Category Archives: Life

Drop it already.

I get it.

You’re fired up about the inauguration.

Some of you are taking to social media praising the success of the outgoing president.

Some of you are taking to social media spreading negative things about the incoming president, who as of yet has done little more than appoint people to cabinet positions and look like an ass on Twitter.

Some of you are taking to social media with many negative things about the outgoing president. Most of these are obvious and are appalling to those who believe in a free republic. The same situations from which those opinions derive are praiseworthy to those who believe in a progressive form of statism, or strong central government. We’re divided because of our belief systems, which are nothing but B.S.

Please stop.

We are wasting time and energy on marches, and protests, none of which will do anything except show some people which side we’re on.

There are several logical fallacies at play here, double standards and general insults to intelligence. The Genetic Fallacy alone has done more to divide us than many others. We can do better.

The problem is, we could always have done better, since the beginning of time. For instance. Just in the history of the United States, these logical fallacies and even double standards have given us presidents such as George Washington, Grover Cleveland (I just wanted to type the name ‘Grover’) and Herbert Hoover. You could name any president here.

If we want this country to remain great, we need to let things be and control ourselves here. Be offended, be glad, be proud or be ashamed. It’s your choice. But you look like an idiot if you push that on the world. Hold your beliefs but transform words into actions that can help others instead of show them whose side you’re on. Tip a little more than usual. Smile and say thoughtful things to random people you meet today. Buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line. Stop worrying about your taxes and quit complaining about how expensive health care has become.

In short, look for ways you can change the world by focusing on the one thing you have complete power to control. Yourself.

As for me, my next goal is to remember that I can’t make it stop raining and that I should really stop swearing at red traffic lights. Who I voted for president matters not (they were never even nominated) I will do my part to protect my planet, pay my taxes (we hates them, precious) and control that inner beast that wants to rant and rave childish banter on a world that could care less.

As I’ve said before, today is the only January 20, 2017 you will ever get. Please don’t waste it being caught up in the inauguration.

My Take On Aging

Growing old is not what we think it is.

Age is a mental state. How old or young we are depends on our attitude.

To trade a fun carefree lifestyle for one of parenting and understanding health insurance deductibles does not make one old no matter how many revolutions around the sun one has taken. It does require increased wisdom though.

Do we need to make that trade in the first place? Combining them could lead to mental exhaustion, but age brings a wisdom which enables us to learn to create balance. By doing and growing, we learn from our mistakes. That is, unless we aim to eliminate mistakes. That is a true problem. Some of us are so afraid of failure, we’ll tolerate nothing less than perfection. Success is most definitely possible for everyone, but we must drill through failure in order to achieve it. How long we take to do it depends once again on attitude.

We always take daily calculated risks. When we are physically younger, we misunderstand the difference between crazy and stupid. Those of us who survive eventually know that difference, yet we still choose to flirt with the potential disaster that comes from drinking too much or trying to learn skateboarding at a construction site. A more realistic example of this might be families who allow one parent to take on the entire work load while the other desperately hangs onto a youthful lifestyle.

In 2015, I turned 40. As I filter that thought, I’m reminded of when my dad turned 40. I thought to myself, “No, no, no. He was older. He wore ties every day and had neatly combed hair. I still feel young! I wear jeans & T-shirts and my hair looks like I crawled out of bed! I still have earrings and love hard rock music!”

Here are some more interesting things I’ve thought about for all of us born in or around 1975:

Like many people our age, I still identify myself as a 20-y-o living in an aging body. My dad seemed very much an adult back then and I recall thinking that I’d never let that happen to me, that I’d hang onto my youth forever. Naivety is powerful in the young. My mind seems to work about the same as when I was in college. Well, not really.

In college, I was more likely to actually drive a car over 100 mph than just think about doing it. I was more likely to stay up all night by choice instead of necessity. I was more likely to take my anger out by destroying inanimate objects back then. It’s as if I still want to do all those crazy things but I choose not to, because I know what the results would be either way it goes. Venting anger and acting stupid is a waste of energy. That, folks, is what I call wisdom.

