Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Paralysis of Tragedy

Just like any other night on Two Notch Road, cars blinked past streetlights at speeds high enough to paint a mahogany ember over the deep indigo midnight sky. Buildings arose into sight as quick as they disappeared. A Cadillac with thick charcoal tinted windows came centimeters from my front bumper in what seemed like a second. No stop light in sight, my size 13 tensed the brake just enough to stop behind him in time.

Two flashes of blinding light turned night to day for an instant, and then back to night, followed by the torturous noise a volcano might make in full eruption.

Growing up part of the generation that witnessed the first fully televised war, Desert Storm, and the subsequent proliferation of all-things-media in every battle since, it’s no wonder I had a fairly good sense of what it might feel like to stand near a bomb detonation.

I yelled, not out of surprise, but out of something primal, like a drum beat it was over. I touched my face, was I alive?

That feeling right after a headlining rock concert ends, when it’s silent but for the crowds whisper, yet a layer of sound still hisses in your ears, that’s the feeling I had as I swung open the door to my truck. Everything slowed down, next to a sedan now resting driver side up stood a family of six, all crying, shouting, where were the paramedics? Where was the ambulance? Can someone do a head count, no body count, now? Please God.

Prayers aren’t always exercises in meditative stamina. I shot a prayer to God, please God, help them, whoever them was at that moment.

With my husky SUV shifted into park and the wide body rear fully blocking traffic I walked toward the wreck, now pushing smoke to the air like a steel tipi, I wondered for a second if anyone was alive inside, and then to the question of what might happen if the evolving push of smoke turned to fire, surely I’d die.

When tragedy happens the dead have a way of kissing you goodbye, ever so slightly letting you know that the steps you take are among ghosts now. When my grandmother passed away, the patron saint of my childhood, she said goodbye to me in a dream. When my uncle came to tell me the news that summer morning all those years ago I already knew my hero had left this earth, bound for the heavens above.

The family, now kneeling to the ground in pain, stood dangerously close to the fuming car. A man ushered them away, motioning with his eyes for me to get back. His bravery led to a pop of adrenaline chasing the fear out of my bloodstream, as my eyelids began extracting from their usual sleepy posture to just about the back of their sockets. I started to run, towards the car at first, and then into the hand of a man that pushed me back, telling me nobody alive was in the car with a shake of his head. Before I could speak he was gone, was he ever really there?

I regained my footing, standing still as a statue in the middle of a fatal pile-up scene.

Silence, the great exasperator, did her best to make me feel like there was something I could’ve done to save the passengers of that wrecked fuming collection of steel. I stood still while the paramedics darted by me on both sides.

Whatever time we have left is precious, and far too important to spend entirely on the road of self-fulfillment, for when the collision of life and death occurs we’ll want to pass on with a spirit of selfless giving, even in, or maybe in spite of, the paralysis of tragedy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running Towards Redemption

Ten summers ago I ran a road race with my father. It wasn’t anything serious, a sleepy 5k on a sticky summer night in South Carolina. One learns quickly upon moving to the south that outdoor events, during the summer at least, are reserved for the evening, because frankly it’s too damn hot to do much of anything when the sunlight radiates it’s suffocating heat into the thick muggy mid-Carolina air.

As I nervously approached the block of runners stretching near the starting line my dad tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered to follow him. We waded through hundreds of people on our way back. I wondered where we were going, the starting line was the exact opposite way, why were we walking away from it I thought confounded by what seemed to be an obvious disadvantage we were now placing on this father and son team.

Right before the race began we reached the very back of the field, and my father quietly said something I’ll never forget, he looked forward to the sea of bodies, and back at me, and explained that he liked to start in the back so that he’d spend the race passing others instead of being passed like those that might start at the front but not be in good enough shape to keep pace. It’s the psychology of it he explained, and we were off.

A penny, if you spin it the right way, on a flat surface can turn for seconds at a time in revolutions so fast the coin itself appears blurred, tails and heads become almost one, until the coin slows enough for gravity to pull it down to one side or another. The penny can fall, in theory at least, on either side just as easily.

When a man loses his money he feels inadequate, in his DNA is the need to provide, and with no money becoming a provider all the sudden doesn’t quite sound possible. With no money a man becomes almost irrelevant to a culture set upon, run by, and worshipped for monetary measures.

When a man loses love he has no shoulder to cry on, no one to listen to his feelings, to rub his shoulders and tell him it’ll be alright, that everything will be alright. No love to hold him up when he is too weak to hold his own weight, to push him for the better, and to champion his interests and goals as if they were her own.

When a man loses his car he has no transpiration, which often means the freedom he once had is no more. When a man has no torque in front of him, no rubber beneath, no wheel to rest his hands on, his life is at a perpetual stoplight, always red, never green, at least in a city with scant public transportation.

Combine the three, no money, love, or car, add in that unforgiving Carolina summer heat, and you have all the ingredients baking toward a depression of serious proportions. You also have something else, a gift, a wondrous gift that is so special, so unbelievably amazing, it has no price that one could pay for it. Beyond the bitter taste of what you don’t have, lays a honeycomb sweet opportunity to change your life in magnitudes otherwise incomprehensible, for the better.

Running from the back of the field in that road race a decade ago was so exhilarating, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly pass anymore people as I steamed through 3.1 miles, a few more bit the dust behind me. Finishing nowhere near the top wasn’t even on my radar as my feet dashed the finish line, because I knew that I was far from last, that my time was respectable, and that my effort was worthy, simply by counting all those that ended up behind me. Psychology indeed.

