn’t back down, I was then forced to decide if I was capable of taking it to ‘the next level’…whatever that level may be.  And, of course, I wasn’t ready – yet – to do that.

Even after 5 years of martial arts training, I was not yet capable of completely standing up to bullies.  Although I may have had the technical skill necessary to defend myself, I hadn’t yet found the ‘fighter’ inside of me; the part of me that could willingly inflict damage on another person, if required.

It was sometime in my mid-20’s when my ‘fighter’ finally showed himself.  At that point in my life, I had taken enough damage in training and tournaments and real fights to finally feel confident that I could take a beating, if necessary, and likely not die.  More important, though, was the fact that I had also inflicted enough damage on others during those encounters to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to accidentally kill or permanently damage someone else if I had to defend myself.  That knowledge, that realization, truly freed me.

From then on, my ‘fighter’ was within easy access to me at all times.  If someone tried to bully me at work, they wouldn’t get very far without my ‘fighter’ coming to the surface and introducing himself to the bully — who, in most cases, quickly backed-down.  In the few instances that they did not back down, my ‘fighter’ did not hesitate to take matters to the next appropriate level and, hopefully, end the encounter as quickly and as damage-free as possible.  In one particular instance, my ‘fighter’ had to deal with several people at one time, one with a knife, and he did so with efficiency and calm resolve.  It was during THAT encounter when I realized that I could kill — if I had to — in order to preserve my own life or the life of someone I care about.  That is a VERY sobering realization.

Fast forward to today — a day, like any other day, when bullies still exists.  Now, when confronted by bullies, I have the ability to reign back the ‘fighter’ and employ patience and observation.  I have learned over time that taking a significant pause can be as powerful against bullies as a kick to the knee.  Patience and selective silence against a bully forces them to decide whether THEY are willing and capable of escalating things to the next level.  You are not giving them what they often expect: fear.  You are not being controlled by their attack, nor are you controlled by your knee-jerk reactions.  Additionally, the pregnant-pause provides me with the time needed to properly consider the many, MANY other options at my disposal, other than fighting.  That was another lesson learned over time: the power of taking a moment to consider all the available non-violent tools and resources at my disposal.

One final lesson about dealing with bullies >> Every time (yes, EVERY time) a bully pushes you, they likely don’t realize it (cause most bullies are THAT stupid), but they are taking a big chance of having to give up ‘something’.  It may be their pride or their integrity or their teeth…or their life.  Most often, though, they simply dissipate whatever fear that they’ve worked so hard to build in others (onlookers) – also known as (aka) the ‘previously bullied’.

“So, tell me Mr Bully… what are you willing to give up?”

Day #24 – “KFP, JKD, and other acronyms…”

One great thing about grower older (not old, just older) is that you develop a greater sense of confidence in some things because, quite frankly, you’ve lived long enough to be able to ‘feel’ the “trueness” (my word) of them.

When I was a kid, I was taught right from wrong through corporal punishment.  Do something wrong, get smacked or otherwise punished.

When I began reading comic books, Captain America taught me, by example, specific differences and examples of right and wrong, and how to confront them.

Then came my military career – where the Core Values (Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All Things) put language to categorized ways of proactively doing the right thing.

Add to that decades of both traditional and non-traditional martial arts training (KaFePhil = KFP, Jeet Kune Do = JKD, Tae Kwon Do = TKD, and MANY other arts that didn’t have acronyms).  Nearly all contained specific guidelines on when you can use the skills you were accumulating, and when you should not.

Then came my study of the Stoics (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and so on).  This viewpoint on life and how to ‘properly’ live it was (and remains) very attractive to me, primarily because of its simplicity, but also because of the lack of any religious tendrils that are normally found in ancient philosophy and traditional martial studies.

After 55 years, you know what I’ve found?  It’s all pretty simple.  And, at times, it can also be the hardest thing in the entire world.

Simple – Because the rules are very basic and easy to remember.  Do what you know is right at all times.  Thing of others before yourself.  And do your best to do every task that you take on in the best possible way.

Hardest – Because, when you live in a world where people regularly do the easiest thing and call it “right”; where those around you change their core values as easily as they change underwear; and where words like “Integrity” are considered to be either catch-phrases with no real meaning or, to some, just an old-fashioned notion that no longer applies in today’s world… people who try to live a life of “Integrity” are treated with distrust and resentment because we serve as a reminder of what others are choosing to ignore.