While I generally have the overall wisdom of a single-celled organism, the human species gradually adjusts behavior so as to avoid discomfort, disorder, to conserve energy and to nurture the next generation of living spawn. Somehow, as we get older it gets easier to make the choices to be responsible, even if we really want to go hanging off of a Russian crane. The fact is, growing wiser is about learning to embrace the uncertainty and disorder that life brings, and being strengthened by adversity. I am just starting to read a book that deals with this topic.

But here’s the best part in my theory. Age, being based on attitude, can be changed, altered or improved. While our bodies get older and wear out faster, we can choose activities and lifestyles to make them better. If we really want to feel young and full of energy and vigor, we must make the choices that get our bodies to work with us instead of against us. This means we have to eat like an older person, which is to say, fewer calories than those in an entire pizza. It means ingesting a lot more plant matter and a lot less stuff to make them taste good. It means having to run an extra mile three times a week instead of just sitting there or doing a few situps once in a while.

The clincher is that we get ourselves so busy being adults that we forget the kids that are still alive in us. Unless we find a way to balance work with play, we’re just going to keep getting older until our body decides it’s had enough. The question is, is it really worth it? Is a life of comfort and convenience and poor health better than a life of strenuous activity and great health? We all play games, just different ones of different significance. The kid in you will play one way, the adult another.

Since, we tend to minimize discomfort and disorder, avoid conflict and failure, we miss out on the very things that hammer wisdom into us. The Bible would say things about how God chisels us into his image and it’s often quite painful for the believer.  Our 21st century lifestyles rob us of this, regardless of our beliefs.

As you continue to work into this new year, find one area in your life that has made you too busy and evaluate if you can afford to eliminate it. then, find one area where you waste time and do likewise. You’ll feel younger and be wiser for it. I call that a win-win.

Oh and tomorrow morning when I go back to work? I’ll have combed hair and a necktie. And I love it.

The Time is Now

A little over a week ago, as my family and I were preparing to head to Kentucky for the holidays, I received word that my grandmother was not feeling well. I had just spoken with her on her birthday, December 15, and she was in good spirits despite her just having returned from two weeks in the hospital. At 88, she had experienced complications of congestive heart failure.

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My brother, Jared, his daughter Lila and Mammaw on December 13, 2015

Christmas Day, as we were celebrating with my in-laws, word came that my grandmother, “Mammaw” as we called her, was hospitalized again. It did not sound overly serious to anyone, so my mother told me not to worry about it and to just stop by the hospital on our way into town. It was like a less severe repeat of what she had experienced at the end of November.

Right after I learned of this news, the hospital staff administered hydromorphone. Mammaw went to sleep and never woke. She was not yet in severe pain so I question the necessity of the timing of that decision. It’s pointless though, because I cannot change the overall outcome. The doctors had said that her body was simply shutting down and there was nothing left to do but make her feel comfortable and pain-free. That raises another question for another time: What is pain-free? 

My family and I saw her asleep on her death bed. She labored to breathe every 30 seconds or so and you could visibly see her carotid artery pulsing with vigor, diverting lifeblood away from vital organs in order to preserve the brain. The pulse was highly irregular, and her vitals included blood pressure readings so low I didn’t understand how she could still function. This was 36 hours after she had done her last load of laundry, swept the floors and made my grandfather his breakfast. I stood awestruck at biology, and how despite evidence that science can explain everything, some form of higher intelligence was at work. In that moment I realized her body was shutting down right before us, yet life itself was doing its best to hang on to the failing structure. Life, consciousness as we know it, was preparing its next move, whether that be finding a route to another plane or simply halting altogether. In the blink of an eye, mundane tasks become the last things a person does.

When you hear about an anonymous elderly person passing away of natural causes, It’s easy for the general population to feel comfortable in some way. At least the person is not suffering any longer. That person is much older than I, there’s a long time before I’ll face that for my life. They had a good, long run. Sometimes we know the fast pace of our modern lifestyles would conflict greatly with the reduced pace of the elderly, so we plan very short visits or none at all. Meanwhile, nursing homes are filled with scores of lonely people desperately wishing for the connection between their world that time forgot, and The Now that doesn’t want them. They need to feel significant, like they mattered, and that their lives DID happen. This is not a surreal veil pulled over their eyes.

