Saturday, January 7, 2017

Not "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay

“Tell me, what is life without your love?
Tell, me who am I without you
By my side?”

George Harrison – What Is Life?

“Looks like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same.”

Otis Redding – (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay



Suddenly I’m confronted with numerous challenges, all of my own choosing, for which I am thankful. But they are still challenges. I have decided to begin work on a book. The idea of the book (which I’m not ready to share yet) came to me a few weeks ago and I began some preliminary work on it. When I presented that work to my former professor, she challenged me to go deeper, much deeper, and to work harder, much harder. She reminded me of all the methods I learned in my recent Master’s program that would enable me to write a good book. I’m also working on a couple of other projects that will allow me to use my Master’s Degree in History. But as fun as the ideas are, it is all a lot of work and time and discipline. On top of that I’m still a father. And my job recently became more challenging, requiring more use of my time. 
My life could potentially change and the purpose of this blog is to consider that. Because the truth is I don’t have to let it change. I could get by just as I am doing now (which is barely). I could be a perpetual kid for the rest of my life, occasionally bragging about what I’ve done in the past, but all the while knowing that for whatever I’ve done, the bare, dirty, ugly truth is I have not reached my potential.
Externally that shows up in a lack of money. Someone more enlightened may say to content with what I have and to be grateful. I am but I am not. Sometimes people confuse contentment with complacency and gratitude with acquiescence. I am content with and grateful for how far I have come, but that doesn’t mean I want to stay here. The truth is that a lack of money can create lacks in self-esteem, in relationships, and in a fuller more satisfying life. Being poor by default is not romantic or noble. The calm melody of Otis Redding’s song (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay might lull us into believing that the protagonist is a hero, a rebel, a maverick, a non-conformist. But because he “can’t do what ten people tell him to do,” he has no direction at all except two thousand miles he’s roamed just to make that dock his home. Yes, he’s sitting there resting his bones, and we all like to do that, but the loneliness won’t leave him alone. That doesn’t sound restful to me. It sounds like self-sabotage at its worst. He’s broke, he’s homeless, he’s alone, and he’s lonely. This is not romantic or charming or heroic. It’s frightening. Sometimes we need ten people to tell us what to do. Or maybe just one or two. Or maybe we need to have the courage to tell ourselves what to do…and then do it.
Self-direction is not easy. I’m not good at it. At least I tell myself that. And now that I have all these projects on my plate I suddenly find myself playing a lot of online games. I find myself procrastinating.
But…
I also find myself working. I spent several hours doing research yesterday.
I spent over an hour listening to a book about James Madison.
I’m reading my eighth US President book. (I've made it a goal to read at least two books on each of the U.S. Presidents in the next year.)
So I am getting things done.
Perhaps it will help to write down what I want to accomplish in the three to five years:
·         Get my house on the beach.
·         Have at least three books published.
·         Create a course on US Presidents.
·         Be debt-free.
·         Read at least two books on every US President.

There are other goals just as large, but harder to quantify, but they involve personal relationships and work goals. The best way to quantify them is to say I will put more time into both. Because I tell my Muse, ultimately, what are my goals, what are my dreams, “what is life without your love?” And that’s the most important part. I have set these goals, all these goals, out of love – love for my Muse, love for my children, love for my work and the people I serve and serve with, love of history, and love for myself. I Get Started and I Keep Going out of love. And because while I may want a home by the dock, I don’t want to "make that dock my home."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Are Your Plans?

“What are your plans?” someone asked me today. My Muse was asking the same thing. I realized that if there are no plans, there are usually no accomplishments. I need a plan. Before I need a plan, I need to know what I want. Knowing what I want is difficult for the following reasons:
·         Lack of belief in the possibility of success
·         The feeling of not deserving it
·         Fear
Then even when we know what we want we still have to deal with these additional obstacles:
·         Awareness of one’s limitations and failings
·         Lack of self-discipline
Maybe the trick is to believe what Dorothea Brande said in Wake Up and Live: Act as if it were impossible to fail.
Or maybe the trick is to not focus on the results, but the efforts and let the results be what they will.
Maybe the trick is to focus on why I’m doing what I’m doing, so that I don’t waste time doing the wrong things.
Maybe the trick is to do something, anything, that moves me forward.
Maybe the trick is to be present in this very moment and notice the joy here.
Maybe the trick is to write out what I want to accomplish each day, each week, each year, each five-to-ten year period.
Maybe the trick is gratitude.
Maybe the trick is to take care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Maybe the trick is to believe that I have created all my circumstances and relationships and that I can un-create or re-create them or refine them.
Maybe the trick is prayer.
Maybe the trick is to start a task and don’t stop until it’s finished.
Maybe the trick is to ask for help.
Maybe the trick is to act as if all the results depended on you.
Maybe the trick is to Get Started and Keep Going.
Maybe it’s all these things.
Maybe none of these things are tricks, but tools to help me succeed.
I have a lot of books and one of the best things about books is that there is a plethora of ideas and inspiration. But it turns out that my plans are the same as they were almost three years ago when I started writing these blogs.
·         I want to spend my life with my Muse.
·         I want to have a healthy relationship with each of my children.
·         I want to leave enough money for my children and their children.
·         I want to have a healthy relationship with God.
·         I want to make a positive difference in the world.
·         I want a house on the beach.