Kids – This is a long-winded explanation of something that you’ve been exposed to, in background, your entire lives.  Now you are both adults and I see human beings who truly embody, quite effortlessly, what Integrity is supposed to be.

Yes, I am a very proud dad.

Day #23 – “When Did Life Get Simpler?”

After all the years (decades) of gathering and collecting and hoarding, my wife and I have finally (FINALLY!) shifted to “Simplification Mode”.  Meaning: We want to shed ourselves of as much of our material “stuff” as possible.

So now, all of the possessions that we used to cling to SO fiercely, we are now able to (almost magically) let go.  No rationalization – no drama – no regret.  Just >> Jettison!

As I look back, I cannot (for the life of me) remember exactly when this mental shift occurred…or what precisely facilitated it.  At first, I thought it was Nanay’s death.  But then I remember that we had actually started shedding ourselves of “stuff”, albeit, much more slowly, before her hospitalization.  Her passing may have accelerated our mental-conversation, but it didn’t spark its existence.

No matter.

Oddly, though, one thing we have to be careful of is…How far do we go?  Yes, there is a TON of stuff that we want and will get rid of, but we’re even talking about giving away things that, perhaps, we shouldn’t.  Things like: Donday’s old car.  We are a car short.  So, should be fix hers up? Get rid of it?  Marlene has a lot of clothes that she can still fit into.  How many of them should she give away?  The initial rationale was: If I haven’t worn it in two years, why do I still need it?  But then logic steps in and says, “Well, you didn’t wear them for two years because they were buried in the back of the closet.  They are in perfect condition, some still with tags, so maybe you just need to reorganize the closet so that you have easier access to all of your clothes.   The same internal argument occurs involving purses, books, shoes, etc.

In any case, I think it’s a great problem to have.  At this stage of my life, I’m ecstatic that we will, hopefully soon, be shed of most of the trappings of life, along with all of the reorganization, storage and maintenance that they bring with them, and will begin living a (shall I say it?) more spartan existence.  I find the thought of it SO appealing.

I think the reason a “simple” life is so attractive to us both is because, in our heads, it means that we would then have the ability to just pick up and go whenever we want, sans all of the weight of our “stuff”.  We picture travelling.  We picture open spaces.  We picture more breathing room.

Enticing, right?

Day #22 – “The Value of Heroes…”

I grew up without a “present father”.  Meaning, my dad was a great provider (for a wife, 9 kids and a dog), but he wasn’t the best “dad” in the world.

What does that mean?  How should fatherly success be measured?

The answer >> It depends.

Each of us has different needs, so we will all have different parameters for what makes a good father.

I am extremely grateful that my dad shouldered the entire burden of providing for the family because that allowed mom to be home all the time (whether that’s what she really wanted or not).  I’m grateful that I had food in my belly and clothes on my back.  I’m grateful that, once a year (on Christmas), dad was always present, manning the 8mm movie camera, and putting himself in debt annually to make sure that his kids always had something to open on Christmas morning.

But is ‘grateful’ enough?

I never really knew my dad.  I barely know him now.  When he wasn’t out “providing” for the family, he was either sleeping, or he wanted the house to be quiet so he could eat in peace or watch TV in peace.  He wasn’t the hands-on kinda dad.  He wasn’t the communicative or inquisitive type of dad.   He sired us, made it possible for mom to raise us, he fed us, and he clothed us. In his era, those were the signs, the qualities of a ‘good dad’.

But I was the kinda kid, like many kids, who needed a hero.  I wanted dad to be someone that I wanted to emulate.  And, while I was waiting for that person to materialize, I looked elsewhere.  Captain America was the closest thing to a surrogate dad that I could find.  He communicated.  He explained – through his actions and through monologue – what courage and integrity and patriotism really meant.  He showed me that strength was more than physical, and that there was never any bargaining room when it came to right and wrong.  I hungered for his instruction because it was always consistent, it was easy to understand, and it was always there whenever I needed it.

And, whether fair or not, the more I turned to Cap and others like him for guidance on being a ‘man’, the less I expected that sort of instruction from my real father.

