Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's Been a While

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog. My confidence in my writing abilities and in myself are at a low. I’m facing some unprecedented crises that will most likely pass one way or another, but I don’t know how or when, so I’m shaken. What does one do when things feel darker and scarier than they’ve ever been? In my case, it’s the same thing, I Get Started and I Keep Going. I have set some very clear goals, even a couple of not-so-clear goals, and I’m working towards them. Resolve is important. So are reminders – constant reminders.
One of those reminders is a book I’m reading (listening to, actually) called You are a Badass – How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. It just showed up on my YouTube channel and I have found it very helpful. In no particular order, here are some things I am realizing or have been coming to realize over the last several weeks. This book is solidifying things I’ve been thinking and introducing new ideas as well.
First, I need to change my way of thinking, especially about who I believe I am and what my capabilities are. I have always believed that I am far less capable than I am. “Inferiority complex,” “low self-esteem,” “untapped potential,” call it what you will, but I’ve suffered from it all my life. It’s like a chronic condition or a disease. But the truth is, self-perception is a choice. There are plenty of people whose lives have been far worse than yours or mine who have gone on to great success. There are people who have made worse mistakes, had greater setbacks, were older, less intelligent, or had greater obstacles and still achieved great success. There’s no reason I can’t do better in all areas of my life. I don’t know how I’m going to achieve what I want, but everything I’m reading says the how will come to me. I just need to start doing something.
To that end, I try to learn all I can. I take action where I can. For example, recently I went to the Richard Nixon Library, leaving at 1:00 a.m. to avoid the traffic, sleeping in my car when I got tired and then researching most of the day (in between naps). I didn’t even find much of anything useful. But I took action and that’s what mattered. Now I know that I don’t need to go back (at least not for this project). Experience has taught me that action is the cure for almost everything. Actions that have helped me in the past have been:
·         Studying
·         Cleaning
·         Walking
·         Working
·         Writing
·         Organizing
·         Waking up early
There are probably more, but those have been the most helpful for me.
            Another concept I’m realizing is what a friend told me – Question everything. This is a difficult and painful process. I’ve questioned a lot of things, especially my spiritual beliefs. I am still sure there is a God and that He is a God of love. I still believe in the power of prayer as a healer and change agent. I still believe the Bible can speak to me and is God’s word. Everything else I question. Questioning is scary because it may mean that some, much, or all of what I have based my faith on may be false. That’s a scary place to be. On the other hand, a lot of the paths I followed for years led to great unhappiness and futility. The truth is I don’t know what to believe anymore other than what I still believe. This is still an unresolved area of my life.
            The final large concept I’m dealing with is money, or lack thereof. This has been a problem my whole life. I’m not sure why, but it has. The why doesn’t even matter. What matters is changing the behaviors (or misbehaviors) I’m aware of and creating new behaviors. At the point in my life where others are close to retirement and building their nest egg, I am starting all over again and in the negative. But I’m also (finally, finally, FINALLY) developing habits and a mindset that should keep me from ever being in this place again. I’ve also set a goal around money that’s larger than just getting out of debt. Now I’m thinking about others and about my future and their futures. I wish I had known to do these things years ago. It doesn’t matter; I’m doing them now.
            I wish things were better. I wish I had more positive things to report. I’m struggling, but I’m not unhappy. I’m blessed. I have my health and my job and my car and the means to do things I want to do (most of them anyway). People are praying for me. I still Get Started and Keep Going and that’s all that really matters.
           

            

