Monday, July 1, 2019

HAPPY Birthday


Today is my birthday, but I woke up a little depressed and anxious. There were some problems from the weekend that had not yet been resolved. I got up, made my coffee, and made a decision: I want to be happy – as much as possible and as long as possible. I qualify it because I know it is not possible to be happy all the time. I also know that the desire to be happy is suspect because it smacks of selfishness. Some assume (as some once did to me) that I will abandon everyone I love and do horrible things. What they failed to realize that if I did those things I would be unhappy.
            This is what I know about happiness:
·         The decision to be happy is exactly that – a decision, a constant and mindful decision.
·         It is a discipline. It takes work (and meaningful work often leads to happiness, but more on that later).
·         It requires analysis of my internal and external life.
·         It may require change and acceptance of what is at the same time.
·         It is an art and a science.
Interestingly, a lack of challenges doesn’t always create happiness. When I was 15, I lived with another family and away from my parents. I was extremely happy not only to be largely independent, but to have good friends, adults who loved me, very little stress, and some self-created challenges. I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to friends and playing Pyramid Solitaire. I tried my hand at drawing. All my needs were provided for. I had no financial struggles and no one to take care of. It was one of the few times in my life in which happiness was given to me. Now I have to create it.
These are the ways I can create happiness”
·         Setting and achieving goals.
·         Being with my Muse.
·         Having fun and meaningful times with my kids.
·         Serving others.
·         Working on something meaningful.
·         Teaching.
·         Learning
·         Exercising
·         Reading or listening to books about US Presidents.
·         Reaching new levels on Toon Blast.
Yes, that last one makes me happy. It’s good to have fun and even do something meaningless once in a while. I imagine my list differs from everyone else’s and that’s a good thing, but I think the principals are the same. I take care of others and I take care of myself. A meaningful combination of both makes me happy.
I’m also happy when I Get Started and Keep Going. I think that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Just Another Blog after a Long, Long Time


This is just another blog after a long, long time because for the first time in a long time I am not dealing with a crisis. But the last three years or so have been little more than crises, shocks, and disappointments. Many of them have been huge, traumatic, and even life-altering. I no longer know what to believe and I no longer know what do – with this moment or with my life. Much of what I do currently and many of the choices I am making are responses or reactions to whatever crisis is occurring at the moment. I am trying to improve things, but I’m making choices to do that, not because I have an inherent love for any of the choices I’m making.
            Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, says that one needs a definiteness of purpose. I have none at this time. In the past few years I have worked on being a writer, a historian, a teacher (both Adult Ed and 7-12), and a better parent. I have been involved in local school district politics (and even won an election) and I’ve been involved in my church. All of these activities have taken a toll on me because they all came with unexpected twists and turns. Each area has brought me joy but also pain.
            So I’m sitting here with nothing to do, writing my first blog in months. I feel lost. I don’t know what to do, but what I’m doing. And I’m trying to do my best at that. I’m creating a new life, but I’m not sure how to do it and I’m not sure what my creation will look like when it’s done. I just know that I don’t want to be broke any longer.

            That was written three days ago. Since then I’ve been hit with circumstances and inspirations that have reminded me of what I love and what I need to do.
            The circumstances are my children and being made aware over and over again how much they need me.
The inspirations are finishing my third of three tests and now being eligible to teach every level from kindergarten to college. I also just finished teaching summer school and I was reminded of what a good teacher I am (and how I can improve).  I have rekindled my love for the subject of US Presidents and want to put more time into studying that. Finally, my Muse, whom I have not been giving enough attention to reminded me that I need to return to my love of writing even if nothing comes of it. This makes her happy and that’s enough for me.
Something I’ve often wished for is for God to come down and give me direction through a burning bush like He did for Moses or write letters on a wall like He did for Daniel or even speak to me through an animal like He did for Balaam. I’ve wanted, for years, for God to say to me, “This is the way. Walk in it,” like he did to Isaiah. But no mystical revelation seems to be forthcoming. So, all I can do is what’s put in front of me. But I think I can do it better and do it more purposefully. I can study more in order to be more knowledgeable about Presidents and parenting. I can listen to YouTube and audiobooks. I can go to lectures.
I can also write more, not because I think anything will come of this, but because I love writing. I lost my way with writing because I didn’t know who my audience was and I allowed some well-meaning critique derail me. My Muse is my audience – no one else.
If none of this makes any sense or doesn’t seem completely clear, that’s because this is just another blog after a long, long time and I’m a bit rusty. I’m also just walking one step at a time. Presidents and parenting. I’m also involved in my church and my union and I can deal with those activities as needed. But otherwise, Presidents and parenting. And writing for my Muse. And the consistent reminder to Get Started and to Keep Going