The gift of starting at the back of a race, and in life, is in experiencing something from nothing. Seeing progress not in the context of a lifetime of progress, but in that of having nowhere to go but up in the moment. Instead of carrying the faults of ambitious goals gone ary, we celebrate the smallest of victories out of nothingness. A strip steak to the rich is dog food, to the poorest of the poor it is a meal reserved for only the most special of occasions.

This past summer, years after the road race, when I thought I’d surely have it all figured out, a season of despair had arrived so unexpected. Just when I thought things could not get much worse, they started to get better. The fall and winter brought so much right, so many smiles and laughs have been had, and my old Subaru has to be the best car I’ve ever owned if for nothing else that it cost $2,500 and runs like a gem. The money I make now comes from the hardest work I’ve ever done, and is the most gratifying. I do as much pro bono work as paid, and it’s totally awesome. Life these days is as sweet as the tea down here, not because everything is as good as it’s ever been, but because everything is now the way it should be. I am who I want to be, finally, and while arriving at the destination of being my true self is enormously fantastic in it’s own right, the real blood pumping, finger tingling, eye bulging excitement comes from what I, no we, can do now. The world really is my oyster, and yours too.

That penny spinning, I envision you like that, all of us actually, a motion-filled entity that can at any given time land to do good, to give unselfishly, to toss ego in the trash can, and just serve and build a better place, as it can fall on the side of self-gratification, one-upping the Joneses, and far worse deeds that arrive from our inner desires to do wrong.

When I speak to others and they share with me, maybe because I welcome openness, or maybe because of some otherworldly reason, they share their desire to do more with their life. To build a business that matters, or to give to the poor, or the church, or to students with no school supplies. Each time I hear such wishes I think of that penny, and of the race, and how if we just take a minute to walk to the back of the pack, shedding all our thoughts and perceptions of who we are, or what others think we should be, before a nightmare of a life does it for us, we are capable of so much goodness… Maybe even enough to change the world.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Not long ago I purchased a laptop desk after hearing from friends and reading in the paper that extended use of a laptop computer as the namesake suggests on one’s lap can possibly cause infertility. Being tethered to my MacBook Air for more hours in a day than I care to admit, it seemed like a smart preventative investment. Preservation of unborn children has been on my mind lately.

A crazy man stands firm in the middle of a busy four-lane thoroughfare in an industrious area near my home. Wielding dolls that look straight out of a Chucky movie, and grotesque picture signs of lifeless fetuses while dodging cars and trucks that almost seem to speed up as they near him, the man finds time to wave at passersby. I don’t know his name, but for at least a decade, the time I’ve lived here, he’s furiously waved his signs and dolls in an effort to get expecting moms to think twice about having an abortion. If you live in Columbia, South Carolina long enough you too will get the shock treatment.

On 60 Minutes recently Scott Pelley interviewed a homeless Florida family living in a van. What was more striking than the picture of Pelley, an upper middle class income earner to put it modestly sympathetically interviewing a poor homeless family, was the nature of the children. Calm and resolute, the children stood as reflections of their parents, the words whispered from their mouths could’ve easily come from mom or dad, like a circus maze mirror, distort the size of their parents and you’d get the children. As brother and sister stood side-by-side extolling the benefits of the simple life their parents proudly looked on like a young couple would at their son or daughter’s first soccer game.

Over craft beers with a friend last night at a local pub, by the way that’s what people do in their thirties, they drink craft beers at pubs instead of buds at dive bars, a woman caught my attention. Tall with dark hair that curled off her head ever so slightly falling in her firm-as-can-be snow white face, no smile or smirk evident, like she hadn’t grinned in her lifetime she beamed of natural beauty. You know the kind of beauty where makeup isn’t needed, and just about anything she wears looks like her go-to best outfit? That’s the kind of beauty this woman had.

As she floated across the floor she glanced at me, blatantly catching my eyes fixated on her, headed somewhere intentionally, or maybe just to stretch those long legs, she went gracefully through the cluttered beer boasters and chatty girls with their cell phones and gossip. I turned around, surely there was a clock above my head, or maybe a window beside me, something that would call her attention to where I was sitting, or was she looking at me? Minutes passed, lost in conversation I’d almost forgot about the whole thing, when she appeared a second time. She navigated the swelling crowd eyes meeting mine, body moving effortlessly. I stopped to take the scene in and as my eyes froze on her, she reciprocated, just to walk out of the bar never to be seen again.

My mom told me, some years back, that I was to have an older sister, her name was to be Jean Vee Ev, which I guess means Genevieve in French. What a beautiful name I told her, my mom smiled and nodded. Jean Vee Ev was never born, but her ghost still visits often.

Colton, the young boy profiled in the bestseller Heaven is for Real, a tale about visiting the other side, was interviewed not too long ago on TV about meeting his miscarried sister, which made me feel better about thinking of Jean Vee Ev from time to time.

I wonder if you asked a healthy happy ten year old girl how she felt about the zealotus doll waver if her mom had decided to have her after being accosted by one of the very signs the man waves so vehemently. Would she not thank him for her life? If all of this insanity led to her safe arrival, in a crazy ass way is this not the best thing that ever happened to her?

Would the homeless jobless parents give their children up if they could? It surely doesn't seem to be the case. Would they take their children back if they could, just to save them from suffering a fate most children could never imagine after hearing the humility and wisdom in their young voices on TV? It seems as if in their own way, van and all, they’re doing well enough, and are thankful enough for their children to not take anything back.