For your own family, you eventually get to the point where you think, “I should talk to them more; they’re not going to be around forever,” thinking with arbitrary abandon that you’ll have another time to visit, to share a meal or a holiday celebration. I took that attitude on December 15 when Mammaw turned 88. I was at work and should have been finishing my lesson plans. I ended the short, five-minute conversation with, “We’ll see you on December 26th.” Well, we saw her. She didn’t see us. I think her soul was already gone.

You’ve heard it preached before, so you know it’s true. Stop what you’re doing and reach out to a loved one. Take that inconvenient weekend trip, make one of your clients wait so you can place a phone call, and maybe cancel some after school stuff for an evening so you can focus on someone who may not be here tomorrow. Make it a person you rarely see, or each week, contact a different friend or relative. The truth is, none of us are guaranteed the next breath. You have no true idea if you’ll ever have a tomorrow.

Your inconvenient moment could be the most uplifting thing your loved one experiences between now and the end of their life.

For Mammaw, she gets to be one of those people who can have the following dates inscribed on her tombstone:

Goldie Phelps. December 15, 1927 – December 27, 2015

That’s 12/15/27 – 12/27/15

I’m no numerologist, but those are intriguing to me.

The minister said she’s celebrating in heaven today. I want that to be true like anyone else, but death makes it difficult on the living.

Please, make the most of NOW in 2016

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Merry… I forget

If any part of you feels empty and alone tonight, I feel your heartache. I know the crap that’s dragging you down and I understand when you feel depressed for no good reason, and the rest of your friends and family could care less.

In this moment, I reject the negativity and fight my cognitive dissonance. I hope you’ll join me in consideration that for one night a couple of millennia ago, the power that holds atoms together and causes DNA to form a double helix chose to see the world from our side and became a man; by entering this world as an infant, in defiance of all logic and scientific reasoning.

This man chose to live and operate outside the boundaries of the law and socio-political structure and gave history one of the most powerful stories of good conquering evil. Regardless of your religious views, consider that it was true, it happened.

Now consider that he came for all people, regardless of any of those rules laws, cultural barriers, religions, philosophies or political party. All those people have to do is choose to believe and accept the gift.

I see great people wasting their lives by imprisoning their minds into shallow representations of this concept of the Messiah. Those same people often increase their shallowness by focusing so much energy on temporary or material things. I am guilty of this as well. I find it harder and harder to mentally progress while surrounded by loving people who simply don’t care about such things, or they place more value on that which requires a lesser degree of mental prowess.

At the same time, more and more people I respect for their mental clarity and highly developed intellect, increasingly reject the concept of theism altogether. I understand their arguments all too well, and largely agree with them, save for a few fundamental points. I’m in a period of questioning whether theistic religions were created to serve humanity or control it.

These are the fuel for my version of cognitive dissonance.

So if you’re alone, downcast or outright depressed tonight, Christmas night, I raise my glass to you as a toast to digging deep and finding those positive things to celebrate. You may be the only one in your house who understands, but know that out there, in the universe, at least one more person is right there with you. Peace.

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More Than I Bargained For…

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I bought a new car last year.

I hate it more and more every day.

Right now I hope it bursts into flames, gets crushed by a collapsing skyscraper, then has the remnants stolen by scavengers preferably while still smoldering.

I don’t want to deter anyone from buying a Mazda3 but I’ll now share a little bit of how a perfectly amazing car could be so despised that I hope and pray the children of the designers all become unhappy and disgruntled little brats with a complete lack of toilet training

First, it’s not a stick shift. Personally, I believe that if you’re not capable of pressing a clutch pedal with your left foot, shifting gears with one of your hands, and using your brain power to help you maximize the forward momentum of your motorized object, you should be forced to take public transportation where you’ll be happier at your ability to stay completely glued to your smart phone. The car I purchased did not even have a manual transmission available, a further sign that corporate marketing and development teams for modestly priced automobiles steer products toward the lowest common denominator.  Now that the 2015 version has an available manual, at least I know the manufacturer has changed a bit and is willing to build one now, as an insult to those of us who decided that it might be time to just suck it up and deal with no longer shifting for ourselves. I’d rather employ someone with at least one arm to follow me around and wipe my mouth every time I eat something.

To add injury to that insult, and I mean a sharp thrust-kick to the knee type of injury, most dealerships will never have an actual manual transmission car on the lot even if the company builds them. Or they’ll have one, that’s gets test driven to death so that when you buy a “new car” you’re getting one with a couple hundred miles of abuse on the clock.