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Desert


Tonight I felt hopeless. It’s not the first time I’ve felt hopeless in the last year or so. I’ve been in an ongoing battle for hope for several months now. It’s been one disaster after another. My own mind doesn’t help matters. I recently learned that I struggle with anxiety. I’m not sure to what degree, but it explains a lot. In his book, The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich differentiates anxiety from fear, the latter being a response to a real event or danger. Anxiety is more free-floating and can be present when no actual threat is present. I think many of us might be anxious. Some anxiety may feel justified. As I’ve said, I’ve had several events in the last year and a half that have ranged from exhausting to traumatic. Some are ongoing. None have completely resolved and I have many things hanging over my head.
Lately I’ve had this fantasy in which I get up one morning, very early, pack a few things, and drive away while it’s still dark, telling no one, leaving everything and everyone behind, except that which I can put in my car. In my fantasy I drive to some small desert town and get a job as a janitor or as a convenience store clerk. In my spare time I read and live alone. I keep to myself and live out my days alone and quiet. I’m never seen again.
It’s a great fantasy. It’s the fantasy of someone who is emotionally exhausted. But it’s also a fantasy of a coward. I don’t have the luxury of running away. Nor do I truly have a desire to do so. What keeps me from acting out my fantasy? The first reason is that I have people l love and am committed to where I am. My Muse wants me here, not for my comfort, but for my growth. My children want me here, not for my comfort, but for their growth. I cannot be the man I am supposed to be in the wilderness. I cannot dessert to the desert.
The second reason I will not flee is because I am with me wherever I go. I created, directly and indirectly the life I have now, and I would just re-create it somewhere else because I would still be me. I would still be the man who loves his children and tries to do the right thing and tries to listen to his Muse. We keep creating and re-creating our problems until we truly solve them.
Finally, life, true life, requires courage. Paul Tillich says this: “Courage is strength of mind, capable of conquering whatever threatens the attainment of the highest good. It is united with wisdom, the virtue which represents the four cardinal virtues, (the two others being temperance and justice.”[1]   
Courage then, when used, brings with it wisdom, temperance, and justice.
These blogs almost always encourage the reader to Get Started and Keep Going. I’ve often said that Getting Started is the harder part. I was wrong. It’s often surprisingly easy to get started (but not always). To keep going, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year – that’s hard. These last several months have been the hardest of my life, not only because of the difficulties, but because of their severity, their frequency, and their seeming unending nature. I have sometimes felt that I am specially cursed by God for reasons I don’t understand and that my life will always be like this. Or maybe, just maybe, if I Keep Going, I will end up at the beach instead of the desert with my Muse and my children watching the waves from my house.



[1] Tillich, Paul, The Courage to Be, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT and London, 2000.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Superheroes


In comic books there are different types of superheroes. (The same applies to supervillains, but I’d rather concentrate on the heroes.) One type of hero is the mutant. These characters are born with their powers. They have an extra advantage (or disadvantage as the case may be).  Examples of this type are Wolverine and the X-Men. For our purposes here, we will not discuss mutants. For the same reasons, we will not discuss magic-based characters such as Dr. Strange.
Another type of super-hero is the one who is an ordinary person but gains his or her powers through some fantastic event. Most superheroes fall into this category. Some are ordinary but have honed themselves to near perfection, like Batman, Hawkeye, or Black Widow. Others are powerful usually because of some scientific or biological discovery or mishap that created the character’s powers. Most characters fall into this category – the Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, the Flash, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four. (Some characters also have a technological power like, again, Hawkeye, or Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Iron Man.)
Finally, there is the hero who is not magical or mutant but is born with his or her power. The most well-known heroes of this type are Superman and Wonder Woman. As stated in Kill Bill 2, while Spider-Man is really Peter Parker in disguise and Batman is really Bruce Wayne in disguise, the reverse is true for Superman. He really is Superman. Clark Kent is his disguise. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman’s disguise.
Still, it is not disguise, but identity which is relevant here. Identity and power.
We all have identity and we all have power. Sadly, many people find neither or at least not enough to fully realize their full potential. But we all have identity and power. And realizing one helps us realize the other. It doesn’t matter which we find first because they go together. It doesn’t matter if our powers came to us one day through some fantastic or even tragic event. It doesn’t matter if we’re Superman and Clark Kent or Peter Parker and Spider-Man. There are two truths at play here. One: we can choose who we want to be. We can also choose how to think, how to spend our time, and how to behave towards others. We can choose to view problems as obstacles or opportunities. How we choose to think is part of our super power. How we choose to act is another power we have. Ultimately what defines most comic book characters is not their costumes or even their unique abilities, but how they face adversity.
Most superheroes are borne out of crisis or tragedy. Most non-powered heroes are, too. None of us is immune to tragedy, setbacks, heartbreaks, or disappointment. It’s how we deal with them that makes us heroes (or villains). It’s how we choose to Get Started and Keep Going or how we quit that makes us heroes, defining and determining our identity and power (or not).
I have seen in my own life in the last few months an unusual number of setbacks and disappointments. I think if I had the choice, I would have just stayed at my place and retreated forever. But the nature of my problems and the love I have for those in my life and the love they have for me does not allow a retreat.
In her book You Are a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero discusses how it is the subconscious, even more than the conscious than can determine our lives and allow us to tap into or, more commonly, limit our power and hide our identity from us. She calls the subconscious “the little prince” and his job is to keep us safe. When we are young, this is helpful. But when we become adults, this is often counterproductive and even harmful. We say we want to be wealthy, but our little prince does not like the inherent risk, so he sabotages us by making us late to appointments and getting us into fights with the people we love.
A superhero is different. He has power and knows who he is, so he faces danger. He doesn’t look for it because it’s always there anyway. And so he often goes towards it because he knows on the other side, there is a better life. He is rescuing himself so he can take care of those he loves. He or she Gets Started and Keeps Going because that’s what superheroes do.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Lesson Relearned


