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9.30.2013

90-to-40: Chicken Soup for the Dramatic Soul

Day 24
I've gotten pretty good at eliminating drama from my life. It is important to my mental health. Since drama tends to be my trigger... I can't afford to encourage it. Basically, I have a weakened immune system when it comes to drama and therefore must do my due diligence to stay ahead of it... the best I can.
I have learned that drama is viral. It is like the flu. The only way to keep from getting it is to be diligent to keep your immunity strong. Dont go around it. Dont kiss someone with it. And always wash your hands of it in the event you are exposed to it.
The biggest thing I've learned however, is that I don't have to engage with manipulation or drama. Allow those who breed drama to keep it. Do not take ownership. Do not climb into someone's sick bed and keep them company. And remember that, like a virus... it is not a normal state. Health is the goal.
Should you find you have been exposed, for Goodness sake... don't go around giving it to others!  Cover your mouth and do not spread it by spewing venom everyplace.
Drama is not preventable, but I can take every possible precaution to maintain a strong immune system. Being sick is no fun, even though it gets you lots of attention and chicken soup. So... i plan to try and stay healthy.

9.29.2013

90-to-40: Open and Real

Day 25:

Understanding my own faults and imperfections should be relatively easy. After all, I am living in my mind and body all the time. It would only make sense that I should have some insight. And while I certainly feel like I have a handle on my crazy, I've yet to make heads or tails of the past, nor have I been able to explain it in words. For the most part, I'm looking forward - not back.

It makes me think how we like to think we have OTHER people all figured out. In reality, it's next to impossible to know what's really going on in their lives and heads. The best we can do is to project our own experiences on them and make an educated guess.

Considering that this world is full of people who are - at best - mildly successful figuring themselves out, it's mind boggling to think we are all trying to figure each other out too. Talk about a mess!

The really sad part is that we often understand the motivation of other people more than we do our own. Most likely, because we've caught ourselves doing whatever it is they are doing - at least once or twice. It's pretty transparent sometimes.

Over the past few years, I've been working to stop making excuses for my inadequacies, mistakes and lack of wisdom. Once I realized how transparent it was to other people, I felt pretty silly. I'm sure I have some denial and repressed emotions floating around in my psyche once in a while. But, I'm only kidding myself. I'd rather look silly by admitting I'm clueless, than to look ridiculous by trying to hide it.

Today, I witnessed examples of both sides of this coin. I witnessed someone I care about being honest about mistakes from the past. It didn't make them look silly at all. In fact, it made them look wise and caring - and it made for a more open, real conversation.

Later, I witnessed someone talking in circles to hide their true motivation. It didn't look good and it was hurtful. It slammed the conversation shut like a mousetrap.

Since it's not often we see these two things in the same day - by two equally important people - it made me stop and pay attention. I'm being shown something important... and it helped me come to a decision.

I don't want to be facing my future with any illusion that I truly understand my own actions any more than the next guy.  AND... I certainly don't want to find myself living behind excuses.  So, as I move into this next decade, I am going to do my best to be honest, or keep my trap shut.

You may hear me stop mid-excuse and say, "Okay, that's not true... here's what's going through my head." I hope it will appear wise... and lead to more open and real conversations.

90-to-40: Who is at YOUR table?

Day 26:

I envision life to be like one of those large, rectangular dining tables that you see at palaces.You know... the kind they only have for heads of state that seat like a hundred people. With this in mind, let me take you on a little journey...

Allow yourself to picture YOUR enormous table, however you'd like to see it. Maybe it takes up an entire wing of a castle, or fills a dining hall in a mansion. It can seat any number of people, and be in any setting. It can be simple, or opulent. There is a full staff of chefs, servers and caretakers to tend to your needs, and the needs of your guests. The guests are all of your choosing - each with a reserved seat at the table.

As you enter, the room and the table are empty. You are alone and looking fine in your best attire. You are the host. Walk around the room and notice what is important to you. You may notice the room itself, the artwork, place settings and centerpieces. Note the smell of food from the kitchen, or the flowers and candles in the room. What does YOUR dining hall look like, feel like and smell like?  Hear the sounds and the voices of your guests lining up outside preparing to be announced one by one.  

First, take one last look around. This is your room! This is a dinner in YOUR honor. All the people you value - whether you know them personally or not and whether they are alive now or not - are lining up in the hall. Is everything as you would want for it to be? Does the centerpiece reflect things you love and your whims? Have you requested a personally commissioned sculpture, gifts for your guests, special menu, or otherwise?  Think through these things as you imagine yourself alone for one last moment in your room.

The staff lines up. Those who are there to serve you are there at their request, so do not give any thought to who they are. Your guests will enter in order of seating. The first to enter will be at your right, the next person in the next seat, and so on. The last guests will be at your left. As they enter, you'll greet each one and they will move along to their reserved place. Take a deep breath - now motion for service to begin.

As the door opens, your first guest in announced.  Who is it? Is it a loved one? A celebrity? A long lost friend?

Notice them, each in their finest attire and looking their best, as they enter and take their seats. How are they interacting? How are they reacting to this grand setting? What are you feeling?  One by one, the guests fill the seats. Who are the last people to enter and be seated to your left?

Stand and get their attention. Do you make an announcement? Have you arranged for entertainment? Is there a guest speaker, a famous poet or musician?  Let them know they are here because they are all an important part of your life and signal for dinner to be served.

As their favorite foods are delivered, course after course, watch how they interact with each other and you.  What are the topics of conversation? How are you feeling?

After dinner, you conclude with a grand gesture. Did you ignite fireworks outside, or arrange for some legendary performer to get the party started? It doesn't matter... this is your event. Make it what you want it to be! Enjoy dinner, have conversations, laugh, eat and relax.