The woman in the pub, she made me think of Jean Vee Ev, dark haired and stoic like her mom, would she have been happy to live life on this earth? To endure the ups and downs of life for a chance to make a difference in another life? Unsettled and out of place in that pub, ready for things far more important than a martini to come her way, she walked out the door assured that the next day she’d get to her volunteer gig at the shelter earlier. Surely like my mother she’d be a difference maker, a world saver, wouldn’t she? Some days I can only wonder.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I woke up this morning and asked God why He gave me another day?

God replied, to do my work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reimagined in Ruins

Not too long ago I tweeted that I’d be better off with no material possessions. A smart apple tersely responded surely I wouldn’t want my material cache of belongings stolen. Time passed. I let his tweet echo in my mind for sometime, the notion of giving versus being taken from, and the idea of what it would be like to have nothing swished around in my mind like a soapy sponge on last night’s dinner plate.

Today, in front of me, after a good cup of coffee, stood the unanswerable Socratic paradox, if we work to accumulate material possessions, then it would be unimaginable, or counterintuitive at the very least, to give them all away, nonetheless have them taken from our grasp? Surely running water, an insulated home, and a stove to cook food with is necessary for modern life. Case and point - that delicious cup of coffee required some boiling water to drip into the ceramic cup, not to mention the electricity that propelled the grinder blades to crush the roasted beans into a handful of sandy goodness. Surely we shouldn’t live without everything I concluded, as many of you have very long ago, but all that other stuff, you know, everything that doesn’t serve our daily needs, are all those things really necessary?

I’ve been robbed three or four times, my mom a few times, my brother at least once, my father a few times, and my various businesses in the tens of times, not to mention close friends and family that’ve fallen victim to the act countless times. What universally seems to come from robbery emotion-wise is not so much the loss of possessions, but rather the feeling of violation.

I don’t know about you, but my robber is dressed in all black, wearing a perpetual scowl on his lips wet with the fresh drool delivered from the adrenaline rush that his thievery so often delivers. My robber loves to take, destroy, and dirty the very place I call home in a way that shows he is not only a taker, but a controller. My robber hates what I love, and would kill my dogs if he knew how much it’d break my heart. My robber is forever a thug, a wild man with a heart for terror that waits for everyone to sleep so he can cowardly slip through the door and take what is not his like Bank of America tagging on new debit card fees for it’s customers.

My robber wickedly does what he can to cause strife, profit from my loss, and create chaos, fear, and hopelessness.

Here is the funny thing about the robber, he’s not up on mythology, at least not the story of the phoenix. See the phoenix of Greek lore actually ignites itself on fire after nearly a dozen centuries of life, just to see itself reborn out of her own ashes for a new life of fruitful existence. In essence the very person that exists to hurt us is helping us, freeing us from all that we own and associate with in grand fashion, allowing for our new selves to emerge in way we would never self-perpetuate. Our robber ducks in, tosses a match on our nest and resting bodies, and lights a fire of change that we would never ask for on our own account, but are so grateful for after we see the beautiful ashes the fire left in it’s wake. Given a life reimagined, what would you do different? Exactly.

Look around your living room, your office, or bedroom. Would you buy that same desk if you could? Surely you’d think twice about that snow globe with the snail in it you thought was so cool five years ago you had toss it on the checkout counter at the surf shop, or about that t-shirt you got at that Limp Bizkit concert before they were lumped in as has-beens from the nineties. If you really look around, and really ask the question, not do I need this, but how often do I use this shirt, snow globe, watch, or candleholder to better my life? If you really ask that honest question for all the items in your home, the answers might start surprising you. Nine out of ten possessions will suddenly look out of place, as there simply is no need for them anymore.

When all your belongings are taken, stolen from under your grasp, what really happens is opportunity disguised as tragedy. We are gifted by the visit from someone so greedy they take everything you own, and leave you with so much less than you would’ve ever tossed out on your own. You have nothing now, so finally you are free to live the life you know is best for you in all that wisdom you’ve acquired through the years since you purchased all those things to being with. Living with less might just provide that blank slate you wanted for so long, but never knew how to ask for, once you have a roof over your head and a stove to cook with of course.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The People That Encourage Us

Growing up near the city dark was relative. Streetlights flickering connected to a grid of a few million more all dancing to the beat of electrical currents. It was dark then, but never blindly so.

In the country a porch light after the sun diminishes is washed out by darkness rendered nearly useless. Stand outside in the country on a night when clouds cover the moon and your celestial views disappear. You can’t see anything tangible allowing for all the rest to arrive in front of you. All those emotions all the sudden transcend from a feeling to a color to an object standing right there in front of you. Reach your hand out and burn your fingers on the heat of your anger, or risk frostbite grasping the bitter cold that comes with being alone. In the black night a pulse can be felt, read even, that doles out memories with uncanny regularity. We become history students of our own mind.

In times like these our minds have priorities of their own, our thoughts become discourse, our minds the judges. We play out scenarios of the past, people no doubt, who somehow put us down. We wonder how we could prove them wrong, how we could impress them, how we could satisfy their often impossible demands of us. Like a wild tiger in a phone both, the panes of our fragile sensitivities are broken over and over, the phone rings to bring us out of this disastrous place, but tigers don’t know stop as well as they know go.

Sometime ago Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame wrote in an essay that we pay to go to concerts to watch other people believe in themselves.

Believing in ourselves, having the absolute faith we can do the unimaginable, we are ordained to be successful through the practice and patients that self-belief fuels. If only we knew where to get some?