Secondly, in my rant against this new car, I find the infotainment system on the Mazda3 poor at best, and outright abysmal on most days. I forget what I’ve typed about it before, but after four or five trips in to a dealership to have the system updates installed (or re-installed in my case,) I still have a stereo system that simply fails to deliver what it promised. The Mazda3 has a genius design– instead of an iPod cable sticking out from the dash, it has two USB ports for connection of just about any audio device. It’s vague as to which ones are actually compatible, but I assumed my Apple iPod would work. Sure enough, it did.

Here’s where it goes from pushing me past “annoyed” straight on to “get the straitjacket.” When the iPod is connected, it automatically plays the first song alpha-numerically that’s on the device. For me it was the single song I had from the band AFI, called ‘Miss Murder.’ While once an acceptable track, hearing it start over EVERY SINGLE TIME the car was started got old after about 15 minutes of car ownership. It didn’t matter that I’d just stopped to fill the gas tank, or that I had previously selected something else. It went right back to the start of the AFI tune. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I recorded a track of complete silence in my studio and called it 00000001 AAAAAAAAaaaa. Seriously. That way, at least my stereo started out with NOTHING and gave me a few moments of silence in which I could select another track. Then the iPod died. It sustained a complete hard drive failure.

Now repeat that exact same paragraph only with a newer iPod. Again, a completely failed hard drive.  Coincidence? Most likely yes, but two in a row? I’m good that way.

Fast forward several months. I had wised up and loaded my entire music library onto a USB flash drive. Of course, I deleted the AFI song out of everything. It’s gone forever. I hate it so much now I hope AFI turns into BFE or something. The biggest difference is that it takes a lot longer for anything to start playing, as in about 90 seconds.

When it does start, guess what song plays maybe 85% of the time? If you said Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady,” you’d be wrong. It plays that blasted AFI track.

Now I’ve had the OS reinstalled or updated on that car at least 3 times since the iPods died, and they have completely failed to remove that track from the system cache. The scary thing is that now it really is completely random. Some days, the USB drive might remember where I left off. Most of the time, it does not.

Here’s where it goes from straitjacket territory onto something that would make Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining look like a viable candidate for a preschool teacher. This infotainment system has no power button. When it fails, (did I mention which is every single day I drive the car?) you have to just let it go or hit the mute button until you can stop, shut off the engine and restart it. Once on I-75 between Lexington and Cincinnati, I actually had to exit the freeway, stop the car, restart it then wait for it all to start up again after it froze up. I have since found a 3-button combination I can hold down for 10 whole seconds in order to relaunch the system. That’s wonderful, in a modern car that wants so much for me to keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

There are buttons on the steering wheel that I don’t use because the same ones are only 14 inches away from my leg. There’s a HUD so I can see my speed without looking down at something so cumbersome and awkward as a speedometer. I have a nice big tachometer that is useless because the car shifts when it wants to, not when I want it to. The mirrors light up and blink at me if I use my signal and a car might be in the blind spot. Never mind that I know how to look quickly over my shoulder first. There is a camera in the back that lets me see what I’m about to back into when in reverse, rendering my ability to actually look behind me with my eyes as inconvenient for once. Actually, that reverse camera is kind of cool.

In the end, this rant is about a car that is about 97% perfect in every drivable way. The sad thing is that that last 3% are the very things that are most important to me in a new car. You never can tell straight off the dealer’s lot. You need a few months with a car to really get to know it’s flair. So a good internet deal ended up being more than I bargained for. Every review raved about this car. All the magazines said it was great. No one noticed the lack of the power button on the infotainment system. (I even ran that past the rep at the Detroit Auto Show in January)

Couple all that with the fact that this car was dinged in a fender bender after one week of ownership, and you can see why I just want to start over. Yes, that first month where you really start to learn your new set of wheels, the thing was in a shop having the entire rear suspension replaced. It’s factory brand new and in perfect specs, but the Carfax seekers won’t care about that.

I think the time has come to embrace the fact that I’ve been screwed, jump ship and buy something that just screws you in the repair & maintenance dept.  You can at least prepare for that and you know ahead of time how much a timing belt replacement costs.

