February 28, 2010
Our Family Traditions
Traditions are like comfort food. We keep going back to them because we like them and we know them. It's comfortable and good. The unknown can be frightening. Going without traditions can be frightening to some people too.
When a son or daughter goes off to the military or into college in another state, they are so busy handling their own affairs and figuring how to survive in their new system, that sometimes it's not possible to follow family traditions. At least not without a lot of trouble. For example, when I went into the Army, I couldn't come home for Thanksgiving the first year. I was in training and my new career had taken me a couple thousand miles away.
But that doesn't mean I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. It means I did not spend Thanksgiving with my family, as it had been for the entire time I was growing up. So I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home with an Army family I hardly knew. It was good, but not the same.
I also remember the first Christmas that I did not come home. That is another family tradition I never would have missed as I was growing up. But again, I was very far away. I know families understand, but for me it was a little disconcerting that there was no snow and no family to share and celebrate with.
I think we have family traditions because it's a coming together of family to celebrate something, or share with each other some meaningful ritual. And I think it's an important part of the cohesiveness of the family. When we celebrate our family birthday's together we are saying to each other, 'you are important to me.' Thanksgiving is like that too. We are sharing a feast together. We are laughing and spending time with each other, and we even cook a special type of food for this tradition.
At some point our family traditions shift from our parents traditions to our own in-house traditions with our friends and our own kids. It's part of the growing up process it seems. In our house now, our family traditions have kind of dissolved or evolved into something different. Both of our children have moved out. So for birthday's we no longer throw a party for our children and their friends, complete with clown or other entertainment and decorations. But we do something else, like send a card, take them out for dinner or something like that. And sometimes the loss of traditions can be a little uncomfortable, like not being able to make spaghetti for dinner because we have no noodles or sauce in our house.
This year we are having a traditional family holiday party in August. To me it doesn't matter whether it's in August or December. At first the idea was uncomfortable to me, a kind of strange idea, because it wasn't going to be around the Christmas season. But the more I thought about it, the more I got the point of family tradition. It's not necessarily about the activity, it's about bringing family together. And to me that's just as good in August as it is in December.
I might wear a Hawaiian shirt, straw hat and flip-flops though. ;-)
February 27, 2010
Who would you most like to sit next to on a long plane ride, dead or alive? A Short Story
The last book I read before I died was, The five people you meet in heaven, by Mitch Albom. I could really relate to the amusement park maintenance guy. I did not feel like I had accomplished anything in my life and did not value what I had done.
Now it was my time to go, and I guessed that I would soon find out from the five people I would meet in heaven, the meaning of my life. Unlike Eddie in the book, my death wasn't a horrific accident while saving a little girl. My death was quite ordinary for a middle-aged man, fallen out of shape and out of energy. It's a familiar story to many people these days. And with high cholesterol and blood pressure it didn't surprise me that I died of a heart attack while lying on the couch reading this little book.
The pain was incredible. But even so, I've been through incredible pain before and had developed a coping mechanism and acceptance of pain. Like when I had a hernia, that was painful, and I could not walk. But I managed and pulled through. This time I guess I did not pull through the pain. But then again, it's not the pain that killed me was it? I'll blame my death on the lack of exercise and poor eating habits over the years.
This is where my journey begins. I'm not going to talk about the people I left behind, and how my death affected them, because that's like looking at a train wreck, and standing there stunned. I'm still speechless, because I feel sorry for those that have to deal with grief and loss, while still living. They have this kind of a dull aching feeling that makes a person question the meaning of their own existence. I would say that I'm still alive though, because I certainly still feel alive.
Anyway, I don't really remember watching my death from the ceiling or witnessing my own funeral like we've all seen in the movies. I just remember being somewhere else. After I died I found myself standing in the airport waiting to board a plane. I seemed to be late. Evidently the other passengers were already on board, because I was standing there alone waiting for my turn.
I did not have any bags to check. When flying I always travel lightly anyway, knowing that whatever I absolutely need at the other end, I could get there. Metaphorically speaking, even though I have a lot of stuff in my life, I don't think I would be devastated by losing it all in a fire. I'm more upset that my poor wife is burdened with disposing of all of the books in my library and the bicycles I rode and my motorcycle, and art supplies. I hope she just hires the used-book store to come and make her an offer on the whole lot of books. She's definitely not going to read my copy of the Qur'an or the Kabbalah or even the dozens of science-fiction fantasy books I have read.
"John, John," the voice interrupted my thoughts. "It's your time to board," she said.
"Ok," I said, feeling kind of silly for wanting to ask where this plane was headed. I am not one to shy away from adventure anyway, and love the process of discovery, so I guess it didn't really matter if I knew for sure. Besides, I was dead, so I could guess where it was going, although I questioned the mode of transportation. I stepped confidently forward and walked down the tunnel to board the plane. I was curious if the five people I'd meet in heaven would be on this plane. It seemed logical to me. I was also curious who they would be.
The first person I met was the Captain. The captain was definitely an angel. There was a radiation of love and energy coming out of him, engulfing me as I came close. I was not worried about the safety of this plane. Once, I was flying back from California on a work-related trip and was reading the novel Airframe by Michael Crichton. That was a bad choice. I was worried about my safety on that trip! But now I knew beyond all imagination and fear, that this flight was in good hands and that the plane must be held together with more than a few rivets.
By the number on my boarding pass, I would be somewhere in the middle of the plane. There were dozens of people already seated, some I recognized and some I did not. The plane was nearly full! I did not expect this; Probably because the last thing impressed on my mind was the number five. I walked down the aisle, nodding and smiling at the people making themselves comfortable, settling in with pillows and blankets as if going on a long flight from the Middle East to the Midwest.
In one of the seats I saw my grandma. She looked just like I remember her and I wanted to stop and give her a big hug and talk to her. But I felt compelled to go find my seat before the plane took off. She smiled and nodded at me, "Go ahead Johnny, we'll have plenty of time to catch up." Her voice instantly brought back a flood of memories.
And right behind her there was my Aunt Jan, grinning at me. "Hey freckles! Welcome aboard!" I laughed. I haven't heard that nickname in a long time!
Boarding this plane was a very surreal experience. It's a very strange thing to be seeing these people again and conversing with them. I pinched myself and felt the slight twinge of pain. No, I am definitely still aware of myself here, and have not disappeared into nothingness.
Walking past all of these people that I knew and loved throughout my life, made me wonder who I'd actually be sitting next to. My seat was just ahead.
I looked at my boarding pass and the number above the seat. It was an aisle seat. I prefer window seats when I fly because I love to watch the plane take off and seeing the tiny specs of our civilization far below. But evidently I was not here to witness what I was leaving behind. I was here to talk to some important people in my life. With all of these people on the plane, it was going to be a very long flight, I thought.
I looked at my boarding pass and the number above the seat to make sure again that I was in the right place. The number was right. Sitting in the seat next to mine was a Native American man with a wizened, darkly tanned face. He was dressed in full regalia, with feathers sticking straight up from his head and bells wrapped about his knees. They made a slight jingling noise as he shifted in his seat to face me. He just looked at me until I was seated. I sat sat down, intimidated by his deep stare. I glanced out the window and saw the darkening skies and the rain beginning to fall. The wind was blowing a piece of paper across the ground, whipping it up and down.
"Have courage," he said to me in a low, soft voice. "Your grandfathers have all gathered together to have a council. They have called you here to teach you."
"Thank you," was all I could think of to say. He was obviously the oldest and wisest looking person on this plane. His deep penetrating and knowing eyes were pools of wisdom beyond my years of experience. His was the power of the world that I did not understand.
"All of the gifts of earth you drew strength from. Now from the same great spirit you will find another strength."
As I sat contemplating that, the fasten-your-seat-belts light flashed on and the chime interrupted us.
"Please fasten your seat belts," came the voice. "We are preparing for take off."
We both fell silent as we buckled up and waited for our safety briefing. Somehow in my mind I knew the wise man sitting next to me. His words echoed over time to me from a different century, telling me of the division of people, it's food and the earth. Without speaking he showed me how the lust for possession and wealth had swarmed over the planet and severed the chords of human and earth connection. I was powerless to stop it. I was watching as people lost their partnership with the earth and each other. It was a very depressing series of scenes that brought tears to my eyes.
"Have courage," he told me. "for you have the power of the cleansing wind." He pointed out the window.