A black chandelier sits in my garage, gorgeous and regal, it stood to make a wonderful addition to whatever room it graced. Problem is the chandelier arrived broken, a few pieces missing and thus it emits no light. Our thoughts of those we can’t please are a lot like my black chandelier, broken and useless, incapable of providing light. To think that entirely focusing on our detractors will get us to where we want to go is akin to the bookstore owner asking the librarian for advice on selling more books.

When running we can’t walk, when talking we can’t be silent, and when thinking of the negative we can’t fully embrace the positive in our lives, the great encouragers.

Great encouragers are often the last thanked at the party. They’re the ones we take for granted, as if they somehow owed us their encouragement. We say thanks to them, but do we really mean it? Do we realize the true power of their positive words?

Great encouragers are those that without immediate benefit offer support in praise regardless of our personal wellbeing. Great encouragers can be found among our family, friends, and even strangers in the street.

So many instances exist where great encouragers do their work, often without hoopla or bravado, they go about providing the love and assistance we all need in order to build that priceless thing known as self-confidence.

An email arrived late one evening a year ago, the subject something about writing, and the body something about how I made someone chase their dreams. I did the minimum, I thanked them, and never spoke to them again.

On the phone after a few hours of venting off frustrations from a summer filled with struggle my brother pointed out the possibility I haven’t ever embraced my true gifts. I agreed to get him to stop talking about it. Never did I mention how much it meant to me, not till now at least.

I got a text message not long ago from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a year, it in a roundabout way said their life was better with me in it.

Great encouragers innately are synced with our emotional clocks, they know when to say what and how. We often serve the same role to others.

A student once told me they wanted to drop out of college because they felt like they didn’t belong. I told them they were gifted, rattled off some initial ideas of what they could do with their life, and a year later they told me that’s why they stayed in school. I never heard from them again, I wonder where they are now?

Some years ago I dated a stripper for a few months, she hid her occupation from me out of embarrassment. When I found out we talked, and discovered that she had flawless math skills. Next thing I knew she’s done taking her clothes off for money, and now gets it from helping kids wrestle with numbers for standardized tests.

At a cocktail party this past weekend I told a young man I believed in his idea, his confidence grew before my eyes.

Did the writer pursue their passion because of my book? Did the friend really live a lonelier life without me? Would the stripper have quit without my tutoring pitch? Would the man chase his dream idea without my words? Who knows? If my words, something I’ve got a near unlimited supply of, even influenced any of the situations in the slightest towards the positive was it not worth saying to them?

We all might not have the abilities or personality for that matter to be great encouragers to others, but we all have the capacity to love, cherish, and embrace those that encourage us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Paring it to Essential

Why were we so happy as children? Can a brain scan really tell us it’s all science? Are dopamine levels all we really need to gauge human happiness?

Remember being happy as a child, you know, laughing in the forest on a chase with a sibling, tossing in bed incessantly from the utter excitement of going to the amusement park the next day, and the holidays, it’s like a three-month trip on the euphoria train for adolescents like we used to be. Can you recall those times? When our happiness was so abundant it was nearly omnipresent. So what happened between then and now? From the times when we were happy little children to jaded disappointed adults? Where did all that happiness go exactly?

Stuff consumes our beings in ways freightingly unintended. The more things we own the higher the probability something needs to be fixed, cleaned, updated, or at the very least used. Stuff with value can’t be given away, for those that need money and if the time ain’t right to sell it, well the burdenous cycle continues. We just become people with stuff accumulating more stuff in an effort to quench a never-ending thirst for stuff. Not to mention the monetary debt being in the stuff-cycle brings, and all the enslavement that comes with being in debt, it gets really unhappy real quick. Stress, unease, fighting, and even fatalities are results of such.

Having copious amounts of money isn’t much better if we aren’t wise with our spending. We never had to worry about our pets surviving a turbulent private jet trip to the Caribbean island we own, or the lack of veterinary care to treat them upon arrival before all that money fell in our laps. No, with money, after a certain point at least, comes big whoppers of unexpected problems and hassles. Problems everyday Joe’s working the night shift at the tire factory never, ever, in his wildest dreams would worry about. What’s the going rate to heat a McMansion each year? And the pool costs how much to maintain? It’s a tough nut to maintain if the money well ever dries up.

Stuff and money sap us of the one great pleasure of youth, simplicity. We lose our simple lives of routine for the grand production of a delicate balancing act, where balancing atop the razor thin wire of focus and purpose is a daily routine.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, many of them to be more specific, prey on our needs for more stuff. Apple is far from an ambivalent party here, there are product cycles geared towards our insatiable need for the latest and greatest. A child in the Horn of Africa just wants some food so he doesn’t die that day, but we maxed out our credit cards on something far less important than life-sustenance, we got something tangible that has neither a heart or a soul. If only we could pin our grievances on materialism and the trappings of such, but it’s more complicated than just what we buy, it’s also what we say, and what others around us say.

People pollute our minds with mental junk.

I’m secretly bothered by people that talk about other people, because mentally they are creating clutter on the most sacred human space of them all, the mind. Their mind is now clogged with it, and they are fast filling up my brain shelves with it as well.