My goals are the same. My plans are the same. I still want to Get Started and Keep Going. That’s a good plan.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Football and Thanksgiving

“The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.”

Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories revolves around a moment when I was about six or seven years old. It’s just a moment that I remember and it may not even have been Thanksgiving, but I remember the autumnal feeling of the day so I will assume it was. We lived in Posen, Illinois a suburb of Chicago, but we would often go to my grandma’s farm in Lake Village, Indiana, about an hour away. Most of my mom’s family also lived in Illinois or Indiana. The moment I remember was running around playing with my cousins. I ran into the house and I saw the men, my grandpa and my Uncle Ray or maybe my Uncle Al, watching football and the women in the kitchen. While this memory might cause amusement for its old-fashioned depiction or even rankle feminist sensibilities, I might also add that no one seemed unhappy.
That moment informed my Thanksgiving for many years. From that point on I thought that on Thanksgiving men watched football and talked sports. (I made no assumptions about women.) Yet as I grew older I developed an apathy for sports and especially for professional sports. Most of my childhood experiences regarding sports as a small, thin boy were less than positive. Sometimes I even made a point to let that apathy be known. Then a few years ago I went to Turkey to try to find my birth mother. I did not find her, but the experience changed me in two strange ways in what was a combination of my early Thanksgiving experience.
First, like the women of my family on that Thanksgiving, I began to spend time in the kitchen. I was never afraid of the kitchen but I never really learned how to cook much more than a few recipes. But now I was cooking regularly. I started looking for new recipes. I learned about spices and tastes and how to shop for food. I organized my kitchen and made sure I had fresh food. I shopped constantly. I learned how important timing is in the preparation. More than once, because of not timing things well, a meal was ruined. Once I had a friend visit after I had been bragging about my newly formed cooking skills and I overcooked the meat because I wasn’t paying attention. That was embarrassing, but he was gracious. I had to be focused and when I was, dinner came out pretty good. But there was something else that happened after getting back from Turkey. I suddenly found that I loved watching football!
This was startling. I had spent most of my life ignoring or hating professional sports. I would complain about the overpayment of professional athletes, especially compared to teachers. I considered it all mindless entertainment and except in 1995 when the San Diego Chargers went to the Super Bowl I almost never watched a game. (The Chargers lost to the San Francisco ‘49ers, 49-26.) But, after getting back from Turkey, I could not get enough football. On Sundays I could literally watch games all day long. I didn’t care who was playing or who won (except for the Chargers or the Chicago Bears, my new hometown and my old hometown. I always rooted for those teams.) I didn’t know anything about football. I didn’t know statistics or players or standings or the history of any particular team. I just liked watching the game. And if I wasn’t watching the game I was in the kitchen making food to eat while watching more games. I still like watching football, but I don’t own a television these days. I’m fine with that, but I wish I had one if only to watch football on Sundays. And on Thanksgiving.
Many cultures have no problem dividing gender roles. Men watch sports and women cook. Ironically, going back to a very traditional culture enabled me to comfortably embrace both roles.
I’ve been struggling with finding a direction with this blog because I realize that the discussion of gender roles might upset people. Then I realized that I have to not care because I have to write from what I know and that it’s not my intent to offend. This isn’t a sociological treatise on gender roles. I’m describing what I experienced on Thanksgiving in the Midwest in the 1960s. I also agree with David Deida who says in The Way of the Superior Man that each of us has a masculine and feminine side. In my travels to Turkey I found both. I became a whole person. Or I started to, at least. I became more whole when I met my Muse and started taking responsibility for my choices.
Today I don’t have as much opportunity to cook or watch football. But I can Get Started and Keep Going. I can enjoy life and be thankful for what was, what is, and what will be.