Nicholas Black Elk, a Lakota Sioux visionary, holy man and healer who's words I greatly respected in life, shared the silence with me as the plane took off, pressing us back into our seats. It gave me a definite feeling of moving on, with no return. Although we had never met in real life, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the opportunity to sit next to him on this flight. I trembled in spite of his comforting words. Maybe I trembled with respect, or with fear that I would not measure up to those words.
Soon the plane leveled off and the fasten-your-seat-belt light turned off again. He nodded to me with a warm smile and motioned me to get up and find another seat. I had so many questions for Black Elk and wanted to sit and talk with him much longer. But he looked around the plane at all the people and motioned again without speaking. I did as he wished and got up, looking around.
The only empty seat I could see was back about five or six rows. I started to walk, but the plane was now buckling under the turbulence. At first I could not see anyone in the seat next to the empty one. The plane lurched again and I fell, stumbling toward my new seat. The fasten-your-seat-belt light came on with a ding and in the distance I heard the voice announcing the turbulence.
"Tell me something I don't know," I muttered as I grabbed the seat arm before hitting the floor with a thud.
I crawled into my seat and buckled up. Sitting next to me was a diminutive, exceedingly old-looking woman with wrinkles as deep as the ridges. She was praying and thumbing the long string of beads in her hands. There was radiant glow of warmth and comfort all around her and I felt it deep in my bones. I could not interrupt her prayers so I sat patiently waiting. But somehow I did not mind. I liked her intensity of concentration and calmness during this turbulence. It seemed like nothing would bother her.
Then, just as I was thinking that, she laughed and patted my hand.
"John. You have done some important work. See these beads in my hand? These are the people who's lives you have touched. Each one of these, a person you gave dignity to. Each one of these people you helped to stand, even when you stumbled and fell!"
"Mother Teresa?" I asked sheepishly.
"Yes, dear child. Now pay attention."
Mother Teresa began to tell me passionately about my responsibilities. Our responsibilities as human beings.
"Including you, every person on this planet is responsible for the welfare of your brothers and sisters, all men and women on this planet. That has always been God's message to you. And you know, because you have experienced in these," she paused, thumbing the beads that represented those whose lives I have touched.
"That there are two kinds of poverty. The poverty of material, which is easy to cure. And the poverty of spirit, which is not so easy to cure. The problem is being able to see the difference. Open your eyes and see."
These words rang in my ears like a command. I sat back and closed my eyes visualizing the people she was talking about. Each one paraded before my eyes. I remembered.
"Now, go back and see these others." She was thumbing a long line of beads in her right hand. Her warmth radiated through me again and I felt her compassion and understanding.
She patted me on the hand and repeated, "Go. There will be another flight. You were just on standby." Then she laughed again.
I laughed too. She really had a good sense of humor. I was going to thank her, but when I began to speak again, she was praying the beads in her right hand, one after another. I heard her call their names one by one. Some I had met and some I had not. I sat in silence listening as attentively as I could.
The loud speaker came alive again and startled me out of my thoughts.
"Please return your seats to the upright position and fasten your seat belts. We will be landing shortly."
I braced myself and popped my ears as I felt the rapid descent. After we landed, there was a slow taxi to the terminal so I sat there, half listening to Mother Teresa, still listing off names in prayer, one bead at a time. Another part of me was anticipating the other part of this journey. What was to happen to me once I got off this plane? Where did we land? What about all of these other people on the plane? I did not get a chance to talk to any of them.
Slowly my eyes opened and the pain subsided. I don't know what happened, but I was not feeling the same. My whole body was trembling and I was disoriented. I heard the captain's voice in my mind.
"Thank you for flying with us. Come again."
Then I remembered the flight and the two people I sat next to. My mind and body were filled with love and a strength I have not felt in a long time. Their words remained in my heart. I have the power and the responsibility to make a difference. I am alive.
February 26, 2010
My first bicycle commute of the year
Today I bicycled the six miles each way to and from work. It was light when I left and and dark coming home. And I slipped on the ice once when I rode over a huge ice-melt flow that had refrozen. But I saw it in advance and was going really slow, so it was no big deal. No injuries or pain.
The biggest problem I had was that my cheeks were getting cold going really fast down a mile-long hill. I should have had my ski mask for that part. The next problem was overheating. I dressed in layers though, so i could unzip my jacket and open up a little to cool off. All and all though it was easy and fun.
The biggest joy? Getting there by my own power and feeling exhilarated the rest of the day because my blood had a good workout. The fresh air was good too. As a bonus I got to climb back up that mile-long hill on the way home.
I have a really nice lighting system I set up a few years ago so commuting at night is no problem. I have a dual-halogen headlight system with rechargeable battery pack attached to the frame. Plus a 5-LED white blinking headlight in front and a 5-LED red blinking light in back. And I have a reflect vest and leg band to make me brighter. I also have the standard white and red reflectors on front and back of the bike. The headlight system is really handy and it's great to be able to see the road ahead. I originally set up this light system because I hit a curb once that I could not see with just a blinky light and it bent my rim up. So commuting in the dark is a lot more fun with all those bright things.
Now the hardest part about this ride... Getting out the door this morning. Biking in the winter is all attitude. It is actually quite nice biking in the winter if prepared properly for it. People talk to me like I'm crazy when I say this, but then I ask, "how do you prepare for cross country skiing?" Is that crazy? When I started treating winter biking like a winter sport, it was amazing. What I find is crazy is that I know all of this and proved it to myself by biking for a couple of years all-year-round, even through the deep snow. And it was no problem even in 20 below weather. So I have no valid excuses to not bike. Except that I have taken an extended break from exercise, and my body pays the price in not being fit like I used to be. But my mind also suffered consequences. My mind began to make excuses. it's too cold. I'll be late. My bike is not ready. etc. it was only sheer will power that got me out that door with my bike this morning. Once I got on the bike it felt good and there was no turning back. Check out my winter biking category if you are interested in my previous winter biking experiences.
Tomorrow I will bike to the bike shop too.
February 25, 2010
My First Car
I reached into the jar and grabbed the next slip of paper. Ugh. Another car topic. But in the spirit of writing whatever comes up, here is very short tale of my first car, the one my dad traded a freezer for. My first car, a tank in it's own right, was a faded-powder blue1968 Buick LeSabre. (Very similar in appearance to this 1969 LeSabre sitting in a parts yard)
The 1968 LeSabre had slightly different grilles and taillights from previous years, and like this picture, had concealed windshield wipers. It had a square speedometer and big bench seats inside. When I got the car in 1979 or 1980, I don't really remember the exact year either, it was already old and almost ready for the junk yard. But I remember how proud I was to drive it to school for the first time. I got to park it in the west lot with all the other students and drive my friends. But like all old cars, it had it's issues and driving it to school was short lived. One of the first few times I drove it, the battery died while I was at school. I came out and it wouldn't start. I had to ask someone for a jump. Sucky. Yes, sucky is a real word when you are 17.
I don't even remember how or when I abandoned that car either. It meant nothing to me except that I had to have a car and this was the easiest one for me to obtain. But I did abandon my first car. Because I got another car after I left high school. And that is pretty much it. I did what most American teenage kids dream about when they get their license. A set of wheels meant freedom and mobility. It meant arriving at adulthood. I chuckle.
And that was my first ever car, and the end of my car blogging. If I draw another car slip from that jar, I'm turning it into a motorcycle story!
Tomorrow should be much more interesting (to me). Who would I most like to sit next to on a long plane ride, dead or alive? Hmmm. I see dead people.
February 24, 2010
My first child
Before I start telling about my son, I'm prefacing it with the idea that there is no experience like raising children. It's a wonderful, amazing process that takes at least twenty years, and some say a lifetime. And sometimes it gets interesting because children develop a mind of their own. And frankly it has to be that way. Our objective as a parent is to have our children grow up safely and make it on their own. It doesn't always happen that way though.
When I was a scout leader I experienced many broken families and parents who didn't really get what it means to nourish or help a child grow and develop. Some of those kids had some serious issues and not much help. One boy threatened to commit suicide the night before we were supposed to be going home after camp. I, along with others, stayed with that boy all night long, not sleeping a wink. When we delivered the boy back to his parents, his mom informed us, "Oh he always says that, just ignore him."