We verbally butcher people for the craziest reasons, and yet it never satisfies us, so we keep at it, hoping one day there might be some fulfillment from putting someone else down, though as far as I know true peace has never arrived from such. I’m not talking about written critiques of elected leaders, or investigative journalism that uncovers the world’s most hidden improprieties, no, I’m talking about gossip. Gossip blogs, gossip from our lips, gossip from others, it’s useless, and propels us to stock our mental shelves with the unimportant in the most valuable of places. If we are so concerned with Kim Kardashian’s wedding failure or Justin Bieber’s paternal DNA test, what just got shoved out of the way? What if instead of Kim and Justin we thought of homeless Bob on the street corner and Mary in an abusive relationship? Our mental shelves offer only so much capacity, and our wellbeing is much better off for focusing on the Bob’s and Mary’s instead of the Kim’s and Justin’s of the world. Heck, we might just be able to help Bob and Mary.

How can we ever be happy with so much in our minds, homes, and banks? Truth be told we can’t, we never will be, and we shouldn’t expect to be until the art and act of simplicity is fully embraced.

Simplify everything, where you live, what you buy, whom you hang out with, and what you say. Try it for a week and see if it isn’t easier to be a better person, and as important, simply be at peace with world. Simplicity works in our world because our world is full of distractions, and without a clear and well thought out plan we don’t stand a chance at making it through unscathed.

Simplicity offers at the very least a road to a home built on the fertile soil of peace landscaped with trees of calming focus, and a door open wide enough to let whatever shows up come through with ease.

On a personal note I’ve been working on simplifying my life for the past 13 months. Everything in my life has taken a turn for the better, and while I still have a long road to travel to achieve anything close to peace of mind, I feel empowered by what simplicity has offered me thus far, and the above is my testament to such.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Searching for Solace in Rejection

There is a level of brevity in being painfully rejected. Whether or not I could play kickball as youth, I certainly didn’t look like I was any good. When the schoolyard picking went down I was at or near last picked for as many games as I remember ever playing. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I was a sleeping Frank Thomas of the kickball diamond, a Pelé of the asphalt, or just as bad as they thought I was.

As much as I’d tell myself back then that rejection gets easier, it clearly doesn’t. The only consistent element of rejection, or the feelings that accompany it at least, are that they eventually go away, or so we’re taught with clichés like time heals all wounds. Does it really?

With age we replace being thought of as insignificant on the playing field for being thought of as insignificant in life. We aren’t invited to certain cocktail parties, to chair or even be part of given committees, and if single, we aren’t always loved back in the way we wished. We grow envious of people with stuff we don’t have, and when desperate, put those down that have less. Less money, education, humor, wisdom, hair, you name it, anything to dial down our own feelings of rejection.

Stubborn loyalty exacerbates the scope of rejection’s reach. We, as souls that have felt the pain of being last picked in the game of life a few times too many hold dear to the bonds we were able to form, to the team’s that did pick us, even if it were for just a single game.

My grandmother never remarried after her divorce. My mom still asks about my dad, 25 years after their marriage ended. I look at my only brother and see a reflection of my own thoughts on the matter, us both still clinging on to things long past. I can’t help but hope the pattern ends with us, but reason tells a different story.

Here is the paradox of life, if we want to participate we must allow for the possibility of rejection to exist. In other words, if we wish to satisfy our human DNA for love, appreciation, growth, and fellowship we must risk feeling totally and utterly rejected in all categories. If you are like me, and equate rejection with sharp torturous soul-stirring pain, then you understand why we’re almost being reckless by participating at all. Enter the modern life.

You hang out with whom you trust, read whom won’t hurt you, and pander to those that potentially may. You seek guidance from those that seem immune from rejection, hoping it’ll rub off on you, and in effect bolster their reputation for immunity. We live in a dog eat dog world, where those that are self-aware enough to admit having trust issues are in fact making themselves ripe targets for rejection to occur. Like a wounded rabbit limping along in the open coyote infested California desert chances of a pleasant outcome dwindle with each minute passed.

Can we decipher anything but bitterness from the taste of rejection on our lips? I believe so. We all feel enslaved to certain people, standards, and cultures, and when rejection occurs, it offers freedom from such slavery. You no longer are shackled to whom you had to be to exist in the place you were told not to enter anymore, you are now free to be different. Fired from a job? Now’s the time to try something different. Dumped? Now’s the time to date someone different. Kicked out of the house by your roommates? Now’s the time to live somewhere different. See a pattern? In our rejection we gain freedom, and maybe a little courage to do something crazy good.

Not a day goes by I don’t think about some type of rejection in my life. We lost the state championship in football my senior year of high school, we never were able to enter that elite club of winners, the loss still stings 14 years later. I still wonder why my ex girlfriend left the country and never came back, and why that magazine book critic didn’t like my debut novel no matter how unsatisfying she thought the ending might have been. I wonder, ponder, think, vent, and stare at the walls blankly. At the end of the day my ticket to freedom is the only tangible thing I’ve got to show for those rejections.

And you, do you feel free as a net result of yours? Are you free to live, work, and do in a better way from being rejected, or did all those no’s just leave you without a yes worth living for?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tools of Empowerment

The Dali Lama, Tibet’s exiled Spiritual leader was rebuffed in his efforts to attend the first peace lecture put on by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa due to an official reason of a still-pending visa application, though many suspect the South African government has other motivations for keeping him out. Safe to say, the Dali Lama wasn’t able to physically attend, so big brother wins right? They strong-arm the vocal minority with big brother like tactics, such as, well, never approving a visa application by the Dali Lama for entry.

