Thursday, November 15, 2012
On a muggy Florida afternoon some years ago I briskly walked through an Aldi grocery store. It was oddly arranged in a manner that required visitors to navigate aisle-by-aisle each section, rather than that of an open market where visitors could quickly find what they sought and go. Beyond the layout, for the life of me I couldn't find a brand I recognized, all the food was from a different universe, one that had yet to buy an ad on TV to tell me how good it was. I cursed Aldi for this, this euro-quirk wasn't charming, I needed Boars Head ham, and I needed it now, enough with the walk-through-the-gift-shop on the way out stuff.
Five months ago I returned to Aldi with my girlfriend. This Aldi was in South Carolina, not Florida, but for all intensive purposes it had the same odd layout, same quarter-to-use shopping carts, and same white label brands. This trip was different though, from the start the place looked promising, maybe I'm more calm, or maybe my companion has me more calm. As we walked the aisles chock full of discounted knock offs of everything from Nutella to Fage, the world of Aldi started to make sense. With my girlfriend's enthusiasm in full tilt, we found deal after deal. She calmly walked the awkward aisles, pointing out a mix of delicious foods and good deals in a whispery tone meant for just us two. "Those are so good, and man did you see the price of those cheese crackers, what a deal," she'd enthuse. Her energy attracted others, even begging a fellow Aldian to smile and compliment her dress. We bagged, or rather boxed, our groceries into the quarter cart, and were on our way with a total savings somewhere north of 60%.
Later in the evening my girlfriend unpacked the boxes and made dinner from our Aldi bounty. She was quick to point out that the food we bought today would last weeks before needing replenishment. Her enthusiasm was contagious as I nodded in wholehearted agreement. I'm a believer, let's shop to save! Not that long ago I'd vowed to never shop Aldi again, and now I was swearing off my organic market pension in the name of all things Aldi.
We all have eccentricities, and what fun it can be to embrace them. My girlfriend loves budget shopping, you should see her at a dollar store by the way, and there is nothing wrong with her. In fact, it's what makes her interesting. I love obscenely expensive coffee from places that start their name with plantation and end with limited. I also like indie electronic music, crowdsourcing, new media, and all kinds of other things that don't have much in common with each other. What it means to me, and what it means to you are two different things, and my suppression of any of these passions, outside of taking away from time with family and work, is no longer cool. Rather, a thoughtful approach to those things I love in life is warranted, one where I do more to embrace them foolishly, rather than with the normal adultsy caution of a thirtysomething trying to exude the confidence that matches their rising age.
Maybe there is something you've been suppressing, something random to most but utterly detailed to you that you'd love to do more with? Or maybe you've come to terms with existing within the status quo because that's what adults do? Don't be afraid to bust out your most random hobbies and interests with those that love you, and don't be surprised when they love you that much more for doing so.
Pictured below a shot from my old garage, an ode to my undeniable eccentricity.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Beyond the thrice-cracked concrete patio a torrent of cantaloupe green brush hangs high in all directions. Petals of dead shrub dash through the sea of tall grass like highlights bleached into a tween girl’s first unsupervised cut and style. Beyond a landscape challenge of whether a mower can handle grass so high without combusting into shards of uselessness sits a declaration of unease. No, we’re not green thumbs. We’re not even really here.
Backlit keys absorb daylong ten finger assaults with ease. Systems are built to manage systems, which are managed by people, chiefly to make sure the systems that manage the systems will, you know, function like systems. The business, while built around passion, is rooted in a foundation of preparedness, earthquake, recession, power outage or food fight we are ready for anything because we prepare for it all. Yes, this is working. We’re always here.
Sacrifice, the act of giving up something good for something better, is all too often characterized as a win/win when in fact it’s win/lose. You win whatever you tend, and what goes unattended you lose, why would you ever be surprised by what happens upon neglect?
Are you surprised at the child that acts up in class when at home there is no one to tell her not to?
Are you surprised at the single mom that can’t make girls night out because she’s working her second, third or even forth job serving food to other people’s tables so she can put some on her own?
Are you surprised at the once-comrade that doesn’t remember your birthday since you last spoke to her many years ago?
Are you surprised at the bitter homeless man for hating you for your job, clothes, and home?
Are you surprised by the musician that laughs at your weekend guitar playing while their callused fingers correct your chord progressions?
Are you surprised by the marathoner that lacks sympathy for the fast food junkie that feels irritated by the slightest pain upon an inaugural treadmill expedition?