For the rest of my life I will never forget the impact we have on our children's hearts and minds and mental health. I tried to get help for that boy, and I hope he made it. I was thankful that our son was not in that position, and thankful that he had a lot of family members that cared about him. It does make a difference.
It always amazes me how easy it is to become a parent. There are no tests or training, and in many cases it just happens. Then you figure it out or you don't. In most cases the child grows up and moves on.
Back at the beginning when we realized we were going to have a baby, my wife and I were really excited. And yet, we did not have a clue what we were getting into. I was 20 and my wife was 18 when we got married and two years later our son was born. What we knew then was that we knew we would somehow figure it out. What we didn't know was what that meant for our lives. So we began a journey that we knew nothing about.
Our son was born prematurely in an Army hospital, 1300 miles away from our home-town and our families. He had jaundice and had to wear a heart monitor and stayed in the hospital until he regained 5 pounds. He was the size of a football. I'm serious. So tiny and fragile. And I'm still thankful that he was born where he was. It turns out that Ft. Hood had one of the top two premie intensive care units in the country at the time. He was in pretty good hands.
It was hard for both of us to leave him in the hospital before he was able to come home. But we soon found the real challenge came after they let us take him home. He developed colic. If you don't know what that is, imagine his miniature intestine tied up into a knot allowing gas buildup until it's unbearable. The poor baby cried and screamed almost non-stop day and night. None of us could sleep for weeks. But we all lived through it.
Then we left the Army about five months later and began a different kind of life. I went to college, worked a part-time job and my wife also worked. We were hardly prepared for life. But we had most of our family around us so that helped. And it made it better for us because growing up, our son was nearly a perfect child. He was so happy and full of love. And he still has a great sense of humor.
I have to tell this story, because it's funny. One day he came home from school and informed us that his teacher told his class that until they were thirty they were not adults. My wife and I looked at each other and laughed. We were both under thirty with a child in elementary school.
So where does the bad stuff come in? As I remember it, there were not really bad times with our son. There were growing pains, mostly in his late teens. There was a rough period before he left for college, but luckily we survived it. And I'm happy with the way he figured out how to move forward after college. All in all, my pride is not so much in being able to tell some miraculous success story, or brag about what he has done with his life, but it's really that he's a good man able to live life on his terms and able to figure things out.
Now our son is married, and who knows, they may have children, and I hope I get to be around to enjoy their first child. I do believe that he'll make a great father, just because I know my son's nature and what he's capable of.
February 23, 2010
How my parents dressed compared to how I dressed as a parent
I know fashions change like the wind changes directions. And there are some fashions that are peculiar to one generation, like powder blue, polyester, bell bottom tuxedos with ruffled shirts, or zoot suits. Sometimes those fashions make brief comebacks in following generations. But thankfully my dad did not wear clothes like that when I was a kid. I might have been mortified in front of my friends.
I don't knock anyone's fashion choices, but when I was a kid I might have. My dad wore jeans and t-shirts, or button down shirts. He went through a period wearing western shirts, boots, and hat, but a lot of people did that. And it wasn't over the top. I even had boots, large belt buckle. The western style has been around for a while, I guess since it came into fashion in the old west. Even so that style is not for everyone, but to me it was ok and I never felt embarrassed. And of course when not wearing the dress cowboy hat, most people I knew wore baseball caps. It kept the sun out of our eyes, in a casual way.
Since I had an office job most of my career while my children were growing up, my attire was khaki pants (like the docker brand) and button shirts. I also wore jeans and t-shirts when not at work. As part of my recent clean-out of my clothing heap, I got rid of thirty t-shirts that I no longer wanted to wear. Or put it this way, I used to by event t-shirts, like scout shirts, running shirts, triathlon shirts, etc, and then wear them and never get rid of them when I bought new ones. Oh, don't worry, I still have one box of shirts I like.
I think that with the trend toward casual wear in our country also standardized men's clothing fashion here, to a general casual look. Ties pretty much went away in the workplace, and people seem to have siimilar clothing styles. Maybe it's related to the mass-produced clothing marketplace. Maybe it's that most men were never really very fashion-minded. At least not the common man like me.
Recently we went to the Science Museum to see the Titanic exhibit and there was one photo in there of thousands of workers going to work on the huge ship and almost every one of them had a flat-cap-style hat on. I remember also my grandfather's generation, almost everyone wore a hat. But the styles changed to derbys and fedora's and other taller, formed hats. I remember my great grandfather and grandfather never leaving the house without their hat.
So, because I liked that look and it brought back good memories, I'm now sporting a nice, casual fedora-style hat. And I kind of like it. Should I bring back my bell-bottom jeans and tie-died t-shirts to go with that?
February 22, 2010
The most exciting place I have ever been?
I guess this is relative to the experience I've had in each place. I've been to the east coast, west coast, Florida, Texas, Canada, Germany, and to multiple states visiting attractions and working.
I really enjoyed biking, kayaking and swimming in Lake Superior. I also really enjoyed hiking at 9000 feet in the mountains of New Mexico. I also really enjoyed running on the beach in California. And when I went to Germany I really enjoyed the thrill of speaking in German and seeing centuries-old castles.
What makes all of this interesting to me is not necessarily the place, but the experience. I've also traveled for work and found some of those places less than exciting because I was too busy working and had no time to enjoy the beauty of life in that location.
One time last summer, however, I was working in Sioux Falls, a city I don't remember ever visited before. There was a delay in work and I ended up staying over a weekend with no work to do. So I looked up events and attractions in the city. I found out there was an art fair going on and a German Octoberfest celebration. So I made my way downtown, found a parking place and spent the whole day talking to artists, eating german food and listening to german folk music. It was awesome and stimulating. That experience, though it may not sound like much, ranks right up there with doing back-flips off the rocks into the icy cold water of Lake Superior and having my breath taken away. And I got to know a little more about a place that I've never seen up close. If you are from Sioux Falls, I love your city! nice downtown area.
Another experience that ranks high on my list is taking in an orchestra concert on Harriet Island in St. Paul, laying on a blanket with a sea of people just hanging out and chillin' to classical music. And it was free!
So, my next question I ask myself is, what is the most exciting place I will go to and what will make it interesting? It could appear anywhere, depending on the experience.
February 21, 2010
What do books mean to me?
Irrelevant as some material may seem, it's still something to read. Why do I read anyway? Today I am writing about what books mean to me. I read because there is relevancy in the words we write as human beings. There is relevancy in the act of expressing ourselves because we are relevant. The book, the paper, the font, and the language used are not the relevant part of the story. Susan Weinstein wrote in an article, "We are English because English isn't about books; it's about us..." It's about our conversations, debates, stories, beliefs, criticisms, poems, loves, losses and joys. Our books reflect our human lives as we see them or can imagine them. Books are relevant to me because people are relevant.
Sometimes insolent is a better word to describe some of the books I read. The author's contempt is so thick it can be cut with a knife. But that comes from somewhere and that author may be coming from a position of fear, anger or a belief in something so strongly that it is expressed with insults and force. Do I have to read this kind of material? No, but sometimes I do and I find it relevant to the human experience. Maybe if I am too shocked or insulted by the writing it is my own insolence that is preventing me from seeing the source of it.
When books, irreverent or praising march before my eyes, they are useful to me. In the case of satire pieces, paying proper respect is not desirable and rather inhibits our sense of humor. I am a big fan of satire because I think we take ourselves too seriously sometimes. I love comic strips because of this. I love reading the Onion newspaper too because they don't hold any idea or person too high to laugh at. And I don't want to take my ideas so seriously that I cannot laugh about them.
Digging into my ideology is a key endeavor for me. Books are like mirrors on what I believe and don't believe. We all form our own ideas about human life around us. Sometimes our ideology is the same as what we are taught by our religions or teachers. But I own my own beliefs because I have systematically built them over my lifetime. When I read a book I get a chance to see what I believe about how things are and how I came to where I am at.
And digging leads to introspection about my life. I am a very reflective person and I meditate on the thoughts presented in books and on my own attitudes. Books are great for bringing attitudes to light so I can look at myself. I definitely feel a certain way and react a certain way to the things I read. I experience emotions like anger, sadness, joy and surprise. Books help me to see what I believe and think about and then examine my beliefs.