Now... stop. Allow the sounds in the room to go on mute, and bring focus back to you. Look around the room and notice who is there. Are you surprised by any of your guests? Is someone there who you might not expect to be? Your third grade teacher or a childhood friend?  Or, who is missing?  Whom did you omit or forget - maybe even intentionally?

THIS is your life. Your guests may include a combination of acquaintances, friends, relatives, celebrities, famous authors and spiritual leaders. Regardless, these are the people who have influenced who you are and what you believe in.

Your dinner guests are the 'defining people' who have walked with you on your path. This is your true family.

I won't go through my personal guest list, but I allowed myself to walk through through this fantastical dinner. I was shocked who didn't make the guest list. I was also shocked at who did walk through the door. It made me think about my relationships with the people in my life right now. It helped me see where I need to look closer and to whom I need to pay more and/or less attention. It helped me see gaps - where I needed to continue being inclusive. Finally, it helped me think about WHY I excluded some people, and made me question why they are still in my life at all.

Take this as you will, but I think we need to pay more attention to who we bring to our table. Not everyone deserves a seat... and some deserve a seat closer to me. The bottom line is that it's OUR lives. We may choose to open the doors and allow everyone in. We may close the doors and not allow anyone in. But, in the end... there will be quite a few people who have helped us become who we are. who is on your guest list? Who is YOUR true family?


9.28.2013

90-to-40: Fear as a side effect

Day 27:

Part 2: Who did I think I would be?

I'm a firm believer that "I am who I am becoming." I'm a work in progress - always have been and always will be. Okay... so when I was young, I had some preconceived notions about life that colored who I thought I could become. Happens to the best of us, eh? But, I always somehow knew I would never be "finished."
 
So... as I looked deeper at the question, "Who did I think I would be?" my mind kept drifting to something much more significant. That's when I realized that my biggest influence so far in life was not who I thought I'd be... but, who I was afraid I might become. I can't help but wonder, "Does fear play more of a role in who I am than I do?"

Well... if I'm honest, I've always known the answer to that. The answer is "yes." As a child, and young adult, I operated from a home base of fear. I feared what people would think of me. I was scared of the reactions of my family. I was scared of failing at anything. Later, as a young adult, I was afraid of new people and experiences. I was afraid of my own feelings and emotions.

But, my biggest fear was being paralyzed by fear itself. Yes... I was afraid of fear, and I was downright terrified that my fear-based "normal" would cause me to miss out on the good in life. So, everything became about "powering through." It was exhausting and it took it's toll on my health and my psyche. So... I made a conscious decision to choose my battles wisely, and I stopped trying to overcome fears of the stuff that wasn't going to get me anywhere. Instead, I focused my energy on the things I knew would get me ahead in life.

And THAT is where the "person I thought I would be" kicked in. I always wanted to be that kind of person who was resilient enough to rise above adversity. I wanted to be thrive in the face of challenges. So I took on a "fake it till you make it" mentality... and it worked. I guess if you're going to be resilient, you have to get knocked down.

I didn't always make the right choices, but overall - I knew the value of "healthy fears." That got me a lot further than I ever dreamed. I started a career, got college degrees, bought a house, had relationships and so on. I thought that by overcoming my fears, it would actually eliminate the fears. Unfortunately, it did not. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I learned the cause of all of my fear. Over thirty years of putting my head down and powering through came to a head and I was forced to lift up my head and face my invisible tormentor.

I walked into a counselor's office and heard myself saying, "There hasn't been a day of my life that I have felt safe. I am constantly terrified." I didn't even know where it came from... but the counselor got it. After that door was opened, I was able to explore it fully, which led to having a name for my fear: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Okay... let's stop there for a minute.

"We See You" - copyright 2010, Craig Purcell
Divulging this puts me in a very awkward position. Not because it could change how others look at me, but because there are facts that could help explain my story so much more clearly. Life events, people and so on. Unfortunately, by telling the stories... I will hurt people. And, well... I'm a firm believer that I cannot hurt others just to make it easier on me to make a point. That's selfish. So, I will skip ahead for now, until I can find a way to tell the stories without causing undue pain to others.

*** insert personal stories here***

Long story short - this "name" for my fear is the first thing in over thirty years that made a true and sustainable difference in how I live my life. I started understanding that fear is a side effect of imprints in my mind. I started learning how to live outside of fear instead of constantly pushing it around like a boulder that blocked my path. I learned to change the imprints in my mind, and my reaction to them. It's still there... but now, I know what to do.

It looks different than I thought it would, but it feels like I always hoped. I have a greater appreciation for all of those visions of my life I held so dear in childhood and throughout my life. The person I truly am - the person I used to have to shove out into the light, squinting and afraid - is now comfortably walking into the sun with less trepidation. And, at least in my own skin, I have risen above the challenges to be a more open, inviting and caring person. I'm not overwhelmed by what could be... I am excited by it.

Hey...look at that. I'm back - full circle - to the person I thought I would be.