Fields need tending to prosper, to turn into lively beauties, and yet even with our eyes fixed so firmly on them, our hearts pumping life into encouragement in the form of good intentions, nothing changes. Not yet anyways.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
On an old wood table sits a new camera bag. Thick canvas protrudes proudly in all directions, as the girth of twin supple golden suede handles spout to an arch as perfect as St. Louis. I’ve never quite seen a camera bag like this one, and frankly as beautiful as it is, I’m bothered by the newness of it.
My house is nothing more than a pile of bricks atop a modest hill. The home sits nestled between two houses just like it. The vehicle in the driveway that so eloquently dons masking tape over a knocked out taillight was built when Clinton ran the country. The neighborhood, filled with plumbers and tow truck operators, welcomes home residents in uniforms that offer first names via a sewn patch on the chest. I haven’t spent much time in Detroit, but I imagine my town is the smaller southern counterpart.
In this part of town, my side of town, luxury is defined by having job, and getting your hands dirty. There aren’t a lot of passport-touting yuppies around here. No slick talking hedge fund managers, or eager beaver executive know-it-alls to tell us all what to want and how to act. Gentrification may never come this direction, and by all accounts that would be just fine by the sincere folks that call these single story ranches home.
A boy a few doors down spends hours practicing his jump shot on a decrepit plastic basketball hoop slanted just enough in one direction to render it useless in actually perfecting any type of shot one would use in real game, yet he shoots undeterred. He plows away in the frigid cold of winter, as frigid as South Carolina gets anyways, and the scorching, are-you-kidding-me heat of summer. I often wonder where his iPad went? If he has the chance to sip on the cocktail of apps and air conditioning his peers across the track so often quench their techno thirst on? Sometimes as I pass in my car, or on foot, I watch him long enough for him to notice, then I nod approval his way, I can relate to that gut-wrenching feeling of wanting to be outside of the home, anywhere, but inside. He shoots, he scores.
Real people live here, they are too busy practicing the art of getting by to pretend to be someone they are not.
With no money you are no different here. You are accepted here without financial audit. You don’t need to say where you went on vacation, or what you drive, or where you work, you can just exist, and frankly that’s good enough. And so it comes as no surprise the property values in this neighborhood hardly ever go up.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Letting the antsy dogs pile through the now open sliding glass door is a test in anxiety, as the largest Jack quickly bolts toward the fence that divides my and the neighbors homes, I try to muster a no to yell, too late, he’s gone.
Staring at my closet I count dozens of shirts needing to go to charity, even more shoes, and the uncategorizable that haven’t been worn in years. Why was I holding on to this, and where is my sense of responsibility this morning? Get with it Clark.
Back at the computer client and contractor emails demanding more of my time intertwine into the very strand of DNA this company is made of, I need coffee.
Flipping through new music on Spotify I spy Gotye, an artist my sister showed me a few weeks ago in some odd body painting video. No time to waste as Jack’s probably getting shot at by the neighbors, surely armed to the teeth in this Carolina working class town, I need to get to the shower before hell breaks loose, Gotye will have to do.
Miniscule task by miniscule task modern me goes through the assembly line of life with Gotye providing the soundtrack. Old boots and khakis that are too big for me on bottom, a pocket tee on top, something warm over that, and some cold water for my hot dry throat. Is that a bark I hear? Gunshots? Time to get Jack.
With a defecation dodging dash through the backyard I find Jack on the neighbor’s side of the fence. He can’t get back over, it’s time for my morning dead lift, 65 lbs of dirty dog up, and down. His paws caked with dirt are eager to share with my fresh t-shirt. I try to dead lift him over the fence without allowing the paw pat with outstretched arms and half-succeed.
As I walk back to the house I think about my doctor’s visit last week, and that clipboard with the white blood cell count on it. You look at those things differently when a friend has cancer, you realize, if for just a millisecond, the pain and utter fear of the unknown they feel each day of their life, my body shudders at the thought of it, I fight back a tear.
Inside now Jack sips from a steel water bowl resting on the kitchen floor and decides to share his mud with his siblings, Rufus and Jill love nature, fresh mud to them is akin to the best stadium pretzel you’ve ever tasted at the big game, sinfully delicious.
Muddy and frustrated I stand in front of the computer, no sign of digital preservation via my C to F backup, I want to yell in frustration. My email count grows, some with subjects like Can You Help Me with This Now, and If You Could Just Review These 50 Pages Real Quick, why is good coffee so hard to find when you need it?