All that thinking can be insightful. It can lead to solutions to my perceived or real problems. Especially when I read something that changes my mind. For instance, when I'm struggling with how to approach a problem at work or with the people in my other activities, I find that reading helps me understand and solve my problems. I recently read a book about organizational structure and it helped me understand why the top-down hierarchical model was unsustainable in our type of non-profit organization. This was a change from my normal way of thinking about leadership and decision making. Seeing and understanding why something works the way it does is a key to solving problems.
And there can be such good information available to us in books, coming out of people's real experiences. It would be a shame if the flow of information is somehow turned off, inhibited, directed or restricted. That's one thing that happens in dystopian books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. The internet also is a huge source of new and old information. More and more information is being put online with greater access by a broader range of people. And the format of information is changing as I type this. The time it takes new information to get to the masses is decreased to milliseconds instead of months. And this also leads to greater collaboration and better information.
As a result of reading books, my intelligence is greater than it was last year and certainly greater than it was as a child. I credit books with that. I learn a great deal from books. How could I not learn if I continuously read?
Whether a book proves good, bad, or ugly, inspiration can be sparked and I will be on fire. I wrote two novels using bits and pieces of things that I have read. And the material presented in arts and crafts books invariably weaves it's way into my creative new work. I don't believe most of the conspiracy theories I read, such as those in books like the DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, but that doesn't stop me from being inspired by that book.
After all, my world reflects my vision and my imagination. What I create in life comes out of me. And in every paragraph and step in my life, my eyes give me meaning.That is what books mean to me.
"A room without books is like a body without a soul."
Gilbert K. Chesterton
February 20, 2010
If I could spend one day learning to do something I've never done before...
I would like to spend a whole day learning how to play games I've never played before. Tonight I was at a Korean New Years celebration and dinner and I learned about some games I have never heard about. I played Jegi-Chagi - like hacki-sack and Yut Nori, a traditional Korean family game. There was also Gong-gi Nori - a five marbles game. And I arranged to play a game of Paduk or Go with a teacher there. I am excited. That is an interesting game that is full of strategy and mental challenge.
I've always loved games and still like to play chess and other games. I'm not much of a fan of gambling games though, but like to play for fun. And I realized that there are a bunch of other cultural games I have never played before. It would be fun to just take a whole day to play and learn some new games.
When I was a scout leader we did something very cool and fun with the boys. We held an overnight sleepover at the church that hosted us. It was an all-night game night and pokemon tournament. We had plenty of cards there for everyone and even those boys that did not have their own cards learned how to play in little mini-workshops and practice rounds, taught by their peers before the tournament. Then we had the tournament and prizes. We also played risk, monopoly and Pogs! There was no sleeping going on at that sleepover!
Playing is essential in life. How easily we can forget how to play.
February 19, 2010
Our Family Cars
Not every family owns a car. In the United States it has become a rite of passage for youth into adulthood. To own a car is to be independent and adult. Owning a car has been known as a sign of status and the nicer the car, the higher the recognition of having arrived at the big time.
But as I said, not everyone owns a car and some families own only one car for multiple drivers and they take turns. Now there are even car-share programs where you rent a car hourly. That's a cool idea if you primarily walk, ride bike, motorcycle or take public transportation. Sometimes you need to carry bigger stuff from point A to point B.
Before I go into talking about the cars my family had as I was growing up, and the meaning that had for me, I want to talk about the period in my life when I gave away my motorcycle and my car to ride a bike. In 2004 I started riding my bike everywhere and when winter came around I bought a 'winter bike' to ride all year. That showed me I could and did live without a car. Of course my wife still had her car, but my primary mode of transportation was bicycle. I realized I wasn't using my motorcycle and car so I gave them away. I felt wonderfully energized and much more fit.
I did that for a couple of years before switching jobs and facing the nightmares of a commute over an hour long and bus rides that were one and a half to two hours long with multiple transfers. And then the job was really demanding with a lot of late hours, so I decided I needed more sleep and I bought a motorcycle, then a car. Now I am right back where I was before 2004. And my health is much worse for it. It was a great experience that taught me to think about owning a car in much different ways.
But this kind of thinking is not at all what I experienced as I was growing up. There was great nostalgia around our cars. There was romance and drama and great adventure. We took long trips in cars, some of them I was too young to remember. And one of the greatest adventures in a car was the drive-in theater! There we watched such wonderful classics such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! and the Love Bug. Cars had their own personalities. My dad was even part of the dirt-track race scene with a 1955 Chevy named 'Wiki-Wiki' number 99. "Wiki-wiki" means "hurry quick" in Hawaiian. It also refers to a type of fish native to the islands. Not to be confused with the short, very rapid back and forth movements of a record called affectionately 'wicky wicky'.
But back to the nostalgia of our cars. I remember getting into our jammies and heading out the drive-in theater and watching our cars dramatized in all their glory. They were the heroes of our stories. And later general Lee was born on the back roads as the dukes of hazards made it glorious to drive fast away from the law. I don't drive like that, thankfully. But we sure loved our cars and loved the thought of speed. One of my brother's first cars was even a Charger, which I drove only one time at 110 mph. The whole front end of that thing was a shakin' and that was the end of my desire to drive fast.
And we learned to drive in our parents cars. Then we drove our parents cars on dates and to our first jobs. My dad taught me how to drive in a pickup truck with a manual transmission. I remember the long rod in those trucks reaching down into the floor and the large plastic bulb on top. My first car was not a stick, but my second one was. The first car I had was a tank. My dad traded a freezer for it. It ran only so so and my dad had to fix it for me, which he was good at. I wasn't so much. In fact my dad has fixed a lot of cars in his life time. So there was more than nostalgia going on in our house. There were also project cars, like the 1963 corvair monza spider with rear engine. That was a cool car. I think that was even turbo charged.
When I graduated from high school, I went into the army, went through training and then was stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas. Then I needed a car. So what did I buy? A turbo charged ford mustang! Yes, I got a ticket driving that thing. And I wore out the turbo charge unit and my dad helped me take it out because I couldn't afford to fix it. Then the little engine just couldn't jump past other cars when passing.
Like every new parent that has to haul kids around, we quickly discovered that it was a real pain in the but to get a car seat in and out of the back seat of a two-door car. We had to buy a family car then. So we got a four door plymouth reliant k-car. And that brings me right back to the cars we had as a family when I was growing up. We had station wagons, four-door sedans and trucks. And we always had multiple vehicles around. Basically we were a family-car family. And most of those were Fords, because my dad found that working on those was easier and they were fairly reliable. There was a little bit of brand loyalty going on there too I think. I probably should not even joke about the meaning of the word F.O.R.D: "Found on the Road Dead." I tried that line on the last Ford dealer we went to and the salesman wasn't amused. He said something like, "Oh yeah, I've heard that before. People sure like that old joke."
Now I'm thinking about spring already and it's not my car I'm dreaming about. When it went above freezing the other day, all I could think about was, "If it wasn't for the ice on this road, I could be riding my motorcycle. When winter subsides, my car once again will sit in the driveway all summer, and I will be either on the motorcycle or on the bicycle. Last year I rode my bicycle to work only three times, but I'm thinking that I might enjoy the fresh air a little more this year and bicycle more and use it to help me get back into shape. See how I managed to turn this story about cars into one about bicycles? And fitness related to getting out my cars? I think I'll name my bicycle "Wiki-Wiki" after how fast my heart beats when riding it.
February 18, 2010
My Dad is a big man
It's my turn to shine a spotlight on the kind of person my dad is. And I recognize where some of my attitudes came from.
A few years ago my dad was honored in his local paper as he retired from his job as a rural district bus driver. "Bus driver Bob gets a big goodbye," the headline reads. My dad drove bus for nine years and four months and the kids loved him. It's the only name they could spell the same forward and backward.
Now my dad stands at six feet-four and a half inches, so that might be where some of the respect from these elementary school children comes from, but their smiles when they saw my dad told the story that they were happy to see him.
And from the stories my dad told, he treated them with respect and held them accountable for their actions on his bus. Maybe that's another reason they respected my dad.
I've always known my dad had a good heart and would give a person the shirt off his back. He would not pay his own bills in order to give one of his kids some cash when in need. He would drive hundreds of miles for someone in need, even if it wasn't a relative. And my dad is down to earth, honest and would rather make peace than carry a grudge. There are more than a few lessons he taught me when I was in trouble over the years. And those lessons usually involved getting at the heart of what I truly wanted and needed at the time. And I don't think my dad ever had a lot of money, but somehow I feel to focus on that would be missing the meaning of my dad's life.