By the time I turned 18, I was done with home.  I was tired of waiting for my dad to be my vision of a dad.  I wasn’t mad at him, truly.  I still respected what he did and why he did it.  The burden must have felt, at times, overwhelming…and he bore it.  But in the end, when I was half-a-dozen states away, busy building my own life, a new life, I realized that I never really knew my dad – and he never really got to know me.  No blame.  No anger.  Just the way it turned out.  I hear he’s different now, and my siblings say that he’s a great dad now.  I’m happy for them.  But I’m too far away to feel it, and my dad’s still not the best communicator in the world; definitely not good enough to reach me so far away.

Again, I’m not mad at him.  Truly!  But the cold truth is > He was never that type of dad for me, and I no longer need him to be.  And during the first 18 years of my life he never took the time to get to know me, and he never let me get to really know him; so now, all these years later, I no longer need that either.

But he did give me one extremely valuable gift: Crystal Clear Purpose.

Like touching a hot stove and learning, “I will never touch that hot stove again!”, my dad (albeit inadvertently) taught me how to be a good dad.  Or, like Sherlock Holmes is fond of saying, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”  My dad taught me the many ways a father should NOT be.  So, in a way, he taught me loud-n-clear what a good father should be.

Long before my first child was born, I resolved to do my best daily to make sure my kids could always come to me, talk with me, be honest with me (about anything), and, hopefully, learn from my example what patience and integrity and honesty (and so on) are…and what they mean.  I would do my best to be consistent.  And when I failed – and I knew I would fail – I would own those failures, be honest about them, and do my best to learn from them…so that they would understand that we all make mistakes, but those can be valuable.  Mistakes, they would learn, are teaching tools, and nothing to be afraid of.

Sure, my kids may still turn to other heroes for guidance — and I hope they do.  But it will be because they WANT to… not because they feel they HAVE to.

Day #20 – “Pull the Trigger…”

After all these years, I still have to remind myself that there is a very simple remedy to the ill that is procrastination – Pull the Trigger. 

All I need to do is: take the first step; write the first word, lift the first box, mow the first foot. From then on, the rest of the task flows freely and the desire to avoid or delay it completely disappears.  

Why do I keep forgetting this?  You’d think, by now, I would be immune to the seduction of “later”, “tomorrow ” and “In a minute”.  

How best to cure myself?  Hmm.  I definitely need to get ready to create a plan to address the problem surrounding this matter.  

I should have some free time on Monday. 

Day #19 – “Always Wear Protection…”

During my life, I incrementally went from what was, in hindsight, a sheltered, protected environment, to one that is, well…protected.

Before joining the military at 18, I lived with my parents (just before their divorce). In that environment, I was protected by my parent’s rules, my mother’s regular advice, and my own ignorance.  Yes, ignorance can serve as protection.  Within that world, I felt empowered to try almost anything.  For some things, the sense of freedom came from the fact that I always had a home to go to, a mother to turn to (who knew how to listen), and a bed to crawl into at night.  I was also completely ignorant of the possible repercussions of doing things like: jumping my bike over an oil barrel, not considering for even a second that the same thing that just happened to one of my friends (his handlebars broke and he slammed him mouth into the front rail of his bike, losing all of his front teeth); or trying a back-flip off of a stack of wrestling mats cause I saw my best friend do it, never once realizing that, since this was my first back-flip EVER, that I might miscalculate and break my neck; or climbing on top of mountain of sand, completely oblivious to the possibility that there may be an air-pocket in the sand that would cause me to be buried alive…or that there may be a landslide of sand, accomplish the same buried-alive-thing.

Immediately after I left home to join the military, I was quickly forced to choose >> Play it safe, now that much of my previous protection was now gone (except most of the ignorance, of course), or dive in, take a chance, and figure it out as I go.

How different would my life be if I had chosen the first option?  How many other people in this world have taken that road?

Yes, of course, there is a cost to the second road. I had broken bones.  I had my heart shattered repeatedly.  I have been embarrassed beyond what I thought (then) I could withstand.  But after each mistake, each failure, I was able to identify ways of protecting myself that may serve to lessen the damage the next time around.  I also learned something quite surprising: In some instances, utilizing protection actually diminishes the experience.  Here’s a great example:

In my very-late 40’s, my son introduced me to long-boarding.  It was something I never considered doing – until that moment.  But long-boarding is, to put it mildly, not a safe endeavor.  Learning to balance on a board-that-moves literally involves a lot of falling.  And, since the primary surface you are learning on is concrete, this experience includes bodily damage.  It is what it is.  I can wear gloves and knee pads and elbow pads and a helmet, but guess what — landing awkwardly on concrete, even going only 10 miles-per-hour, causes pain and damage that all the padding in the world won’t prevent.  And, there is definitely a point where a certain amount of ‘protection’ begins to diminish from this experience.  When I got enough guts to actually go downhill on my board (starting-off at a place that my son calls “Sanctuary Hill”, where there are numerous sharp turns and some very steep grades), bailing off my board and skidding on my butt became a common occurrence…until it wasn’t.