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Know This Guy

I know this guy. I’ve known him for several years. He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And I know a lot of smart people. I’ve often wanted to spend time with him, one-on-one, but only once did that happen and it wasn’t very satisfying. He was distracted by something and not completely there. I wasn’t upset by that, just a little disappointed. That was five or six years ago. We saw each other in public gatherings occasionally and those were always nice, and I would message him occasionally about something, but that was it. A few months ago I directly asked him if we could get together for lunch. He said no. And it wasn’t a rude “no,” but it was very direct. To paraphrase, he said, his time was very specifically allocated for his work, his volunteerism, and his close friends and family.
I won’t say this didn’t hurt, but after the initial shock I asked myself the following:

Why this guy?
What did I want from him?
Was I looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide?
Was I using him (or hoping to use him) to get my own emotional needs met?

As I said, this guy is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And he’s kind. He’s one of those people I feel I could spend all day with. But I’m also aware that I’ve spent a great deal of my life looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide. I’m always looking for the perfect male role model.
And this guy isn’t it.
No guy is.
More worrisome, though this has decreased as I’ve gotten older, I have often looked for someone to tell me what to do, what choices to make, how to live. I did that for a long time and, as a result, made some of the worst choices of my life. And I never found freedom, true freedom, until I stopped looking for a master and started listening to my Muse, my heart. Because that’s what I was really looking for: a master. Someone to tell me what to do. And no one could. And the ones that thought they could were tyrants.
Some religions and philosophies will say all we don’t need to look to others for wisdom. All we have to do is look within and the answers will come. There’s truth to that. But we do need others. Not to tell us what to do, but to give us ideas and guidance. We need others to confirm what’s right in our own hearts and what might lead us astray. As a rule of thumb, I’ve learned the more important a decision is, the more important wise counsel is. At the same time I’ve also learned that we must each walk our own path. No one can or should walk it for us. That is a violation of the human spirit. My path is study. The more I read, the more I grow. Study has saved my life. Study has caused me to see my failings. Study has caused me to move forward when I was afraid. Study has helped me to see I am not alone. Study has led me to my Muse.
I just finished reading John Adams by David McCullough and I learned that Adams’ greatest love besides, God, his wife Abigail, and his children, were his books. He read and read and read. And he re-read some books almost to the point of memorization. Sometimes when his eyes got tired he would ask Abigail to read to him. After Abigail died, he slept in his library surrounded by his beloved books. Adams also knew a guy, several guys (and a few women) and they all became his father, his big brother, him mentors, his conscience, and his guide.
This guy I know wrote a book. So if I want more from him, I can read it. I’d probably get more from him in the hours it would take me to read his book than a ninety-minute lunch. He can still be my mentor, but not any of those other things. (And, by giving me a kind but firm no, he has already mentored me.)
Because that’s the other thing: everything I admire in this man is already within me if I choose to acknowledge that. I also have to choose who I am, what I want to do, and what I want to be. It can’t be this guy’s choice or anyone else’s to Get Started and Keep Going. I know this because I know this guy. He is me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Exhausted

I’m so tired,
I haven’t slept a wink.
I’m So Tired – John Lennon

“I'm so tired I never want to wake up again. But I've figured out now that it was never them that made me feel that way. It was just me, all along.” 