One of my dad's greatest talents has always been the use of common sense and easy going temperament to help someone else. I can't say anything negative about my dad, because that would be to admit that in myself. My dad is a big man to live up to.
February 17, 2010
Our House, In the Middle of the Street...
I am a product of the eighties when This Talking Heads Song pops into my head when thinking about the house I grew up in...
Like the song, our house was in the middle of the block and it was a non-descriptive stick house just like all of the other houses on the block. We wanted to get away from home and my mom worked hard and needed a rest too. Maybe my house was white, or a tan color, or maybe something else. I remember helping to paint it and it took a couple of years. I also remember having to mow the two acres of grass with a push mower. It took one person about eight hours, including trimming around the trees. I remember the small bedrooms and how confining that felt before I graduated from high school, but I don't remember the color of the rooms. It was most likely white, or plain. We had a living room and family room too, but I don't remember the color of those either. There was paneling in the family room. And I think pretty much everyone's 1970's to 1980's ramblers could be described in similar fashion.
But I can say that I liked one feature of that house. It had the garage tucked up underneath the one end of the house with another garage door leading right into the basement. You could not even see the garage from the street. Above the garage was our family room where we spent most of our time watching TV and playing games.
Sometime after that era, houses were being built with the garage stuck way out front, so the garage became the focal point as you drove down the street. Our house was the focal point sitting way up on a hill of grass with flowering trees and shrubs. A half-painted rambler focal point on a beautiful lot with a park across the street that was later razed to the ground to make way for commercial progress. Our house was demolished sometime after we all moved away.
But select photos in my mind still remain. I close my eyes and I can see the rooms, the shapes, the same furniture we had, and the floors. The carpeting in the living room, the wool-like carpet tiles in the family room that we ripped up and replaced with a shag. I remember fighting with my brothers in our house. I remember getting ready to leave for the army after high school and being excited to go someplace else where the rooms were not so confining. And later, I remember helping to move my parents out of that house. I do not remember the color of our house, my bedroom or the living room. Curiously there is no color to those memories.
February 16, 2010
The Smell of Mummy Dust
The question for today is, "What was your grandparents' home like? Did it have a certain smell or look?
I'm happy that it didn't have the smell of mummy dust, as described in the book I'm currently reading. In Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, Carol goes to visit one of the queens of the small midwestern town. Sinclair Lewis uses such vivid thought-words in his writing, that even if I don't know what the smell of mummy dust smells like, I know it's old and dusty and stale.
He writes, "The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation to their years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow Bogart was twenty years old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops, and the smell of mummy-dust. It's neatness rebuked the street....The hallway was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen was an exercise in mathematics, with problems worked out in equidistant chairs."
The only smell I can remember from any of my grandparents houses was the unique smell of mothballs which seemed to hang in the air, seeping out of the closets and the clothing it was meant to protect. But even so, that was not at all times. If we ever got to venture into the attic and snoop around with grandma or grandpa at all of their safely kept memories, the smell was stronger.
And then there was the neatness. My house as a child was never as clean and neat as my grandparents houses, even though my mom seemed to work at it constantly. Later when we had our own children, we discovered that there really were not a lot of hours in the day. When we visited our grandparents their houses were ready for drop-in guests.
I am not a grandparent yet, but I can almost guarantee that my home will not have the smell of mummy dust. No matter how old our house or we become it will have a gritty smell of earth ready to sprout new life in the corners where the dust rhinos gather to attack. There will most likely be incense smells lingering in the furniture and books, and pear-smelling candles burning in the kitchen. There might even be the lingering smell of the fresh, home-made italian spaghetti sauce from last nights dinner.
What I remember most about my grandparents houses though was not the smell, but the warmth and unconditional love that our grandparents lavished on us. For me that is a memory more vivid than a picture, orderliness or the smell of mummy dust. It's a memory of life being lived in a house of people that cared about each other.
February 15, 2010
Games without frontiers
When I was a boy growing up in the late sixties and the 70's we played a lot of games. There were indoor games and outdoor games, and many of those games have been played by generations of people already.
You might recognize some of them...
Parchesi, checkers, chess, chinese checkers, yatze, risk, monopoly, life, sorry and various card games such as go fish, war and rummy.
These games had rules and boundaries that we had to learn in order to successfully play the game. I was in elementary school when I learned how to play chess from my older brother. I remember once getting so mad at him for so easily beating me that I tipped the board over. Even though the game had definite rules and boundaries, I obviously did not.
The outdoor games we played in our neighborhood were a little more free ranging and the boundaries not quite as defined, especially in the summer when we were off school. The image of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn come to my mind as I think about it fondly. We played all of the standard outdoor group games like kick the can, capture the flag and hide and seek. These games had rules that had to be constantly group enforced, because the whole neighborhood was our playground.
"You have to hide only in these four yards!" or "you can't stand that close to the can!" we'd yell. But other than that, we decided what to play and we ran all over the neighborhood. In other games without defined rules or boundaries, we scaled fences, crawled under fences, crept through hedges and hunted each other with toy guns and flashlights. And mimicking some of our favorite heroes that we read about in books, such as the hardy boys, we hunted all over the neighborhood for clues to a mystery we made up. We also built a raft and floated on the mighty Mississippi River and built a treehouse on an island. The only real rule we really worried about during those unbridled years of imagination and freedom was that we had to be home before dark. And on several occasions we discovered there were strict consequences for breaking that rule. Being grounded was a horrible limitation to our ever-expanding universe.
As I was thinking about how to write this journal entry, I thought of the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite artists, Peter Gabriel. Games without Frontiers...
"Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane. Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again. Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt. Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it..."
In our youth some of the games we played were about expanding our boundaries. That was true with how we played with our toys and how we began to play with girls. With our bicycles we built ramps and spread them further and further apart to see who could jump our bicycle the furthest, like Evil Knievel, another one of our childhood heroes. With girls, we wrestled with them and teased them, and found new excitement in teaching them our games.
"Jeux Sans Frontieres" Games without frontiers.
As life progressed, we found more and more that even the games that made us feel free and stretched our imagination, had their limits. Especially when caught doing something that adults didn't approve of. And when the girl we so seriously considered our girlfriend was mad at us for something we learned new rules. We did not understand all of the rules, but we were willing and ready to explore without frontiers.
"If looks could kill, they probably will, In games without frontiers - war without tears. Jeux sans Frontieres."
The older I got the more I also learned that even in games like chess and go with very strict boarders and rules, I've discovered that the limits are in our imagination and knowledge. The more I learn to play those games within the rules, the more I learn that the outcome is not guaranteed and it's often the creative, out of the square solution that wins the game. For instance once I played and beat an early computer chess game and discovered a glitch in the programming. It did not understand anything outside of it's pre-programmed strategies. When I moved my pawn all the way down on the right side of the board, it reacted very strangely and left it's defenses wide open.
It got me thinking, what games are there, that I can play as an adult that expand my mind and challenge the limits of my imagination? I can write, challenging my own thoughts and conceptions and arrange words and ideas on a page to convey a meaning. I can look at design problems with a 'what-if' attitude to find solutions that might not have occurred to me or others. When we were kids playing with our action figures, we were constantly making up the play we were having them act in. In games without frontiers, it's our imagination and known limits we are stretching. It's exploring and testing the waters of the unknown. Learning the unknown rules and how to apply them in unique and challenging situations.
"Jeux Sans Frontieres"
Now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head all day ;-) Thank you Peter Gabriel.
A humble beginning to Clean Monday
I am not Roman Catholic or Orthodox but I can stand behind this prayer and even bow down to the floor and lay on my face in appreciation. The Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian is repeated often during lent, mostly by Eastern Rite and Eastern Orthodox Christian's, I believe, has a relevant message for all people today, it resonates in my heart. One version that is easy to read follows:
O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust for power and idle chatter.
Instead grant to me, your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.
O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; For you are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.
Regardless of religion, a little humility and love for our brothers and sisters in this human life would be welcome. Not to mention the indifference and discouragement people face in our poor economic times. And what's that about lust for power?
Now let's all join our hands and live a prayer like this
February 14, 2010
How did your father support your family?