9.26.2013

90-to-40: Dragging up dreams

Day 28:
Reader question #4: "Who did I think I was going to be?"
It is hard to look back and recall who and what I thought I would be. The answer would be different depending on my age or stage of ny life. However, there are a few beliefs and visions which have guided me. Some came true. Some didn't. And some are in progress. 
As long as I can recall, I have wanted to be a writer. You have the "Little House on the Prairie" books to thank for that. I was writing poems and stories as early as I had writing skills. My mother, aunt, great uncle and great grandmother were all writers. I'm a legacy, of sorts.
But... I didnt know that you could get paid for writing. So i daydreamed like any other kid. Only, I didn't have "normal kid" daydreams. Most kids go through a phase where they want to be batman, a fireman or a cowboy.
But... I wanted to be an architect at age 9. Yes... I was 9 going on 40 - even back then. Other kids were prtending to be a super hero... I was drawing blueprints and had my own drafting board. Unfortunately I was bad at math... so I gave up on that.
I wanted to be a psychologist for most of my teen years, and ended up pursuing it in college. It turned out to be my minor for my Bachelors degree. But... I couldn't see doing that for the rest of my life.
Ended up going to college for business related majors and minored in Psychology. I was always drawn back to writing, though. Always.
And... I work in corporate communications and, as a part of my job, I get paid to write. Go figure. The very first dream I had is where my true dream lies.
There is a lot more that I wanted to be - beyond a profession. Way back then, I had fantasy jobs, houses and careers. But... its been so many years since I've truly thought about it. And.. I'm not sure if I want to limit who I thought I'd become to a career choice.
So... as a part of this question, I'm going to really meditate on this one and come back to it. I know what I wanted to be... but the "who" got lost and/or forgotten. If I'm going to do it right... I need to drag up the dreams and dust them off.
Here goes nothing.

90-to-40: A story told with "thank yous"

Day 29:
It has been a long day, but a good one. A full day of work, followed by a 4 hour drive, losing an hour across a time zone and having to be up in 5 hours for a meeting, is no joke. Today's itenerary reads like it should have taken a week. I somehow managed to work, make plans for travel, drive four hours, stop by the bank AND had a new furnace installed. I feel like the old commercial... "and I'm cleaning my oven right now!" Whew... I am whooped.
The truth is... none of it would have been possible with out the flexibility and help from others. So, before I put my tired butt into dream land, I just wanted to say thanks to a few people as my way of sharing this day and showing gratitude.
Thanks to my partner for holding down the fort at my house today (in many ways). You are a good foreman, freak-out preventer and financial advisor. I love and miss you.
Thanks to my brother for the help with my banking even though I did not follow his instruction and he will have to go behind me and figure out my mess.
Thanks to the long lost childhood friend from 30 years ago who contacted me and brightened my day.
Thanks to mom for the ecouraging text replies.
Thanks to my coworkers and bosses for being helpful and flexible. Especially the I.T. lady who had to exorcise my possessed computer. 
Thanks to the man upstairs for keeping all the balls I had in  the air today from colliding.  And for keeping me safe on my trip.
Thanks for the rental car company who ran out of basic cars and upgraded me to an SUV for no additional charge.
Thanks to the heater guy for backing over my old furnace with his truck by accident and giving me some closure on that damn thing... and a good laugh. He knocked it about 20 feet and scattered parts all over (didnt hurt his truck).
Thanks to my buddy for keeping me company via phone on my drive.
Thanks to my best friend and his family for sharing the story and pictures of their 2800 mile journey to watch two of their sons graduate from bootcamp  in different places... then sharing the homecoming suprise for the oldest son to come home to his wife and new baby. And thanks to both sons for serving.
Thanks for the nice lady at Arbys who gave me plenty of Arbys sauce.
And thanks to Springhill Suites in Louisville KY for having a super comfy bed in which I am now going to fall asleep.

9.24.2013

90-to-40: Stuck behind a tractor and waiting my turn

Day 30:
Have you ever been stuck behind a tractor on the highway during rush hour? As you can see from the picture, that happened to me today. It isn't really that big of a deal, but the absurdity of it seems to make it worse than it is. Well...that, and the fact that there is really nothing you can do but wait your turn to pass. You are powerless and stuck where you are, regardless of your driving skills, the type of car you drive or how many swear words you hurl through the windshield.
Tractors on the highway are the great Midwestern equalizer - kinda like turning 40. When you are staring at the ass-end of 40, it doesn't make a difference who you are, the only difference is how we choose to handle it.
With the tractor situation, I could have cut people off, drove wrecklessly and flipped off the motha f...armer... um... I mean, the nice farmer.
Instead I took a deep breath...and took a picture. It made me realize that sometimes you can only go as fast what is in front of you. You just have to press on and eventually you'll get where you need to be.
I don't know why, but turning 40 is like this tractor sometimes. I am actually ready to get it over with. It's like, "Come on already. Just let me pass it by and continue along the road." And like that tractor, 39 and eleven months is just taking too... damn... long.
But as far as I know, that tractor was a gift from above that kept me out of the way of a speeding driver... or allowed a pedestrian to get out of the way in time. It could have been a blessing. Instead of getting (too) mad... I relaxed and captured the moment.
Why is this story relevant? Well, as of today, I have exactly one month before I turn 40. So... i'll take a deep breath and a few pictures along the way. It will get here in its own good time, and it will give me a good story to tell later.

9.23.2013

90-to-40: Control + Alt + Delete: Reboot your expectations

Day 31:

Everyone these days seems to be obsessed with gaining, maintaining or regaining control over something. At work, we focus on controlling outcomes. At home, we try to maintain control of our finances and our children. We fight for control of everything from our weight to the TV remote. All day... every day... our entire lives... we are killing ourselves to be in control... and beating ourselves up for not. .

I can't tell you how many times I thought I had some sort of control over a work project or personal situation, only to have everything go out of control in spite of my best efforts. I drove myself the edge trying to find that magic formula to balancing my life while still excelling at everything.

The people on TV do it. I should be able to do it.

The truth is that we have very little control over anything. We are simply learning to live within the ebb and flow of life in a manageable way. We make plans within the known circumstances, and then guide our actions toward them. Most times, we are perpetually course correcting along the way. What we're really doing is learning how life works, then working within that construct. Does that sound like control?