Recently I learned a lesson. Perhaps I relearned it because I had forgotten it. Either way, it was powerful.
At work there was a project that everyone had to do. The project was long, boring, and full of problems. No one, including those who were in charge of the project, were completely clear on all the elements necessary to do the work correctly. Inconsistent and even contradictory information was given by different supervisors. This was not intentional, but it created stress nonetheless. In addition, the project had a deadline and all other work, no matter how important, was to cease until each person completed his or her part of the project.
As I worked on my part of the project, I got into some trouble. It began taking longer than I thought it would. It was also harder than I thought it would be. I thought I would be in for a long and lonely night, trying to finish. I was reminded of another night when I was trying to finish a paper for a history class and it was taking far longer than I thought it would. It began feeling overwhelming and traumatic. And instead of bringing me comfort or rest, my easily distracted nature created more stress. I got on Facebook for a while and had a very unpleasant encounter with a complete stranger. I went for  a walk, but I felt scared and tired walking late at night. Nothing was comforting except doing the work, the work that seemed to take so long. Of the year and a half of my history Master’s program, that was my worst night.
Working on this project felt similar. I started feeling stressed and panicked and wondered if I would be exhausted and miserable in a couple of hours. Then something happened: a co-worker offered to help me with my work. At first I said no because I thought I was the only one who could do my part. My co-worker pointed out that this was incorrect. Then I almost said no again because I was embarrassed. But I said yes.
In thirty minutes, we were done.
It was amazing. In thirty minutes, we were done.
And here’s what I learned.
·         It’s better to work with others than it is to work alone, but only if you work with the right people.
·         It’s better to be with others than it is to be alone, but only if you are with the right people.
·         Work gets done faster not just because two or more people are doing it, but because the enthusiasm generated creates even more speed and enthusiasm.
I actually learned this lesson once before. Under the direct influence of someone I love very deeply, I got more work done in one week than I had gotten done in the previous month. I wanted to be like that person, to have her work ethic, and so I found the work invigorating in a way I couldn’t find on my own.
It’s okay to be alone. I have no problem with or fear of it. But sometimes, often, we need each other. We are not meant to go through life alone. I Get Started and Keep Going when my Muse or anyone who works well with me, pushes me to be better with someone than I can be alone.




           

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I'm Working

It’s the Christmas break but I’m working. I’m housesitting for a couple with a dog. The job is a little more work than I thought it would be. The dog is great, but he can be a little demanding. He barks at me when he wants to eat, have a treat, go outside to use the bathroom, play with me, and, surprisingly, even when I’ve forgotten to give him his medicine. So this dog, Kiko, keeps me working. I’m also working to change my life for the better and it seems I’ve been doing that for a long time with mixed results. I was reviewing some of my older blogs and this led to (again this word) mixed feelings. Most of them are well-written and encouraging.  I did a lot of work and reached some personal goals. There’s a small amount of contentment in what was accomplished. But there is a down side. One can’t help see what has changed, but also, what hasn’t. Here is what hasn’t changed:
·         I still don’t have enough time with those I love.
·         I still don’t have enough money and, in fact, my financial situation is worse than it’s ever been in my life.
·         I’m still nowhere nearer to my house by the beach.
                 I’m not complaining, just stating facts. But here is what has changed in the five years since I wrote my first blog:
·         I have finally, after all these years, learned how to handle money well.
·         I’ve written two or three books.
·         I got a Master’s Degree in US History, something I’ve wanted to do for years.
·         I traveled through a good part of the country.
·         I’ve joined a church that values my service.
·         I’ve found new paths in Purpose with educational politics.
·         I won an election.
·         I’ve helped people graduate with their high school diplomas or equivalencies.
·         I haven’t had a panic attack in months (except one when starting a new project).
                 Here are some other things that haven’t changed:
·         I still face fear and procrastination.
·         I can still write.
·         My Muse is still with me.