This is an interesting question for me, since once again I have the hindsight of growing up with my father and of having been a father myself supporting a family. And the question for me really should read more like, "What did you do to survive while trying to pay your bills and still strive for some meaningful career and life?" One of my favorite quotes is from John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Without actually asking my father to recount his life story here, I may leave out some important endeavor in his life, but here is the general idea. Before I was born, my father was in the Air Force, stationed in Hawaii and worked as an Airplane mechanic. I believe that set the stage for future work. He's very mechanically inclined. After active duty in the Air-Force, he was a mechanic with a small airline company in southern MN. I also remember stories of operating an automobile service station with his brother in St. Paul. And when I was very young, before elementary school, he also drove milk truck in our rural farming community. At some point he joined the Air National Guard and became a sheet-metal mechanic, which is basically airplane bodywork. My dad successfully retired from the Guards after more than 20-some years. But that's not the whole story as I knew it while growing up.
My father also had an eclectic entrepreneurial spirit to try to get ahead and pay for his five children. He had a taxi-cab service, was an over-the road truck driver, was a household product salesman, a real estate agent, a volunteer fireman, policeman, and even a local politician. And my mom and dad even owned their own craft and hobby shop. Now I'm almost sure I'm leaving something out. My father was into a lot of things, and it is not surprising to me that I inherited some of that from him. Because basically my father believes in his own two hands and hard work and that he is capable of doing anything, given the opportunity. He's definately smart enough and mechanically inclined enough. And he's a problem solver; a fixer.
As I got older, moving through my school years I heard more of the discussions that took place behind the scenes, between him and my mom and others. My dad had dreams and goals, many of which panned out enough to make a life of it and have some fun along the way. A stock-car racer? He also took opportunities that came up, because that was all that was available for work. And that is how I answer this question when looking at how my father managed to survive a lifetime of paying for kids, mortgages, automobiles, insurance and all that food we consumed. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Looking back at my career, trying to raise a family I see a lot of similarities. Circumstances play a big part of a persons life and how it proceeds. I think a key for young people just starting out would be to set themselves up as soon as possible with a good education and the ability to learn. So then there are more possibilities open to them as life situations play their tricks.
I had big plans for my future, all of which detoured and morphed into something else, due to circumstances, availability of funds, or my ability to follow through with something at the time. I did have one key turning point in my life and career that took me down a path that has been very rewarding and challenging for me. It fully consumed and engaged my problem solving genes.
Like my father I also served on active duty military right after high school. Unlike my father, when I came off active duty I attended the U of M to study business. I also had a new-born son who was born on the military base that same year. I made it just about two years in college, as I saw my grades deteriorate and the pressures of earning income to support my family increased. My wife also had to work, as most people do now. After finally dropping out of college I had to find full-time work. And I did not have any marketable skills. Luckily for me, my wife's best friend and her husband worked for a manufacturing company that was hiring production workers. This actually helped in more ways than one. It gave me a year of steady work and income while I tried to figure out what I would do with my life. That production job also made me realize that I needed an education of some kind for more opportunities to open up in the future. More importantly, I needed to find an occupation that engaged my mind. Something that had meaning for me personally. I was busy making other plans.
I think I saw an ad on TV for a local technical school that focused on Architectural drafting and design. I had taken drafting in high school and remembered how much fun that was. That one idea became the spark. I could do that. When I started that school the next Fall, I was further stimulated by hand-drawing Frank Loyd Wright designs on paper. At that time in the mid 80's we had one class in computer-aided drafting. That was a spark that ignited a full-time career for me for the next twenty plus years. And I have found it continuously changing and growing with technology advances.
I've attended the U of M a couple of times, and part time while working full-time. The last time to study linguistics and the Korean language. Language is the other thread of passion woven through the fabric of my entire life. And this really has nothing to do with supporting a family, but has everything to do with being engaged in life and having a passion for something. I hope my father's life was as engaging and fulfilling as mine while raising children. It was certainly stressful at times and challenging. My father did some interesting things in life and is one of the most well-rounded, do-it-all problem solvers I know. And in my humble opinion, it's a good life to make plans while life happens.
February 13, 2010
On becoming engaged
This is about becoming engaged, which to me is the same as saying, 'We are going to commit to each other and get married.' This is not about the actual act of proposing. Who proposes or how is irrelevant in this story. What is relevant is the change in a relationship from testing the waters, learning who that person is, and why we spend so much time together, to saying, 'I want to spend the rest of my life with this person.'
In My generation and prior to that, becoming engaged meant committing for life. Now days it seems that becoming engaged, means, 'for now I'm saying I want to be with you, but I won't promise that I'm going to stick to a bad relationship just because. It's not worth living in hell.' And maybe that's a good thing.
The old man who used to live next door, before he passed away, was kind of a cranky old guy. Him and his wife slept in separate bedrooms and argued all the time. And they each had their own activities and lives. I wondered what the reasons were that they were still in that relationship. Convenience, obligation, familiarity, routine, fear of being alone, lack of resources to move on? Love? It didn't look like love to me, but as I have found, commitment is a form of love too and one part of the package of Love. I care enough to have an obligation to you.
When I became engaged, that was one of the things that ran through my mind. I asked myself, 'Do you care about this person enough to want to be obligated to her?' And I answered yes. Even today I feel a sense of commitment and responsibility that no matter what happens, I cannot abandon her. Over the past 26 years we've had our share of arguments, and had our relationship to the breaking point, but that commitment was there. We had become engaged with each other. The marriage then was a matter of making if formal and official. Luckily for us, both of us had the same ideals and engagement to each other. Sometimes in a marriage one person is engaged, while the other is not. A marriage can still fail when one person abandons the other, emotionally, mentally, physically. I guess that would be called disengagement.
We were both very young and thought we knew everything, but we did not.Here is what I remember the most about becoming engaged to my wife. I had graduated two years earlier than her from High School, and came home on leave from the Army to attend my brother's wedding and her graduation. That made me think a lot about the relationship I was building with my girlfriend. Before coming back to MN, I told a good friend that If my girlfriend accepted my proposal, we would get married. I had already made up my mind that I wanted to marry her. So to me the act of proposing was making that a formal agreement. I don't think a person should necessarily propose without first becoming committed to the other person.
So there I was, not knowing what I was really in for, but plunging in anyway. I did not think about the challenges of the future. I did not worry about if we would make it or not, or if that was even in question. But I knew this person was someone I could trust with my inner secrets and fears, and someone that I could count on to be as committed to me as I was becoming to her.
This topic is especially relevant to me as Valentines Day is tomorrow. Something to think about. I can honestly say that I am still engaged. And although it's not always easy working out that commitment to each other, it's totally worth it.
By the way, I dug deep into the center of the jar for today's topic, and this is what came up. Happy Valentines Day!
February 12, 2010
The best present I have ever received
Whenever I see the words, "best" or "most" I instinctively rebel against our cultural expectations. My best present ever was not a car, or a cruise to some far off desert island, sipping margaritas. There are occasional gifts that I like a lot, and I could rank them by how much I use them., but to rank them is irrelevant to me because it's still just stuff. Tomorrow I may be without that stuff. But I could consider the emotional connection and thoughtfulness of the giver. I wish that I was as thoughtful when selecting gifts for others as some people have been for me.
A year ago at Christmas I received an electric blanket from my wife as a gift. I was constantly piling more blankets on my side of the bed so I could sleep more soundly. It's not something that I would have asked for, and certainly did not expect it. This is a thoughtful gift! With my blanket I don't have to suffer a MN winter night in a chilly bed. It's like I'm sleeping in the Bahamas.
Oh I get plenty of gadgets and clothes and wiz-bang stuff for gifts sometimes and those are good too in their own ways, but that electric blanket warms up my side of the bed before I even crawl in. And on a cold, blustery Saturday morning, I can lay there and read in total comfort. Nothing compares to thoughtfulness when it comes to perfect gifts, be it a practical gift or whimsical.
And I appreciate the caring and the practicality. I am not one to balk at a practical gift. You've heard that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but it is also through practical, handy, useful, thoughtful, caring gifts. So while I lay in my toasty bed of roses, dreaming of electric-wool sheep, I can be thankful for such a thoughtful wife and the gift of something I use and appreciate every night! It warms my heart!
February 11, 2010
The Most Significant World Event that has taken place in my Lifetime
I have been alive for 47 years and It's possible that I'll live another 47. Or maybe not. Regardless, 47 years is enough time for something significant to happen. But if I have to choose the MOST significant world event, I'd have to say it is...