Someone out there is thinking, "Oh yeah... you have no idea what you are saying. I maintain perfect control over everything in my life."  Well... I tend to believe that you're just operating in an environment where your actions create a specific result. You've learned how to behave within that construct to get the result. It's conditioning... like rats who learn to navigate a maze for the treat at the end. So... who really has the control, here?

We are programmed that we should be able to control our personal space, our minds and drives - perfectly, without exception. We should be able to control our diet habits better. Or, we should be able to motivate ourselves to exercise regularly, achieve promotions, earn degrees, and so on. But, I surmise, that we do not achieve anything until we learn to give up control. We must learn that we are not above or below any outcome - and that the only thing we can bring to any situation is ourselves.

My life was miserable for a long time because I thought I could control things. I worked night and day to control my little corner of the world at home. I was expending great amounts of energy trying juggle everything in my life. I thought I had the secret... I thought I had control.

Meanwhile I was actually spinning out of control. With every personal commitment I made to myself to find that elusive control... I discovered something that was uncontrollable. I could learn what worked and what didn't - model my behavior off of previous successes, and get a grip on my life.

The day I found more peace was the day I learned to let GO of control. Once I understood that control is an illusion and the best I could hope for is to behave in a way that moves me in the direction of my goals... I actually started moving toward my goals.

Go figure... the only control we need to find is to NOT work for control. Instead, work toward understanding of what actions take you where you want to go, and behave accordingly. Work toward what you want... but do not try to control it. You will only drive yourself nuts.

So, it's time to reboot. Control + Alt + Delete is exactly how we do it. Remove expectations of control, watch what works best and see what works for you. That's the most control you'll experience in your life!

In my life, I'm never really in control. I simply remind myself that all I need to do is to behave according to the outcome I want, and things will fall into place.

9.22.2013

90-to-40: Passing Sarcoxie

Day 32:

I saw a lot of signs today while driving from Texas to our home in Illinois. A LOT of signs.

I could have gone to any number of auctions, roadside stands, realty companies and a plethora of "possibly  interesting" small towns. The "worlds largest rocking chair" WAS tempting, I must admit.

I couldn't help but relate the physical "signs" (which never fail to clutter up the highways and ruin perfectly good photo opportunities) to the metaphorical "signs" in my life.

Take for instance the roadsign that read, "Sarcoxie, MO - 1 mile." That could be nothing more than a warning for Sarcoxians not to miss their exit. Or... it could be an opportunity to explore a new place.

It was a complete non-decision to keep moving forward based on time constraints, not to mention a complete disinterest in Sarcoxie, MO. But another day - under different circumstances - we may veer off the road and discover something wonderful. 

On the other hand, life sometimes sends me "signs." My body screams out that it is exhausted from time to time... but I fly right past it. Friends send signs that they need help, my partner sends out signs that he needs some care, or my schedule sends out an S.O.S. for some serious retooling.  But... I get focused on the destination and don't heed the opportunity to explore what the signs have to offer.

Passing the signs by isn't all bad. Sometimes it's just what you gotta do. But it shouldn't be the rule that I am dismissive of the physical opportunities to explore the world... or the more personal and spiritual signs from my gut.

That has to change. Not only do I need to listen to my gut in my daily life, but I might need to check out this Sarcoxie place. I'll never know what I could discover about myself and the world around me.

9.21.2013

90-to-40: Changing the script

Day 33:

In the movies, characters always know the perfect words, at the perfect time to make every moment count. Comedic timing is spot-on. Expressions of love are always heartfelt and gasp-worthy. Even fear is eloquently played out for maximum impact. Everything weaves together to play out a perfect story... a script.

And, we... the viewers... get lost in the screen. The world around us goes dim and we ARE a character in the movie.

Then the lights go up and we walk out into the world with new, unrealistic expectations of ourselves and those around us. But... our quirky comedic timing is still a half-second off, and our age-old wisdom is a little tired.

The real world isn't scripted by Oscar winning writers. We have to make it up as we go. Sure... the more experience we have, the better we are at it. But, we do not live on the silver screen.

Yes... we all know the difference between reality and fantasy. But with the bombardment of scripted and biased media, is it possible to be "real" anymore?  Do we even understand what that looks like?

As I move forward in my life, I want become more aware of how I make decisions. I will take extra care to understand if my choices are unique, or programed by the opinion-media. I will choose to act on my true nature, rather than react to expectations. At least, I will try my best.

It is my hope that this awareness will help me make a few more authentic choices. And, that... that will change the script of my life. 

9.20.2013

90-to-40: The Enlightened Redneck



Day 34:

Tonight, I went to dinner with my partner, K.J. It’s been a long week and we needed to reconnect and actually have human conversation.  A little Mexican food and some good conversation goes a long way to rejuvenate a person – especially when it is with someone like him. 

K.J. is what I like to call, “an enlightened redneck.” (It’s okay…  you can laugh at that. He thinks it’s funny, too.) It’s a term I coined when I first met him in my effort to figure out how to refer to his “force of nature” personality. I doubt I’ll find many people who truly qualify for that description, so he wears it as proudly as he does his Hawaiian Shirts and flip flops (year round).

He is one of those guys who is instantly liked by everyone who meets him. He’s practically magnetic. He has a larger-than-life personality, the soul of a poet, and the vocabulary of a college-professor-turned-trucker. A bigger person might describe him as having a genius-level intellect, however I am mostly amazed by his ability to complex math in his head and his knowledge of the “right names” for biological, medical and scientific terminology. But, with his oh-so-charming Texas accent (with just a touch of southern Arkansas and a smidgeon of N’awlins), he makes everything sound like a Hallmark card. 