I pause, think about all that needed to get done today, and that’s when it happened, old Gotye started to play something half decent. A song about life, about being down and out, and now doing better than before. A familiar storyline in my life, I turn the volume up.
I think back to my sister’s assessment of the album; the title track Somebody That I Used to Know standing in far contrast in terms of quality and toe-tap ability to the others, and mostly I agree with her, until the better song arrived, aptly titled I Feel Better. As I brushed the now-dry dirt off my shirt, I started to grin, life was better, everything was and is better, like a thousand years of championship seasons my team sat atop the podium victorious, arms heavy only from holding the trophy of victory so high for so long. Any possible thing I’ve wanted over the years, real friendships, love, stability, progress for my family, honesty, a relationship with God, it was all at my desk, right there in front of me. Life at 32 is stunning.
Pinch me moments these days come early and often, life is everything that I want it to be, and here are the two reasons I think it’s there now, and why I think your life, despite your dog-over-the-fence moments can, and should be, just as good.
Accountability as Zero-Sum
If you aren’t taking accountability for something in your life, that something, whatever it is, will take away from your capacity to achieve success. Look no further than my alma maters last year.
South Carolina’s baseball team suffered a tremendous loss of talent throughout the regular season and playoffs from a cavalcade of injuries in 2011. The team had lost the previous year’s College World Series MVP, Jackie Bradley Jr., along with many other key players, and just as one would get healthy another would bite the dust, an injurious cycle evolved to the ranks of something college baseball had rarely seen. The team’s motto? Win anyway. And that’s what they did, tearing through the playoffs and College World Series to a tremendous second-straight national title. Throughout all the injuries there was no excuses made for not winning, the team bought into the zero-sum game of accountability, where any reason, valid or not, to not perform at their best each day was unacceptable to consider. Win anyway.
Ohio Wesleyan University has a tremendous soccer program for any size school, as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out regarding the oxymoronic nature of college soccer, the smaller the school the bigger and better the program. So it might not come as a surprise to many that OWU won their second Division III national championship this past year. What might surprise many is the fact they did so just days after having all their gear stolen from their team van, everything from personal possessions, laptops with a semester’s worth of homework on them, and all else in-between. Having to borrow equipment from other college teams to play their playoff games, they took the zero-sum approach to accountability, and despite incredible odds won it all, making the coach, most likely the disseminator of the zero-sum attitude, the winningest college soccer coach of all time, that very game.
If you feel excuses creeping into your life, as we all tend to each day, work to fight them off. Realize that by taking full accountability for your actions each day the result will be like none other.
Of course the other part of this equation involves having a stable enough life to adhere to such a provocative schedule of self-reliance.
You need something desperately and it’s 3 am, who is there to drop everything, most likely sleep at that time, and come to your rescue? Anyone? This small assessment of your friend circle, what I call the 3 am test, can quickly flesh out who is unequivocally your friend and who is conveniently hanging around, know the difference and ditch the ones that would do the same to you if they had something better going on. Ironically they’ll respect you more for being so blunt.
Somewhere on the internet a study exists that states our personal income can be determined roughly by the mean of our social circle’s gross income. In other words, if we hang with a bunch of people that are unemployed we are apt to be as well. Conversely if we roll with big timers we’re probably in the 1% too. While what you make financially is inconsequential to whom you choose to befriend, what is important here is the real-life example of how statically we are similar to whom we surround ourselves with.
How do you view you? Loving, kind, selfless, interesting, adventurous? Are those the choice descriptors that you’d award to your friends? If not, remember the above equation of us being the financial, and quite possibly emotional, mean average of our friends. We don’t need friends that are exactly like us, especially if we are negative pessimists, but certainly we need friends that share a positive outlook on life, if progress is the goal. If you want to surround yourself with positive people think about visiting with the volunteers at a shelter or church or homeless mission, trust me those people will change your life for the better.
If we commit to surrounding ourselves with people that will make us better instead of comfortable, greatness can and will occur. It took me years, nearly a decade to be exact, to put to bed the relationships that held me down, and now I’m here to challenge you to do the same.
By no means do I have much of anything figured out, but as I grow older and count my failures in dozens instead of digits, I realize the wisdom in ideas I once thought cliché, to us both comes the spoils from following such ideas earnestly.
This post was inspired by the song I Feel Better by Gotye