Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Roller Coaster

I recently saw a video on Facebook in which a man breaks up with his girlfriend on a rollercoaster ride.   I’m going to assume it’s real and discuss the implications of and reasons behind this breakup.  In the video, the man is very clearly scared and upset.  Although he is already strapped in next to his girlfriend, with the ride clearly underway, he keeps repeating that he doesn’t want to be on that ride.  She on the other hand is trying to comfort him and enjoying the ride.  As the ride progresses, he gets more and more terrified.  At one point he says, “You always make me do this!”
Then in the midst of his screams of, “I don’t want to do this!  I don’t want to do this!” he screams out, “I want to break up!” 
It takes a moment for it to register, and the girlfriend replies, “What did you say?”
He repeats that he wants to break up.  She begins to cry and now neither is enjoying the ride.  When the ride is over, she says something inaudible to him and walks away.
How does something like this happen?
Again, assuming it’s real, I would say the man is what Dr. Robert Glover calls a “nice guy.”  He is a man who is afraid of conflict.  Perhaps he is afraid of his girlfriend or of losing her.  Perhaps he is afraid of conflict.  Most “nice guys” are.  Then finally what happens eventually to all nice guys is that they can’t take their own duplicity any longer and something snaps.  All the resentment and anger and fear erupt to the surface and then they say or do something regrettable and sometimes irreversible.  Before that moment though, they are often sullen, passive-aggressive, and withdrawn.   They might make sarcastic comments under their breaths. 
What they won’t do is deal with the real issue. 
I understand this man.  I too hate roller coasters.  But at the same time, I don’t like him, because I used to be a lot like him.  It took me a long time to learn a very simple secret to happiness:  “Ask for what you want.”  (I put that in quotes because the idea isn’t mine, but I don’t know who coined this now-popular phrase.)
However, I’m going to go a step further and say, “Say what you want.  Don’t ask.  Tell.”
Tell it clearly.  Tell it respectfully.  Tell it without whining or complaining or venom.  Tell it with as few words as possible.  Tell it with no expectation other than to express yourself.  You may not always get what you want.  Or you may have to compromise.  Or you may even have to give in.  But if you do, it’s only because you have chosen to do so, not because you are trying to please others.  (Sometimes in these situations conflicting emotions arise and it’s okay to say something like, “I want to do what you want, but I really don’t enjoy that.  Can we keep talking about it until we resolve it together?”)
Let’s go back to the man on the rollercoaster.  Obviously he needed to make his needs known long before he ever got on.  Though potentially difficult, he should have said, “Honey, I love you, but I really hate roller coasters and I don’t want to go.  Can we talk about this?”
His girlfriend might have been annoyed, but she would have gotten over it and respected him more. Until that point she seemed to genuinely care about him, so she would have most likely accepted that she would always like roller coasters and he never would.  Differences, even crucial ones, do not have to tear a relationship up, but instead they can build it up.
When I was 15, my best friend was Rudy Santillanez.  He and I had nothing in common. Nothing.  He was introverted.  I was extroverted.  He liked cars, photography, and Boots Randolph.  He liked guns.  I cared for none of these things.  I was an actor and a writer.  He was almost always serious and I was usually lighthearted.  As I said, we had nothing in common, except our friendship and our love and respect for each other.  Our differences did not detract from our friendship.  They added to it.  Our differences also added to my life.  I learned new things.  Rudy pushed me have a wider view of life, like a camera lens.  I came to have new respect for cars and photography (though I still don’t care for Boots Randolph.)  I saw the world through Rudy’s eyes as well as my own.  Our friendship with all its differences was one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Now I have a Muse and we aren’t that different, but she has also pushed me to have a wider view of life. Since I met her I began writing.  I found God and learned to forgive and accept others.  I made some difficult choices and I found myself and my path.  And now I tell people what I want. I don’t do it always and I don’t always do it perfectly.  I make mistakes, but I’m happier and more honest with myself and others.  I finally began to Get Started and Keep Going.  Best of all, I got off the roller coaster.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cutting Back

I was looking at some of my older blogs and feeling that they were good, but not great (at least the ones I read last night).  I say this, it’s not because I want to stop writing them; it’s because I want to do them better.  In fact, I want to do everything better.  I’m not talking about being obsessed.  There’s an old saying:  Good enough isn’t.  That saying comes from someone or something within us that will always be critical and never be happy and that’s not what I’m saying.  Good enough is.  And now I want to do better.
Honestly, I think I’ve done some of my best work with my blogs.  The sheer volume alone is amazing.  And I still think, without changing what I’ve done, I could do better as I move forward.  This isn’t a put-down of my past work.  I’ve declared my love for my Muse over 850 times.  And I want to do it 850 times 850 more times.
The truth is I miss doing this.  I miss writing and publishing five to ten times a week.  I miss the physical sensation of my fingers running over the keyboard and watching something spiritual and magical unfold.  I miss writing about (and to) my Muse.  I miss writing about my House on the Beach and Purpose and the Enemy.  I miss reminding others (and myself) to Get Started and Keep Going.
Why then did I stop?
On a practical level I stopped because I began a Master’s Degree program in US History and that took up all of my time.  That’s the story I use anyway.  It’s partially true, but I know I could use my time more effectively.
But as a writer I stopped because I stopped growing.  I felt that I wasn’t saying anything new.
But here’s the thing (and the following analogy isn’t mine, I just can’t remember where I read it): We can’t grow all the time.  Too much growth is unhealthy for any organism, even writers.  Sometimes we have to cut back.  Sometimes we have to rest.  Sometimes the work has to be pruned of excess.  I once had roses that grew to be over six feet tall.  I had a gardener and one day while I was at work he cut everything down.  When I got home I was quite upset.  All my giant roses were gone.  But soon they returned to a more reasonable height.  The truth is that they looked ridiculous before.  Now they looked better.  My whole garden looked better.
In the same way I think my writing will be better because I cut back.  It could be better if I read more.  I think I could edit my work more effectively before putting it out there.  Many of my blogs were first drafts with little or no editing.  (This is a second draft; the first was handwritten.)  I think I could go deeper into my subject or maybe expand into new areas.  Or maybe do both.   I can keep looking for my voice. Finally, I think I shouldn’t worry so much about the numbers.  And I think I should do more.  If that sounds like a contradiction, it is.  Life is full of complementary contradictions.  I’m okay with that.
There are three questions we can ask when we are doing something meaningful:
·      What do I want?
·      Why do I want it?
·      Who do I want it for?