I hope people from Mazda read this, and I hope they all are forced to drive Reliant Robins for the rest of their lives. That’ll show ’em why you pay attention to details to the nth degree!

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Attitude of Gratitude

Life is good.

Even when times are bad, life is good.

In February, I started martial arts training with an old friend. Not having any prior skill, I was a bit taken aback that he’d want my help, but he asked me to bring my educational classroom management skills in and work to help him start growing his business.  My task is to manage the training floor, keeping things moving and assisting the higher level instructors who are doing the actual training. This program is closely related to traditional Shaolin Kung Fu, and as such it focuses equally on personal development of the mind and spirit in addition to the physical training. As such, I’ve learned to constantly work to improve my attitude, which is the essential element for success.

It’s no secret on this blog that for the past three years I have struggled with unemployment, and the subsequent underemployment that comes from maintaining several part-time jobs. One of those was my return to the elementary music classroom for a half-week schedule in August of 2013. Now, near the end of the second school year as such, I am faced with a new change.

I have been informed that I will be offered to return to full time status with this public school district. This is great news on the one hand because I will finally be able to return to the stability and certainty of full time work, with a modest salary that will enable me to pay my bills and maintain an average savings.

The workload will be a bit of a challenge. Instead of working in one school, I’ll have two. That’s double everything, students, coworkers, principals, etc. It will cut into my available time I have for doing other things such as all the percussion instruction and even the martial arts school. My private lesson schedule will have to be seriously altered. You get the picture.

So I should be elated, overjoyed, ecstatic, yeah yeah yeah. I’m not.

Instead, I’m quietly thankful that for the first time in a long time, I have the option to move back into that realm of certainty.

Quietly thankful, and reserved. I am still not convinced that this is what I want anymore. Certainty is one of the basic human needs, and I do not believe my need for it is as significant as it once was.

Hence the attitude of gratitude. I am thankful for everything I have. I do not want to give up things I love in order to do other things I love. I’m slowly realizing that even though working in a school is tiring, stressful, and at times infuriating, I am at a position where I can finally say that whichever way I go will be a win-win. Ever done one of those Ben Franklin-esque pro/con lists? I did, and because it exists, I am driven to be thankful.

So the goal in February was to become a full-time martial arts instructor. For all I know, that may still happen only at a different time. Maybe sooner. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? As for today, things look as if they’re starting to take a different direction. So despite the fog that remains in the distance, I am thankful that it’s no longer going in the same straight line.

Friends and family, I will inform you all once a definite outcome has occurred. Nothing is set in stone and this could just be the eye of a hurricane. If that turns out to be the case, I’m equipped to fly over the other side instead of through it.

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My Random Thoughts During My Son’s Eleventh Birthday Sleepover Evening

How is it that five preteen boys can conjure up an odor that liquefies a person’s insides not unlike the venom of a giant Shelob-spider? Dear God, can we just firebomb the upstairs and burn out the stench of sweat and vinegar soaked rotting corpses? It’s like the room where you send spoiled Limburger cheese to suffer and die. It’s the funk of forty high school locker rooms with only an annual jock strap washing program. It’s like someone rinsed their socks in raw sewage then left their shoes on for three months after filling them with sauerkraut. It’s the kind of smell that makes rancid hippopotamus turds scream in pain and crawl away to their own treatment plant suicides. I’ve smelled drunken sports fan barf that was cleaner and sweeter than this putrid bitter madness.

The terrifying thing is that eventually my son and these boys that come to hang out will eventually be teenagers where the power of this scent will quadruple and rival that of the Incredible Hulk’s armpits in July. It will start turning people inside out after momentary exposure, and thoughts of the latrines of a Turkish prison seem a bearable option. As bad as it sounds, I welcome the day when the lure of dating drives them to shower four times a day and reach for the opposing spectrum of six gallons of Axe Body Spray. Yes, when that day comes, I hope I’ll remember this and try to imagine the alternative. Axe spray is mind-bending in its own chemical stench, but that’s almost preferred over the smell of kid’s clothing that can escape human wrath on the power of its own pheromones.

So, tomorrow’s list is pay bills, and torch the upstairs.

Baffled, sleepy and stupefied, I must now locate my bed and dream about driving that Koenigsegg CCX around the golf course again. This time while changing guitar strings. OK, I’m going now.

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