Forever – Maggie Stiefvater




I think I was, without realizing it, exhausted. I think we all are. Especially this week. It’s been a hard week. Donald Trump won the Presidency and whether that is good news or bad news for you, it’s been an exhausting experience. Some people are just now recovering from the shock. All over my Facebook page people are talking about this. Some, normally apolitical, are expressing fear. Most are expressing anger, no, rage. There is rioting all over America. People at all degrees of the political spectrum have been spewing towards and receiving hate from friends, family members, co-workers, and strangers. A precious few, on both sides are calling for peace and to stop talking about politics for a while. Unfortunately, almost no one is stopping. 
Hatred and rage are exhausting no matter if one is giving or receiving it. They produce rushes of adrenaline and although no one likes to admit this, that rush feels good. It gives us energy. It’s a very focused moment and when we’re focused we don’t think whether we are right or wrong. We don’t think about the effect our words and actions have on each other. We don’t realize we’re committing violence with a keyboard as surely as if we were stabbing someone in the chest. We’re like a jilted lover who just caught our beloved in bed with someone else and so without thinking, without control or breaks, we kill the one we love. Almost all of us have been guilty of crimes of passion these last few weeks.
All this adrenaline exacts a price. In her book 8 Keys to Stress Management,[1] Elizabeth Anne Scott reminds us that when our mind brings us to a place of perceived, not real, threat, our body doesn’t know the difference. The blood races. The heart pounds. We breathe harder and perhaps sweat. We’re taxing our hearts, physically and emotionally. We are damaging ourselves. And we are usually damaging others. On my own Facebook page a friend, a Christian pastor, told me she is glad I’m going to Hell because of how I voted. A stranger, a theology student, told me to go kill myself. All this hatred feels good, but then we feel washed up and exhausted. I have felt exhausted.
So today I took a nap. Usually when I take a nap I sleep from ten minutes to an hour. Today I slept for three hours, hard and sound. I turned off the phone and the social media and the world and I slept. Now I feel better. People are still rioting but Donald Trump is reaching out to Bernie Sanders. Maybe it won’t be as bad as we fear. Or maybe it will be. But today is Veterans’ Day and I remember that we have survived the wars and divisions of the past. I think Americans need to put down their protest signs, get off social media, and take a nap. I think America needs an afternoon nap. Then it can make a nice snack and read a book or spend time with the kids or watch a movie or go for a walk or just sit in silence for a while. Maybe we need to start praying for those we have persecuted, those who have persecuted us and even those we might think are going to persecute us. Tomorrow we can make a plan to make things better, more just, more equitable, more civilized, a plan rather than spontaneous violence or hatred or wishes for death or eternal damnation. We can listen to our Muse, always a peaceful voice and be creative rather than destructive. Tonight, America can go to bed early and then tomorrow we can Get Started and Keep Going.  That’s hard to do if we’re exhausted.




[1] Scott, Elizabeth Anne. 8 Keys to Stress Management, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.), 2013.

Shocked



“Last night she said
Oh, baby, I feel so down
Oh it turns me off
When I feel left out
So I, I turn 'round
Oh, baby, don't care no more
I know this for sure
I'm walkin' out that door”

Last Night – The Strokes
“Haters mad for whatever reason.”
Rae Sremmurd - Black Beatles ft. Gucci Mane

This week one of the most significant events in American history occurred: Donald Trump was elected as our 45th President. This is, for many, a major shock. The word “shock” is not used lightly. People are genuinely shocked. For many, including me, it feels like a death. The night he won, I did not fall asleep until 2:00 a.m. When I woke up I felt like crying. I couldn’t even summon the motivation to go to the store and get some groceries. I just wanted to cry. My 10-year-old daughter did cry. My 13-year old, normally easygoing and concerned only for the moment, would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. My 19-year-old said, “This is most significant thing that’s ever happened in my life. More significant than Obama’s election. More significant than Hillary’s nomination. More significant than my coming out.” All over the country people her age are rioting over the decision. I have mixed feelings about that, but it should be noted that there have been many riots in American history, but never one over the results of an election.
As I said, I was shocked. This morning I started to feel a little better until I saw Trump in the White House speaking with President Obama. Then I felt all the pain return.
Why is this so painful? Why are people so angry that they are rioting in the streets before Trump has begun Day One? Why is there so much division in this country?
It’s painful because of who Donald Trump has presented himself to be. He has declared his intention to build a wall to stem illegal immigration. He has directly insulted the following groups or members of the following groups: Blacks, Mexicans, the disabled, women, veterans, and Muslims. (By association, he has most likely alienated the LGBT community, as has his choice for a running mate, Mike Pence, who recommends “conversion therapy” for gays.) Consider these comments made on June 15, 2015 about Mexicans:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people who have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing crime. They’re bring drugs. They’re rapists.” (Then, almost as an afterthought:) And some, I assume, are good people.