The answer to the last question can be, “I want it for myself.”  But it can also be:
·      I want it for God.
·      I want it for the woman I love.
·      I want it for my kids.
·      I want it for people I haven’t met yet.
·      I want it for the world.
It could be for someone imaginary though sometimes that imaginary audience is just a hidden part of us.  But we’re doing what we do for a reason and for someone.  And we stop for the same reasons. 

I had to cut back in order to grow.  I had to remember what I wanted, why I wanted it, and whom I was doing it for.  I remember now and so I’m able to Get Started and Keep Going.

Friday, September 4, 2015


C. S. Lewis said that we often confuse love with the desire to be loved.    But when I can truly love someone or something, things change.  I change.  And people and things around me seem to change as well.  I lose fear and selfishness to the degree I truly love.    
Love, true love, entails and requires commitment, personal growth, and forgiveness for others and for the self.
The commitment of love requires time and thus, by definition, it requires making choices and even saying no to some things so you can say yes to others.  While love is infinite, time is not.  .  This means love is selective.  We can love everyone, but we cannot give our time to everyone. This doesn’t mean I have to schedule my day, but I have found that writing yearly, monthly, daily, and even hourly goals can help me manage time and keep me focused
Love requires focus and presence.  It requires self-awareness, knowing how I am feeling at each moment, so that I don’t let my feelings overtake or rule me and thus keep me from truly loving.
Love requires order.  Without order it is hard to be present or use finite time effectively.  Love doesn’t mean that my kitchen or car always have to be clean, that my paperwork and workspace in order, or that my bills are all paid on time, but those things also help very much.  The more order there is in my life, the more effectively I can deal with the chaos life can bring.  In others words, I am more free to love.
Love requires, or perhaps causes, saying no to some things, many things, most of all to the needy self that is never happy and can never have enough.  This allows saying yes to others and to the true self, the self that is peaceful.
Love is often like a job.  It is not always easy or fun or smooth, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  What’s bad is the illusion that it should always be easy.  Robert Glover affirms this in his book, No More Mr. Nice Guy.  He defines “nice guys” as men who live out of fear, out of a need for approval from others, rather than from a place of true love, courage, and commitment.  “Nice guys,” says Glover, believe that life and love can and should always be easy if they just do “the right thing”, whatever that means.  Nice guys believe that they can and should always please others.  Nice guys therefore might keep secrets, take abuse, fail to discipline their children, or fail to take care of themselves, because they think they are creating a problem-free life.  But life and love are full of unexpected setbacks…and joys.  By avoiding problems, they create more problems and miss potential growth and joy.
Love is what puts me in this chair, writing for my Muse.
Love is what motivates me to create goals.
Love is what motivates me to study.
Love is what gets me to the dentist or the doctor for checkups and work.
Love is what causes me to relax and read something I enjoy.
Love is what motivates me to do my job to the best of my ability.
Love is what motivates me to save money for the future.
Now here’s the thing:  Fear can do all those things as well.  But the problem with that is once the fear is gone, I am no longer motivated to do the right thing.  Fear causes me to do what is necessary and expedient.  Love causes me to do what is needed and excellent.   We do so many things to win approval, make money, and keep others happy.  But without changing the activity, I can simply decide to love God, love my Muse, love my children and it doesn’t matter if I’m loved back because love doesn’t ask for anything in return, not even love.
The only one I can ask and expect love from is myself.  When I do, I am at peace and it is no effort to love others.  Then suddenly there are no problems. As Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now, “There are only situations to be dealt with.”   Love is no longer work as an act of drudgery (which wasn’t really love in the first palce), but rather as an act of creativity, like artwork or writing. 
When I love myself I am willing to look at ways I can change without being too self-absorbed or unforgiving of my failings.  I can accept criticism, however well or poorly given as an opportunity for growth.  At the same time I can completely accept myself for who I am at the moment, who God made me to be.

This is not the final word on love.  As I said, “Love is infinite.”  I don’t have all the answers and I don’t love perfectly.  I just know seasons of growth and seasons of pruning alternate, creating in each of us if we allow it, the ability to love more truly.  Love, true love, is possible any time and anywhere.   Love is why I Get Started and Keep Going.