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Golden Charge

There’s a concept called the “Golden Charge,” which is an expression of admiration for another person usually around a quality that other person has. I’ve also seen it expressed as genuine affection, such as when a man told me he was sincerely happy to see me again after a prolonged absence on my part from our men’s group. Generally, however, it is more often associated with a quality. I have had golden charges around people’s appearances, sense of humor, intelligence, wisdom, kindness, or leadership abilities. Like its opposite, “the charge” (no color), in which I feel less kind about another person, the quality I admire is often something I also have, but it has remained dormant, undiscovered, or underused. Another way of stating it is saying that the golden charge is a positive judgment rather than a negative one that most of us have about others. So what could be wrong with that? What’s wrong with seeing and admiring the good in others? Nothing, if that’s where it ends. But of course, it often doesn’t. At least not in my case.
In the men’s group ManKind Project (MKP)  I was taught to “own” my problems, to not only take responsibility for them, but to recognize that it is my problem, not someone else’s and to not project my faults on other people. On the other hand, I’m aware that my failings and foibles are not unique and that maybe sharing my struggles will help others with the same struggles.
My problem with the golden charge has been a life-long one. It comes from a good place, a genuine love for others and a heart that sees the good over the bad. But it also comes from a bad place, a sense of inferiority, a belief that there is a hierarchy, and that most people are better – smarter, wiser, stronger, funnier, better-looking – and in all ways superior to me. A few were my equals and these became my friends. And a few were my inferiors. This led to a bizarre dualistic thinking and behaving that taught me to treat people based on my view of them in the hierarchy. Fortunately, it was tempered with a genuine love and acceptance of most people, but it still colored many of my relationships. The golden charge, as benign as it seems, was especially damaging. First, it put me in an inferior position. Second, and this was worse, it put me in a dependent position. Because I was “inferior” I was dependent on those to whom I had given a golden charge to supply wisdom or guidance to me. Third, it prevented me from seeing these people as what they really were – people. They were neither gods nor gurus. They were not my father or my spiritual guide. (Even my own fathers weren’t my fathers. I never met the first and I often had a very distant and tenuous relationship with the second.)
Because I had burdened them with a golden charge, I could not see (or was unwilling to see) that the same people whom I saw as kind or wise or funny or golden could also be mean or bizarre or boring or indifferent, or wrong, or tarnished. Or human. Their advice wasn’t always good. Sometimes they hurt me, even deeply. Once, when I was 16, one of my golden charges, a clerk who worked in a bookstore I frequented said loudly upon my arrival, “I cannot handle you today!” Devastated, I turned around, walked out, and never saw her again. Another golden charge gave me the worst advice of my life causing me to make one of the worst mistakes of my life. And, around the same time, another golden charge completely ignored my plight, when only a few words of wisdom would have prevented me from making that mistake.
None of this was their fault. It wasn’t even mine. I was too young or too inexperienced to understand, really understand that what I needed to was not burden anyone with a golden charge, but to appreciate what was good in them and forgive the bad. I also was too young and inexperienced to realize that what both they and I needed was not golden charges, based upon skewed perception, but love. By love I mean acceptance of who these people were – imperfect, tarnished human beings with some gold in them, but not completely them. If I had known this I would have established boundaries for them and for me so that I would not be devastated or misled. I would have trusted my own heart more and listened better. I would have been more sensitive, less needy, and stronger.
Here’s one other aspect of charges, golden or otherwise: when I see something in someone else that strikes me, it’s often because I have, or potentially have, that same quality. Focusing on the golden charge, that means I already possess the wisdom, kindness, intelligence, humor, or any other admirable quality I see in others. It’s in me and it’s up to me to bring it out and develop it. I have the ability to Get Started and Keep Going. I have the ability to be golden.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Hate Myself

I hate myself. I hate my life. I hate the stress that comes with a new situation. I hate how I never feel prepared enough no matter how little or how much I work. I hate how I don’t use my time as well as I thought I would. I hate how I feel that I’m not reaching my potential.
I’ve had this problem all my life, but it really became evident when I was in the 7th grade. I was lazy, disorganized, immature, and afraid. Bad work habits (no work habits) and disorganization brought me to a place of self-loathing as assignment after assignment piled up and my report card looked worse and worse. I was sure that I was stupid and that everyone else was better and smarter than me. I was terrified and miserable and the only things that would have fixed it were understanding the work I was supposed to do (math was especially hard) and doing my homework every day. But I didn’t know this. I also didn’t know I had ADHD.
Now I’m working with students who have some of the same problems. I work with a group of 7th and 8th graders who all admitted to me that the reason they are in the Credit Recovery class is for not doing their work. They are smart enough to not blame their teachers or anyone else. They take the responsibility. But they need to go further. They need to change what got them to me in the first place. So my job as a teacher is not to teach only about Charlemagne or the Holy Roman Empire or George Washington, but to teach students self-discipline and love for learning. I need to teach them that purposeful action is the key to self-love.
I also need to teach them (or maybe myself) to not be too hard on themselves. This self-hate is really just another form of self-sabotage that keeps us from doing our work. Also, that critical voice is never satisfied. It never says, “Okay, you’ve done enough. Good job.” It always says that you haven’t done enough or that that it could be better. Here’s the funny thing. It rarely is enough and it probably could be better. But that’s not the point. The point is I got started.
This is what I want to teach my students – to Get Started. So many things don’t get finished because they don’t even get started. The other thing I want to teach them is to Keep Going. That is the other reason things don’t get finished. People don’t Keep Going until something is done.
But when we finish something, even if it’s not perfect, (whatever that means) the self-hate disappears. At least mine does. I realize it was a lie, that I don’t hate myself, I’m just nervous. That’s when my Muse comes and whispers in my ear. “Good work. You did your best. Don’t compare yourself to others, no matter how much you admire them. When you read a book on how to get better in something, even a very good book, and the author seems perfect and disciplined and orderly, just remember that he or she is a writer just like you. He or she is also imperfect just like you. You only see the book, not the whole life. And he or she is growing and changing just like you.”