Look at any longboarder.  You’ll notice their pants are torn in a LOT of spots, their shoes are worn almost completely away (because they use their shoes as a form of break), and their protective gear, what they DO decide to wear, is heavily scarred and pitted.  These are the ones who are actually great at it.  Imagine those who are still in their first year of learning.

I strongly feel that life offers us endless ways to protect ourselves.  The trick will always be – knowing which form(s) of protection to employ, how much of it to use, and deciding when to forgo protection in favor of ‘the experience’.

Final Note: Long-boarding is addictive.  You’ll buy at least three boards, a LOT of wheels and bearings and trucks and tools, and you’ll be constantly tweaking your setup.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Day #18 – “Pain in the…”

I’ve had a toothache for about a week now; the kind of ache you feel when you get a popcorn husk (hull?) caught in your gum.  Finally saw the dentist this morning, naively hoping that he’ll pluck out the hull (husk?), a wave of relief would wash over me, and I’d do the Happy Dance out the door. 

Nope. 

Now I’m taking an antibiotic in the hopes that it fixes the issue – praying it fixes the issue! – cause the alternative is a root canal, the cost of which will, I’m certain, hurt much more than the procedure. 

On the UP side >> Lord of the Rings (Fellowship – the best one!) is on TV. 

All is good. 

Day #17 – “Opinions are like…”

Opinions – we all have them.

Back in “the day”, people expressed their opinions: when asked, when drunk, or (if they were complete idiots or egoists) when breathing.  It was the face-to-face response to that expression that normally kept people’s opinions behind their teeth.

However, in today’s social-media-rich society, where anonymity is the name of the game, that restraint no longer exists.  Anyone with an opinion can express it with little-to-no threat of effective retaliation.  If I don’t like something or someone, all I have to do is: create a Twitter account, spill my guts (in 140 characters or less), and then (if I receive negative responses), I can simply delete the account.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Social media platforms like Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, and others, have allowed those who were normally quiet cowards to be (in their own minds) heroes.  They can express their half-considered musings with aggression and zeal, use the foulest language, be as insulting as they’ve always wanted to be, and then disappear back into the ether.  No accountability.  No responsibility.  No need to actually complete a thought or have a point.  Just brain-to-keyboard, then gone.

The most recent example I’ve seen of this is how people blame the President for every bad thing currently happening in our country and around the world.  He is expected to fix the unfixable, know the unknowable, and force dishonest politicians to suddenly be forthright.

Consider this for just a moment…

You’re a completely honest and well-intended person.  Suddenly, you are thrust into a room full of people who lie, steal, have agendas that do NOT put the interests of others before themselves, and you are tasked to get them all going in one direction that is inclusive and positive.  Go!

We need a system of government that places more importance on what is right instead of what is legal.  When a politician is caught lying to us, he should be out!  Period. End of story.  If you can’t be trusted to tell the truth, you no longer deserve to represent Americans.  Integrity should be THE most important trait of our politicians.  The minute a leader starts debating about the true meaning of the word “the” in order to justify their poor behavior, the conversation should end and they should be ejected out on their butts.  We know you are smart.  We know you are clever.  We know you can lie better than most of your peers.  That behavior shouldn’t be ignored or justified or excused – it should be addressed swiftly and definitely.  You are gone.  Next!

Nixon was surprised that people called him on his lies.  He felt (sincerely) that his role as president made everything he did “right” – exclusively, solely because he was the president.  How deluded is that?

Now…how many other politicians and public leaders (governors, senators, judges, etc.) do the exact same thing?  Why do they continue to do it?  Because they know the system >> If you can find a loophole, an excuse, a shadow of a doubt, then you can dismiss the lie, dismiss the stealing, dismiss the cheating, and continue doing what you’re doing.