Well, I'd have to think about it a little first. There are so many to choose from...
1963...I was born - only significant on the local scene
1963...John F. Kennedy was gunned down - Certainly that was broader than the local scene and was significant. And it had significant implications in our society for the rest of my life.
And not long after that came 1968, the "year that changed the world." The war in Viet Nam, multiple assassinations, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. There were riots in the schools and in the streets. The Soviet Union rolled over Czechoslovakia and Saddam Hussein took a position of power in Iraq after a coup. And of course the Beatles were in high form. Hey Jude, don't be afraid...1968 ended with hope that was out of this world. Images from Apollo 8 beamed to households throughout the world.
And since we are talking about space, during my lifetime, we went from orbiting in a fragile eggshell, to routine flights via shuttle, to robotic mars landings and space tourism. New technology enabled the exploration of black holes and supernovas. Space stations were built and telescopes launched into space to record the far reaches of the galaxy.
Stay with me here because I'm blurring the years and mixing them all up until I get to my favorite most significant event in my lifetime. In the late 1980's new ideas were exploding all the textbooks. The Chaos Theory made it all unpredictable. The more we learned, the more we discovered that some things just did not operate within normal parameters and were downright unpredictable. And who knows what the results are going to be when we are through manipulating the gene pool. I'd say those are significant world-changing events.
Ok, you choose. I've already made up my mind. Can you guess what I think is the most significant world event in my lifetime? I'll pause while you think about it. All right, that's enough.
In the blur of human activity, natural disasters, political upheaval, environmental and human rights and rise of technology during my lifetime, I might have skipped right over it. It doesn't really matter what I think is the MOST significant world event, because on so many levels, they are all significant. The idea that a butterfly flapping it's wings can cause a typhoon on the other side of the world is significant. I see this more as a huge network of significant events that all tie into the fabric of our lives and change the world for our children and their children.
Back in 1993 a little blinking-underlined phrase was about to change our world. It was about to make it smaller and bigger at the same time. Mosaic became Netscape and it was anyone's guess what carts in our world that would upturn. The internet was born alongside of the PC revolution, which started with 286's and dial-up modems. In the early 1990's we made the switch from engineering on paper to computers. And then there were 386's and Pentiums to fuel the revolution that would connect voices across the globe. The Internet, for whatever else it is, is a connection of human beings. Even before Windows came along, I relished in the bulletin boards that allowed me to write a story together with people I had never met, each taking a turn at writing a small part. The results were fun, creative and surprisingly exciting. Then I invented the Internet. No, that's not right. That's a bad joke. But the Internet Revolution did happen, and I was there. I still am here, and it is still revolutionizing the way we think about our world. And I've heard some people say the revolution is just beginning; that there is a correlation between the millions of butterflies flapping their wings throughout the world and the significant events that happen in our world today. The next 47 years is anyone's guess. Self-cloning robots? When you are 47 what story will you tell together?
February 10, 2010
How children were expected to behave
When I was a young boy there were certain expectations on how I behaved around other people and at home. Obviously it's different within each family, depending on circumstances and the parents own experiences. I think there are some generational influences on our expectations of our children also. For instance, me and my friends simultaneously were not allowed to interject ourselves into adult conversations without being addressed specifically. We also were not allowed to eat with our elbows on the table, or swear and had to take our hats off in the house. The consequences were a good scolding. And I recall several of my friends who experienced getting their mouths washed out with soap because of mis-behavin' language.
When I became a parent my expectations of how my children should behave grew out of what I knew and what I learned from other people. I can't say I was the best parent. I had a thing about my kids being disrespectful or cruel to other people. I came down harder on my children when they displayed negative attitudes towards others. I don't think I was always fair. But like all parents, we were never formally trained in parenting and we did our best with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and wisdom that we had at the time.
I read an article the other day about youth acting out or being rebellious, and it made me reflect on my own my childhood and on my children's childhood. Basically the article stated that when kids act out, there could be underlying causes that we should be aware of, like abuse, drug use, hormonal imbalances, stress or being bullied at school. And it could mean that they are really looking to belong.
When I was young and acted inappropriately, according to my parents, It was usually to get the attention of my parents or my friends. When my children were young, they might have experienced the same desire to belong. I can recommend to new parents to stay emotionally connected to their children. By connected I don't mean controlling their behavior, which never worked very well for me. Being aware of underlying causes of behavior would have been extremely useful to me. The other thing that I believe in now, is that a sense of purpose and meaning in life at a young age effects behavior in a positive way.
February 9, 2010
Meet your mate and tales of dominos
Sometimes you know when something is right. Maybe not at first, but as you push over the first lined-up domino, they all start to fall in order. I'm going to tell my view of the first domino that I, or she pushed over. Maybe I can't tell who pushed it, but it fell anyway, and here we are married for 26 years.
My wife and I both attended the same High School. She was in tenth grade when I was in twelfth. But we never dated in High School. In fact we were both dating other people. But we did know each other. We were both in the Declamation Club, which was a public speaking/performance-type of club. Our meeting in High School wasn't the first domino. We did not experience our first spark through this club.
In my senior year of high school, I was going through a rough time myself, trying to decide what to do with my life after high school. I faced the situation of not having good enough grades for scholarships (A's and B's), and no money in our family to go to college. So in the Fall of my senior year, the US Army came recruiting for students. I had no plan for my future and they offered a good school, a steady job and an adventure, followed by money for college. So I enlisted in December of that year, to enter the military right after I graduated. For better or worse, I broke up with my girlfriend at the time. I did not even understand what I was doing, let alone be able to explain that to anyone. Like many people in the last year of High School, I was scared. And I was afraid I might ruin another person's life, so I pushed her away. The rest of my senior year I did not have any plans of marriage. I knew where I was going and what I'd be doing for at least the next four years.
When graduation rolled around, a lot of people I knew came to my graduation party. My wife and her friends were there also. She was not on my radar, and of course nobody was at that time. But this party was a key event to get things rolling. I got a dozen or more addresses from people who wanted to write to me while I was in the Army. And my wife was one of those people.
I graduated from High School and went to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in the heat of July. It was hot and miserable and I was busy getting my butt kicked in training. And I discovered the huge value in writing and receiving letters, so I wrote and received mail. It was really good to hear what was going on back home and tell people what I was going through. But I wasn't that great at keeping up with the writing so I lost a few pen-pals by not being responsive enough. A few survived and I continued corresponding. My wife kept writing and I got to know her better.
I did not know it at the time, but words in letters are very powerful when inner feelings are shared. Sometimes it's easier to be yourself when you are not face to face. And I liked the person I was reading about and writing to.
Those letters were the first domino. In those letters we created a comfort level with each other that led to the ability to make a commitment. Two years later we took that step when my wife graduated from High School, and I came home on leave. This time I went to her graduation party and I asked her to come back to Texas with me, where I was stationed. Obviously there are a lot of details left out, and I won't go into the rest. But I'm thankful that she kept writing to me. So, haha, with Valentines day coming up, get out your pens and paper and put it in the mail! It may start something you can't stop; Or won't want to stop.
February 8, 2010
Something I'd like to do before I die, that nobody knows yet
There is not much that my closest friends and family don't know about me, and I'm not harboring any secret unfulfilled wish or desire that I will suddenly unveil when I'm sixty. I have no desire to jump out of airplanes or bungee jump or sail around the world.
I did have a dream once that I was standing in the mountains in Nepal, in the Mustang Kingdom, looking up at the sky. I had a long white beard and hair, blowing like sails in the wind. I heard the noise long before it reached me, and knew what it was. I know that sound because I used to be in the military. As I stood there like a statue watching hundreds and hundreds of Chinese helicopters flying over me toward India, tears flowed down my cheeks. The next world war was in motion.
Although I'd like to see these regions of the world, along with many other places where people I have met are from, I don't need to travel before I die. I won't have unfinished business and come and haunt you as a ghost because I didn't get to do it.
Many people may not know this about me, but I would like to see Tibet relieved of occupation and colonization before I die. I don't really want to be standing on a mountain with swarms of helicopters flying over my head in a deafening roar. I would like there to be no need for those helicopters. In that light, before I die, I'd like to make a difference in bringing peace to the world.