And when I feel disappointed in myself, my Muse adds, “I am not disappointed. I am so proud of you and everything that you are doing.” I love that encouragement. It’s the same encouragement I want to give to my students. I want to do for them what my Muse does for me – show them that they can Get Started and Keep Going.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

I'm Scared

            Maybe this is where I should have been all along. Here, writing, and on my knees, praying for this country, the United States of America. Donald Trump has created more fear and anger in his first week than probably any President in American history, with the possible exception of Lincoln. (There the comparison ends.)      
            Here is what has happened in the first eight days of Trump’s presidency:
·   On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
·   On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after factual, side by side photos were posted of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
·   On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
·   On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
·   On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
·   On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
·   On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” (lies) on national television news.
·   On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
·   On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
·   On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
·   On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
·   On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
·   On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
·   On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
·   On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
·   On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources."[1]

Today he began the banning and deportation of people from seven different (Muslim) countries. This act was overturned as unconstitutional, but that probably will not stop Trump from doing more damage. His office also did not mention the Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day (today).[2]
I don’t know what to think anymore. I know there are people who argue better than me, maybe even people who know more than me. Maybe they are even right. But all of the events of the last week seem wrong. This whole week, when reflecting on these events, I’ve felt nothing but fear and rage. Perhaps then I’m not reflecting, only reacting, but I’m scared. Every day, yes, every day, there is something new that scares me. And I don’t know what to do with my fear and rage.
Some say it’s just the media and we should all unite against that entity. Except the media is not one entity. It’s liberal and conservative and moderate and radical left and alt right. It’s television and radio and talk shows and newspapers and, for better and worse, social media, each arm with its own agenda. Perhaps some are doing their best to be impartial, but if even half of what is being reported is true, then things are scary.
Some say we need to fight for or against the current administration. I hate fighting. I hate conflict. But I really wonder if we aren’t sliding into fascism and if I might need to fight. Often, when someone doesn’t like a President, that President is compared to Hitler. Obama certainly was. Now I think we have a President who might really be like Hitler. A family member said I shouldn’t criticize Trump because as a naturalized citizen I could be deported. Will I have to fight for the freedom of speech that was already mine?
Some say things will be fine. I have a friend from the South who said people in his are weren’t worried at all. This was before the inauguration. I wonder how he’s feeling now. A cheerful and optimistic co-worker said things would work out. Maybe they will, but if that belief is based on past American history, I’m not sure. Trump’s election, his complete lack of experience in government, the law or the military, the protests and his low approval rating before he even took office, are all unprecedented. He really does want to build a wall and he’s working on it now. (One thing I will say for Trump is he is doing everything he said would.)
Here’s all I know to do at this point:
·         Study, read, and write.
·         Follow my passions.
·         Love people, even those I disagree with, but don’t take abuse.
·         Love people who need a lot of love during these days.
·         Call or write my representatives.
·         Fight for what I think is right until or unless I see that I am wrong.
·         Pray.
·         Breathe. A lot.
·         Get Started.
·         Keep Going.



Monday, January 23, 2017

The Lord's Prayer - Part I

Our Father
Yesterday at church the pastor encouraged us to pray the Lord’s Prayer five times a day for thirty days. Being the kind person he is, he said that if some were not able to do that, they could do it once a day for the first week, twice a day for the second week, and so on. Being the less-than-kind person that I am, I told him praying a simple prayer five times a day would not be too strenuous for anyone[1] and that he should retract that statement and push us harder. He wisely declined my less-than-gracious offer. Despite this small difference of opinion, I thought his idea was powerful and potentially life changing.
Growing up Catholic, I had, like many good Catholics, memorized the Lord’s Prayer (we called it the “Our Father” or Pater Noster in Latin) by the time I was five or six years old. (I also knew the Hail Mary prayer.) But, as Bloom’s taxonomy, a hierarchy of learning, shows us, memorization, while important and necessary, is only the beginning of learning. And, as with many things done by rote, I rarely reflected on this prayer. So, to keep the Lord’s Prayer from becoming a “vain repetition,”[2] and to understand what I was really praying, I decided to reflect on the various parts of the prayer.
The version I am using is from Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father, which art in heaven,[3]
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.[4]
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.[5]
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen

            The first words I reflect on are “Our Father.” The pastor said that this comes from a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) prayer. First I think of the word “our.” It is interesting that Jesus did not use the word “my.” He was the only one who could claim being the Son of God but he said “our.” He was sharing.  He also said “our,” not just for His present audience but for anyone who prayed this prayer throughout all time. Our – all of us.
Then there is the word “Father.” The concept of the Fatherhood of God was all but absent in the scriptures until this moment! (Let that sink in.) God as a father was mentioned fifteen times in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament whereas the concept is used over 165 times in the four gospels.[6] While the term father may not always have positive connotations for everyone, it brings the relationship between God and people to a whole new, more intimate level.
God, then, is our Father, mine, yours, ours, all of ours. He is the Father who helped me to Get Started and the Father who helps me to Keep Going.


[1] I was able to say this prayer aloud and at a normal pace in 23 seconds.
[2] Matthew 6:7: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
[3] I may have learned it or am remembering it incorrectly, but I remember it saying “who art in heaven,” not “which.”
[4] I also remember “on earth,” not “in earth.”
[5] I remember “those who trespass,” not “them that.”

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."