Home-jailed world-renowned Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, fresh off a several-month real-jail detainment is forbidden from leaving the country due to supposed tax evasion. Popular fashion imprint W magazine wants Weiwei to art direct their annual issue dedicated to art, a role traditionally performed on set for obvious reasons. The Chinese government wins right? Game over, Ai Weiwei’s art direction would be impossible without his presence, surely the establishment wins again, correct?

Twenty years ago, yes, today, no.

We live in an age where technology transcends boundaries once thought impenetrable.

The Dali Lama met Desmond Tutu in a Google+ Hangout (video conversation) that was broadcast to anyone in the world with an internet connection that cared to join.

Via Skype and a laptop Mr. Ai directed a striking photo essay virtually from his home in China set at Rikers island jail, a symbolic location for the assignment.

Is the world better for the meeting of the Dali Lama, and by virtue of the forum, being able to watch it live, and the Ai Weiwei photo essay? Time will tell, but certainly at first glance simply allowing people to participate peacefully in acts that aim to shed light on issues plaguing people today is, to understate here, important.

Our world now has tools, communicative and otherwise, that can be harnessed to achieve the once impossible. The kicker here, the really funny bit of all this, are the tools used in both cases above are readily available to anyone with a laptop and the internet. The days of governments using big bankrolls to defeat vocal outliers are numbered in large part by the affordability and accessibility of such tools. For a few dollars you could feasibly use Skype in every capacity for a year, and Google+ is entirely free. In other words, the tools that empower movements the most are readily available to nearly anyone with a computer and the internet, which at last blush includes the majority of Americans.

In the information age the arms race is no longer Scud missiles or WMD’s, but control of Twitter feeds and Facebook accounts. As powerful as the truth is, as high of a standard as democracy in the U.S and other first world nations have set, no second-rate government of oppression is acceptable to the world’s people. Somebody in North Korea watched Real Housewives of New York, and asked why they couldn’t one day drive a Bentley or become part of a societal elite, or at least make enough to have running water, a reliable power grid, and fresh food to eat. The answer to the question in their head haunts them, they know it’s possible, they know democracy is a living growing organism, and they are starting to figure out that via social networks and the internet the days of oppression-focused regimes are numbered.

A wonderful quote from an organizer of the Arab Spring revolutions went something like this, we use Facebook for organizing our protest, and Twitter to tell the world about it. These revolutionaries didn’t need to ask the FCC for permission, or beg NBC or CBS for airtime, they simply used the same social media websites we all do, and brought cause and call to action to the message.

I wonder what bright minds around the world might be able to do if they thought more about the tools we have at our disposal for circumventing once dominate oppressors? Can you imagine the Berlin Wall being up today? Would someone not think to share information online, organize, and protest until it was torn down, the regime with it? Surely they would, and now comes the question, what Berlin Walls remain? What revolutions are bubbling to the surface, and if important to you, knowing the incredible power of the tools available, how can you be part of them?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Convenience as an Elixir

Shave ten minutes off the morning commute by taking the highway over the scenic route some might suggest. Toss that bag of frozen vegetables in the microwave instead of plucking them fresh from your backyard garden others might advise. Forget the book, just watch the movie version instead a friend opines.

What if a silver fox stood atop a tree stump, waiting to run from your eyes as you passed it in your Honda?

What if blood rushing to your sore back after picking peppers from the ground led to a humbling reflection on how your forefathers survived famine, war, and poverty?

What if a line in the book never made it to the movie, but inspired you to change the course of your career?

We live in a world taught to march to the beat of convenience at a tempo measured by time saved. Heartache is taboo.

Why is convenience synonymous with good? Do we really get as much out of being on time as we think we do? Should we stuff our daily schedule fat as a Thanksgiving turkey in an effort simply to ignore our deepest pains and sorrows? Is reflection worthless?

They say great art is often conceived from pain, the little I know about art seems to justify this. The dramatic arc, a foundation for today’s mellow dramas, has as much to do with pain and suffering as it does with chipper happy endings filled with resolute characters hugging and dancing in joyful poses.

For whatever reason, call it intuition, it seems as if generations of old are much more acutely aware of the healthy process of grieving, of taking the longer road, of walking when they could drive. The younger generations, X, Y, Millennials, and whatever we’ll call the ten year olds touting cell phones have little understanding of this. It’s the instant gratification crowd, where songs are achieved in a push of a button instead of a visit to the record store, food is delivered in minutes not hours, and the latest and greatest place is hosted online somewhere, but physically available nowhere. Convenience is paramount, and the slow down movement doesn’t seem to even exist, I checked Facebook before writing this.

The intoxicating effects of living a convenience-centered life, where reflection and introspection take a back seat to the next thrill is gender ambiguous, with young men choosing to binge drink in the name of masculinity and young women replacing the pain of an old boyfriend with a new one.

By age alone I’m in this generation, though I’d like to think I’ve lived on both sides of the fence, and deeply believe the lows in life are much greater lesson teachers than the highs. A few suggestions for taking a step away from convenience, and the traps that come with it follow.

Allow Pain

In bodybuilding pain is a sign of progress. When the muscles tear, and the fluids start rushing through them, the body is showing progress through pain. Unfortunately for those not in the hunt for the World Fitness Champion belt pain can be perceived as having the opposite effect. Often it’s like acknowledging and allowing pain to exist is in some fashion a sign of regression. Nothing can be further from the truth. Allowing pain to exist, being open about it with people you trust and professionals, can help nurture recovery.

Everyone feels pain, and when you have the courage to allow for it in your life flowers blossom from ugly dirt. By being honest about your pain, and seeking professional advice in books, from friends and family, or from a professional sense can be made of the pain, paths to recovery can be formed, and above all else your authentic self can emerge.