But if we have a system that is simple — Integrity First — where none of those tricks work, where you can’t vote yourself a raise while cutting jobs, where you can’t refuse to answer questions because the answer might incriminate you, then – maybe – we might get leaders worth our respect. 

Too simple?  Exactly!

Day #16 – “I can’t drive…55!”

Being 55 is very strange, at times.

Is it still considered ‘middle-age’?  Am I a ‘senior citizen’ now?

I have numerous friends and acquaintances that are 55 (or thereabouts) and when I look at them, more often than not, I see people who have…well… aged.  They act “Older” >> They are tired all the time; they seem more negative about life and occurrences and people and the future than they’ve ever been; they complain repeatedly about this ache or that pain; they wear a scowl that is, quite frankly, almost disheartening.  Being around them is almost like a cold-virus > after “X” amount of time, you sense yourself feeling more tired, more negative, more… ‘Old’.

That is one of the many reasons that, about 2 years ago, whenever anyone asked me, “How are you?”, my answer would ALWAYS be something extremely positive.  Yesterday, for example: I went to pick up some Chinese food for lunch, and when the girl at the counter asked me, “How are you doing today?”, my immediate and enthusiastic response was “Outstanding!”  This answer had a very profound affect on her, and she spent the next several minutes thanking me and expressing how that simple response had lifted her day.  To that point, she said, she’d been faced with grumpy, self-absorbed, and scrunchy-faced customers, all seemingly having horrible days.  So, she said, to see me smiling and answering “Outstanding!” SO convincingly had served to life the tone of her day.

I had been doing this for so long now that it had become automatic.  I long-ago realized that I control my own reality.  If I tell myself (and others) that I am having a great, a marvelous, an Outstanding! day…than that is now the truth.  And, clearly, I converted one more person yesterday.

So yes, I am 55.  But, I refuse to be the seemingly stereotypical grumbling, grumpy, grrrrrr 55-year old.

As Sammy Hagar defiantly exclaims… “I can’t drive 55!”

Day #15 – “Me vs Me”

Perception is a funny thing – and sometimes, not so funny.

I used to work for a lady who was a firm believer that (in her words) “Perception is Reality”.

I understood ‘what’ she meant – perception is reality for those who perceive it – but I, unlike her, refused to cater to their perception if that perception was inappropriate or just plain wrong.  She felt that we needed to change our behavior and, if necessary, our views, in order to mold people’s perceptions of us and whether we were successful as leaders.

Nope!  Uh-uh!  Not gonna do it.

People’s perceptions are SO fickle.  Chasing that phantom of pleasing-a-perception is almost always automatic failure.

Another example…

For a VERY long time, I had to deal with people’s perceptions of me.  Around other people, I stay relatively quiet and calm and standoffish.  The myriad ways that people will perceive this behavior is fascinating.  At the same time, I have been viewed as: brooding, thoughtful, angry, shy, tired, creative, mysterious, timid, aggressive, rude, unsure of myself, over-confident, and SO many others.  So if my goal was to cater to people’s perceptions, what do I change to make them all happy?

I’ve learned to leave people to their perceptions; only caring when that person is someone of importance to me – I mean someone of extreme importance.  The way I look it at (and have for quite some time now) is… If you really know me (which means you had to take the time to really get to know me), then you know that, for me, ‘quiet’ will normally, simply means ‘quiet’.  It’s rarely more complicated than that.

What makes this very easy for me to do is – I learned that people’s perceptions, mostly, are reflections of their own issues and insecurities.  If they all see the same behavior in me in so many different ways, it CAN’T be me that is causing it.  Rather, it must be that they are echoing their individual fear, insecurity, suspicion, etc, off of me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I care a great deal what a select group of people think about me.  But that list is extremely short and the only ones on that list are those that have the emotional maturity to see me for me and not as some mirror to their soul.

“Know Thyself”.

That’s a very powerful statement.  Once you’re able to release yourself from the bond of the perceptions of (most) others, you then are forced to deal directly with who you really are.  When you can do that – and ONLY after you have done that – you then can tackle the task of trying to figure out others.  You can look at others and have a better chance of seeing THEIR true Self.

So, the next time I’m sitting off to the side, quiet, seemingly introspective, I may be judging you!  Or….I may be simply thinking about ice cream.  (Hint — There’s a much better chance it’s the latter)

Day #13 – “Food Fight!”

There are two distinct persons in me. One – let’s call him Paul – dispassionately sees the nutritional need and benefits of food and can easily moderate and restrict his intake for the betterment of The Body. 