I have a huge list of quotes I periodically threaten to publish as a book called “Sh** My Boyfriend Says.” For example, “I’d poke your eyes out, but they are my favorite part of you.” (Um… Aweeee… I think?) is one of my favorites. Then, there are times like tonight at dinner when our conversation ranged from theology to social issues, and amazing personal insights about “us.” On top of all of that... he thinks I’M smart, funny and handsome. He looks at me as if Gerard Butler just asked for his hand in marriage - every time we speak. (or, like Jennifer Aniston for you straight guys). 

He is a true gentleman who gives up his seat for women and the elderly. He wakes me up with a cup of coffee EVERY morning we are together. He has bright eyes and a joyful spirit that make it nearly impossible to be mad at him. He’s an optimist and even the most challenging situation gets turned into a, “But that’s okay… it’s just <insert positive turnabout statement>.”  As a life-scholar of the “positive-arts” – I think I appreciate that most of all.

Then there is the stuff he wouldn’t want you to know. Like the countless hours of service he does for people in the community. The care and research he puts into the gourmet meals he prepares for me, friends and family. The personal relationships I’ve witnessed that have helped transform people. The remarkable transformations he’s championed in his own life. Not to mention, the kindness with which he handles truly mean people he encounters from time to time.

I’m impressed daily by his character. I’m moved by his kindness. He is my best friend and the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

And then... there are situations like tonight at dinner when the people at the next table were clearly disgusted by us. We weren’t acting in any way out of the ordinary for any couple out to dinner on a Friday night… but I caught them mocking us and obviously talking about us. I didn’t tell him until we left because I didn’t want to ruin the great evening – and they really weren’t bothering me at the moment. But, as they continued... I zoned out a little and imagined myself standing up and saying, “How dare you? How dare you make light of my emotions, commitment and life?”  I wanted to tell them all the things I’ve just told you, and follow up with, “And who in the HELL do you think you are that you can be openly judgemental about one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met!?”

Sometimes I want to “Freaky Friday” people. You know… change places with them in some magical switch-a-roo, accompanied by a crash of thunder and flash of lightening. I truly, TRULY would be open to learning about what makes these people tick in their lives. I would try to understand how their beliefs and values led them to feel superior... or inferior, whatever the case may be. I understand that they have likely never fathomed the reality that I may NOT be a disgusting mutation. I may NOT be a horrible mistake made by nature and an affront to God’s very nature. They have never had the experience of BEING in my heart and knowing God so deeply within myself that it has helped me to overcome the very hatred society has tried to make me have for myself.  So.. it’s obvious that they also do not understand the TRUE impact their actions could have on my life and those around us - and, of course, why I didn’t want my partner to be exposed to such negativity. 

“Freaky Friday” or not, they’ll never know how blessed I am to have met the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. It makes me sad for them that they spend so much effort looking for what they don't want to see. They couldn't see the love, admiration, kindness and friendship that was happening right in front of them. 

But, as always, K.J. centers me with just a touch or a word. When he noticed I had become distant from the distraction, he touched my hand and I was back. I was back to “us” and stopped wishing I could let them snap into my life for a moment to experience the wonder of epiphany at the pure and unconditional love I’ve come to know. Instead, I went back to experiencing it myself. It doesn't matter if they can see it... because I can.
K.J.

9.19.2013

90-to-40: Live in your space... but fill it up with you.

Day 35:

"There's something to be said for a sparsely furnished home."

That's one of the gems of wisdom I remember from a conversation with my friend, Gretchen. This little tidbit stuck in my head for some reason. I'm not sure why... but it's one of the "Gretchen-isms" I frequently quote.

We were talking by phone discussing apartments. She was moving back to St. Louis from South Padre Island, Texas and I was helping her view apartments. She would find the apartments online and make appointments to see them, then I would go visit them and take pictures to email to her. Together we found a beautiful, spacious second-floor walk up in the historic district. It was an complete rehab with 16' cielings, an open floor plan and plenty of windows. She loved it.

She was returning with very little furniture, strategically packed in a small U-haul. She said, "It will be BRIGHT... like South Padre. It will just be sparsely furnished for a while." I commented that it will be full of crap in no time, just like the rest of us!" That's when she tossed the gem on me. I'm not even sure she meant it as "wisdom." But, it made sense to me.

I can still list the furniture and items she had in the apartment. It consisted of a matching living room set, a computer desk, 2 wooden shelving units, and a table. Her bedroom had a bed, dresser and night stand. It was everything she needed... and she lived beautifully in it. I wouldn't say she was zen-like, but I wouldn't say she wasn't, either. But... she made me calm.

I remember when Gretchen decided to move away from St. Louis. I was a little sad to see her move over an hour away, and a little sad to see her leave that apartment. It had served it's purpose well for her... but it was a GREAT apartment. I remember wishing I could sell my house and move to it. Sometimes, I still wish I had. But I think what I wanted to have was the way she lived in it.

It was as if Betty Page, Natalie Merchant and Drew Barrymore inhabited one body and a charming, Zen loft in the French Quarter. Her only artwork; an over-sized, hand-painted, folk-art mirror on the largest, blank, white wall - the only fitting place to display a work of art made by a good friend.

A mid-century chrome table sat in the dining area - a junk-shop find. However, she also loved the low, potbellied wood fireplace that sat inconveniently in the middle of the living area. Brown, contemporary sofas made a wonderful conversation area. The "Sex in the City" collection was constantly visible on the TV stand. Her chunky shoes were often dropped beneath the simple computer desk. All of it was a part of the decor to her. The juxtaposition of new and old, earthy and contemporary, comfortable but uncluttered were all perfectly balanced - and was very "her."

Throughout her life, Gretchen's wisdom was folksy and progressive. "Do you know what I mean?" she would ask as we had an intellectual chat. Her head tilted to one side and her hand would tip backwards, palm-up, holding a lit cigarette. Not complicated - always the same. She preferred flowing broom skirts to jeans. But either way, a simple black pull-over top would turn anything she wore into her "evening look."