February 7, 2010
The personality traits I most admire
I'm going to start at the top, being this is a list of what I admire the most in people. I'm not saying I have all of these traits either, but think that I try, and that I value them highly. I also hate to omit things from the list, because I know that I like a lot of things about a lot of people and some of the personality traits I omit, are more important at different times. So here I go, My top five, what I admire the most in you:
Your compassion. When you are aware of others around you and aware when they have issues or problems, and then you actually have a desire to help, then you are probably already my best friend. I would call you a very warm person, interested in other people, enough so that you will make time for them.
And right along side this, I really admire friendly people. Last week I went to a meetup group, with people I have never met before. There was one person who came and sat next to me and started chatting and asking questions. She was open, comfortable to talk to and was happy. She was pleasant and memorable. She was genuine and friendly.
A cooperative Spirit also ranks highly with me. I really admire people who try to resolve conflicts, who treat others with respect and love to collaborate vs. compete.
I admire creativity. Creativity is problem solving. A creative person knows how things work and can imagine possibilities. You know how to daydream, you like art, you like poetry, you like to ask questions and see different points of view, and then put them together in a way that others might not have thought about. Creative people are constantly challenging my own perspective.
Openness, or being forthcoming. When you volunteer information you are earning trust. You are obviously not hiding anything or withholding anything and people know it and feel it. I naturally feel more at ease around you because I know your motives are good. I can see them. It's in the emotions you share and your willingness to disclose your inner thoughts.
I'm going to throw in Integrity and honesty also, because it makes you genuine and real. And I highly admire that in people. You are not trying to look for loopholes, you are not scheming, you don't do or say things at the expense of others, you are not lying to make yourself look better. You prefer to obey the laws, and value and respect truth. I know I can trust you because your actions match your words.
Oh, ok, One more...A little humility is good too. Some serious walls crumble between people with a little humility.
It's interesting and meaningful to me that when I asked my friends what personality traits they admire most, many of them answered with some of the same personality traits. I shouldn't be surprised, because I have great respect for my friends and like their attitudes.
February 6, 2010
Can I say that Sundays are different? Sundays are not really any different than they have always been as an arbitrary, moving time measurement. But what I do on my Sundays has changed. Of course I have the luxury of being able to look back on a lot of Sundays in my life and see in retrospect that there was a change; in activities.
Sunday is called the beginning of the week, on our calendar at least, but for most of my adult life Sunday was the end. Many people call it the day of rest after six days of labor. I used to labor every Sunday too, for many, many years getting up early and getting ready for church. I even taught Sunday School for a year, which was a lot of work. But eventually I stopped struggling over church, and at first even treated Sunday as a day of rest. I would sip coffee and read, or meditate. I've also spent Sunday's hanging out at the bookstore or studying at the local coffee shop.
Church can be wonderful though, and I do enjoy it when I go, especially the singing and thoughtful meditations. But I wonder how many Sundays I attended church and did not remember anything, was uninspired, tired and going through the motions. At some point I decided that I was no longer going to make myself do something just because I thought I had to do it. So I ended the routine by attrition.
Has that made my Sundays different? Yes. I found other inspiring and thought provoking activities to do on Sundays, trying to get one more thing in before having to go back to work. I have to finish this project, I tell myself. Or the lawn needs mowing, the house needs repairs, and oh, I have three chapters left to read in this book. Then 11:00pm rolls around and Sunday is over. It is the end of the week.
Last Sunday I went to the Weisman Art Museum to see the exhibit on 19th Century Korean furniture, met some new friends, and ate an early dinner at Hong Kong Noodles restaurant. This Sunday I will be studying, reading, joining a book discussion group and preparing a presentation for Monday. If I were standing still, I'd say many Sundays go by in a blur, especially when I look back on them. But I think Sunday is standing still and it is me that is moving through it. What was I doing on all of those Sundays? The day is the same, end of the week or beginning of the week. The change that I can only see over time, is in my willingness to commit to any one thing on Sunday. My Sundays are days of motion. Maybe at the end of my life I will rest, but perhaps Sunday I will discover something new to do.
February 5, 2010
One of my favorite childhood vacations
I'm not content to just write about a fond memory it seems. Is it the period in my life, age, that makes me analyze my past and question why I have a fond memory of that experience? Maybe everyone does this at all ages, but when I stack up memories over so many years, I begin to see a pattern in what makes me happy. And that seems to be why I've unknowingly sought out similar experiences throughout my life.
One of the most fond memories I have as a child is attending summer camp at Camp J.I.M. (Jesus Is Mine) by Brainerd, MN. And yes, the wooden water slide was a thrill at that young age! It was like riding a long wooden roller coaster on a board with metal wheels down into the water. One objective was to see how far we could skip across the water on the board.
As a young boy in elementary school, this place had special meaning to me. After the first year, I wanted to go back again and again. Why? Because it was an adventure away from home. Because It was an experience of independence from my parents, and from the routine that had established itself at home; going to school, doing homework, playing in the already familiar settings. But familiarity wasn't bad, because I loved the familiarity of the place. After a couple of years attending the week-long camp, it became like a second home, and that made it more special.
Summer camp was also where I learned how to swim. Obviously at a summer camp on a lake in MN, swimming is a big part of the daily activities. The older kids were models of what rewards came with learning to swim. The swimmers who could swim well enough and pass a test, could also swim out to the diving tower, anchored not to far out, but far enough that you had to know how to swim. By the end of the first week, me and my friends all managed to get out to the tower. The motivation was to be one of the one's who met the requirements, passed the test, and seen as a swimmer, not a non-swimmer, confined to the shallow end.
I also learned about many other interesting things, like the value of working hard, no matter what the job. We all had to do kitchen duty, which meant scraping the plates into the slop bucket. Even almost 40 years ago, I was thrilled to know that our scraps were not going to waste, but being fed to the local farm pigs. Somehow that made the job more fun for me and gave it purpose. My history has shown me that I am way more motivated by things with purpose. When many kids tried to get out of their duties, I even volunteered.
At Camp JIM, I also had my first exposure to a blind person in a wheel chair. He was an amazing man who played guitar and sang and had the spirit of God in him like nobody I ever knew. His awareness and smile made me feel special and alive. I learned that physical handicaps did not have to be a barrier to happiness. One day I was playing shuffleboard by myself and he came rolling by. I'm sure he heard the whir of the little clay disk zipping across the concrete, because he stopped to talk to me, his head cocked, smile wide, as if he was seeing me with his ears. He didn't ask me if there was anyone else there. He asked me my name, and if I was having fun.
I also learned compassion for other people and the value of friendship. At summer camp the pranks were never ending it seemed. I learned did not want to participate in pranks that embarrassed other kids. I did such a prank exactly once and my best friend was so mortified he would not talk to me. I spent the rest of camp and my life remembering the trust that friendship requires. When we reveal our inner fears and dreams to others, we need to feel like we will not be betrayed to those that would take advantage of us or mock us. Real friendship implies a deeper level of trust than we have with people we work with, go to school with or meet in our daily lives. Perhaps more than anything it was the friends that made summer camp so special.
There are many more experiences at this camp that are good memories, like the campfires, the singing and the learning. Someday I should write down all of my memories of summer camp. Maybe I should revisit this camp some day, since it is still there, giving kids memorable lifetime experiences. I have a feeling many of my favorite memories will be felt by other kids in the same way.
February 4, 2010
Journal in a Jar
My wife gave me a challenging gift; a journal in a jar. This is a large jar filled with hundreds of little slips of paper. Each slip has a topic to write about. To use this gift I have to accept the challenge of writing a journal entry every day by drawing a slip from the jar and writing about the topic. I started this blog when UThink Blogs first began at the U of M. My goal then was to challenge myself to write every single day for an entire year, and I did it. It was an awesome experience. Even now after so many years, It amazes me that I still have one of the highest entry counts on this system. Anyway, that's another curiosity, but now with this gift, here I go. Hundreds of random subjects on little slips of paper that will reveal who I am, one day at a time, until this jar is empty. When the jar is empty am I done? Knowing my wife, she will secretly replenish the jar with new ideas.
Wow, I like the new Movable Type!
It's been a while since I really used this system. I really like this new Movable Type! I'm going to have to spend more time on here just to learn about the new blogging features. Anyone else dig this?
I get thrilled just seeing the formatting buttons above my entry screen! lol.