The process is slow, it won’t update as fast as your Twitter account, nor will it refresh as quick as your browser on the Urban Outfitters website, it’ll take time to sort this thing out, and that’s the best part about it.

Allow Failure

In sports we love to congratulate the winners, some even make it to the White House to meet the president. Winning is absolutely important, but what makes it so special is that on any given day just as many teams, players, and contest entrants are losing. Where there is a winner a loser must exist. Understanding that statistically we’ll all be losers as much as winners allows for the mind to open up to the idea of losing. You can, and should, shoot for high goals, but do so understanding that the higher the goal the higher the likelihood of failure.

Living with failure can be difficult, because everyone wants to congratulate the winner. It’s easy to envy the winner, to look at the winner and think there is something more special about them than you. Don’t buy into that trap, as a loser you hold the key to learning what went wrong, and you have a perfect tool to center your mind into a state of true humbleness. Allow for the hurt of failure to exist, and the analysis of what went wrong and why to happen before jumping into the next game, it’s our best tool for becoming the winner that we know we are capable of being in the end.

Allow Soul Searching

It is alright to ask questions about who you really are, no matter who you think your friends, family, and coworkers perceive you as being. Chances are they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they won’t even think twice about accepting a changed you, so don’t feel like you are locked into whoever you are perceived to be. Soul searching is not only helpful, it’s therapeutic. Allow your mind to dig deep into who you are, who you want to be, and where you want to go. If you aren’t asking these questions about yourself, chances are nobody else will.

Allow Love

Let the guards down for a minute, if you don’t call Bob who will? If you aren’t emailing Susan to see how she is, will she likely email you? Allowing love to exist in this world isn’t easy. People want to be courted, and often dislike being the courter. They’d rather be called upon, than do the calling. What is stopping you from being the caller? The connector? The person that knows they might get hurt by reaching out but does it anyway, because they consciously allowed love to exist?

Convenience tells us to hide from the above like boy in a heated game of tag. It shows us small rewards in exchange for our utmost loyalty. It give us bragging rights to the meaningless things in life, empty as a plastic bottle protruding from a garbage can at the gas station. We allow for convenience to be our master by proxy of engagement, we say it’s ok to be this way because everyone else is, and then, sometimes years later, we wonder what the hell went wrong.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Case for Organic Growth: Lose the Money Box

I’ve had four people ask my advice on various business ventures this week. Four friends mind you, not people that would qualify as clients. I get asked often about aspects of starting or running a business, and for the most part I have no qualms giving advice for free. I’ve been hustling in some fashion for 15 years, and self-sufficient (living entirely off my businesses) for seven years. The precise value of my experience is not readily available on, but fair to say it’s worth something.

So how do I decide who gets free advice and who has to ask nicely, and who has to actually pay? My simple test usually involves a mental history query, has this person done me wrong in the past? No, ok, sure whatever you want to know I’ll tell you. I’m not vindictive to those that have in some fashion wronged me in the past, I’m happy to give them advice too, for some money of course, as they would fall into the client category rather than that of friend. Anyone else asking, such as a stranger, I’ll usually give them my thoughts free, really I don’t care about money anymore than I have to for my friends at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage or The Fresh Market require.

Enough about me, let’s get to the crux of the issue that keeps gracing my ears as of late, how do you build and maintain a business with longevity in mind. In other words, how does one build something that is less one-off and more of a daily revenue generator? My answer to all four people was almost verbatim the same, and it will be repeated here for those of you watching at home. Grow organically.

With the advent of green washing, and an all around pension of those in the media to overuse terms like organic to the point of rendering them near meaningless, it is necessary to explain the word in relation to growing a new business.

Organic as defined by the online iteration of Merriam-Webster: of, relating to, or derived from living organisms <organic evolution>.

Just as evolution is an oft-taboo topic among Christians, growing organically is just as much something aspiring entrepreneurs do not want to talk about. What do you mean we have to wait to make money? What does it mean to give away my product, I thought I was trying to make money, not lose it? If you look close enough at their faces you can see the blood drain from their cheeks, as the skin settles back from the form of smiles to faces of inquisition.

Growing a business organically is so easy to compare to virtually any other organizational feat in life, think sports teams or ascending through higher education, I won’t bother you with such. Instead, just imagine a new business as something small and vulnerable, something that needs nourishing and protecting. Build it slow, let it fall before it walks, let the masses tell you it isn’t going to work, let people make fun of you for quitting your job to do it, let all of the awkwardness take place. Don’t try too hard to make it something it isn’t, just fail and adjust accordingly.

When you allow for the business to be small, imperfect, and open to change, you are in effect allowing it to be affordable to run, flexible to pivot into new directions, and above all else authentically yours. People seek realness from a business as much as they seek a quality product or service; look no further than your own curiosities. How many times have you visited a restaurant or clothing store and asked whom the owner was, and what their story was? Or online, how many times have you visited a website and rushed to click the About Us tab before all else? By operating on an organic level, of slow natural growth through effort and sweat over splash and big money, you will have a great story to share with all those inquiring minds, not to mention a sustainable business.

This blog post was partly inspired by the Jamie XX remix of Eliza Doolittle’s song Money Box. Somehow her lyrics, and the melody itself, provide an aura of less is more that perfectly speaks to the ideology of doing more with less. So often businesses are taught to think in terms of spend, spend, spend, when the best businesses can do with less, less, less and make more, more, more.