With every hello, she gave a hug and an "I'm so glad to see you, Craig." With each good-bye, "a stronger hug, and 'I love you, Craig." She would circulate among her friends who each fulfilled a different purpose in her life, but with equal sincerity.

I've picked up a lot of her sensibilities and I quote her often - but I never call it out. Each time, I just smile inside knowing it's a silent tribute. It is funny which memories our souls imprint and use later to change us. These simple words about a sparsely furnished home often remind me to value simplicity, and of how she lived simply, with great elegance.

Now, I find myself in a situation where I've moved into a smaller home AND am combining households with my partner over the next year. We are making those choices about what to keep and what to let go. We are letting go of more than we are keeping. Our priorities are changing and we're finding it to be... very, very liberating.

Five years after Gretchen passed away, I still hear her voice speaking to me now, saying, "Let it go, Craig. Things are just things. Live in your space... but fill it up with YOU."

~Craig

9.18.2013

90-to-40: Being prepared isn't just for boyscouts anymore.

Day 36:

Being prepared is no longer just for boy scouts. I was never a boy scout - nevertheless, life has taught me to do my very best to be prepared for whatever may come my way.

I understand that I may someday wish I knew how to tie a square knot and start a fire with sticks, but I've learned some pretty valuable lessons. People talk about planning ahead... being prepared for what may come... taking steps to plan.  I do all of that. But it seems that - in the big scheme of things - we can never really be prepared for everything. Control is an illusion - the best we can do is to give it our best shot.

But... what if all of our planning and preparation still falls short?  What if we fail?

I think people forget to be prepared to fail. Sure... that's not ideal. But, failing is how we learn. If we haven't failed at something, we haven't learned anything.

I've taken on several new things lately. First - this blog. Granted, success is objective. And it's really about what I learn in the process, but I'm dedicating my time to write every day regardless of what anyone might think. Good or bad, I'm committed to continue - even when I'm tired or just don't want to.

Also, my role at my job has changed. Well... to say the least, it's challenging. But, I wake up each morning and try to move as fast as I can - work longer hours - and keep myself positive about it. The bottom line is that I'll do my best and I may fail at some things.

Then there is my relationship. I've had jeans longer than I've known my partner, but I believe in the intense feelings of "rightness" and deep love that we share. We don't look for reasons to fail, we look for ways to keep our relationship strong. We understand that we will fail at something along the way... but it's all part of the commitment.

Then, there's life. Yeah... life as a whole. I only get one shot at this thing called life and I want to do it right. I want to get as much as I can out of it. I want to live fully and with no regrets. I want to love my friends and family, find happiness, experience the world and be successful.  I want to achieve my dreams and do great things. I will undoubtedly fail at some things... I just want to be able to look back and say that I lived my life well.

But we have to do our best along the way to be prepared. I plan ahead for my job, for my relationship and for my job. I understand failure is an reality from time to time, and I'm prepared to accept it and learn from it. But, it doesn't mean I am a failure as a person. In fact, if I can learn from failure... I'm doing pretty good.

As I sit here tonight, I am reflecting on some of my successes and failures. But... each time I've failed, I've become more prepared for success.  And while I never earned a badge for building a birdhouse, I think my life stands as a badge that no one else will ever earn.

Prepare in order to succeed. Be prepared to learn if you don't.  

9.17.2013

90-to-40: Optimist Illusions

Day 37:

Optical illusions play tricks on our eyes and minds. Sometimes, first reactions cannot be trusted. Once we look closer and shift our minds eye... a new explanation becomes clear.

We are wise to be wary. Nothing is as it seems. But I never want to be the guy who refuses to see the reality along with the illusion.

Along the way, I've discovered there are a lot of illusions in reality. I used to be confused by it. I used to fear it. For a while, the surprise of constantly discovering one within the other made me bitter.

Now, I try to appreciate the wonder of the phenomenon, rather than to fear the fallacy. Knowing is half the battle. The other half is optimism.

9.16.2013

90-to-40: Yo Mama



Day 38:  *Strong language alert*

As a child, I learned to have good manners. My parents didn’t go crazy with it, but I learned the right way to act. I was expected to sit still and be quiet during church. I was not allowed to throw temper tantrums in public. Talking back to my mom got me popped in the mouth, and once or twice was enough. Yet, I was NOT one of those “be seen and not heard” kids (go figure…right?). Quite the opposite, in fact. I was expected to speak to adults… respectfully and thoughtfully.

I was also taught other useful things, like to never to use the word “hate.” I was groomed to respect, not only my elders and people in authority, but ALL PEOPLE. I learned not to be entitled. I learned to dress for comfort and respect, not for attention.  I didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I had were “good doobies” and treated me well.

Sounds pretty old-fashioned, huh?  Well… yes. It was. My grandparents were children of the depression era. My parents were born during World War II. They didn’t have much, but they still did their best. Our homes, our clothes and our mouths were clean - anything else was just a perk. So, in spite of any shortcomings, I feel like I had pretty good parents. They raised me to be "good people."
                                                                                                                                                                                    
Then I grew up and I couldn’t understand why others saw me as being “hokey” and called me a hippie. In fact, I’ve been downright laughed at by MORE people than you can imagine. I’ve been called a wimp (and other colorful, more anatomical names) for walking away from a pointless fight. I’ve been laughed at for writing about inspirational pursuits like “Pay it Forward,” or “Random Acts of Kindness.”  I mean, I get it… to an extent. I chose to do my best to take the “high road” and that’s my choice. But… people react in a downright rude way about anything that is positive. It’s shocking.