In other speeches, he hinted about the size of his penis. He was discovered saying that he would grab a woman by her private parts. Of John McCain, a fellow Republican and a former Prisoner of War, Trump said, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” (Italics mine.) He alienated his own party before he had even won. He threatened to jail his opponent Hillary Clinton and said he might not accept the results of the election if he had lost. In every election since John Adams against Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the mudslinging and rhetoric have horrible. The word “unprecedented” is often used, but Trump’s words truly are unprecedented. Often candidates will say anything to rally their constituency, so a lot of Trump’s comments may (or may not) be bluster. But it gets worse.
The worst part, the part that has me shaking my head, the fact that everyone has seemed to ignore is that Trump has no political experience. None. He has never served in office or in the military. He does seem to manage well financially. He is a billionaire. He has gone bankrupt and some of his business dealings are suspect, but he is still extremely wealthy. But that’s it. He’s a businessman. He’s never served in an office and he’s not even a lawyer (the chosen profession for most Presidents). He seems to have displayed a lack of understanding of how the three-party system work by making promises like building a wall between the US and Mexico.
Yet, still he was elected President of the United States of America.
The final irony of all of this is that we have gone from eight years of relative peace and prosperity but it was not enough for many. Trump claimed we needed to “make America great again.” Perhaps no one remembers where we were as a country before Obama took office, with gas prices at about $5.00 a gallon, unemployment at about 11%, and in two wars. I’m not saying Obama made America perfect or that he has been the perfect President. But I don’t think the country is in as bad a shape as it was eight years ago.
Yet, still he was elected President of the United States of America.
Today, while walking down the street I saw an “I Voted” sticker on the ground. I felt a sense of sadness and a sense of irony. But when I picked it up (I hate litter) I felt a sense of hope. I voted and though I didn’t get what I wanted, I voted. I took part in the great democratic exercise. And during the next four years and in 2020, I can continue to do so. Perhaps we will be okay or perhaps things will go from bad to worse. But I won’t give up. I will Get Started and Keep Going for myself, my Muse, my daughters, and my country even though I am shocked.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Made a Bad Choice and I'm Glad

I made a bad choice today and I’m glad. The bad choice I made was to vote for Hillary Clinton for President. I’m not happy with my choice, but I would have been far less happy if I had voted for her opponent, Donald Trump. And I would have been even more unhappy if I had not voted at all. There are some who have said they would not vote because they felt both choices were bad, but as I’ve said, “To not vote is to vote for the person you like least.” So my bad choice was better than no choice at all because no choice at all is a choice.
Why do I think Hillary Clinton is a bad choice? Before I answer that question, I need to say that all I can do is vote to the best of my ability and the utmost of my knowledge. For many years, the utmost of my knowledge was limited to the commercials I saw on television. As I grew older I matured in my understanding of political history, philosophy, and actual practice (which often contradicts the first two). I read and studied and watched. I developed my own beliefs. Unlike some I did not inherit my beliefs from my parents because they usually told me that their political choices were none of my business. (Contrary to this, I have told my three daughters how I vote and why. They are free to make their own choices, but at least they understand mine.)
This year I studied the ballot. I looked at the propositions (seventeen in California). I looked at the measures. And I looked at the other elections. Sometimes I came away confused. But regarding the Presidential election my mind was clear. I was voting for Hillary. And it is a bad choice. Why? Again, my knowledge is limited, but Hillary seems to have a past filled with corruption and misdeeds. Who knows how far they go? There are people who spend much of their lives looking into people like Hillary and Trump and it never ends. In addition, the antics of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are well documented.
And, still, I voted for her. Why?
I voted for Hillary because Trump seems even worse. Even if I disregarded all the rumors and innuendo and accusations about Trump, I know this: I know what I saw. I saw a man with no actual job experience. He has never held an office. He has never served in the military. All he has done is make a lot of money. That’s good, but he has also had a lot of his businesses fail and he has declared bankruptcy more than once.
But I saw worse. I saw a bully. I saw a man make fun of a disabled person. I saw a man who claimed, for years, that our current President, Barack Obama, is not a citizen.  I saw a man speak of women disrespectfully. I saw a man cozy up to Putin. I saw a man who just horrified me with his manners. He referred to Hillary not as Mrs. Clinton or Hillary or even Clinton, but as “Crooked Hillary.”
If I were in the position to interview and then hire either Hillary or Trump (and the Presidential election process is the ultimate interview), based on only what I saw or heard from each candidate, I would be forced to vote for Hillary. I would have no choice. It’s not that I like Hillary. It is that I like Trump even less. I would not want him in my workplace. I would not want to have to deal with someone that abrasiveness every day for the next four years.
In other words, Trump blew the interview.
Will Hillary be a good President if she wins? It is impossible to know (though Bill Clinton’s Presidency was very successful, even if his personal choices were atrocious and tainted his presidency). We can only hope for the best. I made a bad choice, or so I believe. I hope I am wrong. In a matter of hours, America will know if it has its first woman President. Either way, we all have to Get Started and Keep Going in order to help America see its potential. I may have made a bad choice, but I made the best one I could. I hope it turns out to be a good choice.