     My life is not perfect. But the challenges I’m facing feel more meaningful and even more helpful than what I’ve faced in the past. Brian Tracy said that it’s not reaching your goals that is the most important thing, but who you become while striving to reach your goals. So now I’m working harder than ever to become better than ever. I’m working on my character, to not be negative in thoughts or words, to be a better father, to take up the cause of others, and most of all, to wait patiently for what I want and need. I’m working on my ability to Get Started and Keep Going.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

John Quincy Adams and Purpose

I am currently reading about John Quincy Adams, the sixth US President and I find we have some things in common (but not everything). I want to write a blog about it, but I’m not sure if I know how any longer. It’s been so long. My life has gone in new and unexpected directions, particularly educational politics and trying to get out of debt, but I miss this. I miss the communion with my Muse that I once shared regularly, even daily for a while. I still have the same old doubts about myself and the same old questions:
·         Will I make a difference in this world?
·         Can I do something that will garner positive attention (and maybe some money)?
·         Will I ever get my house on the beach?
·         Can I be a good father?
·         Will I write or teach history one day?
·         Why do I have so many passions?
That last question is tricky. (They are all tricky.) When I first started doing these blogs
was very excited because I felt that they were giving me some direction and some much needed
courage to make some changes. After having done about fifteen, I shared my excitement with a
men’s group I was in at the time. Their response was less than enthusiastic. The comment that
hurt the most was, “You always start things but never finish them.”
            Maybe that hurt because I believed it was true. But maybe it wasn’t (or isn’t) true at all. Maybe I just have a lot of interests. Since that tepid response from those men, I’ve written nearly 900 blogs. I also got a Master’s in US History, traveled through part of the United States, self-published a book, won an election, and made significant contributions to my work and church. I created curriculum, taught middle school, and expanded my occupational skills. I think it was Brian Tracy who said, “It’s not the goal that’s important, but who you become as you strive to reach that goal.” I’ve become a different person. More accurately, I’m becoming a different person.
            For better or worse, one of my greatest priorities is to become a better, kinder, more useful, and more knowledgeable person. So I find myself doing many things, reading many books, and having many priorities. One of my current projects is to read or listen to two books on every single US President. I’ve read or listened to about sixteen books so far.  I’m currently listening to John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Fred Nagel. What I’ve learned about the sixth US President is that he too had many interests and many things he was good at, including science, writing, and poetry. He was, like me, very driven and very, very hard on himself. Also like me, he may have had mild ADHD, but that was not an identified condition at the time. He was, like me, easily distracted and would procrastinate even on things he loved to do. He was, unlike me, cold and aloof with many people. He was disagreeable, and very impolitic for a politician. He claimed that his true love was literature and study, but he spent most of his life (including his adolescence) in some political or diplomatic position or other until the day he died, literally in the Senate chambers on Capitol Hill while arguing a point. His funeral was the most attended in US History until Abraham Lincoln’s.
            Most historians agree that his tenure as US President was forgettable (due much in part to an extremely oppositional Congress who believed he brokered a deal with his Secretary of State Henry Clay in order to give Adams the required number of electoral votes to make him President). Like his father, John Adams, JQA only served one term (both Adams were the only two of the first seven Presidents to do so). But Adams, despite his often-denied desire to become President, wanted to be remembered for his other accomplishments. Diplomat, Harvard professor, poet, scientist, author, husband, parent, Congressman, Senator, and scholar. He was more than his famous father’s son and he was more than a President. He may have not done it all, but he did more than most men do in two lifetimes.
            One of the reasons I like history is that it shows us that our problems are not so unique or unprecedented. Our forefathers often struggled with the same things we do today. This makes me feel less alone. I, like JQA, have a lot of interests. My Muse tells me I can pursue them all if I just use my time well.
            I believe her.
            That’s why I Get Started and Keep Going, just like JQA.