The other ‘me’ – let’s call him Vladimir- does his best to consume every tasty morsel within reach, as often as possible, and derives great (albeit, temporary) joy from the constant buffet. 

They are both me.  They both have their unerring logic, they both carry razor-sharp blades, and they both have melodic voices. 

I’ve long searched my Self for a third ‘me’. 

The search continues…

Day #12 – “PTSD…”

Excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s excellent book “The Warrior Ethos”

“The civilian sometimes misconstrues the warrior code; he takes it to be one of simple brutality.  Overpower the enemy, show no mercy, win at all costs.

“But the warrior ethos commands that brute aggression be tempered by self-restraint and guided by moral principal.”

=========================================================================================

I agree with Mr Pressfield, but I’d like to expand/add a little onto his premise.

In today’s world, especially in today’s work environment, warriors (military men and women who have finished their tour of duty with whatever branch of the armed forces – however long that was – and are trying to find their way in the civilian world) are viewed with a strange mixture of respect, fear, awe, and contempt.  We are viewed as mindless followers, rigid robots, unable to think or reason for ourselves, quick to anger, aggressive, and many more stereotypical labels that are easy to adopt when you are too ignorant or lazy to find out the truth.

I personally experienced years of culture-discrimination from peers, supervisors, managers, and even VPs; all who felt that their role as a leader gave them the right to label me with their prejudices and treat me as less-than-worthy.  I was even accused of being unfair and aggressive when I brought up their biases and inappropriate behavior.

For some, a simple exercise was enough to get their attention and make them stop and think.  I simply parroted back to them phrases that they had said to me (in some cases, repeatedly), but I asked them to replace the word “military” with “black person” or “woman” or “elderly” and then I asked them how their phrases sounded to them then.  For these few, that was enough to make them begin to see that their military-culture-prejudice was a problem that needed addressing.

Others, though (usually those at the highest level of leadership), refused to even consider that their actions and words and ideas were inappropriate for today’s American culture – or even today’s world – and insisted that the problem was mine, not theirs.   In the end, of course, they are right – to a degree.  The problem was and is mine;  mine to deal with, mine to live with, mine to address – if necessary, or mine to shrug off, when possible.

Someone coming from at least 4 years of military service will have a level of difficulty assimilating back into civilian living.  The earlier a person joined the military (I joined in my late teens), and the longer a person was in the military (I retired with 25 years of combined service), the harder it is to transition — and the more severe the feelings of displacement, fear, helplessness, and (at times) utter despair.  I strongly believe that these people all develop varying levels of PTSD and require an amount of time to allow them to completely transition their mind and body to the new environment.

Let me put it this way >> How do YOU think a person would feel if they came from one environment where: they were comfortable in the manner of speaking and acting, knew the rules that governed everyday life, knew how to protect themselves from unfair treatment, knew how to sufficiently provide for their family and themselves, and felt a level of satisfaction with not only the quality of work they did each day to make a living, but also felt pride in how their efforts contributed to the well-being of their entire ‘community’…..    What if you pulled this person from this environment, quite suddenly (literally overnight) and thrust them into a new, alien environment where:  they didn’t know the rules, they didn’t know how to protect themselves from unfair treatment at work, simple phrases and even ways of standing were labeled as “military” or “rigid” or “closed-off”, they had no idea how their acquired skills could be used to earn a sufficient living for themselves and their family, they felt the overwhelming pressure to provide for their spouse and (if necessary) children – but didn’t know how, they no longer could find (during that first year, at least) personal satisfaction and pride in the work that they were doing, and they didn’t know how their effort contributed (in ANY way) to the betterment of their ‘community’.   THEN….add to this an atmosphere where you are constantly judged by other people’s prejudices, NOT by who you really are or what you really can do; where you are rarely given a chance to prove yourself because those in charge have already prejudged you as unfit or unable.  Then, finally, overlay a common structure where standing up for yourself is considered inappropriate and aggressive.

Now you know a little of how most military people feel when they leave the military and start a new life in the civilian ‘community’.

EXTRA:  Add to this cultural soup the strange ingredient of momentary adulation from these same double-faced leaders and associates that automatically occurs during select holidays (Veteran’s Day, 4th of July, and several others).  These same people who are serving as roadblocks to your assimilation and success are, at times, the first in line to celebrate your association with the military and praising you for your years of service.  Tell me THAT wouldn’t mess with your mind.