Then, I watch the same people who ostracize me, then go off and spin into a world of negativity and self destruction and cause great problems for everyone around them  – and everyone else is supposed to put up with it. Our society has become a self-centered, cultural wasteland. I’m supposed to watch people abuse their kids and spouses, but not say a word.  I’m expected to watch people walk all over me (and others), but never stand up and say “enough is enough!”    

Fortunately, I think I have realized what is really going on. Basically, what I’ve figured out has happened is that an entire generation of parents got really messed up by our selfish society - then went and had kids. As a result, they raised a bunch of assholes.  

Yeah… I said it.  Assholes.

Oh… I am definitely not including everyone in this grand sweeping statement, but I’ll go out on a limb and say 90% of parents raising kids after 1980 raised bad kids. If you’re one of their kids, then I’m pretty sure you’ll know who you are.  If you’re an “in your face” kind of person who values getting a reaction out of others over engaging in a human conversation… you’re an asshole.  If you are rude to your waitress and customer service employees for no reason… you’re an asshole. If you blow your money on drugs and expect me to pay for your kids… you’re an asshole.  If you urge your kid to be a bully… asshole.  If you hate people without knowing them… HUGE asshole.  If you brag about what you own and how much you paid for it… you’re a douche and an asshole.

And chances are… the uptight Mother and the jerk of a Dad YOU had are the ones who taught you how to be that way. They taught you that owning material possessions mean more than being generous. I mean, that’s a real good start for having a kid who is an ass. And if your dad taught you to judge others based on some random fact about them that they cannot control… he is likely a HUGE asshole. If they glamorized violence, or were violent themselves… you’re basically hopeless.

Oh wait.  YOUR parents are nice people?  They didn’t do that stuff?  AND they taught you morals?  Did I hear you say that someone was a good example of how to be a good human being? 

Then, if it’s not your parents fault, WHY are YOU an asshole?

Okay, so maybe parents who raise their kids differently than I was raised have some redeeming qualities. And, yes… I know there are no perfect parents… everyone makes mistakes.  But JUST LOOK AT YOU. You’re a mess!  It’s got to be their fault! They HAD to be bad parents, right?

Or maybe… you’re just an ass?  Maybe? Just a little?

Okay, so MAYBE I’m being fantastical.  But WOW did that feel good!  And… you have to admit - there is more than a grain of truth in it.   

The truth is that MOST parents do their best, and every parent makes mistakes. You may have even survived those “new-fangled” parenting techniques and all the changes that have taken place in the world at large. But now – with all the freedom and whatever values they’ve given you in your life… what have you done with it?  The bottom line is that it is YOUR LIFE. YOU are responsible for how YOU behave. Whatever your challenge… even if your parents really WERE the problem – it’s time to stop taking it out on the rest of us.

LOOK at what is going on in the world!  For example, a beautiful American woman from New York won the Miss America pageant and she is subjected to hate and ignorance. Disenfranchised people randomly shoot up schools, ship yards and office buildings. Extremists protest against people they would have NEVER MET without intentionally going to seek them out and express their hate!  COME ON, PEOPLE.  Is this REALLY okay with you?

SOMEONE has to take responsibility and step up to the freakin’ plate here. AND I’m sure some smart ass is going to comment about how "everyone should just have guns", or we should just "LOVE them into submission." YES... and NO. I truly believe that the reason our society is lazy, mean and entitled is that we stopped focusing on our relationships with others, made excuses for what our parents DIDN’T teach us, and got VERY, VERY self-focused. That doesn’t make us bad… it makes us negligent (and in some cases, it makes people into assholes.)

Like I said earlier, when I was a kid I learned to have good manners.  SO, I probably won’t walk around randomly calling people assholes.  However, if YOU are walking around BEING an asshole – don’t expect me to tolerate you. By being irresponsible, hate-filled, or downright mean or violent… you’re dragging the rest of us down. You need to step it up. They are called “Boot Straps.” USE EM!

I still believe – with all my heart – that love and kindness conquers all. But… sometimes it’s just as valuable to say that bad behavior is NOT acceptable. It’s a balance… but we can’t just go around being all “flowers and sunshine” OR “doom and gloom.”  There is a place in the middle where we can find flowers amidst the doom, and sunshine in the gloom. We have to start showing that to people more often, coupled with an honest observation about their behavior.

You may laugh at my choice of words. You may be offended. You may even “unfriend me” on Facebook. BUT, if you’re being an ass, or are watching someone else BE an ass and choosing to ignore it… then maybe you ARE an asshole. It is YOUR responsibility to be “good people.”  It’s everyone’s responsibility to stop accepting bad behavior.

And … if you are an asshole… expect that I may lovingly, but clearly, call out that - even if she was a lovely lady -  "Yo Mama" may have raised someone who is acting like an asshole... and I will not tolerate it in my life.



9.15.2013

90-to-40: The man at the next table

Day 39:

While out to dinner with my partner this evening, I encountered someone who clearly has it all figured out. This gentleman at the next table - whom I will never know personally - appeared to be QUITE pleased with himself and all of his opinions (at least, outwardly.) So pleased, in fact, that his voice was unavoidably disruptive from the next table five feet away.

This man instructed his dinner companions where to sit, corrected others for what they "think" about the most benign topics and even instructed an employee on the appropriate way to wear her jewelry even though she explained it was due to food service rules.

The truth is, this man very likely has a good heart. He may be a great man, for all I know. But... from the outside-looking-in, he was pompous and entitled.

Instead of letting this man's actions drive me mad, I choose to let this experience help me think about who I want to be. Regardless of my actions in the past, I can influence who I want to be in the future. I don't want to my vision of the world to turn gray with my hair. I don't want to become so indoctrinated that I fail to listen to others. I do not want to be so fearful that I fail to grow.

