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.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Words with Friends and Purpose

            I play an on-line word game called Words with Friends. It’s a lot like Scrabble. There are probably better ways of using my time, but it’s a fun way to connect with other people. I also learn new words. I’ve been playing for about three years, but this morning I realized a new strategy that might improve my game. It’s fascinating that we can learn to get better at something, how we can improve, even when it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. How does this improvement happen?
It happens through time. The more time one puts into something the more possibilities one can see. But time involves two things: study and application. When I read or learn something new, I feel the presence of my Muse. I feel peaceful. I think this is why I spend so much time reading (and why I resist reading when self-sabotage kicks in).  Study is not just about learning; it’s about preparation and training for dealing with life’s challenges. Yes, I study for pleasure, but mostly I study for preparation. All that knowledge comes in handy and it opens new horizons and new possibilities.
But study is only useful if I apply it in some way, to make life better for me or others.  It’s been said that knowledge is power, but it’s also been said, more accurately, that applied knowledge is power. Practice and application are what validate the study. One version of St. Paul’s admonition to Timothy is, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Other versions say, “apply yourself,” “work,” “make an effort,” or “give diligence.” (2 Timothy 2:15).  These concepts are about being prepared for life’s inevitable challenges. And when we fail, as we often do, we can go back, study more, so we can improve.
Improvement happens also by being open to those new possibilities. A pastor once said, “The seven last words of a church are, ‘It’s never been done that way before.’” I think those are the last words of a lot of organizations, and maybe the last words of a lot of people who hope to live a fuller life. I admit to my own self-imposed limitations. The first time I thought of on-line classes or video teaching, I balked. I thought that the teacher needs to be physically present to be the most effective. But recently I just finished an on-line Master’s degree in American history and I had minimal contact with most of my teachers. Now I’m open to the possibility of teaching on-line. More recently I was invited to do a Skype presentation for about sixty students in Georgia in a few weeks.  So, the field of possibilities has opened. I can learn new ways and I can improve.
Here’s the better news: if I can improve in an on-line word game, then I can improve at anything. I can become a better writer. I can get better with money. I can learn more about history or be a better motivational speaker.
It goes even deeper: I can become more loving. I can be a better father, teacher, friend, or neighbor. I can learn how to be kinder, more patient, more peaceful. I can learn how to take better care of myself and others. I can learn develop myself spiritually, physically, morally, emotionally, and financially.

Best of all, I can learn how to give more attention to my Muse, so that I can do any or all, of the above. Many, most, maybe all my limits are self-imposed. I’m not saying I can play for the NFL or be a brain surgeon, but I don’t want to do those things anyway. What I want to do is Get Started and Keep Going, get better at Words with Friends, and maybe at everything else that is in my life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ready for History

I was sitting alone ready to read a book about making money. I’ve finished a Master’s degree in history and now it’s time to move on to the next phase of life. My biggest challenge is a lack of money. If I had significantly more money, I could change a lot of things. So I looked at the money books section of my bookshelf and picked one. As I started reading it, I realized that I really didn’t want to read it. It’s not that I don’t want to read or study or learn; it’s just that I didn’t want to read a book about money.  It was making me tense. I sat quietly trying to understand what was happening and I realized I felt this feeling before. Years ago I was reading a book on teaching and I felt the same discomfort. I wanted to throw the book on the floor…hard. There was nothing wrong with the book or the subject; it just wasn’t what I wanted.  Eventually, too many years later, despite reading several books on education I finally changed careers because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It never had been.
Becoming an expert on money is not what I want to do either. I want to make money, of course. I want to be knowledgeable and wise and informed. What I do not want to do is spend the next several hours, days, and weeks reading on the subject.
I stayed quiet as I continued hearing my heart. Mariachi music was playing on a neighbor’s radio. Seagulls were squawking over the dumpsters. I barely heard any of that. All I could hear was the message of my heart. “Study U.S. Presidents. Read about what you love. Life is so precious and short. Do what you love. Be with the people you love. Read what you love. Learn what you love.”
Now I try to not be impulsive because that trait has often led me to make bad decisions. But this time I was impulsive and I went back to that bookshelf and took almost all of the money books about thinking like a millionaire and living like a millionaire and having the bank account of a millionaire and I put them in the closet. Then I filled the empty space with books on Watergate and the Nixon era. I did, however, leave a few money books there, because I’m not giving up the subject entirely. I’m just not giving it precedence.
Where will this all lead me? I still want enough wealth to send my kids and grandkids to college and I still want a house on the beach and I don’t know a lot of rich historians. But I’ve spent most of my life not following my heart and I caused myself and others a lot of pain. And on top of all that, I’m broke trying to undo the mess I’ve made by not following my heart. So I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know I immediately felt happier and lighter and more energetic and enthusiastic. I felt my Muse smiling approvingly. I feel like I’m ready to Get Started and Keep Going again. And I feel ready for history.