Day #11 – “Entitled…”

Been hooked on Steven Pressfield lately, and while listening to a podcast interview this morning, he was quoted as having said (in one of his books) during a discussion about productivity, “You are entitled to your labor, but not the fruits of your labor.”

I found that very profound!

In America, it is a common practice to focus on the end-result, the goal-line, the prize, the money, the fame, and all of the other “fruits” that we hope come from our efforts (whether it be: dieting, training, writing, etc.).  But in that short statement, Steven Pressfield clarifies that this type of focus serves more as “resistance” than motivation.

Bottom Line = To be successful, you must concentrate on The Work.  Constantly be aware of any obstacles that slow you down or redirect you or stop you from getting The Work done and remove them.  And, all too often, “the fruits” – just the awareness of them – are usually a major obstacle.

If you concentrate on The Work, the fruits will take care of themselves.

Maybe I should tattoo the above phrase on my body so I never forget.

Day #10 – Reality Check…

Got a call from Lhene yesterday evening that she and Donday were at David’s Bridal – looking at dresses.   It didn’t hit me right away…and I went back to the house-chores I was trying to knock-out before they got home.

Later that evening (when they walked through the door), they both had this – for lack of a better phrase – shared-air of satisfaction.  Then Lhene came over to the couch where I was sitting and started showing me the pics (on her phone) of Donday trying on wedding dresses.

BAM!

Yup!  Right upside the head!

I got the bone-deep realization that this whole thing is real, actually gonna happen, and my little, baby-girl is gonna get married (perceptively) in a blink and will be moving out of my everyday life.

Although she looked absolutely, painfully, overwhelmingly gorgeous in every pic, in every dress, there was this background vibration in my brain reminding me “She’s leaving soon.”

I had to go through that same process with Josh soooo many years ago.  My #1 Son – my little buddy (note: no matter how old  he gets, how big he gets, how into-his-own-life-and-wife-and-kids-and-etc he gets, he’s still my little buddy).  Now I’m going through it again with Donday.

There’s this paradox of “Time” where it passes in two distinct manners >> All too fast (she’ll be gone soon) and far too slowly (constant reminders in various ways that she’ll be leaving soon).

I was listening to a podcast this morning and this guy who has extremely strong views (and studies to prove them) that childless couples live happier and more-fulfilled lives than those couples who have kids.  However, ironically (used correctly?), he has a daughter.  So, he was asked (during a Q&A) why – if he believed this SO strongly – did he have a child.  He said something to the affect of, “For two reasons:  First, I felt that we would be different – that my wife and I had the ability to not fall into the confirmed pitfalls that all other parents have obviously fallen into.  However, after she was born and we realized that this wasn’t true, we then realized that – despite (albeit) having a life that may be less fulfilled in some ways as those without kids, and yes, we sacrificed (and continue to sacrifice) so much of our selves and our potential in favor of putting our child first – these sacrifices and the resulting successes and joys are rewards that childless couples will never know.”  (okay – he may not have said all of that, but that’s what I got out of his answer).

My kids are my success (as is my marriage).  Every time I think of you two, see you, hear your voices, I am reminded of how successful I have been.

Thank you.

Day #9 – “Self-Imposed Terror”

Y’know, one of these days I’m gonna learn that pushing stuff off is not the best plan in the entire world.

Specifically, with work “stuff”.

I KNOW I have the capacity to better organize than I am currently doing, so…why aren’t I?

Yes, there’s the element of “Need to stack pressure on myself to get the best product out of me”, but I don’t think that’s the major issue lately.

I have this “thing” where I get caught up in Analysis Paralysis.

I run into a snag with something (in this case, technical issues related to system updates that REALLY screw up the tools I’m using) and I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ways around the problem.  All communication goes out the window.  All sense of time and space completely disappear.  And, before I know it, while still deeply mired in the muck of trouble-shooting, it is now days later and I’m no closer to solving my issues than I was last week.

The logical approach?  Keep my customer’s informed of my problem, get IT and/or team mates involved, ask team mates to help take some of the load while I continue to concentrate on primary projects, and – when all technical issues have been addressed – get back into the “normal mode”.

My approach?  Fix it myself.  Rely on no one.  “I’ve got this”.

Hmm.  Not working this time.