I believe that regardless of how strong my belief systems, even the most personal truths can evolve and change. Even the most absolute of truths can expand and become more robust. I find it hard to believe that my value systems, goals and even my Faith, are fully developed at any age.

As long as I have breath, I am learning and growing. My understanding of God can become greater. My love for my partner, my family and friends can be enhanced. My goals can grow beyond anything I can fathom. I can strengthen my resolve for what I believe in and not discount the possibility that I will learn something new.

So, I am grateful for the close minded, self involved man at the next table tonight. He reminded me that it's okay to let people sit where they want at dinner. It's okay to let servers wear their jewelry wrong. It's okay to listen and embrace the perspectives of other people - even when I disagree strongly.

Continuing to evolve as a human being will not threaten my beliefs, it will help me understand what I truly believe in.

9.14.2013

90-to-40: Who wants to watch me change?

Day 40:

40 days until I turn 40! WOW.

I can vent all I want.  I can exercise, make plans, dream, or just ignore it... but I'll still be 40 very soon.

Anybody got a Groupon for those "age defying" creams? I need to bathe in it.

I'm absolutely helpless when it comes to time marching on. No. I am not helpless. I can try and figure out how to get the most value out of every day. I can change self defeating ideologies and patterns to improve each day.

Someone told me yesterday (while discussing my blog), "You're changing.. aren't you?" I answered,  "yes." It was an honest answer. Writing every day for this project has helped me look deeper at what I want for my life and accept who I am without apologies. That... in itself is  a huge win. But more than that, I'm understanding how much I change every day... and will continue to change the rest of my life.

I'd say the biggest change has been learning to say what I REALLY want to say without fearing condemnation. I am who I am. I am becoming who I will be. You can watch and share it with me, or you can look away. It's up to you... but I will be me... and do my thing... regardless.

So... the next 40 days will be remarkable. I'll probably show some of my true colors - for better or for worse - but I will definitely change.

Wanna watch?

90-to-40: Passive-Aggressive is just an accent. And when in Rome...

Day 41:

"Oh? Was I being passive-aggressive? I don't MEAN to be. I was just teasing."

Bull shit. I mean it. And if I thought for a minute you could handle an honest,straight-forward, respectful discussion about the topic at hand, I would prefer to go that direction.

"Does that sound condescending?  Awwwww... I sure am sorry."

Let's get real for a moment. The people who throw temper tantrums about passive-aggressive behavior, are most often those who are NEVER able to handle an honest, accepting discussion that includes MY feelings. Not alone, if I actually want to ask anything of them that might require self reflection.

I strongly dislike being passive aggressive. It is my nature to speak the truth. I can handle a frank discussion even when it includes my own behavior.  And... though I'm sure many will disagree... there is merit in masking statements behind wit or a softer message. There is sometimes a greater impact.

Now, if I did it all the time, THAT is a problem. However, I have people with whom I can be extremely direct...kindly, honestly and thoughtfully. But, there are times when passive aggressive points are the only thing a person hears. I am just speaking the local language.

Dr. Phil does it all the damn time. I've watched him. He does it for impact, yet  he is known as the most direct and "in-yer-face" public figure. Why? Because he knows when to do it, and when not to.

Well... same here.

So, am I being condescending?  Right now, I'm speaking the truth as I see it, and I bet you anything that a few people are boiling over. But... REALLY think about this. If you established a truly open, respectful conversation with me, I don't need to be passive OR aggressive. 

Tired of being patronized? Get real with yourself and get thicker skin. Maybe people will feel like they can approach you and engage in an honest discussion wherein both of you can learn.

If you won't hear me, or I know you are too fragile... I guaran-damn-tee ya that I will be passive aggressive if that is what it takes.

But, dont worry... i won't patronize you for long. I am a good communicator. I am able to deal with many, MANY communication styles. For the most part, once I've gone P-A on you, I have already tried other more respectful approaches.

Unless it is a persons only form of communication, you cannot assume they are being a jerk. Look in the mirror. If it is not the persons go-to form of conversation, then where does your level of communication lie with that person. It may need to be retooled.

Passive aggressiveness sets soft-boundaries. It gets a message to people who will not receive REAL conversation, or whom are incapable of acknowledging their own human nature.

Now here is the part where I know my own faults. People say being passive-aggressive is the lowest form of communication. I believe that is true, but i have still gone to that level. And there is the key to it all. I can end up there... and it usually means that I have given up and any level of mature conversation is in your court now. Throw me a bone and I will gladly step it back up.

I hate it when someone STARTS any interaction being P-A without trying to get to know me. So, if you agree with that, you and I will likely have some amazing, non P-A chats.

How many conversations would escalate if you were honest to a fault? How many people do you know who can't handle clear, concise conversations. How many people have you tried to conversate with and no matter what you say, they turn it into something else? Yep.. if i am forced to talk to a jerk... I'm going P-A.

Now... how many people are P-A with you? For me, it is only a couple and they tend to be that way with everyone. On the whole, I have mostly clear, honest, respectful interactions with so many amazing people. I don't face much P-A and I try not to dish it out. I also try to be open to those who offer a mirror for my own behavior.

Don't be - or make me be - passive aggressive. It means one of us has checked out of the relationship. After a while... anyone would surrender. And please... with absolutely no P-A in my bones right now, I ask that you take this for what it is... a commentary and opinion.

I'm fortunate to have little need to be  passive-aggressive in my relationships at the moment. I am so thankful. But as I've grown older, my boundaries are becoming clearer and my tolerance for relationships where I have to speak with the P-A accent is almost zero.

Lets all go for a nice conversation vs the condescending stuff. Okay? It makes us all better communicators and is so much more rewarding.