Eliza Doolittle - Money Box (Jamie xx Remix) by Tsiabaannah

Instead of going out to dinner tonight
We can grow vegetables
Underneath the skylight

Clicking these downloads everyday has its price
We can lounge on our couch
And listen to our 45s

So take your Dollar
Your Yen
Those Euros I can't spend
I won't get down with no pounds
Never need to leave this house

Don't need a moneybox
Cos I got lots and lots
Of what I need right here
Right here with you my dear
Don't need a cash machine
To make our days happy
So do me a favour
Don't jingle your change Sir

Instead of going to the movies tonight
There's no shame in us playing
Dust of that Sega Mega Drive

Hand me your trousers
You got holes in your knees
It's no fuss patch them up
Forget about that shopping spree

So take your Dollar
Your Francs
Your Rupees no thanks
I won't get down with no pounds
Never need to leave this house

Don't need a moneybox
Cos I got lots and lots
Of what I need right here
Right here with you my dear
Don't need a cash machine
To make our days happy
So do me a favour
Don't jingle your change Sir

Lock up your moneybox
It's not much of a loss
All that gold just goes to waste
Cos you're worth more anyway

No need to travel round London tonight
We can play Monopoly
Buy Mayfair in our own time

So take your Dollar
Your Buck
I couldn't give a penny
That's enough leave it out
Never need to leave this house

Don't need a moneybox
Cos I got lots and lots
Of what I need right here
Right here with you
I know I know I don't need a cash machine
To make our days happy
So do me a favour
Don't jingle your change Sir

Don't need a moneybox
Cos I got lots and lots
Of what I need right here
Right here with you
I know I know I don't need a cash machine
To make our days happy
So do me a favour
Don't jingle your change Sir
So do me a favour
Don't jingle your change Sir

Loobee loobee loobee loo

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Things Last

A struggle for many of us comes with the comparison of what we have to what others might have. In the sermon below Amos Disasa helps illustrate the point that comparison, and our conventional views of equality are not important when it comes to gaining entry into Heaven. This moved me when I heard it last week, and I hope it is helpful to you as well.

First Things Last by Downtown Church

Two Clouds

The battery in my smoke alarm must be running low, as it beeps every few hours in all it’s pitchy irritation. My eldest dog Rufus doesn’t like high-pitched sounds, other dislikes include thunder, strangers, and half full bowls of food. If a sound is loud and the pitch is high enough he’s been known to quickly hop on a lap, or curl up close to the nearest set of feet he can find until the startling sound storm passes.

Why this morning one of my many smoke alarms wanted to put the house on notice about an apparent lack of battery life at 5 am is a mystery to me, but Rufus wasn’t having any of it. With each pitchy chirp of the alarm his paws would scratch my bedroom door a little faster, my pets scratch instead of knock due to height restrictions. I tossed over in bed, hoping the sound and the canine notifications would go away, of course neither did. After twenty minutes or so listening to the cascading noises of door scratching and insanely loud beeping I got up and took care of it.

Now my home has one less smoke alarm, and Rufus, still shaken by the episode, has resorted to sleeping on my usually off-limits bamboo bathmat, as if to punish my tardiness in removing the battery from the device. Rufus might hold on to this grudge for a few days, or until I get some fresh bully sticks for him to chew on, whichever arrives first.

Our relationships, human ones that is, are a lot like the smoke alarm fiasco described above. We react in a state of panic when we must defy our presented character, in the case of the Pekingese regal, tough, unafraid, protecting, and evolve into survival mode, discarding the normal behavior, which surely at that hour would’ve involved collecting some of the 18 hours he sleeps each day.

Dogs hear sounds up to five times greater than humans experts argue, which would have this already piercing noise to the level of unbearable for poor Rufus to handle, akin to a human being shut in a room with deafening noise played intermitantly over and over again for hours on end. No wonder he had to go primal, he had to get to safety, and show his fear without regard for what either of his brothers or his master might think of him. While the incident is sad, it is similar to how a human might react if their house was on fire, and say someone they’d been arguing with was in the home with them. Forget the argument, let’s get to safety! Is there a way to be this honest with each other when a crisis is not occurring? Or are we never really this honest unless lives are on the line?

Often when we talk to each other we present our character foremost to match the context of the conversation, putting our true feelings on the back burner. The pop culture slang for this is putting up walls. I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had in the past few years where neither of us actually said what we meant, and the more this persists, the more it grows into the norm.

Take your pick of examples, a coach talking to a player, a parent to a daughter, a scorned lover to an ex, anytime there is a context, this notion of whom we want to be perceived as rather than who we really are comes into play. Add in the societal elements that go with being a citizen in the world today and you’ve got a person having a contextual conversation instead of a real authentic one. Sigh, roll your eyes, pause, take it all in, because it’s a lot.

With such a complex web of expectations and preordained rules, how in the world do we ever actually really talk to each other anymore? Perhaps by being above it, literally.

Imagine if we started off each meaningful conversation with each other by collectively stating the following-

Forget what we’re supposed to say, or what people might want us to say, or how people typically say what we’re about to say, and let’s just each get on our own cloud, and float above this place and all the norms that go with it. Let’s really just talk to each other with no preconceived notions, stereotypes, historical references, or anything else, just two people on two clouds facing each other above the rest of it.

What does removing ourselves from our normal place do? Could it give us a way to communicate without all the messy intricacies of following social protocol? Might we actually be able to say what we mean to each other more effectively, and maybe, just maybe, both arrive from our journey better off for it?